"Easy-Peasy" apparently comes from the 1940 British film "The Long Voyage Home". Our text appears to make being saved, going to heaven easy-peasy. That's how John 3:16 is taken. Though it started circa 1980 by at best an unstable man, it became a thing in the 90s to hold a sign with just the citation John 3:16 in ballparks, stadiums, and courts (www.mentalfloss.com/ article/ 500515/unbelievable-life-john-316-sports-guy). Just that verse in your mind or heart can do it all. Easy-peasy.
Yes, being saved is easy-peasy, except for the snake part. But you probably don't get like the OT church folks did. You don't grow "impatient on the way." You don't speak against God and against His ministry. You don't detest how the Lord is meeting your physical needs. Or do you? Watch out for the 5th bite. Dr. Fredrick Fox developed a cure for deadly snakebite in India. To demonstrate the power of it, he allowed himself to be bitten several times. He counted 4 treated 4, and died of the 5th bite he had missed (Ency. Of 7,700 Ill., 4165).
While fishing my adult son purposely picked up a Blue Runner. I watched as the snake bit him. He put the snake down. I said, "It got you, huh?" He showed me his arm saying, "Yeah 3 times." I was less than 20 feet away. I would've testified I saw the snake bite him once. You're snake bit more times than you think, and you find the snake of sin, or it finds you where you don't expect it. In the 80's a Texas man is cleaning a large bass. When gutting it he punctured the stomach and a water moccasin leapt out biting him in the chest and he died. Scary, huh? Even a decades old bite can kill you. I couldn't run this story down, but this is what I recall. A man put on snake boots decades later only to have the poison in the leather come in contact with an open wound. He died, and so will you. This is truth that even old, unconfessed sins are still poisonous to your body and soul.
Seems like snakes are everywhere and John 3:16 is no preventive but is it a cure? Well, based on the OT lesson, it takes a God-given snake to be rescued from snakebite. Originally, antivenom only came from venom. The cure could only come from the poison. And that's the second problem with easy-peasy John 3:16: The Son of Man part. If Jesus had just started with, "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son.", but He didn't. He started with, John 3:14, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up." But, go to the verse before our text to have your mind blown. You have to go back in KJV, NKJ, or the EVH. The other translations can't get their heads around what Jesus says. "No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." Jesus stands on earth before Nicodemus and says He's also in heaven now. Boom! My mind is blown by the Son of Man.
John 3:16 says God gives His one and only Son on behalf of a snake-infested world. The so' in "for God so loved the world" can be taken 2 ways. God loved the world so, i.e. in this way: He gave up His only Son in its place. And/or God loved the world so much. Here picture Jesus outstretched arms on the cross in the way a child demonstrates how much he loves by stretching out his arms as far as he can. God so loved the world. God doesn't say He liked the world. He didn't. What's there to like about a world crawling with snakes and people covered with them? But He loved the world with a love that originates from Him. "Like", "affection" is drawn from you by an object. This Greek word for love' is the love flowing from the lover's intelligence and purpose.
John 3:16 is short, memorable, easy-peasy. If He had just started with that, but in John 3:14 Jesus introduces the concept of the Son of Man being lifted up "just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert." So, the snake is a type of the Son of Man, a type of the only begotten Son of God. The snake Moses made was the image of the snake that was biting the OT church. Who could decide, who would decide, to look on the very image of what was killing them and believe they would live? Exactly. Easy-peasy? I think not. More likely "Stressed-depressed".
Paul says that Jesus not only bore our sins but was made sin. "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor. 5:21). Many times over the years I've referred to crucifixes so repulsive that people turn away from them. This is in keeping with what Isaiah saw as he stood before the crucified-Christ 800 years before it happened. "Many were appalled at Him. His appearance was so disfigured that He did not look like a man, and His form was disfigured more than any other person" (Is. 52:14, EHV). Who thinks: Yes, I'll look at that and live. The people at the cross sure didn't, did they? No, His enemies ridiculed Him saying, "He saved others let Him save Himself." "Come down from that cross; then we'll believe on you." The people walked away from the sight beating their breast, not in repentance but grief. And as for His disciples all but John hid from the sight, and His mom's heart was pierced by it.
