For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Our series in John’s Gospel has been called Meet Jesus, and our aim has been to take a fresh look at Jesus Christ as he is presented to us in the Scriptures.
Many people have been alienated from Christian faith because they heard a garbled version of the Christian message. Perhaps what you have heard has left you with the impression that Christianity is somehow identified with a particular political persuasion, or with hatred of certain groups of people, or with a vast institution in which Jesus Christ seemed to be smothered, and you could not find him.
Many people today have stepped back from faith, and the reason they have stepped back is not that they have trusted Christ and found him wanting. It is that they have not yet come to meet and to know the Christ as he is presented to us in the Scriptures.
Over these last weeks we have walked through the opening chapters of John’s Gospel, and we have seen who Jesus is—the eternal, personal, divine, creating, life-giving, incarnate Son of God. And we have seen what he does. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… This is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:29, 33).
What will Jesus Christ do for you if you come to him? He can take away your sin and he can fill you with new life from God. I had not seen this before, but this is exactly what we see him doing in this Gospel—turning water into wine is an example of Jesus making things new and cleansing the temple is a demonstration of Jesus’ cleansing power.
God Loves You
For God so loved the world… (John 3:16)
The Son of God did not come into the world and die on the cross in order to make the Father love us. The Son of God came into the world and died on the cross because the Father loves us. When we read that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” it is the love of the Father that is especially in view.
Here’s why that is important: There are many people who go through life with the feeling that God is against them. He may put up with you for the sake of Christ, but your faith is weak and your sins are many. You feel that in his heart of hearts he really despises you, and that if he had his way he would gladly condemn you, and the only thing that holds him back from what he really wants to do is that Jesus died on the cross.
A boy is invited by his friend to come to his house for a sleepover. But when the boy arrives, he finds that the friend’s father is obviously not pleased to see him. When the friend introduces the boy, the father scarcely looks at him. It is clear to the boy that while his friend wants him in the house, the father, to whom the house belongs, has no interest in him being there. The father merely tolerates the boy for the sake of his son.
As long as you carry a suspicion about God—that he is somehow against you and that he tolerates you for the sake of his Son—you will never find peace and you will never find joy in God. Here is what you need to take into the core of your being: God loves you!
This is a wonderful truth for all of us—those who believe and those who do not yet believe. First, let me apply this to the person who feels far from God today. You are not walking with God. You have grown cold toward him. You don’t feel a need for him. You may not have any interest in him.
How you feel toward God will always reflect what you most deeply believe about how he feels toward you. If you feel that God is against you, you will be against him. If you feel that God does not care much about you, you will not care much about him. But if you were to believe today that God loves you, you would come to love him. “God so loved the world.” You are part of the world, and that means God loves you!
Now let me apply this to the person who does believe: “God so loved the world.” Bishop J. C. Ryle says, “Never be ashamed of imitating [the one] you serve.”  Be full of love and kindness toward all people. This begins at home, but it doesn’t end there. It begins in the family of God. Love your family and your friends.
But Bishop Ryle says, “Let there be nothing narrow, limited, contracted, stingy or sectarian in your love.”  Here’s what that means: Love atheists as God loves them. Love Muslims as God loves them. Love the world as God loves the world. Love your enemies as God loves his enemies. God loved you before you ever loved him. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.
God Gave His Son for You
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. (John 3:16)
Notice it doesn’t say, “God so loved the world, that he will admit everyone into heaven.” It does not say, “God so loved the world, that he eradicated all suffering on earth.” It says, “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” God’s love is seen and known in Jesus Christ.
The Bible speaks about the wrath of God being revealed from heaven (Rom. 1:18). It tells us this God of love is holy and that the whole world is under his judgment. In this verse we read about the awful reality of perishing, the complete undoing or unraveling of a human life. There are passages in the Bible about the judgment of God that would make your hair stand on end and they are as true as John 3:16!
So how do you know that God loves you?
One way to answer that question would be to list the joys and blessings of your life: “I know that God loves me because I have a wonderful wife, healthy kids, good friends, a great job, etc.” Every good gift comes from above and it is good and right to see the kindness of God in every blessing of life and to thank him for it.
Here’s the problem with evaluating God’s love for you on this basis: What if you lose that great job? Or someone in your family becomes sick? Or the person you love is no longer interested in you? How will you know that God loves you then?
If you try to discern the love of God from your experience, you will always be in confusion.
When blessing comes, you will feel that God loves you. When hardship comes, you will feel that he must be against you. And you will lose the sense of his love at precisely the time when you need it the most!
Your experience of life in this fallen world will always be mixed and confusing. The world is in a mess and it is a mess because the world is in rebellion against God. If you went by what you see in this world, you would never be able to come to the settled conclusion that God loves the world, because you are looking in the wrong place.
Here’s how you know that he loves you—he gave his Son for you.
- God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
- In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).
- God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son (John 3:16).
How is this the love of God? What happened when God gave his Son? God became man in Jesus Christ. God the Son, who is one with the Father and is at the Father’s side, came to us, took his stand with us, and acted on our behalf.
If Jesus was only a man, he would be as far from God as we are. If Jesus was only God, he would be as far from us as God is. Jesus Christ brings God and man together in himself! What did he do when he came? He dealt with all that alienates us from God.
How did he do that? Jesus lived the life that all of us are required to live, but none of us has. He fulfilled all that God requires of us. Then he took that perfect life and laid it down as a sacrifice for us. He stood in the place of sinners and he entered into the condemnation that we deserve.
