We hide from God because we think that he wants to condemn us. Yet the cross shows us that he does not want to condemn us, but is ready to forgive and to save us.
To help us understand God’s love.
We will look at a puzzle of the exalted cross and God’s love.
Our natural inclination is to think of suffering as one of life’s worst moments. John 3:14-21 seems to suggest just the opposite. The wording indicates that just as Moses lifted up a snake on a pole, so was Jesus to be lifted up on a cross. The words lifted up are elsewhere translated as exalted. We think of the cross as ignominy not exaltation. We think of money, power and fame as exaltation. That’s how we want to be exalted. We don’t want to suffer. That’s why preachers who perpetually emphasize material prosperity are popular. It’s not fashionable to teach that to be truly exalted, we must follow Christ, and if we follow him, are we also willing to be truly exalted by suffering? Do we come into the light of the cross, or dark and deceptive worldly materialism?
“God so loved the world” means what? It means he loved the world in this way, or like this. So our famous saying from John 3:14-21 could be translated “God loved the world in this way.” What way? He lifted up Jesus in the same manner that Moses lifted up the snake for the healing of Israel. The snake on the pole was meant to remind Israel to trust God for healing but it later became an idol and had to be destroyed. Church traditions can be like that. Invented to point us to God, traditions degenerate into idols which need to go. We too need to constantly lift up Jesus, ahead of our traditions and denominational pride. Does Jesus take second place to our cheap human politics? Do we show love to the world by lifting up Jesus?
Humanity runs away from God. Do we hate him? Are we ashamed and think that he will want to condemn us for all of the bad things we have done to each other? Is John 3:14-21 saying just the opposite of that? Rather than wanting to condemn the world, God sent Jesus into the world to save it. An example is Jesus’ encounter with a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). Those caught up in false religion condemned her. Jesus told them that if any of them was without sin, they ought to cast the first stone. None dared and Jesus said he did not condemn her. Instead of running from God, it is condemning religion which we should run from. God and the true religion of Jesus do not exist to condemn but to save.
It is a conundrum that the cross is exalted, yet it shows us how God loved the world. Sacrifice for others is a way to show love. We don’t have to hide from God. He is not here to condemn us, but to save us and show us his love.