Yes, salvation is easy-peasy a la John 3:16 except for the snakes, except for the Son of Man part, and except for the darkness. Remember when the Son of Man was lifted up darkness came over the land for 3 hours. Men take darkness lightly till they are really in it. It's fun while driving down a country road to turn your lights off only because you know you can turn them back on. Drive a military vehicle with only Cat Eyes and see how fun that is. Or how fun was it to be without light for days last month? In Louisiana, I was without power for a week. I mistakenly thought a trolling motor battery could power a light bulb for many nights. It can't; when it failed the falling darkness was heavy. But it's worse. Sinful, fallen, snake bitten men like us love darkness rather than light. That's what Jesus says, "Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light."
The lights don't come on in an exotic dancer bar or any bar until they want people to leave. They don't come on in casinos because the house never wants you to leave. And fallen men don't want to leave either. Jesus says, "The people loved the darkness rather than the Light." The definite article is both with darkness and Light. The Light of course is Jesus who said, "I am the Light of the world." The darkness is just as definite. You know what "the darkness" is. It's all that is outside the Light. Learn this from the campout. You know right where the light is and where the darkness is. This world is the darkness; the Light of the world hangs crucified on the cross for the sins of the world, for the sinners of the world, for the snake bitten of the world. He's hardly "easy on the eyes" let alone easy-peasy.
Besides there is a double-whammy going on that makes salvation for snake-bitten people like me not just uneasy but impossible. Jesus says the reason people loved the darkness and not the light is "because their deeds were evil." Then He goes on to say according to the Insert, "Everyone who does evil." You don't consider what you do, think, or say evil. O it might be untoward, unbiblical, impolite, but not evil. But that's not what Jesus says. The first time He does say their deeds are evil (poneros), this is actively wicked. You may be able to dodge this. In your and the world's eyes, your deeds don't look that bad. But then Jesus says, "Everyone who does evil (phaulos) hates the Light." Phaulos is simply good for nothing, worthless, foul." The Stoics classed all people as either diligent or phaulos. The Light, hanging bright but dead on the cross, shinning in all it's beautiful ugliness is the answer to the thousands of snakebites we have, but we're Mole People. Eyeless, we prefer our darkness to His Light.
The only way out is doing the truth says Jesus. I know the Insert has "whoever lives by the truth comes to the light" but translating this way you miss the connections between this text and the Book of John. Allow me. "But the One who does the truth comes to the Light." Jesus is the One who does the truth. Doing the truth is the way to the Light. What does Jesus say on the night He is betrayed when the disciples, the 3-year seminary trained ones, are befuddled about the to way to heaven? He says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Me."
So you're wrong if you think John 3:16 is the easy-peasy way to salvation and you'll do it right a way. And you're wrong if you think Jesus is teaching: decide to believe on Me, do the truth so you can come to the light. No, Mole People shun the light; snake bit people on their own don't decide to look to a snake for an antidote. Faith is not a choice it's a miracle. It's a miracle that anyone looks at the crucified Christ and sees the answer to their sins and sinfulness. It's no different than the resurrection of the dead. The dead don't decide to live. The Word of the Lord does the miracle of raising them. Likewise, the Word of the Lord strikes our dead, snake bitten hearts and miraculously we are turned to look at the crucified Christ and confess, "My Lord and My God." He is the One who does the truth for He is not a truth but The Truth.
Do you recall the context of this text? Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, comes to Jesus secretly at night. He makes fun of the way of salvation saying that Jesus' words about being born again are impossible because who can re-enter the womb to be born again? Jesus said it was impossible for men to be reborn, but it is easy-peasy for God do to it. That's the line we're walking too. What's hard for us is easy-peasy for Him. However, though it's easy-peasy, it cost Him dearly. More than we could ever pay. Easy-peasy doesn't mean cheap, but costly does mean precious. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Lent (20210314); John 3: 13-21