God Gave (Part Three of an Exploration of John 3:16)1
When we declare our love for someone, we often have in mind at best a stirring of our hearts, an internal affection that rarely is expressed in any concrete action on our part. That sort of love is hardly worth having. God’s immeasurable love for us, on the other hand, is a giving love, a sacrificial love. As John declares in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
Let this truth sink deeply into your soul: God loved this world by giving to it the last thing it could ever deserve! “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his only Son.” It’s as if God the Father said to God the Son: “There is something I want you to do. This world of humanity will be populated by people who hate me. They will rebel against me. Every single one of them. They will deserve nothing from me but eternal damnation. They will deserve to perish. But I want you to go and become one of them and live the life they should have lived but didn’t, and to die in their place the death they should have died so that I may give eternal life to as many as will accept my offer.”
The death of God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the expression of the Father’s love for those who hate him. Many have greatly distorted the cross of Christ by thinking of it as the means by which the love of God is won. They envision Jesus crying out from the cross: “Oh, Father, in dying for these people I have now made them loveable.” No!
Love is not something wrung from the heart of a reluctant and disinclined God by the sufferings of his Son. Jesus doesn’t plead from the cross, “Oh, Father, please love them now that I have died for them.” No! The cross is not the attempt by Jesus to persuade or entice the Father to love us. The cross is the express manifestation of a love that the Father already had for this lost and dying world.
But don’t think for a moment that it was only the love of the Father that led to the cross of Christ. Some today have reacted wrongly to the doctrine of penal substitution by portraying it as the Father coercing or compelling his innocent Son to suffer for the guilty. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Jesus himself declared:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
His point is that it was his own love and affection for the sheep that moved him to lay down his life. It was not taken from him. His life, given up on the cross, was his to give. Again, Jesus makes it clear:
“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18).
The apostle Paul likewise declared that “the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself or me” (Gal. 2:20). The Father sent his Son who joyfully embraced the task because he loved those for whom he would die.
Our great Triune God is a giving God, a God who initiates at great sacrifice to himself the deepest and most profound expression of love that is possible: the giving of his Son. And the Son joyfully and freely embraces the will of his Father in yielding up his life for a world of lost, hell-deserving sinners.