I really appreciate the feedback you have given me so far. Last week’s blog was especially helpful as one of the comments emphasized that in some cultures, the uniqueness of Christ does need to be emphasized.
We are still working through John 3:16 in an attempt to clarify how we present conversion, making sure that we say enough, but not too much. And so we come to the phrase, “that whoever believes on him.”
Isn’t “whoever” a wonderful word? Jesus stands at the gate and opens his arms to all who would come. He wants “all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). “Whoever” enters through the gate will be saved. No one is beyond Jesus’ ability to forgive and to save. No one who enters the gate will be refused.
I have been in many conversations where this word is, in essence, being debated. Some of the debate is theological, and I have no desire to enter that particular debate other than to emphasize this fact (and it is a fact). Jesus says “whoever.” Any theology that denies that word of God is simply wrong. We may have different understandings, but each of us must ask ourselves if we can truly stand in the pulpit and cry out, “whosoever will may come.”
When I was writing my commentary on the Pastorals, I read material from the Antebellum South on the church’s defense of slavery. Disgusting. For them, the “whoever” was racially limited. I remember a story of a church in San Francisco that was praying for the hippies, but when the long haired, unshaven, recipients of their prayers started coming, they had to rethink whether “whoever” really included smelly people.
(As the story goes, a hippie walked down the aisle and sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the preacher. Many of the people were aghast, but one wise and compassionate man, dressed in a suit, walked down the aisle and sat down next to the hippie, showing that by “whoever” Jesus meant “whoever.”)
But perhaps one the largest groups of people who do not feel “whoever” means “whoever” are those who see their past sins clearly, and the horrific-ness of what they have done seems bigger than God’s love and the cross. They can’t imagine that God would or could actually forgive them.
If you feel this way, then you need to hear clearly the good news of this verse. As we say in older English, “Whosoever will may come.” If you cry out for forgiveness, if you believe in Jesus, then no matter what you have done, you will be forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to cover the sins of all who come. The gate will swing open for every repentant and believing traveler who stands before it, no matter what they have done.
This is the good news of the cross and of God’s love.