Perhaps the best known passage of Scripture is correctly known as the Golden Text of the Bible.
“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)
The reader must not rush through this marvelous revelation or he will miss the single greatest message of Scripture: God loves you.
John 3:16 has become uniquely beloved among the Scriptures because of its simplicity and ease of memorization. Other Scriptures say much the same including Romans 5:8 and 1 John 4:9, but this passage is so compact and so simple that all men can come to appreciate the meaning.
But at the same time, John 3:16 is incomprehensible. Its depth lies far beyond mortal man and plumbs the very depths of the divine nature. Question after question arises as we study the passage. Maybe the deepest question is “Why?” I’m not sure I can answer that question fully. But I think maybe I can at least illuminate the question.
Who Is God?
God is divine. In old days the term Godhead was common but today people speak of the divine nature of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But as it pertains to John 3:16 it seems that two divine characteristics stand out. God’s love and his sovereignty.
To be sovereign means that one is not subject to anyone else. In our culture no one is truly sovereign. Children answer to their parents, parents answer to supervisors at work who then answer to directors and bosses above them. All of these people are also answerable to our government and its laws. Ironically, the government is then answerable back to the people. A constant cycle ensures that no one is truly sovereign. We all answer to someone.
Not so with God. He answers only to himself. This is important because it highlights even more the generosity of his gift of his Son. No one required him to give Jesus. No one compelled him or even influenced him. God gave his son Jesus to us because he loved us. Sometimes we wonder why people do nice things for us. We question their motives thinking that there is something in it for them. God’s motives are beyond question. Since there is no one for him to answer to and no one for him to please or appease, we understand that his gift of Jesus is pure and true.
Love is the other central quality of God. As we come to understand sovereignty we will also come to see the depth of his love and appreciate it even more. Because there is no one compelling God to give us life, his love becomes even purer and more pronounced. The purest love is free and flows from God.
Our idea of love has been corrupted long ago. Love is little more than a warm and fuzzy feeling today. But Godly love is more like a decision. Someone once said that love was a decision to give your very best to someone who may not be very lovable. God’s love is just such a decision which was made long ago even before we existed (Ephesians 1:4).
So we begin to see why God gave Jesus. Why? Because he loved us and Jesus was the only solution to our sins.
Who Is Jesus?
The simple answer is that Jesus is the Son of God (Psalms 2:7; Luke 1:26-33; John 3:16). The somewhat deeper answer is that Jesus is God (John 1:1-5). But for our purposes here we need not go so deep. In John 3:16 Jesus, the Son, was the willing sacrifice for sin.
Jesus’ purpose was on earth was to die. John records Jesus’ own words just hours before his arrest and death, “for this purpose I have come to this hour” (John 12:27). Our Savior was not compelled to come. Like the Father and as part of the Godhead, he possessed sovereignty. No one could require his death. Jesus did however willingly choose to surrender his will to that of the Father (Luke 22:42) and in doing so set his course straight for Calvary. Isaiah spoke of Jesus prophetically in Isaiah 53:7 noting that Jesus never complained or spoke against his passion.
Jesus willingly, lovingly went to the cross for me and for you. Nothing required his sacrifice, nothing compelled his actions. He gained nothing from it himself. His death was an act of purest sacrifice for you and for me.
The message of Christ’s love is not new. We have heard it many times before. What will we do with this good news?
- Meditate on the good news. When we hear something over and over we become deaf to the message. In life we are told so many times to eat healthy, drink plenty of water and get a good rest every night. But we hardly pay attention to those ideas anymore because we have heard them so much. Set aside a time just to think about John 3:16.
- Respond to Jesus’ love. 1 John 4:19, “We love him because he first loved us.” It is not hard to be mean and nasty to someone who is mean and nasty to us. Shouldn’t it be just as easy to return the love of the Lord who loved us first?
- Reflect the Love of the Lord. “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love one to another” (John 13:35). Love defines the Christian and is the external mark of discipleship. If our Master loved then we also ought love (1 John 4:11)
It is in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we can see real love. Not a counterfeit, mushy pile of emotions but a real decision to give unlovable man what he needs and cannot get for himself.
When people begin to think about that love they will be drawn toward Jesus and his loving grace. When we begin to approach an understanding of that love we draw closer to the image of Christ.
Your thoughts and comments are always welcomed here.