The Transformational Gospel of Jesus #29: How does agape change the game?

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

Some of the most profound truths are simply written in a few words. Here is the one that is visible on signs at football games, gracing the sky as an airplane leaves its smoky trail, popping up as graffiti on subway walls. This sentence is the one that changed the hope of the entire human race. In it, the transformational gospel of Jesus is contained in all its profoundness.

God loved the world. Even as Jesus said this, the world was bent on its own destruction. Not just nations. Every individual was on this death train. The Bible reminds us over and over again that all of us are deservedly objects of wrath. Our lives are contradictions of what creation was meant to be, rebellious and rejecting God’s reign. Why, then, would God redeem the world? How could God even come to consider it? To love the ones who spit regularly in His face? To love a world that was thoroughly permeated with sin to the point that death was not only deserved, it was necessary?

The answer is agape. Agape is a willful love based on what the lover chooses, not on the condition of the one who is loved. There was nothing to compel God, who has no equal, into a relationship with humans who had decided they had no need of Him. For a reason beyond our reasoning power, God chose to place His love on us.

But there was a catch. God could not undo the outcome of Adam and Eve’s destructive decision about the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He had decreed that they would be most sincerely dead if they ate. They ate.

Satan had seen an opportunity because, as Jesus said, he was a liar and murderer from the first (John 8:44). So Satan lied them into this death. And there was no question that he was gaming God in some sort of celestial war of the wills. God created humankind in His own image for His own reasons. If God had delivered the full extent of His justice when Adam and Eve rebelled against him, humans would have been eliminated, but God would have lost. If He showed mercy and waved the penalty of death against what He had decreed, He would have lost also. The suggestion was that Satan thought it was going to be game, set and death match for him. Instead, God took death straight on in a way that Satan did not see coming. Jesus’ cross is the focal point of God’s reply because God plays by the rules He set.

Think about this from a basketball angle. James Naismith invented the game in 1891. By ‘invent’, I mean he wrote the rules that made two teams throwing a ball through a basket into a popular game. The trophy that is handed out every year to the USA championship team is named after him. But what would it have been like if Naismith played the game by only requiring his opponents to follow the rules? What if he tackled opponents to get the ball, stood with his arm through the other team’s basket to bat away their layups? What if he ran up the court with the ball tucked under his arm? We would question his commitment to the purity of the game and wonder how we could call him the father of basketball.

God, who is the Father of us all, plays by the rules He put into place when He created, meaning that He could not wave the penalty of death just because He did not want death to thwart His creative purposes. Death had to be paid out. The rules said so. So God chose to die Himself through Jesus, His unique Son, to meet the demand of death. He did this by coming down, living among us and paying that price on the cross. No better explanation of agape could have been expressed.

-Steve Smith