The Cross Shows us We are Loved

 

Chapel Message

October 2023

 

According to John, the ministry of Jesus began on the third day (τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ). The early Christian tradition seemed to have found a connection of Christ’s death and resurrection to Hosea’s words, “on the third day he will raise us up that we may live before him.” I believe that Luke’s use of the phrase, τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ, in his version of Christ’s third passion prediction is an intentional reference to Hosea strengthening Luke’s position that Jesus fulfilled the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms.

1 Corinthians 15:4 says, “he was buried, and he was raised τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ τρίτῃ according to the Scriptures.” If Paul had any specific Scriptures in mind, there are no other Scripture references as explicitly linked to the resurrection of Jesus on the third day than Hosea 6:2.

Hosea, of course, is the prophet whose name, closely associated with the name of Jesus, means salvation, and he ransomed his adulterous bride out of slavery.

So, I argue that John retells a series of events in Christ’s life, from John chapter 2 through chapter 4, beginning and ending in Cana, that clearly connects the cross and resurrection to marriage – the cross/resurrection event is God’s proposal to humanity to return to him in love.

Jesus’ ministry on the cross is a declaration of God’s love for us.

God loves you. He delights in you. He cherishes you. He pursues you with more passion, purity, and power than any human has ever pursued a lover.

I don’t know how you’ve been treated within the arena of human love. I don’t know if you’ve been hurt by parents, family, or friends. If you’ve been hurt by girlfriends or boyfriends, spouses, or strangers. But please know that there is a perfect love out there, and it is offered to you freely and perfectly by the only person who really matters – the only One who is capable of such love.

Like a good husband loves and cherishes his bride, God treasures you. And you don’t have to rise up to any set of behavioral standards for his love. On the contrary, it is the acceptance and abiding in that free love that transforms us from the inside out.

Ephesians 5 teaches us that Jesus gave himself up for you so that he might sanctify you, cleansing you by the washing of water with the very word of God so that he might present you to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – that you might be holy and without blemish. The only love that matters, given by the only lover that matters, is perfectly offered to you without price.

John wanted us to see this very love of God standing behind the cross of Jesus.

 

The Beloved Disciple Crafted a Cruciform Wedding Proposal

 

There are parallel episodes between John chapters 2-4 and the crucifixion and resurrection accounts of 19:24b – 20:29.

These episodes are held together by references to Psalm 69, the prophet Zechariah, the presence of Jesus’ mother, the presence of Nicodemus, the season of Passover, key words like “hour”, the water and wine of the wedding in Cana and the water and blood poured out at Golgotha. They are held together by scenes of confused disciples and a conversation between Jesus and a woman (perhaps both being at some sort of well). They are held together by themes like faith without sight, and they are all wrapped up within the metaphor of the wedding and the love of the bridegroom.

Meditating on these parallel episodes draws out some of the nuances John, the beloved disciple, wanted us to internalize about the ministry of Christ.

We’re going to look specifically at the scenes with Nicodemus and the women at the wells so that we can meditate on how the cross shows us we’re loved.

 

The Saving Ministry of the Son of Man is Motivated by Love

 

Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, and Jesus clarifies that even Nicodemus needs a miraculous new birth from above… like a valley of dry bones coming to life. That the Son of Man who has both ascended and descended is the only one who can make this happen. And it will only happen as the Son of Man is lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness… that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

And what stands behind all of this work and effort on the part of the Son of Man to be lifted up and save people from their sin and rebellion?

Love.

That’s where John 3:16 lands:

“For God loves the world in this way: that he gave his only unique Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

The judgment that sifts humanity is all about love too.

John 3:19 teaches us:

“The judgment is this: the light has come into the world, and people have loved the darkness more than the light, for their deeds were evil.”

We can turn from our adulterous love of the darkness, receive the love of God through his Son, the Son of God and Son of Man, and be saved – reborn from above!

After this episode, John the Baptist explains to his disciples why he must decrease – because Jesus, and not John, is the bridegroom!

 

Betrothal at a Well

 

And the very next scene we find Jesus at a well with a woman.

When a man meets a woman at a well, a betrothal happens.[1]

Abraham’s servant for Isaac; Jacob; Moses.

So, if a Jewish man were to talk to a Samaritan woman at a well – asking for a drink, offering to give her living water – that could certainly be taken as a romantic, or not-so-romantic, gesture.

Her life experience would lead her to believe that, once again, she is to be seen as an object by men and for men.

Except she’s talking to Jesus, the eternal bridegroom. She didn’t recognize him at first, but she comes to see he is the Messiah. She runs to tell everyone that she has met the Messiah and to share with them all he had told her.

Right on cue in chapters 19 and 20, to parallel these stories we’ve just talked about, Nicodemus shows up, and Jesus has a one-on-one conversation with a woman.

 

Parallels in the Crucifixion and Resurrection

 

“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:39-42.

Only 3 times do myrrh and aloes appear together in the OT, and they all are in the context of romantic love.

Psalm 45 is designated a love song, and in it, a woman praises her royal lover, “your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.”

In Proverbs 7, Woman Folly cries out to tempt young men away from wisdom, “I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.”

The final reference to myrrh and aloes is the only place in all of the LXX using a root for aloes, like John.

Song of Songs 4:12-15:

A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.

Myrrh and aloes were the spices of romance. And the garden was the place for romance to spring forth like living water.

By identifying the spices of myrrh and aloes and connecting them to a garden, John helps us see the cross as an intimate act of love. For John there will never be a more holy display of gentle, selfless, edifying, passionate, perfect love. The tomb is a garden of love – as we read in Song of Songs 4: a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon.” As we see the tomb as a garden fountain – a well of living water – how interesting that Jesus meets with a woman at this well paralleling the meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.

“Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and sisters and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.” John 20:14-18.

So, Jesus meets this woman at the garden tomb well of living water. She doesn’t recognize him at first, but when Jesus speaks her name, she knows him. And she runs off to tell others all that he had told her. The empty tomb is living well – a place of betrothal for all who will say to Jesus, “I do.”

 

Know the Love of God, and Let it Transform You

 

John deeply wanted us to know the love of Jesus that he knew. The love of Jesus softened the heart of this Son of Thunder, so that in his gospel he could only call himself the beloved disciple. In his letters, he couldn’t help but to call on all the churches he influenced to love one another, because love comes from God – because God is love!

If we claim to know God and we don’t love each other, we are walking in deceit… (1 John 4). Works and toil and endurance and the removal of evil and the testing of truth are not enough to keep an ecclesial lampstand if we forget love. (Revelation 2:1-7). Little children… let us love one another. (1 John 3). The love of Jesus totally transformed John… and he wanted it to transform us as well.

If you just hear one thing from all of this, hear this:

God loves you – right now, just as you are. He longs for you. He delights in you. God demonstrated his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

You don’t have to rise up to some set of behavioral standards or standards of intellectual belief or understanding in order to be loved. He loved you at your worst – enough to die for you.

When the Son of Thunder stopped trying to perform and allowed himself to be loved, he was transformed.

So meditate on this:

You are cherished. You are wanted. Anyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and who believes in their heart that God raised Christ from the dead will be saved. Accepted completely and forever.

Washed. Renewed. Purified. Holy. Eternally beloved. Not because you earned anything, but simply because you said, “I do,” to Jesus. Abide in that love.

[1] For discussion on the “type-scene” of the betrothal at a well, see Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 2011), 61-74.

 

Published: Oct 18, 2023

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