Note: below is the manuscript of the sermon. It is not a transcript of the audio.
Introduction and Review
I will be focusing on John 3:16 this morning, but let’s read through the entire context of this passage.
How many of you have at one point memorized John 3:16?
It is likely the single most famous verse in all of Scripture. It is often the first verse that a child memorizes. If you ask an adult to recite one verse from the Bible, there is a good chance it will be John 3:16. There is something poetic about the way it is written, which makes it easy to memorize. Most importantly, contained in this single verse is the summary of the entire gospel. It tells of the love of God, and the coming of Jesus. It tells us to believe in Jesus and that the reward for believing is eternal life. It also tells us that those who do not believe will perish, thus indicating that the only way to eternal life is through Jesus.
It is these four points within John 3:16 I would like us to focus on.
First, God so loved the world.
Second, that he gave his only Son.
Third, that whoever believes in him.
Fourth, should not perish but have eternal life.
Just one word about this sermon before I proceed. I thought long and hard about this. In fact, I wrote this sermon twice because I couldn’t decide if I should preach this morning the way I was originally being drawn to preach it.
My problem was that I don’t like to turn my sermons into lectures. There is a slight difference between teaching and preaching. When I teach a Bible study, I want people to see the intricate details of Scripture. The aim is mostly the passing on of information. When I preach, I want people to see the big picture. I want you to see the vision of Scripture and be challenge to love and cherish Jesus more. The aim is mostly life-change through proclamation.
This morning, we are looking at a passage that is incredibly familiar. With that in mind, I have decided to look at more details than I normally would. However, I pray that God will show you how these details display his glory and his grace. My desire is to recite John 3:16 with a greater vision for the gospel. This verse is so packed full of the gospel, and it’s a shame that many of us, after having memorized it, don’t take the time to study it.
With that said, let’s look at these four statements of John 3:16.
1. God so loved the world
God is the creator of the world. He is perfect in righteousness, infinite in power, completely committed to justice, and overflows with grace and love.
- God is so righteous, that he cannot allow sin anywhere near him.
- He is so powerful, he could wipe out the entire universe and start over again.
- He is so committed to justice, that he will not allow even a single act of rebellion against him to go unpunished.
- And he is so full of grace and love that he gave the entire world an option to have the punishment for their sins erased.
This statement that God so loved the world is a concise statement about what God had been demonstrating to his people for thousands of years already. He has been pursuing the Israelites, showing them patience as they rebelled against him over and over. He not only loves the Israelites, Jesus says he loves the entire world. He loves every single person.
The word world in this verse refers to every person on earth. It is the Greek word κόσμος. This word can mean all sorts of things in Scripture, such as the created universe, the earth and all its creatures, or the fallen and sinful human civilization.
John uses the word κόσμος 78 times in his gospel, more than any other book in the New Testament. Mainly, when he uses this word, he is referring to fallen humanity. He is talking about individual people who are sinners.
Here are a couple examples:
1:10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.
8:23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.”
Can you see the difference between the ways John uses this word? κόσμος is used to not only describe the place in which we live, but also the condition in which we find ourselves. We live in the world, the universe, but we are also of this world, which is in need of saving because of sin.
So, God, the perfectly righteous and just and powerful one, loved every single sinful person who ever lived. How do we know that he loved us?
2. That He gave His only Son
This section causes a lot of problems for translators and scholars. I won’t bore you with all the details, but you are probably familiar with the difference between the KJV and the contemporary versions of this passage. KJV says, only begotten Son. The contemporary versions say one and only Son.
Here is Greek lesson number two for the morning. The Greek word that gets translated as “only begotten,” or “one and only,” is the word μονογενή. If you translate this portion of the verse directly from Greek, it reads, “that his Son, the one of a kind, he gave.” Jesus, when describing himself, says that he is one of a kind.
Yes, he is human, but he is not like any other human. You see, he is the Son of God, the one of a kind Son. We all can become sons and daughters of God through Jesus, but we are not the same sort of son as Jesus is. Jesus is one of a kind because he is actually God.
This is a challenging mystery of Scripture. While Jesus was on earth, he was human. He was 100% human. But he was also God. He was 100% human and 100% God. There has never been, and never will be, another human like Jesus. This is why he refers to himself as one of a kind.
3. That whoever believes in him
I will spend a little more time here because it contains the application. This is our part. It is where Jesus is saying that we actually need to respond to him. He is asking us to believe in him.
Greek lesson number 3. The word believe is the Greek word pisteuō. It is used in John about 100 times, the most out of any book in Scripture. One third of the uses of pisteuō in the New Testament occur in the Gospel of John, and John records Jesus telling people to believe in him more than the other three gospels.
Here are just a few examples throughout John…
3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’
11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
12:42-43 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.
14:12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.
20:30-31 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Clearly, the concept of believing in Jesus is important to John; it should be to us as well. After all, it is the only requirement Jesus gave us. Yes, he taught many things, and told us how to live. But, the only condition for salvation is to believe in him. As we continue to study John, we will see the word pisteuō nearly every week. We have already seen it about eight times in our study of John so far.
The definition of believe as it is used in 3:16 is, “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.”
Let me repeat… “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.”
Another way to define believe is, “to embrace something as true,” and when it’s a person, it means, “you trust them to be and do what they have claimed.”
In the case of Jesus, he is claiming to be the Son of God and the source of eternal life. He claims to be the means to salvation from sin.
