Love Like Jesus
March 5, 2023
“For God so loved the world” might be the most well-known line in the Bible. This verse that we heard from our gospel reading today is so well known, and quoted in so many different places, that many people have called it the “summary of the gospel.” It shows up all over the place, from billboards on the interstate to t-shirts and bumper stickers; Tim Tebow is known to people outside of football solely on the fact that he would write John 3:16 under his eyes before each game just so people might look it up.
The sheer gravitational pull of this verse causes everything else around it to fade into the background. It really is the summary of the gospel. It really does say something incredibly profound. But what does it mean? Summaries, by their definition, take large and complicated topics and boil them down to something more approachable. But summaries also rely on letting some things be assumed for the sake of keeping it short. So I want to unpack it a bit, and look at some of the assumptions that are made about these words. And specifically, I want us to look at “for God so loved the world.”
Now, when we hear the word “world,” it can mean a lot of things. What is this “world” that God so loves? World could mean all the people in the world. It would make sense that God loves all people. Or, maybe world could mean the creation, the plants and animals and seas and skies. Or it might be the present age, “this world,” the when of our living. But none of those are the words that Jesus used in this verse (all of them have a word in Greek, and it’s none of them). Instead, Jesus says that God so loved the kosmos, the Greek word meaning everything, everyone, top to bottom, everywhere and for all time. God so loved the kosmos. Nothing excepted. That’s a heck of a declaration! That is groundbreaking! That is wonderful news!
Well, wonderful in the abstract for sure. If “God so loved the world” stays a phrase, meant for t-shirts and billboards, then it doesn’t need to change anything. It certainly doesn’t need to change us. The thing is, love isn’t just a word—it’s an action. And love isn’t something that can be held at arm’s length—certainly not for God. The fact that God loves—deeply, wholly, unconditionally—the whole kosmos, means that everything is loved by God. Everything matters to God. Everything is important to God and beloved by God and its wholeness and fulfillment and proper care all make a difference to God. God so loved the world, and that love means something!
It means that God cares about the people whose lives were destroyed by the earthquakes in Turkey and Syria as much as the trees covered by landslides in its wake. It means that God wants to bring wholeness to the people who have given up on civility and see violence, cynicism, and aggression as the only ways to be heard just as much as God wants wholeness for the polluted, smoggy air that hangs over New Delhi. It means that God feels the pain of the fish killed by the toxic chemicals leaching into the Ohio watershed just as much as the fear of the residents of East Palestine. That God loves the entire kosmos means that there is nothing that God doesn’t care about bringing wholeness, hope, and fulfillment to.
And the way that God expresses that love is by sending the Son into the world to give it life. The kosmos matters so much to God that Jesus—God in the flesh—came to be present with us to show us what the love God has for the world looks like. Jesus never shirked from caring for others. He put hypocrites in their place when they let ego and power get in the way of loving their neighbor and creation. He was patient, walking with Nicodemus and the woman at the well through a challenging conversation without giving up on them. He willingly went to the cross to show us that even our rejection would not undo the love he came to give us.
And he came to show what kind of difference that love will make. It will change things so fundamentally that to put our trust in God’s love—what it literally means to believe in Jesus—will make it like we have been born again, brand-new. It will make us care deeply about the welfare of those people whose humanity we were taught to ignore because they were wrong or different or dangerous. It will open our eyes to the cries of creation desperate for relief from human greed and exploitation. It will change the very way we look at our neighbors from simply “other people” to people whose lives we want to improve and fill with hope and live with as the beloved community. It will realign the way that we see the world so that our eyes become like Jesus’s eyes, and we’ll start putting things in our hearts that we would never have imagined before.
God so loved the world also means you. I know I can lean pretty heavily on pointing us outside of ourselves, but when Jesus said that God so loved the kosmos, you, beloved, are part of the kosmos. God loves you more deeply than you could possibly imagine. God wants to make your life whole, to bring you fulfillment, to show you that your worth is beyond imagining. God sent the Son into the world to show you this love. And the Son invites you, calls you, beckons you to trust that love, because by trusting in that love, by believing in Jesus, you will get to realize that wholeness and fulfillment and grace now.
And it’s in knowing that love, and trusting that love, that you will be reborn to love others in turn. Because you are loved, you can love. Because you have life, you can share life. Because you are being filled with hope, you can fill others with hope. When you hear this verse, “For God so loved the world,” I hope you’ll remember that. You are part of the world. And when you trust in Jesus, you get to see the kind of life that he brings, and there is nothing that will be able to hold you back from sharing that love and wholeness and hope with the rest of the kosmos.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
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