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THE GOOD NEWS

Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was John 3:16-18.  John 3:16 is probably the most often quoted verse in the Bible.  It’s the one you see so often on signs at sporting events.  It proclaims the good news.  It says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  It’s the basic message of salvation.  Luther called this verse “the Gospel in miniature.”  And so it is.

But what struck me was John 3:18.  It may be the least quoted verse in the Bible.  It says “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”  Really?  Those who don’t believe in Jesus are condemned?  We don’t want to hear that.  It sounds so exclusive!  It doesn’t sound like good news.  Why would God say that?

Well first of all, I believe that “he who does not believe” means he who absolutely refuses to believe.  I think it refers to those who know the Gospel message but refuse to accept it.  They reject God’s offer of salvation.  I don’t think it refers to people who try to live as Christians but may have honest doubts from time to time.

But why is there only one path that leads to eternal life?  I picture it this way.  When Satan sinned he was sentenced to hell forever.  He didn’t get a second chance.  Justice would require the same punishment for man.  In effect, when man sinned we chose Satan over God.  We became captives of Satan.  I picture it as if God approached Satan and offered himself as our ransom.  He offers to become human and die for our sins.  Satan accepts the offer, reasoning that if God became human and died for us he (Satan) could return to heaven and take over.  God would be dead.  He didn’t anticipate the resurrection.

But that’s why there would be only one path to salvation.  We can’t do it on our own.  I believe that after man sinned, there was only one way we could still get to heaven.  God would have to become human and die for our sins.  He would do this for us, but we would have to accept this free gift.  If we refused it, we would not have it.  That’s why we need to proclaim the good news to the world; the whole world.

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