247. God’s Game Plan (John 3:16-21)

“How precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he gained so great a Redeemer, and if God ‘gave his only Son’ in order that man ‘should not perish but have eternal life.’” – Saint John Paul II

John 3:16-21: ‘Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life. For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God’s only Son. On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil. And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed; but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God.’

Christ the Lord  You never really know someone until you know what’s in their heart – what motivates them, what they’re looking for, why they do what they do. In this conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus lays bare the heart of God.

The history of salvation, from the fall of Adam and Eve until the final judgment, revolves around the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior, the Son of God. Why did he come? Because the Father sent him. Why did the Father send him? Because he “loved the world so much.” He simply couldn’t bear to see us perish in our sins; he longed to share with us his everlasting life. God cares. And Jesus Christ is the definitive proof that he cares. He cares so much that he is willing to sacrifice his only Son to atone for the sins that have separated man from God, the source of all good things. We need look no further to find the very core of the gospel: “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” No hidden agenda, no selfish undertones – pure generosity. This is the heart of God, of the Lord who longs for our friendship.

Only when a Christian internalizes this fundamental and overarching motive of God does Christian discipleship really begin to mature. This is Christ’s revolution. That disinterested, self-forgetful love has the power to overcome all evil and renew every human heart and the human race as a whole. The rules and rituals of Christianity are not its core, but its leaves. Joy, the kind of joy that none of life’s contrarieties can diminish, as the lives of countless saints from every walk of life so powerfully attest to, is its flower. But its root is God’s love, and its fruit is God’s love lived out in the humdrum routine of daily life by the followers of Christ.

Christ the Teacher With these few sentences, Jesus lifts the veil of heaven and gives us a brief glimpse into the life of God himself.

The conversation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that led to the Incarnation and the salvation of sinful mankind was one of love. Love spoke to Love, and Love answered, and Love himself came to earth to teach us love. God is a relationship of eternal love between the Three Divine Persons.

Theologians reflecting on the Trinity see its image in the human family. The love of husband and wife in an embrace of complete and mutual self-giving yield a child. It is love that brings them together and love that brings new life. Similarly, but in an even more marvelous way, the Father and the Son look upon each other with such love that the love itself is another Person, another source of love, the Holy Spirit.

Christ the Friend  Jesus has proven his love by coming to earth “for our sake and for our salvation.” He invites us to believe so that we might not perish but have eternal life. He did not come for his own sake, but for ours. This is the epitome of friendship. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). But in his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus once again points out that we remain free to accept or reject his offer of friendship, his offer of salvation. He makes it starkly clear: “Whoever does not believe in him has already been condemned.” Salvation depends on God and on us; God has done his part, now we must do ours.

for post on John 3:16-21Nicodemus: I remember the tone of the Lord’s voice that night. We were talking quietly, almost alone. Only one of his young disciples was there with us. We were sitting outside near a fire on a hillside under the stars. How could I forget this, my first conversation with the Master? His voice resonated with the very love of which he spoke. His eyes glimmered in the firelight with eager enthusiasm. I knew even then that it was the enthusiasm that had been at the origin of his mission to earth. As he spoke of those who believed in him, he grew joyful and glad. Then his words trembled with sadness and disappointment when he spoke of those who did not believe. How could I not be convinced by his wisdom, brighter and hotter than the fire between us? It was a risk for me to come to him that night, but I am ever grateful that I took it.

Christ in My Life I am so glad to be loved, Lord, and yet I am so slow to love. My heart is so inconstant. If I like someone, I treat them the way you would have me treat them, but if they rub me the wrong way, I bristle and gripe. Teach me to be a mature Christian. Teach me to love in word and deed, in thought and action. Teach me to love everyone the way you love…

I praise you, Father all-powerful, Christ, Lord and Savior, Holy Spirit of love. You have revealed yourself to me, and you have drawn me to share in your life and your love. Stay near to me, God. You have created me in your image and you have given life to this world because of your love. In your goodness make me an instrument of your mercy…

Lead me, Lord, to the pinnacle of love. I don’t ask to be taken to new places or given new tasks. I ask you to unveil your beauty here where I live and work, where you have placed me. I ask you to infuse me with your love in the tasks you have already given me to do. I believe in you, Lord. Thy will be done…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art for this post on God’s Game Plan: John 3:16-21: Partial restoration of Christ Talking with Nicodemus at Night, Crijn Hendricksz Volmarijen, 1616-1645, PD-US published in the U.S. before January 1, 1923, author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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