John 3:16 could be the single most significant sentence in all of Scripture.
It’s brief enough to write on a post-it or memorize in moment, yet solid enough to withstand 2000 years of storms and questions. It begins with God, ends with life, and urges us to do the same! Listen to the impact this verse has had on people’s lives:
“I love John 3:16 because it is the gospel in a nutshell. It shares God’s great love for us, and our great need for him.” (Mac Powell, Third Day)
“John 3:16 is the foundation of my faith. A picture of undeserved, unconditional, and unwavering love from a Father to his children.” (Ernie Johnson, TNT Sportscaster)
“John 3:16 is the North Star of the Bible. If you align your life with it, you can find The Way home.” (Anne Graham Lotz)
“This is the promise that bears hope for the hopeless. When we finally realize ‘I can’t do this on my own’ this is the Father responding, ‘I know, so I’ve done it for you.’” (Jeff Foxworthy)
But before we can get to 3:16, we have to set the stage. It all begins with a silent figure moving stealthily through the darkened streets of Jerusalem. Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees, the religious elite who militantly rejected Jesus. So when he decided to seek Christ out and learn from him, he had to do so in secret. Slipping through alleyways and dimly lit streets, Nicodemus finds his way to a simple house where Jesus and his followers are staying.
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2).
Without hesitation, Jesus replies, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.[” (John 3:3). I’m not sure what was on Nicodemus’ mind that night, but it’s clear what was on Jesus’ mind. Christ’s exposition on salvation reaches it’s climax in the sixteenth verse.
“ 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.”
In this one verse, we see the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ and how it relates to us. Let’s look at some of the intricacies of this verse, starting with two simple words…
I. HE LOVES:
“For God so loved the world…” If those words are true, it changes everything. Imagine what the world would be like without God’s love… A dark planet hurtling through space unguided, undirected. No hope. No future. Nothing to live for. No greater purpose to our existence. Every death would be an end. Every grave a place of despair.
But God does love the world! We see it in every sunrise… every blade of grass… every fountain of water… every birth… every child’s face. God so loved the world!
God made us special and he loves us very much. That’s the message George Matheson needed to hear. He was only fifteen when he was told that he was losing what little eyesight he had. Not to be denied, Matheson continued with his plans to enrol in the University of Glasgow and his determination lead to his graduation in 1861 at age nineteen. By the time he finish his graduate studies he was completely blind.
But his spirit didn’t collapse until his fiancée returned his engagement ring. She said she couldn’t see herself spending her life bound by the chains of marriage to a blind man. He adapted to life without sight, but never recovered from his broken heart. George’s sister volunteered to live with him to take care of him but, years later, as a well-loved pastor in Scotland, George’s sister came to him to announce her engagement. He was happy for her, but his mind went back to his own heartache. He consoled himself in thinking of God’s love which is never limited, never conditional, never withdrawn, never uncertain. Out of this experience he penned these words:
O love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in thee; I give thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths it flow may richer, fuller be.
The Bible says, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39 NLT).
A writer said, “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen.
And because he loves…
II. HE GIVES:
Jesus said, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” Just to say, “I love you,” doesn’t really mean a whole lot. It has to be tangibly demonstrated, it has to be proven – God’s love included. The Bible says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8).
That sounds strange to some people. So many people in the world respect the teachings of Jesus. They admire his example. But no matter how they turn it around, they can’t see any significance in his death. One man even said, “That’s the daftest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t need God to give anyone for me,” he claimed. “I’ve led a good life. Held a good job. People respect me. My wife loves me. I don’t need God to give me his son.” But are we really as good as we think we are? How well do we score against God’s basic laws–the Ten Commandments:
- “You shall not steal.” Have you ever stolen anything? A paper clip, a biscuit? That makes you a thief.
- “You must not lie.” Those who say they never have, just did.
- “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Ever let God’s name slip passed your lips in anger or frustration? The Bible calls that blasphemy.
And that’s just three out of ten. We could keep going, but I don’t think we’d fare any better. Most sincere people, when we’re honest, know that we’re really not all that good. We all have regrets. We’ve all made mistakes. The Bible calls that sin. And we do it all the time.
Our sin separates us from God. So if any of us are ever going to have a real relationship with our Creator, then it’s up to Him to find a way to reconcile us. That’s where Jesus comes in. He determined to build that bridge with an old rugged cross. God gave Jesus to bring salvation to the world through his death.
In verse fourteen, Jesus alludes to an event in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). The children of Israel–God’s special people–had rebelled against God, so God sent poisonous snakes that bit the people so that many died. But this was also a story of grace. Moses interceded for the people and God provided a remedy. He told Moses to make a brass serpent and lift it up on a pole for everyone to see. Anyone who had been bitten who then looked at the serpent would immediately be healed.
