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THE 3:16 PROMISE
By MAX LUCADO
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Max Lucado
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA PARADE OF HOPE
It's the Hope Diamond of the Bible.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
A twenty-six-word parade of hope: beginning with God, ending with life, and urging us to do the same. Brief enough to write on a napkin or memorize in a moment, yet solid enough to weather two thousand years of storms and questions. If you know nothing of the Bible, start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here. We all need the reminder. The heart of the human problem is the heart of the human. And God's treatment is prescribed in John 3:16.
The words are to Scripture what the Mississippi River is to America—an entryway into the Heartland. Believe or dismiss them, embrace or reject them, any serious consideration of Christ must include them. Would a British historian dismiss the Magna Carta? Egyptologists overlook the Rosetta Stone? Could you ponder the words of Christ and never immerse yourself into John 3:16?
The verse is an alphabet of grace, a table of contents to the Christian hope, each word a safe-deposit box of jewels. Read it again, slowly and aloud, and note the word that snatches your attention. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
"God so loved the world ..." We'd expect an anger-fueled God. One who punishes the world, recycles the world, forsakes the world ... but loves the world?
The world? This world? Heartbreakers, hope-snatchers and dream-dousers prowl this orb. Dictators rage. Abusers inflict. Reverends think they deserve the title. But God loves. And he loves the world so much he gave his:
No. The heart-stilling, mind-bending, deal-making-or-breaking claim of John 3:16 is this: God gave his Son ... his only Son. No abstract ideas, but a flesh-wrapped divinity. Scripture equates Jesus with God. God, then, gave himself. Why? So that "whoever believes in him shall not perish."
Chapter TwoGOD LOVES
Pluto got bumped, cut from the first team, demoted from the top nine. According to a committee of scientists meeting in Prague, this outpost planet fails to meet solar-system standards. They downgraded the globe to asteroid #134340. Believe me, Pluto was not happy. I caught up with the dissed sky traveler at a popular constellation hangout, The Night Sky Lounge.
MAX: Tell me, Pluto, how do you feel about the decision of the committee?
PLUTO: You mean those planet-pickers from Prague?
PLUTO: I say no planet is perfect. Mars looks like a tanning bed addict. Saturn has rings around the collar, and Jupiter moons everyone who passes.
MAX: So you don't approve of the decision?
PLUTO: (Snarling and whipping out a newspaper) Who comes up with these rules? Too small. Wrong size moon. Not enough impact. Do they know how hard it is to hang on at the edge of the solar system? They think I'm spacey—let them duck meteors at thousands of miles per hour for a few millennia, and then see who they call a planet. I'm outta here. I can take the hint. I know when I'm not wanted. Walt Disney named a dog after me. Teachers always put me last on the science quiz. Darth Vader gives me more respect. I'm joining up with a meteor shower. Tell that committee to keep an eye on the night sky. I know where they live.
Can't fault Pluto for being ticked. One day he's in, the next he's out; one day on the squad, the next off. We can understand his frustration. Some of us understand it all too well. We know what it's like to be voted out. Wrong size. Wrong color. Wrong address.
To the demoted and demeaned, Jesus directs his leadoff verb. "For God so loved the world ..." Love. We've all but worn out the word. This morning I used love to describe my feelings toward my wife and toward peanut butter. Far from identical emotions. I've never proposed to a jar of peanut butter (though I have let one sit on my lap during a television show). Overuse has defused the word, leaving it with the punch of a butterfly wing.
Compare our love with God's? Look at the round belly of the pregnant peasant girl in Bethlehem. God's in there; the same God who can balance the universe on the tip of his finger floats in Mary's womb. Why? Love.
Peek through the Nazareth workshop window. See the lanky lad sweeping the sawdust from the floor? He once blew stardust into the night sky. Why swap the heavens for a carpentry shop? One answer: love.
Love explains why he came.
Love explains how he endured.
His hometown kicked him out. A so-called friend turned him in. Hucksters called God a hypocrite. Sinners called God guilty. Do termites mock an eagle, tapeworms decry the beauty of a swan? How did Jesus endure such derision? "For God so loved ..."
"Observe how Christ loved us.... He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us" (Eph. 5:2 MSG).
Your goodness can't win God's love. Nor can your badness lose it. But you can resist it. We tend to do so honestly. Having been Plutoed so often, we fear God may Pluto us as well. Rejections have left us skittish and jumpy. Like my dog Salty.
