Read: John 3:16-21
I know we just discussed this here, but there is much more to say before moving on. As I read the NIV Application Commentary over and over again, I’m struck by the need to explain John’s statements further. The phrase that leaps off the page is the title of this post:
God did not send Jesus to do His dirty work.
God was and is for us. It is His greatest desire that all would come to accept that which the world has taught us otherwise: there is absolute truth and that truth is wrapped up in the incarnated life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
The following is an excerpt from the NIV Application Commentary that dives deep into the subject in a much more eloquent manner than I can express. Please take time to read this three or four times. It’s that significant.
Today’s intellectual climate is offended by the absolute claim of religious truth, but a faithful rendering of New Testament Christology demands this. This theme will continue to come up throughout the Gospel of John, but at this juncture, John has said something important that we must pause and note.
Many Christians today think about the work of Christ with an unfortunate, ill-informed understanding of God and Christ. I see this again and again both in classes I teach and in the church.
The imaginative picture used by many to express the work of Christ is that Jesus has died in order to placate an angry God, whereas the cross expresses the love of Christ for us and his work appeases God’s threatening wrath. This makes God an opponent and an adversary while Jesus is our ally.
But this is not what John says in 3:16. “God so loved the world…” The work of Christ is God at work, God saving the world, God extending himself into the condition of our humanity and bringing about reconciliation. The center of this error is a deficient view of the Trinity or, more precisely, a deficient understanding of what the church’s earliest theologians were trying to express at the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325).
Christ was not created— there was no time in history when he “was not”— and so he enjoys an eternal existence precisely like God. Further, he shares the very essence or being of God (the Council of Nicea used the word homoousios to express this concept). Why is this important? Because it means that God himself is on our side. God himself is at work on our behalf.
He did not send a messenger (Jesus) to do the dirty work. God himself came to the cross and suffered in order to bring his beloved creation back to himself.
This understanding is expressed repeatedly by Paul. In 2 Corinthians 5: 18–19 he describes the goodness of God in rescuing us and remarks: “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Or again, in the words of Colossians 1:19–20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
The cross is thus God’s work. Jesus Christ came to earth, not in order to change God’s mind, but to express God’s mind.
Who can understand why God chose this method or the timing? Why did He wait 430 years to call Moses and lead His people out of slavery? Why, what, how? I can’t answer these things sufficiently because the explanation requires some degree of faith. It requires belief in something greater and more powerful than mankind. I’m required to confess that I lack the intellectual capacity to answer these questions to appease the cynic and skeptic and I have the audacity to conclude there is a God that is responsible for all creation that is not bound by time nor offended by my opinions. He is God. I am not.
I tried to explain my perspective in this post: Reason for the Hope I have in Jesus Christ a few months ago. The current study of John’s gospel continues to rattle the chain and begs me to investigate more. My prayer is these words will stir something in your heart and keep you awake at night. I suggest this is the Holy Spirit stirring in your heart. Listen to that voice. Turn off the streams of worldly advice and hear from the voice of One who loves you more than my words can express.
Source: Wilkins, Michael J.; Garland, David E.; Bock, Darrell L.; Burge, Gary M.; Fernando, Ajith. NIVAC Bundle 6: Gospels, Acts (The NIV Application Commentary) (Kindle Locations 61930-61950). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
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One Reply to “God Did Not Send Jesus to do His Dirty Work”
Well said. Thank you for your thoughts, including the wise comments of the commentator you quoted. Their so-much-needed adjustment to the teaching surrounding the motive and intention of God in the cross is a blessing for the many of us who were raised with that mindset. God’s love undergirds it all.