We’re in a similar situation. The whole world has been bitten by sin, and the “wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Just as the serpent was lifted on that pole for the people to look to for healing, Jesus would be lifted on a cross for us to look to for our healing. God sent his Son to die, not only for Israel, but for the whole world.
Although God’s remedy was sufficient for all of Israel, it was only effective for those who “looked upon the serpent.” And although God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for the whole world, it is only effective if…
III. WE BELIEVE
Jesus said that God “gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish…” This concept runs contrary to our instincts. And it’s so simple. We expect a more complicated cure, a more sophisticated salvation. And what about “God helps those who help themselves”?
No other religion offers what Jesus promises. Judaism sees salvation as a Judgment Day decision based on morality. Buddhism grades your life according to the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. Muslims earn their way to Allah by performing the duties of the Five Pillars of Faith.
But not Christianity – Jesus calls us to do one thing: believe!
Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (John 3:18 )
He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36 )
I tell you the truth, whoever believes has eternal life. (John 6:47)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
But what about baptism, repentance and a changed life? Are those things not necessary? No, of course not. Those things are absolutely essential. But baptism, repentance, a changed life, and things like that are not in addition to faith. They are expressions of it. They are acts of faith that work together with our faith to make our faith real.
But what Jesus wants us to see is that it’s not because of what we’ve done, but because of who he is and all he asks is for us to put our trust in him, and him alone.
Once upon a time, there lived an elderly man whose one and only son preceeded him in death. The man was very wealthy, but because he had no living heirs his estate was auctioned off when he died. People came from miles around to bid on all the wonderful antiques and riches proudly displayed in the courtyard of his manor. The first item up for bid was an amateurish portrait of the rich man’s son. No one bid. The attendants grew restless, anxious to bid on the real family treasures. But the auctioneer wouldn’t proceed to any other items until the painting had sold. Finally, a young mother bid on the painting. She had worked in the manor as maid for a little while and new how much the boy meant to his father. Suddenly the auctioneer threw down his gavel and announced that the auction was over. He walked over to the woman, gave her the painting and told her that everything she saw now belonged to her. The elderly man left specific instructions in his will that whoever buys the son, gets it all!
God has done the same thing! The Bible says, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12).
Again, a quote from a religious writer “God rewards those who seek him. Not those who seek doctrine or religion or systems or creeds. Many settle for these lesser passions, but the reward goes to those who settle for nothing less than Jesus himself.” And the reward is that when we believe…
IV. WE LIVE:
“Whoever believes in him,” Jesus said, “shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Although, people sometimes imagine spending eternity in the clouds, floating around and strumming harps unendingly, that’s certainly not the Biblical picture of Heaven.
The Bible describes Heaven as a place that will have rivers, trees, cities, buildings, gates, streets, mountains, and houses (Revelation 21-22). Although its glory will be beyond description, its essential components will be the same as those we find here on Earth. Paradise lost will be paradise restored. Long ago, God declared “See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 65:17). God’s plan for the Earth is not to destroy it, but to redeem it, to renew it, to restore it to the perfect paradise it once was before the fall–before sin entered the world and corrupted it.
And one of the greatest blessings of heaven is what won’t be there:
No death, no suffering. No funeral homes, abortion clinics, or psychiatric wards. No rape, missing children, or drug rehabilitation centres. No bigotry, no muggings or killings. No worry or depression or economic downturns. No wars, no unemployment… And there will be close friendships but no cliques, laughter but no put-downs. No hidden agendas, no backroom deals, no betrayals.
What a wonderful world to look forward to. But still there’s more. The Bible says that when Jesus comes riding on the clouds “those who have died believing in Christ will rise,” and after the resurrection we will be given new bodies! This is how the Bible describes our heavenly bodies:
The sun has one kind of splendour, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendour.
42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
(1 Corinthians 15:41-44)
In this life, we get old. We get tired. Our bodies just won’t do what they used to do. But in eternity, we’ll run faster, jump higher, play harder, worship with radiance, and we’ll never get tired. Never grow old.
The most amazing thing in heaven will be our intimate relationship with our Maker and Redeemer. In Heaven, the Bible says, “God’s presence is with people and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God” (Revelation 21:3). “We won’t need to be drawn into God’s presence. We’ll live there, constantly and consciously.”
He loves. He gives. We believe. We live.
It really is that simple. God loves this world, more than we’ll ever know. He gave his one and only Son so that we could live forever with him. Amen.