He sleeps next to me on the couch as I write. He's a cranky cuss, but I like him. We've aged together over the last fifteen years, and he seems worse for the wear. He's a wiry canine by nature; shave his salt-and-pepper mop, and he'd pass for a bulimic Chihuahua. He didn't have much to start with; now the seasons have taken his energy, teeth, hearing, and all but eighteen inches' worth of eyesight.
Toss him a dog treat, and he just stares at the floor through cloudy cataracts. (Or, in his case, dogaracts?) He's nervous and edgy, quick to growl and slow to trust. As I reach out to pet him, he yanks back. Still, I pet the old coot. I know he can't see, and I can only wonder how dark his world has become.
We are a lot like Salty. I have a feeling that most people who defy and deny God do so more out of fear than conviction. For all our chest pumping and braggadocio, we are an anxious folk—can't see a step into the future, can't hear the one who owns us. No wonder we try to gum the hand that feeds us.
But God reaches and touches. He speaks through the immensity of the Russian plain and the density of the Amazon rain forest. Through a physician's touch in Africa, a bowl of rice in India. Through a Japanese bow or a South American abraço. He's even been known to touch people through paragraphs like the ones you are reading. If he is touching you, let him.
Mark it down: God loves you with an unearthly love. You can't win it by being winsome. You can't lose it by being a loser.
God will not let you go. He has handcuffed himself to you in love. And he owns the only key. You need not win his love. You already have it. And, since you can't win it, you can't lose it.
Others demote you. God claims you. Let the definitive voice of the universe say, "You're still a part of my plan."
Chapter ThreeGOD GAVE
As far as medical exams are concerned, this one was simple. As far as I'm concerned, no exam is simple if it couples the word irregular with heartbeat. I knew I was prone to have an accelerated pulse. When I see Denalyn, my ticker ramps up. When Denalyn brings me a bowl of ice cream, you'd think a Geiger counter had struck pay dirt in my chest.
Such palpitations are to be expected. It was the random rhythms that concerned the cardiologist. You won't find a kinder physician. He did his best to assure me that, as far as heart conditions go, mine isn't serious: "When it comes to cardiac concerns, you've got the best kind."
Forgive my anemic enthusiasm. But isn't that like telling the about-to-leap paratrooper: "Your parachute has a defect, but it's not the worst type"? I prefer the treatment of another heart doctor. He saw my condition and made this eye-popping offer: "Let's exchange hearts. Mine is sturdy; yours is frail. Mine pure, yours diseased. Take mine and enjoy its vigor. Give me yours. I'll endure its irregularity."
Where do you find such a physician? You can reach him at this number—3:16. At the heart of this verse, he deals with the heart of our problem: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son."
"That's the craziest claim I've ever heard," a man once told me. He and I shared a row and a meal on an airplane. But we did not share an appreciation for John 3:16.
"I don't need God to give anyone for me," he claimed. "I've led a good life. Held a good job. People respect me. My wife loves me. I don't need God to give me his son."
Perhaps you agree. You appreciate the teachings of Jesus. Admire his example. But no matter how you turn it around, you can't see the significance of his death. How can the death of Christ mean life for us? The answer begins with a heart exam.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked" (Jer. 17:9 NKJV). The Spiritual Cardiologist scans our hearts and finds deep disease: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly" (Mark 7:21-22). He describes our problem in pandemic proportions. "No one is righteous—not even one. No one is truly wise; no one is seeking God" (Rom. 3:10-11 NLT).
Surely this is an overstatement, an exaggeration. Can it be that "we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us" (Rom. 3:23 MSG)?
This generation is oddly silent about sin. Late-night talk shows don't discuss humanity's shortcomings. Some mental health professionals mock our need for divine forgiveness. At the same time we rape the earth, squander nonrenewable resources, and let 24,000 people die daily from hunger or hunger-related causes. In these "modern" decades we have invented global threat, reinvented genocide and torture. The twentieth century saw more slaughters than any other century in history.
Barbarism apparently is alive and well on the planet Earth. Deny our sin? Quasimodo could more easily deny his hump.
