As I recently prepared to celebrate my 51st Easter, it occurred to me that one of the most important journeys I have taken during my life in Christ has been to close the distance between a John 3:16 spirituality and a Galatians 2:20 spirituality. Most of us are familiar with these two passages:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The life I now live . . . I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
It is a great thing to confidently affirm one’s secure place in the big world upon which God has set his great love for us in Jesus — to gladly be among that vast number of whoevers who believe in Jesus. But it is quite another thing to be able to say with both certainty and astonishment, “The Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.” I was a general affirmer of God’s love long before I was a specific delighter in it.
No Longer Nameless
When it comes to the grandeur of the gospel, every analogy falls short, but here’s one born from my own experience. I have always loved the music of Paul McCartney, one of the four members of the legendary band the Beatles. As a gift, a friend took me several years ago to see Sir Paul at a sold-out concert in Atlanta, and our seats were dead center, ten rows from the stage. I felt quite honored just to be among the 21,000 screaming fans.
But a few months later, one of our church members was on the Fox News broadcast team for the Super Bowl, and Paul McCartney just happened to be the halftime entertainment for the game that year. Watching him perform that day brought back rich memories of having seen my favorite Beatle perform live.
The next Sunday, my TV-personality friend showed up at church with a brown paper bag. With a hard-to-hide grin on his face, he lifted a framed picture of Paul McCartney with this hand-written inscription in bold, big letters: “To Scotty, Cheers, Sir Paul McCartney.” To say I was blown away would be an understatement for the ages. I was no longer just a nameless guy in a huge coliseum. I had a personal inscription from Paul McCartney to me — a picture I still treasure.
Here’s where the analogy falls gloriously apart. Though I have never met Paul McCartney, I have met Jesus. God was pleased to reveal Jesus to me (Galatians 1:16). God has written my name in heaven — much better than any autograph I have (Luke 10:20). And now God knows me (Galatians 4:9), which is way more profound than the fact that I know him. All these personal pronouns matter, including the first-person pronouns I, me, and my.
Characters in God’s Story
This isn’t to privatize our faith, but to prize it — not to individualize Christianity, but to understand the deeply personal dimensions of the gospel. We are to grow into a heart-inflaming, knee-buckling, worship-fueling realization that God loves each of his daughters and sons, and not just the whole collective entity of his every-nation, redeemed family. And ramping that up a big notch, we are to see and savor that God loves me (and you) to the same degree and with the same delight that he loves Jesus (John 17:23). That’s not a game-changer; it’s an everything-changer.
The resurrection day visitations of Jesus underscore the to-be-cherished reality of individual relationship with Jesus.
Mary at the Tomb
Mary Magdalene was the first post-resurrection evangelist — first to the empty tomb and first to declare Jesus’s triumph over the grave to the disciples. Though we have precious few details about Mary’s healing and the nature of her “seven demons” (Luke 8:1–3), we know her name and part of her story.
Mary was a person, not a metaphor. She became a committed follower of Jesus because Jesus poured forth great mercy, grace, and love upon her. Some of us also have stories of tremendous brokenness, bondage, and illness. We too have individual names, and Jesus has come to set us free. We’re not mere categories; we are characters in God’s great story of redemption. For God so loved the world, he gave Jesus. For God so loved you, he gave Jesus — to you and for you. You’re not a type or project, or a set of letters or numbers from a personality test.
Peter by the Sea
And then there’s Peter, who was outrun by fellow apostle John to Jesus’s tomb (John 20:3–4). Even though Peter was slow of foot, we should appreciate his desire to get to Jesus as soon as possible. His was a story of failure, pride, and denial — just like many of us.
But Jesus’s story is one of welcome and restoration — a kindness Peter had already experienced many times in the previous three years. Before long, Peter would hear his name firmly and tenderly spoken by the resurrected Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The dialogue was far more healing and freeing than it was painful (John 21:15–19). We cannot run to Jesus without discovering that it is Jesus who is always running first and fastest to us — to you and me. Jesus is the answer for all our guilt and shame too.
Cleopas on the Road
Late in the afternoon of Easter Sunday, we meet Cleopas — one of two forlorn friends walking on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–35). They had hoped Jesus was the promised Messiah. But now, they assumed, Jesus lay as a lifeless corpse — a victim of treachery and murder.
But their stone-cold hope segued into burning hearts when Jesus revealed himself to them and gave them the Bible study we all wish were recorded. “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27 NIV). What love and care, engagement and personal hope, Jesus gave these two men — just two men from a covenant family as numerous as stars, sand, and dust, but men with names and stories, just like me and you.
Jesus continues to reveal himself, by the word and Spirit, to each of his beloved disciples. In fact, our position in the history of redemption is even more to be desired than what Cleopas and his friend enjoyed. For we have the completion of God’s revelation, the Old and New Testaments, which both attest to the glory and grace of Jesus and our glorious salvation in him. We are that known, loved, and pursued by Jesus.
Not Special, But His
The whole gospel is for the whole family of God, a family which is being gathered from every race, tribe, tongue, and nation. But take a few moments to marinate in the love our Father has lavished on you in Jesus. This isn’t a selfish act. It’s an act of wonder, love, and praise.
Because Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience for you, as your substitute; and died in your place upon the cross, exhausting God’s judgment against your sin; and was raised from the dead for your justification, God loves you just as much as he loves Jesus. God cannot love you more, and he will never love you less. God doesn’t love you to the degree you are like Christ, but to the degree you are in Christ, which is one hundred percent. God has hidden your life safely and completely in Jesus. Your Father has begun a good work in you that he will most definitely complete. All of this doesn’t make you special, but it certainly makes you his.