“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.” John 3:16
“Nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:39
These three verses summarize clearly and powerfully the uniqueness, attraction, and promise of your faith. Let’s look at each one individually, and then note how different this theology would have been to people in the first century.
“In the beginning God created.” The Genesis creation story has nothing about wars among competing gods as in the Enuma Elish. The first book of the Bible simply states that God created everything with a spoken command, with one important exception. He created man and woman, with His hands, forming them and breathing into them His breath. This story is intensely personal.
“For God so loved.” The natural extension of God’s personal creation is His love for all people. Interpreters argue whether John 3:16 is Jesus’ words or John’s reflection on what he had witnessed. I believe the latter. John had spent three years in Jesus’ personal presence, and a lifetime (perhaps more than 50 years at the writing of the gospel) as His follower. John 3:16 represents his conviction that God loves all of us deeply.
“Nothing will separate you from the love of God.” Paul knew the greatest challenge to persevering faith was the difficulties we all face. Romans 8 is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible. The highpoint for some Christians is vv. 35-39 where Paul considered a wide array of troubles. The struggles do not prove God’s lack of care, but become a means for Him to demonstrate His love and faithfulness to you. Wherever you walk and whatever you face, you are not alone.
Now, I want to transport you back to the first century A.D. in, say, Rome. You are a Roman citizen and follow the traditional religion of the day. Here are two important features of the gods you follow: they are distant and capricious.
You have no confidence that Zeus or Hera or Apollo will intervene for you. In fact, the myths you have learned from a child teach you that the gods are reluctant to listen to you and probably will never take notice of you. Your superstitious beliefs have also convinced you that every calamity in life, a storm, an earthquake, a fire, etc. is the result of the gods being angry with you or your city or your empire. Most of your sacrifices and prayers are simply designed to appease the gods and to keep them from squashing you. You fear getting caught up as collateral damage in their schemes and fits of temper. The temples are little more than eating clubs.
Then you hear the Christian gospel, the “good news.” It is good news. You learn about one God who created the heavens and the earth and people. You learn His great love for you drove Him to become flesh and die for your transgressions. He offers to come into your life, to dwell there, to guide and care for you. He offers forgiveness and the gift of eternal life. Is it any wonder that the gospel ended up taking over the empire?
Now back to today. We have lost the freshness of the three verses above, but your ability to faithfully navigate today’s challenges depends on your recapturing the wonder of these three great truths. Your Father in heaven is different. He is close, loving, concerned, and constant. Nothing that happens to you today or this week will affect His love for you and the promise of His gifts to you.
Walk joyfully and confidently.
Dr. Terry Ellis
August 14, 2011