Lent

Fourth Sunday in Lent: God so Loved; God Gave

Fourth Sunday in Lent: God so Loved; God Gave
Art by Marlee, 11, Christ United Methodist Church, Rockford, Illinois. Submitted by Deaconess Joy Hayag. From the 2021 Prayer Calendar.

Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-21

As a child, one of the first verses I was taught to memorize in Sunday school was John 3:16 in the King James Version! “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” While much of the old English was outside of my daily childhood vocabulary, I was taken up by the idea of God loving the world. It seemed pretty radical to me that God would love all the people in the world when I could barely love my siblings from day to day.

I was even more fascinated when I and other kids were given this little Gideon’s New Testament — mine was orange — and I saw this same verse printed in multiple languages in the back. I remember trying to figure out the words for “God” and “love” in different languages but mostly the vastness of God’s love became even more apparent — God loved people who spoke all these different languages.

The undeniability of this love is affirmed in a different way in verse 17. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (NRSV) It is not for shaming that God sent Jesus but to make God’s love a reality in our lives.

We see this love in all of God’s dealings with the Israelites in the Old Testament. The reading from Numbers provides an example of how this love is shown in the midst of our brokenness.

Numbers

In Numbers 21:4-9 we read that the Israelites are in the last leg of their journey in the wilderness of the Sinai desert. From chapter 20 to the end of the book, we find the Israelites traveling from Kadesh to Moab and preparing for conquest and settlement in the land of Canaan that God had promised them when God brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Despite experiencing God’s protective care, provision and victories, “the people became impatient on the road.” (verse 4b, CEB) They started to grumble about the manna from heaven and the water out of the rock: it was not to their taste. “We detest this miserable bread!” (verse 5b, CEB) Familiarity was breeding contempt.

The Israelites bring judgement upon themselves in the form of poisonous snakes that bite the Israelites, and many die. Then the people confess their sin and ask Moses to pray to send the snakes away. When Moses prays, God tells him to make a replica of the snake and place it on a pole. “If a snake bit someone, that person could look at the bronze snake and live.” (verse 9b, CEB) and those that do so live! The story in the book of Numbers speaks to me of God’s saving and redeeming love even though we are rebellious and disobedient.

Jesus brings this salvific story to our minds as he foretells his own death on the cross. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so must the Human One be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14, CEB) During Lent, God’s love for humans came at a cost of the cross for Jesus. When I remember the vastness and depth of God’s love I am reminded that it needed Jesus to be lifted up on the cross so that we are made right with God and experience that love.

Reflect: How does God’s love for us change the way we see others who are as broken as us? What action steps can you take to make that love a living reality in a culture of violence, suspicion and untruth? In what ways can you make your acts of love point to God’s truth (v. 21)?


Praveena Balasundaram is director of communications for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 3/12/2021 12:00:00 AM