We’ve all seen the guy. Whether it was on the Simpsons, in the stands at the Super Bowl, or any number of impersonators over the years, we all know the John 3:16 guy or at least we know his sign.
It is, of course, the perfect verse for a sign. You don’t have to write it, just the scripture reference will take a person to the Gospel message par excellence. I’ve written in the past about how I wish his sign added “& 17,” but seven years later, I guess I’ve softened some. As I’ve read and re-read John 3:16 this week, I’m starting to think that perhaps it is enough. Well, so long as we translate it properly and don’t use it for a weapon, which are both not insignificant caveats.
“God loves the world thusly, he gave his only Son, in order that whoever puts their trust in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
That’s how I think it should be translated (with a lot of help from the Rev. Dr. Sarah Henrich from Luther Seminary). Note three changes. First, God loves the world still. It is active and ongoing; the aorist tense in Greek. Second, he loved the world thusly, that’s what “so” really means. Finally, the call to faith is not about intellectual assent, which we often associate with belief these days, but trust. Those who follow Jesus might struggle with the intricacies of the Church’s Christological teachings, but what makes us disciples, what makes us Christians, is that we’ve turned our lives over to Christ. We’ve placed our trust in Jesus and in him alone.
Translated this way, the most famous text in all of scripture loses its ability to be weaponized. Instead, it is a statement about the grace of God. God loves the world he created so much that when push came to shove, God chose to save us from ourselves through the saving grace of his Son. That’s the Gospel in a nutshell.
Perhaps that’s enough for the preacher to tackle this Sunday.