Let’s look at God’s Love Is Extravagant!
“For God so loved…”
It’s difficult for modern people to understand the cultural world before Christ. Even among the Jews in Nicodemus’s time, the idea that “God is love” was counterintuitive. If you had played word association with a citizen of that day, when you said “God,” the response would have been “fear.” Among the Jews, God was a strict observer of man’s follies and quick to disapprove and punish. Outside the Jewish community, God was considered an outright tyrant.
Even today, heathen religions are all about appeasing the wrath of a furious god. Medicine men and witch doctors cycle through desperate incantations, warding off death, disease, famine, and calamities inflicted by their gods. At the root of this fear is the fact that all people recognize in their hearts that they are unworthy sinners. Not knowing the good news of John 3:16, they are left to dodge the lightening from heaven, which they sense they have earned.
And then into that context Jesus drops these words: God so loves.
It turns religion topsy-turvy. It confounds Pharisees like Nicodemus. It forces a rewrite of one’s idea of the Creator. No longer could the ancients think God to be aloof, simmering angrily on His throne, leaving us to figure some way to forestall His wrath. They had to radically shift their concept of Him from fear to love. Many people today also need to make that shift in thinking – even some believers.
But if we think John 3:16 announced a change in God from wrathful to loving, we miss the point. William Barclay wrote: “Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God towards people from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it all started with God. It was God who sent His Son, and He sent Him because He loved people. At the back of everything is the love of God.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Volume 1, page 128). God was never the wrathful deity of the ancients; He loved us from the beginning.
John 3:16 opens with a bang, starting not only with God, but with God doing something — God loving. Excuse me — God so loving. The most intense word in this verse is the smallest. Bound up in those two letters, s – o, are all the agonies of the Cross; all the suffering of the Son as He walked among men; all the exertion of a God willing to leave Heaven and take on flesh, not because He simply loved, but because He so loved. Hands that hold us are loving. Nail-scarred hands that hold us are so loving.
In the world famous St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, England, there is in the annex a huge statue of Jesus Christ, writhing in anguish on the cross. You can see the pain on His face, the blood-sweat of His body. Beneath to statue, a plaque read “This is how God loved the world.” He so loved the world.
So loved is what we say when loves drives someone to action. It’s what we feel when we see the message of God’s devotion written in flowing red script with a pen dipped into His lifeblood — love at great cost, love clearly understood in every language.
This is extravagant love. God didn’t simple say, “I love you.” He said it in torn flesh, in agony, in bearing unearned, vicious punishment. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).