"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him." John 3:16 - 17, NRSV
This portion of a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus while in Jerusalem, has become one of the most widely-known versus in the Bible. Some have been known to call it "The Gospel in a Nutshell" because it is considered a summary of the "central theme of traditional Christianity." But what does that mean for you and me?
The season of Lent is now upon us. It is a time for reflection, sacrifice, and awareness, just as Jesus did during this time when he fasted for 40 days before being nailed on a cross and left to die publically. This particular passage is so widely used, especially during this time period, because it does, indeed, sum up the Christian faith in just two verses.
During Lent, many Christian denominations also chose something to give up for Lent during those 40 days. Many resort to particular foods, but others go for many non-traditional items such as Facebook, gossiping, foul language, video games, or other types of either negative behavior, or items that people would like to do less of on a regular basis. Depending on the item, most tend to return to it after Lent, but will sometimes report that their desire to do what they gave up has become much less significant.
This above statement, however, brings us back to the two verses. As Christians, we may chose to give up something that we love for the season of Lent, knowing that when Easter arrives, we can then enjoy it once more. During that time period, however, God gave up something for all of us that was so much more important than anything else. He sent his only Son to us so that we might be saved, but only if we chose to believe in Him. God gave up his one and only son, to have him die on the cross for us. Jesus did this so that we may be given a gift that is far more beautiful than any Easter basket design that you could find online: Eternal life.
How powerful is that for a man to sacrifice his only Son to just provide a gift like that to sinners like us? God did not send his Son, Jesus, to Earth so that he could condemn us to Hell, punish us or harm us. No, he was sent here to show that love is so powerful, that not even death could destroy it. He proved this to us when he rose from the dead on Easter morning.
Take time this Lenten season to not just fast, as Jesus did, but also to reflect and remember what he did as well. By his death on the Cross, he gave us the ultimate gift by paying the ultimate price. Jesus was not sent to Earth to condemn us, but to die in our place to conquer death once and for all, proving that love prevails over all. That, no matter what specific Christian denomination one may belong to, is something that all can come together and agree with.
"Lord, thank you for sending your Son to show the world how much you love us. Help us reflect on the true meaning of your word this Lenten season, guide us through our daily lives, and assist us in showing others on the importance of believing in you. Thank you for your gift of eternal life, and may all of those that don't yet know you, discover just how great and powerful your love really is. In Your name, we pray, Amen."