John 3:16

  1. I saw what appeared to be a small, pocket-size copy of the New Testament.

    1. It had the kind of binding, shape and color such volumes often have, except it was thinner. When I opened it, I discovered that it had only these words, in large print: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" - John 3:16.

    2. Someone was suggesting by this what Luther once said: he called this great verse "the Little Bible."

    3. It's not that this one verse somehow sets aside all the rest of the scriptures; it's just that it gathers up in a few words so much of the message of the whole Bible.

  2. I don't want us to spend all summer pursuing the theme "That They May Have Life" from the Gospel of John without reminding ourselves of the wonder of John 3:16.

    1. In fact, I can't let us not think through it - I realize that the more a statement might bless us, the more our enemy will try to make sure it is overlooked or misrepresented.

    2. Because of where we are in our classes right now, this is the right time.

    3. Let's consider it from the perspective of the ESV's alternate reading of the beginning of the verse: "For this is how God loved the world..."

  3. God loves in the context of reality: "For..."

    1. The "for" at the start of both verses 16 and 17 means there's definitely a line of thought here. It's a word used to explain a foregoing statement.

      1. Verse 17 is telling us that what God did in verse 16 was to rescue a world that was already condemned, not to condemn a world that was doing just fine until Christ disturbed it.

      2. And, verse 16 is explaining the reference in verses 14 and 15 to what happened when the impatient Israelites faithlessly murmured against God as if he could not be depended upon (cf. Num. 21:4-9).

        1. Remember that God sent fiery serpents among the people, and many were bitten and died.
        2. When they confessed their sin, Moses prayed for them, and God had him make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. He promised that anyone bitten could look on it and live.

        3. It was a way of causing the people to understand that sin had to be judged, and that they were dependent on God for deliverance from the consequences of sinfulness.

      3. Our passage is using that event as a fitting illustration of the meaning of the Christ's being "lifted up" in death (v. 14; cf. 8:28; 12:31, 32).

    2. One reason for the line of thought in this illustration is that the people were actually required to look upon that brazen serpent in order to live (Num. 21:8).

      1. It wasn't, "As long as the people in the camp think I can stop this death that is invading their camp, everything will be alright."

      2. No. They actually had to depend on it - to believe to the point that they were willing to go see it.

      3. It was a way of saying, "When God provides the healing, you and I are expected to rely on him to the point that we're willing to go and comply with whatever condition he attaches to his promise."

  4. God loves in a way which is consistent with who he is: "...God so loved..."

    1. There is both an actor and an action at the heart of this verse. The living God, The Most High, the Ruler of heaven and earth, the Holy One - was not merely indifferent to the plight of the world - He loved.

      1. He didn't despise us; He didn't cut us loose and set us off on our own as if to say, "You made your bed; now sleep in it." He did not withdraw.

      2. He took an active interest in the world; He identified himself with our welfare; He dedicated himself to our best interest.

      3. And, He was neither moved by ebbing emotions nor ruled by his own convenience. He consciously willed to love. It is certainly "because of the great love with which he loved us" that we are not still dead in our sins (Eph. 2:4).

    2. But our golden text is not just about the fact that he loved; it is about how God loved the world.

      1. He loved in such a way that he would offer his own Son for sin before he would just overlook it.

      2. He loved so that he would act sacrificially for the sake of people who were still weak , ungodly, sinners against him, and his enemies (Rom. 5:6f).

      3. He loved by taking the initiative - going first - to provide what was needed - the propitiation for our sins - at great cost to himself (1 Jn. 4:9-10). We can come to know and believe the love that God has for us, and we can love because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:16, 19), but we will always merely be responding to what he did first when we deserved it least.

  5. God's loving action has a direct object: "...the world..."

    1. "The world" stresses that God is concerned with all people everywhere, not just with the universe as a whole, or a certain group within it.

      1. The scriptures sometimes use "the world" to speak of the earth, the physical world which God created and called "good."

      2. The same term sometimes refers to human society as it organizes itself without God, even against God (cf. 1 Jn. 2:15-17).

      3. But here "the world" stands for mankind, each person in every place - as we can see from the use of the phrase in verse 17.

    2. This universal aspect of God's love, and his dedication to seeking the hearts of all people, should impress us.

      1. Whatever he has done to save any of us he has done to save all of us (cf. Tit. 2:11; 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:2).

      2. The idea that God decreed ahead of time which individuals would be saved, and that Jesus died only for them, is wrong.

      3. If some are lost, it will not be because God did not will for them to be saved, or because he did not love them enough, or because what he did was not sufficient to save them.

  6. God loves in a sacrificial manner: "...that he gave..."

    1. God is always the giver because he so loves.

      1. As a matter of fact, that's what real love does.

      2. Think of James 1:17...Acts 17:25...Acts 14:17...

      3. But why would his love go any farther than that? Frank Cox observed, "Love might have been spoken by an angel, or written in golden letters in the sky; but that would not have cost anything and, for that reason, would not convey the message. The language of love is best understood in terms of sacrifice; so the supreme sacrifice was made."

    2. Our text not only blesses us with the knowledge of the degree to which we are loved, but also with some understanding of how love behaves.

      1. Notice carefully that it doesn't say, "God so loved that he took."

      2. We live in a world where love is defined by what you take from someone else. Then, when you taken all you want, the world says, "I don't love you any more." That's not the kind of love God practices!

