I am reading through John's gospel in my devotions and came to John 3:16 today. That's right, the most known verse probably in the entire Bible, at least here in the United States. Whenever I read familiar verses, the most natural thing to do is gloss over it because I know it and have heard sermons on it and have probably preached on it before. Familiar verses are front loaded with presumptions and often limited or even deadened by what we've heard taught regarding them. Like beautiful landscape or picture that we see every day, we are prone to ignore what ought to be compelling. Today I stopped and stared.

"For God so loved the world..."

That is, the Holy, Perfect, Wise, Sovereign God, valued, cherished, and made himself vulnerable to a world that hated Him; rebelled against Him; mocked Him; ignored Him; that is too busy for Him; plays games with Him; accuses and blames Him; and thinks of Him as their problem and presumes to be better off without Him. God so loved that world...

"... that He gave his only Son..."

The infinite and glorious God so loved the dystopian and despising world, that He gave His most precious gift, withholding nothing. Not a desperate act of insecurity, but a selfless act of generosity and sacrifice. This was a decisive, willful, extravagant, and ill-deserved act of kindness. God gave a gift of infinite value to a world that thumbed their noses at Him and tossed Him into the trash bin of their lives. He gave a gift of surpassing worth to an unworthy world who dared think He was unworthy of their attention, allegiance and affection.

"... that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."

Eternal life is life with God. Life under the care of God. Life grounded in the love of God and driven by the pleasure of God. This is fullness of life beginning right now and extending out into forever. It's life on an upward trajectory with no dips and no endpoint. And it's life that touches every dimension of our person: physical, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual. It's freedom from the living deadness the world is trapped in and cycling through, and deliverence over to life that is truly life.

But hold on... let's back up...

"...that whoever believes in Him..."

That's what captured my gaze this morning. That's what I stopped to stare at. "Whoever..." linger on that.

It's crazy... ridiculous... nonsensical. WHOEVER? It's too indiscriminate a word not to be an exaggeration. It's too non-selective to be serious. "Whoever" is a word that indicates no evaluation process, no qualifiers or conditions. "Whoever" is utterly unconcerned with any status. It indicates that God has no standards. Sit in that. Let it sink in. Don't get distracted by the other surroundings. Just fixate on "whoever." Consider the implications.

"Whoever" would welcome the full range and varied expressions of failures, fools and frauds represented across the human spectrum. It would welcome them on the basis of only their willingness to receive God's gift with the empty hands of faith.

"Whoever" would mean God gave His ultimate gift without regard for our resume, personal past, family lineage or ancestry, education level, or socioeconomic standing; that He gave his best without regard for personality, aptitude, potential, ethnicity, pedigree, beauty, morality, age, class, or accomplishments; that He gave the most valuable gift without regard for religious affiliation, sexual history or orientation, or political ideology; that He gave his most costly without regard for name recognition, mental health, emotional balance, relational competency, cultural put-togetherness, work ethic, or background check results.

"Whoever" would exclude nobody. "Whoever" would suggest no boundaries. "Whoever" would interrupt our, "yeah but..." and cut us off at, "You don't know..." "Whoever" would be the counterpoint to all of our excuses, apprehensions, and "if-you-only-knew's."

"Whoever" would extends into rundown ghettos in our inner cities as much as it does to the rundown souls hiding behind the Suburban veneers of impressiveness and comfort. "Whoever" would recognize the forgotten farmlands of the Midwest as readily as the institutions and centers of power inhabited by social elites.

"Whoever" would give equal preference to the slums of Mumbai, the townships of South Africa, the villages of Burkina Faso and the jungles of Peru. "Whoever" would beckon to Morocco and Malaysia; to China and Sri Lanka; to Vietnam and Venezuela. "Whoever" would encompass Siberia, Switzerland, Singapore and South Korea. "Whoever" would resound to the hovels of Guatemala, and the hillsides of Austria, and the hostels in Bulgaria. "Whoever" would be a personal invitation to those in the Shanty towns of New Zealand, the squalors of New Delhi, and the streets of New Jersey.

"Whoever" would include the orphanages of Ethiopia, the schemes of Scotland, and the coast of Colombia. "Whoever" would take the red-light district in Thailand, war zones like Syria, and oppressive places like the Sudan, every bit as seriously as it takes Seattle, St. Louis, or Raleigh. "Whoever" would be as familiar with Lebanon and Libya as it is Los Angeles. "Whoever" would be as conscious of Somalia and Yemen as it is of South Carolina and Michigan. "Whoever" would be as mindful of and earnest about Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan as it is for Jacksonville, Louisville and Nashville. "Whoever" would reach to Ghana, Mozambique and Cambodia with the same urgency it reaches to the 5 Boroughs of New York City, the outskirts of Belfast, and the masses of Bangalore.

For goodness sake, "whoever" would have to even include Yankee fans, Cowboy fans, and Laker Fans; it would include Duke basketball and Alabama football fans.

"Whoever" would be the great equalizer... the reset button... "Whoever" would disregard all of our earthly categories, valuations, and social strata. "Whoever" would mock the idea of meritocracy and taunt our capitalistic impulses, by gathering all the grace that exists in the cosmos, and evenly redistributing that grace to all who have ever lived.

"Whoever" is astounding. It's too broad and expansive to fit within our paradigms. "Whoever" is unreasonable, even unfashionable. We need limits on these things. Surely Jesus intended for us to reign him in on this invitation. Almost certainly Jesus got caught up in the moment, carried away by some impulsive tendencies, and he intends for us to regulate his "whoever" with our more measured and thought out restrictions. Right?

But wait...

What if when Jesus said "whoever", he meant exactly that. What if that was his measured, carefully thought out offer. What if Jesus wanted us to take him seriously and literally on this point. Well, then, we would have to think very differently. About everything. Huh.

Maybe we should. Maybe that's exactly what he intended.

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