“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
It’s one of the best known and most beloved verses in the Bible. Still a verse that remains a part of popular culture.
In the 1970s and 80s, it was a popular verse to be seen in the background of sporting events. Most notably, it was a man who traveled the country in a bright rainbow colored wig in the 1980s with a John 3:16 banner. At his height, he was traveling over 60,000 miles a year to different games.
More recently, football star Tim Tebow wrote John 3:16 in his eye paint for the 2009 national championship game.
The John 3:16 reference is found on the bottom of cups at the popular west coast restaurant chain Inn-N-Out burger, as well as at the bottom of shopping bags for the clothing retailer Forever 21.
With a Bible verse that’s so well-known, I think we can sometimes become tone deaf to it.
It’s a great verse because it tells the gospel as succinctly as any verse in the entire Bible.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
It points us to the love of God.
But because of passages like this one, I think it’s easy for us as Christians to take the love of God for granted.
The idea of a loving God is not universal to world religions. In many religious systems, their gods are not loving, they’re not personal, they’re not perfect, and humanity basically has to do what it can to appease them. In most religions, the pressure is put on man to live up to a certain standard.
I’ve heard people argue that “all religions are basically the same.”
Have you ever heard that one?
I think that’s something that Americans say who have generally never studied other religions and who are basically making an arrogant assumption that all other religions have a similar worldview to Christianity.
Not the case.
Because here in America, no matter if someone is a Christian or the most ardent atheist, we are influenced by Christian teachings and beliefs. It’s at the core of our nation’s founding. It influences our ethics, laws, literature. It influences our understanding of a seven day week, it influences how we see the world.
Because it’s so fundamental to America, it’s easy take certain Biblical teachings as self-evident assumptions.
It’s kind of like how when you grow up, there’s often a certain assumption in the normality of how you’re raised. It’s what you know. But you get older, and sometimes you realize that things that were always part of your life and which you always took for granted were actually not what everyone else experienced.
And in America, that happens with Christianity. And it happens with the idea of a loving God.
We hear a phrase like “God so loved the world” and are tempted to think “well…yeah.”
Because we think we’re pretty good. Pretty loveable. Why wouldn’t God love us?
Why would God love you?
A perfect and holy God. He can have whatever he wants. He is totally self-sufficient, self-sustained. He doesn’t need any favors. He isn’t bored or lonely.
Why would he love you? Who’s your dream person to meet?
That’s a frequent ice breaker question to ask. If you could meet any person and I’ll say it can’t be a relative. And it can’t be someone from the Bible.
Who’s your dream person to meet? Maybe it’s a famous pastor, or an athlete, a movie star, a writer, a musician, a president. Whoever it is. Imagine you actually got to meet that person.
That would be a pretty big deal. Right? Just to meet them.
Because it’s someone famous, someone influential, someone people know, someone the world loves. You wouldn’t expect them to know you. You certainly wouldn’t expect them to love you.
And those are just people.
We have such a habit of putting our celebrities up on a pedestal. Finite, fallible, fallen people.
But then you compare that to the infinite and almighty God. A God who spoke the universe into being by the power of his word. The God who sustains all of creation.
And he knows you.
Little ole you.
He’s righteous. Meanwhile, you don’t even live up to your own standards. You don’t even live as good a life as you know you could. And you certainly don’t live up to God’s standards.
We sin so much that become numb to it and often don’t realize it. The times where we act selfishly or manipulate someone. We have a justification for it. The times we lie. The bad things we think about others. The times we disregard God. The times where we know what we should do, and actively decide not to.
But that God knows you. And he loves you.
God created humanity and he knew would sin. He made us anyway.
God made a covenant with Abraham and made a promise that he knew we would not deserve. He gave it anyway.
God sent his son into the world. Jesus was perfect, without sin, came to spread light in a dark world, and God knew the world would kill him. He sent him anyway.
God knew that you would be a sinner. But God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He forgave you anyway.
Through Jesus and what he did on the cross. Nothing about this passage lifts up the goodness of man. This is entirely the goodness and love of God.
I wanna know what love is
Our era has twisted the meaning of love. The culture acts as though real love is accepting whatever someone wants to do. No matter if it’s sinful. No matter if it’s harmful. We call that love. I call it apathy.
Love is a righteous God who would forgive people and give them heaven, and spare them hell, even though they are unrighteous and unholy.
6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God so loved the world.
Even though it was fallen and sinful.
Even though people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.
God loves the world so much that he sent his son.
Abraham and the son
In the Book of Genesis, God makes a great promise to Abraham. He’s promised him land, he’s promises him descendants, God promises that he will make of him a great nation.
But time goes by, Abraham and Sarah grow old and in their old age, they’ve never had a child, but God makes a promise that Sarah will still have a son.
Genesis 17:17 tells us that Abraham fell over laughing. She was so old that it was such an absurd promise.
But miraculously God gives them a son. Isaac. Ironically, the word Isaac in Hebrew means “he will laugh.”
God gave Abraham this promised son.
In Genesis 22, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
An unimaginable, unfathomable thing to be asked. Parents would do anything to protect their kids. You love them. You’d give up your life for their life without hesitation.
But God tells Abraham to sacrifice his own son.
Abraham trusted in the Lord.
He took Isaac to the top of the mountain and was prepared to sacrifice his promised son when the Lord intervened at the last moment.
Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called the name of that place, “The Lord will provide.” (Genesis 22:12-14)
The Lord provided another sacrifice in that story. He provided a ram.
But that was ultimately meant to point to a greater sacrifice which the Lord provided.
God would not ask Abraham to go through with the sacrifice of his son.
But God gave up his.
He gave his only son.
No other sacrifice was worthy, no other sacrifice could bear the weight of our sins, and atone for our sins.
But Jesus could. God so loved the world and the only way for that world to be forgiven was through Jesus. We see more about the work of Christ as this passage continues.
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