We have seen the sign – in various forms – many times. It is visible on bumper stickers, billboards and occasionally on handmade signs displayed by fans at sporting events: “John 3:16.” It is a bit odd to be watching a field goal attempt at a televised football game and see this verse advertised as one peers through the goalposts. But even skeptics must recognize that there is something very significant about that single verse of the Bible for believers in Jesus to be so eager to publicize it.
We believe that every verse of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit. But not every verse or section of the Scriptures has the same significance for our faith. There are some passages, though, that seem to express the heart of our Christian faith. John 3:16 is one of them: “Yes, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life.” In the Gospel of John these words are spoken by Jesus during his lengthy dialogue with Nicodemus, the leading Pharisee who came to Jesus at night wanting to know what he was all about. Immediately before this verse, Jesus talks about the Son of Man being “lifted up” – a code word for his impending death on the cross. In John’s gospel, the death of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate sign of God’s saving love for the human family. It is the moment when new life is poured out on all who believe in the Son.
It was this conviction – that God’s love had triumphed over the power of sin and death through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus – which motivated the apostles to proclaim the gospel with such enthusiasm and boldness. In today’s first reading, the apostles are miraculously freed from jail after having been arrested by the religious leaders. We might think that they would go into hiding in order to escape further trouble. Instead, they heed the word of God’s messenger and resume their public teaching in the temple. These followers of Jesus — frightened and scattered when he was crucified — possess a newfound resolve to announce the message of God’s life-giving love poured out in Christ. They refuse to be intimidated by anyone.
All of this may sound “quaint” but not very relevant to our lives. Most of us are turned off when we encounter street preachers holding “John 3:16” signs and shouting platitudes about salvation and damnation. Nevertheless, the message is for us as well. First of all, it is a challenge to allow the love of God in Christ to really touch us and transform us. We must regularly invite the Lord Jesus to walk with us in every sphere of our lives and to change the ways we see and act. And we are called to be instruments of Christ’s love – by our words and our deeds – in the lives of others. Displaying signs at sporting events and preaching on street corners is not nearly as effective as enabling others to meet Christ in us and to experience the power of his love in their lives.
- Fr. Robin Ryan, CP joined the Passionist community while in college. Since ordination in 1984, Fr. Robin’s ministry has been divided between retreat ministry and teaching theology, along with responsibilities for ministerial formation. Currently he is Vice-Provincial of St. Paul of the Cross Province.