Grace Immersion

Bonus Day 64

The 3:16 Promise

Not only does a better understanding of grace help you understand the Bible as a whole; it also helps you see familiar verses more clearly.

One year Laurie and I were returning home from a three-week trip to Europe visiting my family. She was expecting our first child and after we landed in San Francisco she just really wanted to get on the plane to get back home to Lake Tahoe.

But our flight was delayed, and when we finally get to the customs line at SFO the wait is unusually long and it looks like we’re going to miss our flight home. So I tell her, “Hey, cheer up — maybe the airline will give us a free night in a San Francisco hotel if we miss our connection! We can have a romantic night in the city!” She’s tired and sick and looks at me like, “If you continue being happy about that possibility I may be forced to kill you.”

So I go to the customs official and say, “Look, I know this is out of the ordinary but my wife is pregnant — and between us, she is possibly homicidal right now — and we need to make our flight, so can you bump us to the front of the line so we can make the connection?”

He responds, “Hmmm.” And I don’t know why he asked me this next, but he says, “What’s your job?”

I say, “Well, I’m a pastor.”

And he goes, “Riiiight. You have no idea how often people try to use that line.” And then he challenges me, “If you’re really a pastor, recite John 3:16.” Like, it was his fail-safe! As if no one but a pastor could possibly know this!

He folds his arms and looks at me. My wife is looking at me. And I think, “I’m gonna choke! I’ll end up spitting out the Gettysburg Address or something!” So I take a deep breath… and say…

“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.”

John 3:16

And he says, “Wow, you must be a pastor! Move to the front of the line, Reverend!”

We got home on time. But it was no prodigious feat of memory. Of course I knew John 3:16 — as a church kid, I learned it before I entered Kindergarten. It must be the very first verse that any little kid growing up in Sunday School is taught. And it’s a good one. Only problem: It suffers from what I call the “Pledge of Allegiance factor”. We know the words, the very cadence, so well that the syllables have almost lost all meaning.

Ever really listen to kids saying the Pledge? The older they get the more familiar they are with it and the more familiar they are with it, the more it’s just a string of sounds. For all the comprehension they’re showing it might as well say: “I pledge all agents to the flag of the United States of a miracle, and total reap puppets four witch it’s sands, won Asian, under guard, with libber tea and just its fur all.”

The same can be said of the truths in John 3:16. Just like the doctrine of grace itself, people can think they know what it means when they really haven’t given its meaning much thought in years!

So check this out: This may seem obvious, but John 3:16 is set up by John 3:14–15, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus is referring to a story in Numbers 21. In that passage the Israelites are in the desert, dying from poisonous snake bites. There is no antidote.

So God tells Moses that He’s going to do a miracle. He tells him to make a brass symbol of the snake, put it on a pole and lift it high, and anyone who merely looks on it in faith will be healed by God’s grace (That healing symbol, by the way, is where we get the caduceus, the symbol for physicians in our society today).

See the parallels? The Bible says we’re all dying of a poison in our soul. So Jesus sacrifices Himself on a “pole”, a cross, lifted up for all humans to see. If we look on it in faith, we are healed as an act of grace from God.

As John 3:16 says, “whoever believes” does not perish from the poison. Not whoever works real hard. Not whoever proves himself. Not whoever prays the most. Whoever believes.

It’s that simple. Just look to Jesus. That’s grace.

I presume there were people back in Numbers 21 who refused to look at the bronze snake to be healed, because the Bible talks about those who died. In their pride they refused the grace that could have been theirs. Why would people do that? Do you ever see that tendency in yourself?

The obvious prayer that I encourage you to pray: Humbly tell God that you believe in Jesus Christ as your Healer and Savior. If you have already received this gift, pray that others may believe in Christ through this Grace Immersion.