John 3:16 is one of the best-known verses of the Bible about believing in Jesus.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
To appreciate John 3:16, it is important to understand the meaning of the Greek word that is translated as “believe” in today’s reading. That word is pisteuo. Pisteuo means to be persuaded, to place confidence in, to trust, to rely upon. The Gospel of John records pisteuo 99 times. In today’s scripture reading, pisteuo is used three times as Jesus engages in dialogue with Nicodemus.
A verb of the present tense, pisteuo provided the foundation for Nicodemus to see life from God’s viewpoint as Jesus spoke about God’s eternal love. Jesus’ invitation for Nicodemus to believe was not what Nicodemus expected when he identified Jesus as a teacher from God. In fact, Jesus’ teaching was so unexpected that all Nicodemus could do was to ask questions as his understanding of God’s eternal kingdom was challenged.
Jesus taught, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” and all Nicodemus could do was ask, “How can someone be born when they are old? Can one enter a second time into their mother’s womb and be born?”
Jesus taught about no one entering the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit, and about the wind blowing where it chooses, and about being born of the Spirit, and all Nicodemus could do was ask, “How can these things be?”
Pisteuo is still a present tense invitation to see life from God’s eternal viewpoint of love as we are born anew through the present experiences of our lives.
Jesus invited Nicodemus to believe in the promise of life made possible by the eternal presence of God. In reflecting on the present tense promise of eternal life in John 3:16, Frederick Buechner writes:
We think of eternal life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends. We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins.
Some years ago, Bishop Willis J. King, the first African American bishop in America to receive a Ph.D. in Old Testament, told the story of what happened earlier in his life when he received his undergraduate degree from Wiley College. Following his graduation, he went home to spend a few days with his parents. He showed them his degree of which he was so proud. Then he announced, “Tomorrow, I’m going to go to the downtown bank, and I’m going to borrow $500 to buy my first automobile.” The next morning, as he was about to leave, his father said to him, “Son, don’t you want me to go with you and cosign your note?”
King said, “No, Dad, I can take care of this by myself. After all, I’ve got my degree now.” At the bank, the bank manager said to King, “So you want to borrow $500. Tell me, what do you have as collateral? If you’re going to get $500 from this bank, you’ve got to have something of equal value.”
“Oh, yes sir,” King said, “I’ve got my degree.” The bank officer replied, “Son, I’m sorry, but we can’t use that degree as collateral for $500. I’m afraid you’ll just have to go elsewhere.” Bishop King was in a state of embarrassment and failure when he heard the familiar voice of his father who said to him, “Son, I’ve come to cosign your note.”
“But Dad,” King said, “you can’t even write. All you can do is make an “X.” Hearing what King told his father, the banker said, “It may be true that your dad can’t write and all he can do is make an ‘X’, but I want to tell you something. It’s that X that got the loan to get you into school. It’s that X that got the loan to keep you in school, and it’s that X that got the loan to get you out of school. And if you are going to get a loan from this bank to buy a car, it’s that same X that’s going to get the loan for you.”
King says that as he watched his dad make his X on that bank document, he was born anew by the reality of his father’s love.
Jesus was inviting Nicodemus to be born anew in the reality of God’s love by believing he was God’s only begotten Son.
The invitation to believe in Jesus still stands.
Believing in Jesus
by Pastor Marc Brown
March 5, 2023
Accompanying Scriptures: John 3:1-17
Fort Hill United Methodist Church
Order of Worship for March 5, 2023
Scripture Lesson John 3:1-17
The Good News “Believing In Jesus”
Music “Lamb of God” by Twila Paris
Closing Music “Grace Greater Than Our Sin” arr. Bill Wolaver