Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington are the top four college football teams this year. (Penn State and Michigan fans, please forgive me!) When your favorite team scores a touchdown and the camera pans the end zone, what scripture verse is ALWAYS there in bold letters? John 3:16.
There are thousands of other verses in the Bible. Why this verse? Maybe it’s because this verse is THE VERSE. It is the Gospel in miniature. This verse is like a wrapped present under the Christmas tree. The Giver has given it…but the one to whom it is given must receive and open the gift. The question that this verse raises is: Have we received the gift of salvation? It is a good question for the first day of a new year. One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner defines salvation in a memorable way below. Take five minutes to read and digest Buechner’s words. Then…read them again…out loud!
It is an experience first and a doctrine second.
Doing the work you’re best at doing and like to do best, hearing great music, having great fun, seeing something very beautiful, weeping at somebody’s else’s tragedy – all these experiences are related to the experience of salvation because in all of them two things happen: (1) you lose yourself, and (2) you find that you are more fully yourself than usual.
A closer analogy is the experience of love. When you love somebody, it is no longer yourself who is the center of your own universe. It is the one you love who is. You forget yourself. You deny yourself. You give of yourself so that by all the rules of arithmetical logic there should be less of yourself than there was to start with. Only by a curious paradox there is more. You feel that at last you really are yourself.
The experience of salvation involves the same paradox. Jesus puts it like this: “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
You give up your old self-seeking self for somebody you love and thereby become yourself at last. You must die with Christ so that you can rise with him, Paul says. It is what baptism is all about.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC