John 3:16 is one of the most famous verses of the New Testament. It has become, over the years, the text used to define what it means to follow Jesus. When someone hands you a religious piece of paper while you are walking on the street or waves a sign while sitting in a football stadium, they are acting as if God is waiting on you to make a choice. The choice is simple: choose Jesus or choose the world. And once you choose Jesus, God will choose you.
But is this the point of John 3:16? I don’t think so. When we leave scripture in scripture, John 3:16 (by reading John 3:1-17)becomes less about the choice we make and more about the choice that God has already made. Jesus, God incarnate, is having a conversation with a guy named Nicodemus. God is already there. Jesus is a human being taking the steps that will lead him to the cross. God has already made the choice to love the world. Nicodemus thought he was the one choosing to come to Jesus. But he is suddenly realizing that Jesus came to him.
In a recent article in the Christian Century, Thomas Long shared a story that the former publisher of the magazine, John Buchanan, once told him. The publisher was a pastor and was baptizing a two-year old child. He read the standard pronouncement from the prayer book: “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” Unexpectedly, the child responded, “uh-oh.” “Nicodemus’s response to Jesus could be heard as a shocked, ‘uh-oh.’ Moving politely toward Jesus with an inquiry, Nicodemus alarmingly finds Jesus moving toward him to rescue him, to transform him, to save him.”
The Christian life isn’t about choosing Jesus. Instead, it’s about noticing that Jesus already chose us. If we’re not saying “uh-oh” to the God who is making us into something brand new, we’re not realizing what Jesus is actually doing. Following Jesus means we will end up following something other than ourselves. Jesus doesn’t keep us where we are comfortable. He takes us to the place where we will be transformed. And once we’re transformed, we’ll discover who God is calling us to be.
Each week, I write a reflection on one of our scripture readings for the week. This is from Christ Lutheran Church’s Worship Bulletin for Trinity Sunday, 5/27/2018.