      3. But the nature of love is such that, when God offers a gift, for its benefits to become actual in a person's life, that person must accept it (cf. Jn. 1:11f). Love is voluntary; it can't be forced. It can be free - not deserved - and still be conditional.

  7. God loves in a tangible form: "...his only Son..."

    1. God so loved that he gave the one he loved most, the one who loved him best - that's amazing thing!

      1. If you have children, and you were called upon by life to make sacrifices, in what order would you go? We would not let go of our own!

      2. God, however, so loved even the undeserving that he gave his only Son. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom. 8:32)

    2. You can see that it's the identity of Jesus which makes what God did so meaningful and effective.

      1. The term we've read "only Son" has sometimes been translated "only begotten Son". It's a combination of two words meaning "only, alone" plus "race, stock." It means "only one of a kind."

      2. When used of Jesus it means "unique in kind" as to his nature, as to the revelation of God, and as to our salvation.

      3. He is the only one in heaven or on earth or anywhere else like him - God gave his one and only Son to do what only he could do for us.

  8. The benefits of God's loving act rest upon a realistic condition: "...that whoever believes in him..."

    1. Observe carefully that this is a condition for the same group whom God loved and for whom he gave his Son.

      1. What he has done is for whoever, and anybody is a whoever.

      2. Whoever will may come and take the water of life freely (Rev. 22:17).

      3. It may be a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews like Nicodemus, or it may be a Samaritan woman whose life is all messed up, but God has loved the world, and the gospel call is addressed to the all the world.

    2. But what is required here is that anybody keep on believing on him. What that means is, as you can see, crucially important.

      1. Many think it means all you have to do is to mentally accept the historical fact that God gave his Son on the cross.

      2. That does not do honor to the meaning of the Bible word for believing, which - as in the case of the serpent lifted up on the pole - includes accepting, trusting, and complying.

      3. You may have noticed that even folks who advocate the mental assent approach to believing call for some response to the gospel - either receiving Jesus in your heart as your personal Savior, or repeating the sinner's prayer, or some such thing - so apparently we all know that believing is something more that merely mentally admitting a fact.

      4. This very chapter gives us some clues. Compare 3:5....and 3:36...

      5. Believing includes what goes with it (cf. 2 Pet. 3:9; Acts 16:30-34).

  9. God loves in the best interest of those whom he loves: "...should not perish..."

    1. To perish does not mean to cease to exist, but to be ruined, marred, lost.

      1. It's the sense of desolation that Israel suffered when they were captive in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:38), or which the prodigal son experienced as he was wasting away in the far country (Lk. 15:24).

      2. "Perishing" begins as sin enters the picture and we bear the burden of struggle - of strained relationships, of pain and threat, of frustration in work, and of approaching death.

      3. But "perishing" culminates in being delivered up to "eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might" (2 Thes. 1:9), that is, to the devastation of never seeing the Father's face, never hearing his voice, never feeling his touch.

    2. Remember, this passage emphasizes that Jesus was not sent to condemn but to save.

      1. We were already perishing.

      2. If we remain so, it will be because we loved darkness rather than light; that we are so attracted to darkness that we refuse to come to the light (cf. 3:18, 19).

      3. The most helpful illustration of this thought I've ever run across is from C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce.

        1. In his story, a bus load of spirits were to make the journey from hell to heaven - provided they would lay aside every single one of those things for which they ended up in hell to start with. It turned out that not a single one would do it.

        2. Lewis explained, "If we insist on keeping hell we shall not see heaven; if we accept heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of hell."

        3. He concluded that in the end there will be only two classes of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God must say, with tears in his eyes, "Thy will be done."

  10. God seeks to richly bless those whom he loves: "...but have eternal life."

    1. If perishing is not ceasing to exist but being completely apart from God, having eternal life is more than living forever.

      1. It is knowing God through Christ (Jn. 17:3), living in a worthwhile manner (Jn. 10:10), and being secure in his care (Jn. 10:28).

      2. It's a journey that begins as we are forgiven of all our sins, and continues as we grow more and more like Christ, and is finally completed when we are at home with the Lord

      3. Eternal life is life with God. Years ago a Puritan named Brooks put it this way: "...it is as if [God] said, 'You shall have as true an interest in all my attributes for your good as they are mine for my own glory...My grace...shall be yours to pardon you, and my power shall be yours to protect you, and my wisdom shall be yours to direct you, and my goodness shall be yours to relieve you, and my mercy shall be yours to supply you, and my glory shall be yours to crown you."

    2. To have eternal life is to have life, and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).

      1. It is the highest possible blessing and the deepest human need!

      2. Wayne Jackson wrote, "...exactly what is eternal life? Most assuredly it is not mere eternal existence, for the wicked will exist eternally... Eternal life is everlasting communion with God, along with all the wonders that involves. It is a state of glory (Rom. 2:10; 2 Cor. 4:17), rest (Heb. 4:11), and happiness (Matt. 25:21)."

      3. And, because of God's costly love through his Son, it can be mine - and yours!

  11. "This is how God has loved the world..." Trying to think through this wonderful verse has made me appreciate something one writer once said of John 3:14-16: "Exposition of that would be almost an impertinence" (G. Campbell Morgan). It needs to be carefully considered but, even more, it needs to be humbly accepted and celebrated.

  12. I noticed something when I was working through it this time that I had never really considered before. It's in the red letter section of my study Bible. I realize that's only the judgement of a translation committee, but if it's right it means that Jesus was commenting knowingly on what his mission would be all about. Think of what this must have meant to him! What does it mean to you?