And then on the third day he rose from the dead. He ascended, returning to the Father from whom he came. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
However far you are from God today, whatever the ways in which you may have sinned against him, if you look at the gift of God’s Son and believe in him, you will see and know that the Father loves you.
Jesus is the most costly gift that God could ever give. Jesus is the most valuable gift that you could ever receive, because in Jesus Christ we have this promise: “Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
A man came up to me after the service last night and told me how much this promise meant to him. He told me how he and his wife had gone on a dream trip to Alaska last summer, and while they were there, she had been thrown from her bike. She has been on a ventilator for almost a year now. He said, “I’m so thankful that in the middle of all this, I can know that God loves me because he sent his Son into the world.”
God Lovingly Invites You to Believe in His Son
God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
What does it mean to believe in Jesus?
Believing in Jesus means not trusting in yourself or your own attempts at pleasing God.
There is a transfer of trust, away from me and onto him. Our verse does not say:
- “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever proves to be a fine Christian should not perish but have eternal life.”
- “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever is gives evidence of real and lasting change (peace, love and joy), should not perish but have eternal life.”
- “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever can demonstrate that he or she is sufficiently sorry should not perish but have eternal life.”
If the Word of God said any of these things, we would spend our whole lives looking at our sometimes miserable and always inadequate attempts to live a truly Christian life, and we would have no peace, no hope and no joy. Thank God our verse says something different! Whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Believing is both the simplest and the hardest thing in the world to do. It is simple because it is trusting him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And it is hard because it is in our nature to want to prove ourselves to God.
I just finished reading the biography of a man known as John Brown of Haddington. Haddington is a small town on the east coast of Scotland near Edinburgh where I was born and raised. John Brown was a minister in this town from 1751 until his death in 1787.
John Brown’s father died when he was just 11 years old, and then his mother shortly after, so he was left as an orphan. A man by the name of John Ogilvie, who was an elder of the church, took him in and showed him great kindness through his formative years.
Brown describes in his biography how in his teenage years, he began to be awakened to his own sins and his need to find peace with God. He describes how he dedicated himself to the Lord in a solemn vow, and committed to pray six times a day when he was herding the sheep and three times when he was not.
John Brown had no formal education, but he devised a way to teach himself Greek so he could read the Bible in the original languages. He gave himself to studying the Bible and poured himself into the pursuit of a godly life.
Writing to a friend, Brown comments about this period in his life, “I was putting my religion in the place of Jesus Christ and setting up my prayers as if they were my savior.” John was trusting in what he was doing for God rather than what God had done for him. He was trying to rest his salvation on his own character rather than on God’s.
Looking back on these years, Brown makes this comment: “Such was the bias of my heart… that I was willing to do anything but flee to Christ and His free grace alone for salvation.”  I wonder if that rings a bell with you?
Believing in Jesus means looking to him to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.
This is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life (John 6:40).
In other words, to “look” on the Son is another way of saying “believe” in him. Look to him to do for you what you have not done and cannot do for yourself.
As long as you have this lurking fear that God is out to get you, you will run and hide from him. But when you know that God is the Father who gave his Son in love for you and that God is the Son who gives himself in love for you, you will have no fear in looking to him. This is how you know that God loves you and this is how you enter into everlasting life.
Is this really for me?
I was reading a tract from the 19th century on our passage: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The tract says, “You will say, ‘If I were as Peter, Paul and Mary were, this gift would be a comfort to me.”  That made me smile, because when you say Peter, Paul and Mary today most people think about a folk group from the 1960s!
If I had the rock-like faith of the apostle Peter, I could believe that God loves me and sent his Son for me. If I had the understanding and insight of the apostle Paul, I could believe that God loves me and sent his Son for me. If I had a pure heart and mind like Mary, the mother of our Lord, then I would be able to believe that God loved me and sent his Son for me.
But here’s the problem: I find it difficult to believe that God loves me and sent his Son for me, because I am not like Peter, Paul, or Mary. My faith is very shaky. My understanding is very limited. And I would not describe my mind and heart as pure at all. If I were as Peter, Paul and Mary, this gift would be a comfort to me. But I am not.
That is where this word ‘whoever’ is so wonderful. If you are saying, “I don’t know if this is for me,” I say to you, “Look at this word ‘whoever.’” It includes you. It is big enough for all of us to crawl inside. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Jesus Christ was given as much for you as he was for Peter, Paul, and Mary. You can say today, “I may not be Peter, I may not be Paul, and I certainly am not Mary, but Jesus Christ is the gift of God and he is given for me as much as for them.”
Christ is offered to all people everywhere without exception or qualification. To the person who is far from God, to the person who has shown no interest in God, to the person who feels trapped by the power of their own sin, to the person brought up in a Christian home, the fact that you’ve been brought up in a Christian home is not going to do it for you. If you are brought up in a Jewish home, a Muslim home, or an atheist home, God in his great love and mercy, offers his Son, Jesus Christ, to you today!
If on the last day, there is anyone here who will perish when others are entering into the joy of eternal life, the only person you could blame is yourself. For this reason, God’s love is being proclaimed to you today. An open door is before you today. The gift of this Savior is offered to you today.
For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him
should not perish but have eternal life.
 J. C. Ryle, Old Paths, p. 381, Banner of Truth, 1999.
 William Brown, The Life of John Brown with Selected Writings, p. 9-10, Banner of Truth, 2004.
 Horatius Bonar, Kelso Tracts No. 2, The Faithful Saying, James Nisbet & Co., 1849.
© Colin S. Smith
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