Sunday (June 7): God’s incredible gift of love for the world
Gospel Reading: John 3:16-18
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. 18 He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Old Testament Reading: Exodus 34:4-9
4 So Moses cut two tables of stone like the first; and he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tables of stone. 5 And the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses made haste to bow his head toward the earth, and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in thy sight, O Lord, let the Lord, I pray you, go in the midst of us, although it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”
Meditation: What does Scripture tell us about God and how he relates to us? When God met with Moses on Mount Sinai and made a covenant with the people of Israel, he revealed the nature of his character and his personal love for them:
“The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness'” (Exodus 34:6).
God is all-loving, faithful, merciful, and forgiving by nature. God’s love is supreme because it directs, orders, and shapes everything he does.
Love and judgment Scripture tells us that God is all just and all loving. How does his love and justice go together? God opposes sin and evil with his just wrath (his righteous anger) and right judgment – and he approaches sinful people and evil doers with mercy (“slow to anger” and “ready to forgive”) and discipline (“fatherly correction” and “training in righteousness”). John the Evangelist tells us that the Father sent his Son into the world – not to condemn but to redeem – not to destroy but to heal and restore. Paul the Apostle tells us that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). God does not desire the death of anyone (Ezekiel 18:23,32, Ezekiel 33:11, Wisdom of Solomon 1:13). Instead he gives us the freedom to choose between life and death – good and evil.
When we choose to sin and to go our own way apart from God, we bring condemnation upon ourselves. Sin draws us away from God and leads to a spiritual death – a death that is worse than physical loss of life because it results in a hopeless life of misery and separation from God’s peace and joy. Jesus was sent on a rescue mission to free us from slavery to sin and death and to bring us the abundant life which will never end. His death brought us true freedom and abundant new life in his Spirit – as well as pardon, reconciliation and adoption as sons and daughters of God.
Jesus took upon himself all of our sins and nailed them to the cross (Colossians 2:14). His death was an atoning sacrifice for our sins and a perfect offering to the Father on our behalf. We can find no greater proof of God’s love for fallen sinful humanity than the cross of Jesus Christ. “To ransom a slave God gave away his Son” (from an early Christian hymn for the Easter vigil liturgy). Jesus’ mission was motivated by love and obedience. That is why he willingly laid down his life for us. Jesus told his disciples that there is no greater love than for a person to willingly lay down his or her life for a friend (John 15:13). Jesus loved us first – even while we were captives to sin and Satan – in order to set us free and make us friends and beloved children of God.
Believing in the Son of God Do you believe that Jesus personally died for you – for you alone – simply because he loved you? Scripture tells us that God knew each one of us even before we were knit in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13, Jeremiah 1:5). We were created for a purpose – to be united with God and to share in his love and glory now and forever. Augustine of Hippo wrote: “God loves each one of us as if there were only one of us to love.” God’s love is complete and perfect because it is wholly directed towards our greatest good – to make us whole and to unite us in a perfect bond of love and peace. That is why God was willing to go to any length necessary to save us from slavery to sin and death.
How does God’s love bring healing, pardon, and wholeness to our lives? God’s love has power to set each one of us free from every form of bondage to sin – whether it be bondage to fear and guilt, pride and greed, envy and hatred. We can only know the love of God and experience his healing power to the degree that we put our faith in him and surrender our lives to his will. Faith is the key that opens the door to Christ and to his healing power in our lives. But for faith to be effective we must act and do our part. That is why faith requires repentance and obedience – turning away from unbelief and disobedience – and turning to the Lord with a believing heart and listening ear. That is why Jesus said, “whoever believes in me is not condemned” (John 3:18).
To believe that Jesus is the only Son of God who died for our sins is the key that opens the door to his presence and work in our lives. Jesus said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). The Lord Jesus knocks at the door of your heart – will you listen today and open at once?
Triune nature of God The Lord Jesus has revealed to his disciples the great mystery of our faith – the triune nature of God and the inseparable union of the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus’ mission is to reveal the glory of God to us – a Trinity of persons – God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and to unite us with God in a community of love. The ultimate end, the purpose for which God created us, is the entry of God’s creatures into the perfect unity of the blessed Trinity.
The Jews understood God as Creator and Father of all that he made (Deuteronomy 32:6) and they understood the nation of Israel as God’s firstborn son (Exodus 4:22). Jesus reveals the Father in an unheard of sense. He is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son, who, reciprocally, is Son only in relation to his Father (see Matthew 11:27). The Spirit, likewise, is inseparably one with the Father and the Son.
The mission of Jesus and of the Holy Spirit are the same. That is why Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will reveal the glory of the Father and the Son and will speak what is true. Before his Passover, Jesus revealed the Holy Spirit as the “Paraclete” and Helper who will be with Jesus’ disciples to teach and guide them “into all the truth” (John 14:17,26; 16:13). In baptism we are called to share in the life of the Holy Trinity here on earth in faith and after death in eternal light.
Clement of Alexandria, a third century church father, wrote: “What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos (Word) of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her ‘Church’.”
We can know God personally How can we grow in our understanding and experience of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It is the Holy Spirit who reveals the Father and the Son to us and who gives us the gift of faith to know and understand the truth of God s word. Through baptism we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord renews the gift of the Spirit in each one of us as we open our hearts with expectant faith and yield to his work in our lives. Jesus promised his disciples that he would send them the Spirit of truth who would be their Teacher and Guide. Ask the Lord Jesus to renew in you the gift of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in the seven-fold gifts of wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence, and holy fear in God’s presence (Isaiah 11:2-3).
“May the Lord Jesus put his hands on our eyes also, for then we too shall begin to look not at what is seen but at what is not seen. May he open the eyes that are concerned not with the present but with what is yet to come, may he unseal the heart’s vision, that we may gaze on God in the Spirit, through the same Lord, Jesus Christ, whose glory and power will endure throughout the unending succession of ages.” (prayer of Origin, 185-254 AD)
4 What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him little less than the angels, and have crowed him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Daily Quote from the early church fathers: The pledge of the Holy Spirit, by Ambrose of Milan, 339-397 A.D.
“Recall then that you have received the spiritual seal, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of right judgment and courage, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of holy fear in God’s presence. Guard what you have received. God the Father has marked you with His sign; Christ the Lord has confirmed you and has placed His pledge, the Spirit, in your hearts” (excerpt from De Mysteriis 7, 42).
Scripture quotations from Common Bible: Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 1973, and Ignatius Edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright 2006, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Citation references for quotes from the writings of the early church fathers can be found here.