Gospel: John 3:16-18
Is Trust in Jesus Worth The Cost?
Have you ever found belief in something easier than trust in someone?
In "Star Wars, the Phantom Menace," a Jedi knight believed the young Anakin Skywalker fulfilled an old prophesy. The young boy would balance the dark and light sides of the Force. The Jedi knight only came to this conclusion after a test of the boy's sub-molecular structure which came back positive. The knight, in this case, based his belief upon science.
Christians base their faith not so much on the facts, but in a trust relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. Trust of a person, not knowledge of the facts or obedience demanded by duty, defines the Christian life. In John's gospel, Jesus revealed trust as the key to eternal life.
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
16 "God loved the world this way. He gave the world his only Son so that those who trust him may not die but would live forever. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world so the Son could judge it. No, God sent him to save the world! 18 God does not judge the person who trusts in his Son. But, whoever does not trust in the name of God's only Son has already been judged."
Jesus said to Nicodemus:
16 "For God loved the world in such a way, so that he gave his only-begotten SON, that all trusting in HIM might not be lost, but might have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his SON into the world, so that HE might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through HIM. 18 The (person) trusting in HIM is not judged. But the (person) not trusting has already been judged, because he has not trusted in the name of only-begotten SON of God."
3:16 The entire sentence can be seen as a event, its cause and its result. The event was the appearance of the Messiah. Its cause was God's love. Its result was salvation.
"For God loved the world in such a way..." This clause explained the reason for the appearance of the Messiah. Why was the Messiah now present? Because God loved the world (i.e., humanity and all its weaknesses) like a parent loves a child.
"that all trusting in him might not be lost, but might have eternal life." The verb "lost" actually means "destroyed" or "killed." The verb could be used in a spiritual or physical sense. In the spiritual sense, those "lost" are the unbelievers, while believers possess eternal life in this world (with the gift of the Spirit).
16 For God loved the world in such a way, so that he gave his only-begotten SON, that all trusting in HIM might not be lost, but might have eternal life.
We can find these famous lines in John 3, where John set God's messenger (Jesus) against a teacher of the Law (Nicodemus). In John's mind, Jesus spoke for the Christian audience the evangelist addressed. Nicodemus represented opposing Jewish communities lead by Pharisees. By the time John's gospel first appeared in a complete form (100-115 A.D.), Christians not only professed a new Messiah; they proclaimed a new spirituality. God created a new, spiritual relationship with all people (not just Jews). And this new relationship bypassed the Jewish Law. No wonder the Law-keeping Pharisees (represented by Nicodemus) didn't understand!
Jesus told Nicodemus about salvation. Salvation meant spiritual rebirth which God's Spirit initiated (see 3:5-8). And only God's messenger, his Son, brought the message. Everyone could see God's salvation when the Son was lifted up (i.e., Jesus died on the cross; see 3:13-15). But, this required faith.
Faith saw that God treated his people with love. This was the basis for salvation. But love required sacrifice (otherwise, we could not call it love). So, God showed his love by giving the world his Son. Those who trusted the sacrificed Son would possess eternal life.
17 For God did not send his SON into the world, so that HE might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through HIM.
John's gospel painted the universal gift of salvation, in spite of the fact that most people would reject the message, and those who preached it. Indeed, John's community lived a sheltered existence, in fear of Roman authorities and Jewish competitors. The spirit of isolation tempted the community. The gospel itself described the faith and the lifestyle of the Christian in terms of good and bad, light and dark, "us vs. them." The community could easily fall into the notion that they enjoyed God's favor; everyone else lost out.
But, the community built on faith in God's love rejected narcissism. God's love inspired hope, opened vistas to new possibilities for those who lived in the "world." God meant his love for all. He invited all to a love relationship. So, his Son came not to condemn but to save.
While God began the initiative when he commissioned (i.e., sent) his Son, the Son remained the active player. He did not condemn but became the instrument that brought people back to God. As Jesus did, so must the community do. They must act in a way that does not condemn outsiders, but invites them in.
18 The (person) trusting in HIM is not judged. But the (person) not trusting has already been judged, because he has not trusted in the name of only-begotten SON of God.
This verse stressed trust three time, while it mentioned judging twice. Notice the verb "is not judged" (or "is not lost") is in the present perfect, starting in the present and continuing into the future. Notice the verb "has already been judged" (or "has already been lost") is in the past perfect, starting in the past, continuing in the present, and continuing into the future.
For a moment, let's reconstruct 3:18, emphasizing judgement as loss. Now, the one who trusted the Son was found by the Son (and expected the Son to find him or her on the Day of Judgement). But the one who did not trust the Son could never be found. He or she would never be open to the invitation of the Son. Those who did not build their spiritual life on trust of the Son pretended to be self-reliant. Ultimately, they were self-centered.
John 3 ended the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus with an analogy. Christ (the light) entered the world and called followers to himself. But those who opposed Christ and Christians (i.e., the Pharisees) plotted against them in secret (the dark; see 3:19-21). Jesus suffered rejection, gossip, and back-room subversion from the Jewish leaders. Many in John's audience would suffer the same fate.
Catechism Theme: The Father revealed by the Son (CCC 238-242)
Many religions call God "Father," as he who created and sustains all things. Christianity's unique claim to the title lies in the relationship between God and Jesus of Nazareth. As John's gospel stated, the Father sent his Son into the world. That is, God commissioned Jesus to reveal the true nature of the Father. In doing so, Jesus revealed himself as the Father's only true Son, or as John's gospel stated, God's only begotten Son. This relationship transcends time into the eternal.
At the Council of Nicaea (325), the Church defined the relationship between the Father and the Son as "consubstantial." That is, the Father and the Son share the same divine nature. Eventually, the Church extended the definition to include the Spirit. Hence, the belief in the Trinity was codified.
Name someone you trust. Why do you trust that person? Could the qualities you list apply to Jesus? Why or why not?
As John's community found, many people put a trust relationship at arm's length. Even today, talk of trust based upon love seems too naive, too idealistic. The real world, as common wisdom implies, rewards the devious, those who build their lives on money and power. Those who point to a greater goal find themselves punished by the world.
But, is a trust relationship built on love worth the effort? Gentle reader, if you have reached this point in the essay, you have already answered that question for yourself. Yes, love makes the effort worthwhile, the outreach of trust realistic.
In what ways do you trust God with your daily life? Make a list of all your projects, hopes, and ambitions. Place that list in God's hands.