If we were to include this definition in the verse, here is how it would read:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever puts their complete trust and reliance on him for salvation will not perish but have eternal life.
For some of you, this definition is really helpful. It says that we not only need to agree that Jesus is who he says he is, we also need to completely trust him and rely on him. But for others, you need a little more convincing.
The problem is that most of us need more than just a truth claim. We need more than someone telling us that something is true. The problem is we are bombarded with truth claims through advertising. Everyone who advertises something is trying to convince us that what they are saying is true. Thus, we have developed somewhat of a resistance to peoples’ claims to truth.
This has resulted in us not being as concerned about whether something is true or not. We want to hear how it is good for us. We want to see how it will affect us. We will not be convinced to change the way we live just because someone has claimed to be telling the truth. In order to make a decision about something, we need to see how it is good for us.
So, how is John 3:16 good for us? Do you know how effective advertisers convince us to buy their products? They tell us that we have a problem. Apple is amazing at doing this. Apple convinces us that life is boring and uncreative without their products. They solve our boredom problem. Because of Apple most of us have an entire library of music wherever we go. We also have access to the collective knowledge of the entire world at our fingertips through the browser on our phone. Apple said, “we all have a problem,” and then they showed us how to solve that problem.
21st Century marketing agencies must have taken a lesson from Jesus. However, Jesus is the only one offering a real solution to the biggest problem in all the world. In John 3:16 Jesus says that we have a problem, but he also says that he has the solution to our problem. So what is our problem?
When Jesus says that those who believe in him will not perish, the alternative to believing in him is to perish. Perish means to suffer death and in this context, it means eternal death. It means death that never ends. This is our problem. Our problem is that we are headed toward suffering that never ends. Jesus is saying that all people are headed to an eternity of perishing, of death and suffering.
But he is also saying that he is the solution to that problem. The solution is to trust him. He is asking us to believe that he is who he says he is and he will do for us what he says he will do for us.
We believe in him, we trust him completely, rely on him to provide us a way out of eternal death, and you know what? He does it! That’s all! We ask Jesus to be rescued from death, believing that he is the only one that can do it, and he does it! Amazing.
But, can you see why so many people have a hard time with the Gospel?
The response for most people to John 3:16 is resistance and skepticism.
“It’s too simple! What’s the catch? How does this work?”
Jesus’ solution to our problem implies that we are helpless. We don’t like to be told that we are helpless, that we need someone to save us. We would rather believe that we can save ourselves.
For example, when you are in a supermarket looking for an item, do you go and find someone to help you? I usually don’t. I hate asking for help. I would rather spend 10 minutes looking for something than ask for help. There can be a shelve stocker 6 inches away from me in the aisle and I’ll keep on looking.
Asking for help is like waving a white flag, saying we couldn’t do it on our own. It isn’t fun to wave that flag. But we need to.
Jesus says there is only one way out of eternal death. He is the only way. He is the only one who can save us. We cannot save ourselves. We must wave the white flag and surrender ourselves to Jesus. This is the hardest part for us and our human pride.
We cannot do anything to earn our way out of the situation we are in. There is no system. There is no program.
Now, it is true that Jesus told us to obey him. In fact, the word pistueō is a verb. It implies action. pistueō is an action word.
In Matthew 28 Jesus says that we should teach others to observe all the things that Jesus commanded. Obedience is important. Without obedience, we clearly don’t understand the gospel. Like I said last month about being worthy of Jesus. We can’t do anything to be worthy, but our actions show the worth of the gospel. Our obedience displays the beauty and the glory of Jesus. It shows how valuable the gospel is, and how important the work of Christ is to us.
However, obedience is not salvation. Jesus is salvation. Obedience is a response. Obedience is a demonstration of what has happened internally to us.
It’s nearly impossible for us to get our heads around this. I sometimes have moments when it is tremendously clear to me what Jesus is saying in John 3:16, but those moments are few and only last for a matter of seconds. It isn’t long before I start making my salvation about my own efforts.
Jesus says believe in me. Trust me. Our responsibility is to get to know Jesus and believe him.
4. Should not perish but have eternal life
I said earlier that to perish is to suffer death. In addition to trusting Jesus for salvation, the idea of a loving God who would punish people by sending them to hell is incredibly challenging to just about everyone.
The way Jesus worded this statement assumes that everyone is perishing except for those who believe in him. His explanation for this is in the following verses. I’ll close by looking at that.
[read verses 17-21]
Note verse 19. Jesus says, “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
This should be familiar language to us. John has been referring to Jesus as the light since chapter one verse four. The light that Jesus is referring to is himself. And the darkness is the lusts of the flesh.
The reason all of us are perishing is because there is something else we love more than Jesus. For each person it might be something different. But the problem is that Jesus is not our greatest treasure.
In the book of Revelation, which was also recorded by John, we have the blessing of a series of evaluations that Jesus provided for seven early churches. The first church listed in 2:1-7 is Ephesus. Jesus says that he commends them for their works. They have done well in enduring hardships and working diligently.
However, he holds this against them: they have lost their first love. In all their hard work, they lost sight of their greatest treasure.
Jesus teaches us in this passage in John 3 that our main problem, the reason we are perishing, is because of our love for things other than him. When the light of Jesus shines, we flee. We hide. We are ashamed and we run after the things that give us temporary pleasure and comfort.
Let us listen closely to Jesus’ call. Let us embrace him as our saviour. We are all perishing, unless we believe in Jesus.