Contrast your heart with Christ's. When you list the claims that qualify him as either crazy or kingly, don't omit this one: he asserted to have the only sinless heart in all of history. He invited, "Can any one of you convict me of a single misleading word, a single sinful act?" (John 8:46 MSG). Issue that challenge to my friends, and hands will wave like stalks in a Kansas wheat field. In response to Jesus's challenge, however, no one could convict him of sin. His enemies drummed up false charges in order to arrest him. Pilate, the highest-ranking official in the region, found no guilt in Jesus. Peter, who walked in Jesus's shadow for three years, recorded: "He never did one thing wrong. Not once said anything amiss" (1 Pet. 2:22 MSG).
Jesus's standard mutes all boasting.
So how does he respond to our unholy hearts? Can a good cardiologist spot irregularity and dismiss it? Can God overlook our sin as innocent mistakes? No. He is the one and only judge. He issues decrees, not opinions; commands, not suggestions. They are truth. They emerge from his holy self. Violate them and you dethrone him—dethrone him at the highest cost.
Jesus made his position clear: "Anyone whose life is not holy will never see the Lord" (Heb. 12:14 NCV). Hard-hearted souls will not populate heaven.
It is the "pure in heart" who will "see God" (Matt. 5:8). So where does that leave us? It leaves us drawing hope from a five-letter Greek word.
Hyper means "in place of" or "on behalf of." New Testament writers repeatedly turned to this preposition to describe the work of Christ:
"Christ died for [hyper] our sins ..." (1 Cor. 15:3).
"Jesus gave himself for [hyper] our sins" (Gal. 1:4 NCV).
"Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for [hyper] us" (Gal. 3:13 NASB).
For sounding hyper about hyper, I apologize, but the point is crucial. Christ exchanged hearts with you. Yes, your thieving, lying, adulterous, and murderous heart. He placed your sin in himself and invited God to punish it. "The LORD has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done" (Isa. 53:6 NCV).
A Chinese Christian understood this point. Before her baptism, a pastor asked a question to ensure she understood the meaning of the cross. "Did Jesus have any sin?" he inquired.
"Oh, yes," she replied.
Troubled, he repeated the question.
"He had sin," she answered positively.
The leader set out to correct her, but she insisted, "He had mine."
Though healthy, Jesus took our disease upon himself. Though diseased, we who accept his offer are pronounced healthy. More than pardoned, we are declared innocent. We enter heaven, not with healed hearts, but with his heart. It is as if we have never sinned. Read slowly the announcement of Paul: "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17).
This is no transplant, mind you, but a swap. The holy and the vile exchange locations. God makes healthy what is sick, right what is wrong, straight what was crooked.
Scarred and journey-hardened we come. "Can you do something with this heart?" we ask.
He nods and smiles. "Suppose we discuss a swap."
Chapter FourWE BELIEVE
Tell me my part again," I groaned. "Just trust me," she assured. She was a bubbly, college-aged, baseball-capped, rope holder. Trust me translated into a backward leap off a fifty-foot cliff, wearing a belay harness and a what-did-I-get-myself-into expression.
Some people love rappelling. They relish the stomach-in-the-throat sensation. Not me. I prefer the seat-in-the-chair one. I had traveled to Colorado to experience a week of rest to the fullest. Fresh air, great views. Good coffee, long talks. These events made my list. Half-gainers off the mountain didn't.
Blame persuasive friends and stupid pride for my presence on the peak. The platform team assured me of a safe landing.
"Ever done this?" the girl asked.
She handed me a leather harness and told me to step in. "It's kind of like a diaper" she smiled, all too chipper. I may need a diaper, I thought.
"What about you?" I inquired. "Have you lowered anyone down the mountain?"
"Been working here all summer," she beamed.
It was barely July.
"It's simple," she continued as she clipped me in and handed me gloves. "Hold the rope and jump. Bounce off the wall with your feet."
Someone make a law: the words jump, bounce, and wall should never be spoken in the same breath.
"How do I keep from crashing?"
"You don't. I do that."
"Yes, I hold your rope."
Little comfort. Not only was she half my age, she was half my size—more of the ballet than the belay sort. "But don't I do something?" I begged.
"You trust me."
I inched up to the edge of the cliff and looked down. Frodo felt safer looking into the pit.
"Do you have any valuables?" I heard a voice ask.
"Only my life."
"You're funny," she chirped, sounding so much like my daughters that I remembered my will was out of date. "Come on. It's your turn!"
I gave her one more look. A look akin to the one the 3:16 promise often prompts. Can I really trust that "whoever believes in him shall not perish"?
Excerpted from THE 3:16 PROMISE by MAX LUCADO Copyright © 2007 by Max Lucado. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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