By Rebecca Landry
Most people reading this live in a place with easy access to Scripture and Christian fellowship. In addition, many may have been raised in a Christian home or have known Jesus and God’s Word for years. This is a good thing. Spiritual depth and constancy are beautiful. But there is also danger in familiarity and comfort. Concepts that should amaze us may have become a little too familiar.
I heard the story of an old woman who began to lose her memory. Her pastor visited her regularly and read Scripture to her. Because of the frailty of her mind, this woman who had followed Jesus faithfully all her life forgot the story of the Savior’s life and his gospel. When her pastor read of the crucifixion and resurrection, she wept and exclaimed over its goodness. It was as if she had heard it for the first time.
In a Christian-saturated subculture, we have grown accustomed to the message of Christ. It is a beautiful thing to know the gospel but a dangerous thing to lose awe of it. How can we maintain a heart that is amazed by Jesus and the gospel? Have we lost sight of the greatness and awe-inducing beauty of the words that the Son of God spoke while he was on this earth? Let’s look at a few of those words.
In John 3:16-21 we read of a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus—a back-and-forth, questions-and-answers kind of real-life conversation.
Imagine that you are Nicodemus. You know the Scriptures, the God of whom they speak, and have read about the coming Messiah. It’s dark outside and when you see the stars you think of Psalm 33:6: “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” You take a breath and let out the air in your lungs. Your breath doesn’t create stars. You have an awe-filled fear of this God who breathes stars.
You’ve got doubts about this Jesus who is now standing in front of you. You’ve got questions for him, and the good news is that he can handle them. The even better news for you is that he gives you the time of day and has a conversation with you. He responds to your questions. Then among your questions about rebirth and the signs he’s doing, and amidst his discussion about the flesh and spirit, he speaks of love, life, saving, and light. Love—you remember that Psalm 33 also says the earth is full of his unfailing love, and you think of the earth around you brimming with the love of the God who breathes stars. But Jesus also speaks of the love that compelled God to give a Son for the purpose of life and salvation, not condemnation.
Then Jesus Christ speaks these words to you: “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).
When the words Jesus said in John 3:16 landed on human ears for the first time in history, what did they mean? I don’t think Nicodemus missed the greatness of that sentence, but you might have. Because for those of us steeped in Christian culture, this life-giving sentence has become a worn-out phrase. We preach it at sporting events, wear it on T-shirts, and give it out on tracts. We might have lost the significance of it due to overuse. But these words about the Son of God were spoken by the Son of God himself. Nicodemus was the first man on this earth to hear these words of love, sacrifice, belief, and life.
The Creator who breathed stars and love into this earth decided to demonstrate love, show his glory, and fix our problem by becoming one of us. He said he would send a Messiah to save, and then came himself to save us. Jesus told Nicodemus an amazing thing—that the God Nicodemus knew of from the Scriptures sent his Son in flesh to love this world and not condemn it. Maybe Nicodemus had a better understanding of how unbelievable that is—that we can stand before the God who breathed stars and, because of Christ, not be condemned. We may have lost the awe and delight that these words of Jesus should incite in our hearts.
Does the love of God expressed in Christ bring us to our knees anymore? We nod and comment that yes, we know of this love and we believe in Jesus. On the other hand, we don’t believe and rest in that love in a daily, desperate way. We frequently assume upon this salvation and grace of the Lord. When we question God and wrestle with our faith, we may not realize that grace itself is what gives us the freedom to do so. We should tremble at the fact that we can be in the presence of God and talk freely with the one who commands stars and angel armies.
“The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses” (Psalm 33:5-7). Here, and over and over in Psalms, we read of the majesty and the unfailing love of the Lord. And all of this was written before that love was revealed in the person of Christ. What would you and I believe about God if we lived before Christ’s coming? How did the pre-Christ author of this psalm speak of the earth being full of God’s love? He certainly had a heart full of faith and belief.
Christ has been on this earth and has spoken John 3:16 to humanity, and still we struggle daily to really believe in and be amazed by his love. What an offense. Can we recognize and regularly confess to God this sin of our lack of belief in his love?
If we know the gospel we cannot hear it again for the first time, and we should not wish that we had come to faith in a different way. But we can try to imagine hearing it for the first time, and we can awaken our souls and hearts to his love and respond while our hearts are soft. We see various situations in the Bible that should strike fear in our souls—situations of a hardening of the heart. We read in Exodus 9:12 that “the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart” and in Romans 9:18 that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Without examining the deeper theological intricacies of this concept, what we can immediately learn is this: we should respond to the Lord and his truths in the moments that our hearts are soft to them; we should take advantage of opportunities to be amazed by him.
When there is an opportunity in your life to be amazed by the attributes of God, to be humbled by his love, to respond to his truth—take it! Do not wait, for we do not know when our hearts will be soft. Hebrews 3:15 tells us, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” Later we read “let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found” (Psalm 32:6).
Our God is big enough, complicated enough, and wonderful enough to amaze us daily with a new aspect of his character or a new manifestation of his love and grace. In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis reminds us of God’s particular love for each of us: “Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently?” He loves each of us in special and specific ways that we can readily understand.
May we ask the Lord to restore in us childlike hearts of wonder and amazement that we might be in awe of him. Let our hearts, along with Dante’s in his work Paradiso, say, “my will and my desire were turned by love, the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”
Rebecca Landry is a social worker who is currently living in Spain, teaching English, and eating tapas.