Jn 3:16 Most famous text

Text John 3:16 Time 18 11 07 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I remember some years ago being at the Aberystwyth Conference and for some reason the advertised preacher wasn't able to be there and so they asked an elderly preacher to preach – a man who died not long after. I remember this man saying that he had made a promise to God that if an opportunity like this should arise he would preach always from John 3:16 – and that's what he did. I don't know exactly how much impact it had but I do know that at least one young man was deeply affected and he went on to become a professor in a Reformed Theological Seminary in America.
Now I've not made any promises to preach on John 3:16 but in recent weeks we have been looking at some famous texts. We've looked for example at Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and John 14:6 Jesus said I am the way, the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me. This morning I want us to look at what is probably the most famous text in all the Bible – John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.John 3 is the chapter where Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night and is told that he needs to be born again. Verse 16 is one of several great verses in that chapter and is perhaps the best known of them all. The words were probably spoken by Jesus on that night, though they could be John’s later inspired words.
There are certain famous addresses – 10 Downing Street, 221b Baker Street, 263 Prinsengracht, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, etc. Well, this is one of the most famous, perhaps the most famous address in the Bible, the most famous text – John 3:16.
The reason it is so famous is because it says so many important things, vital things, in such a short space. Martin Luther once called it ‘The Bible in miniature’. And that's what it is.
Like Genesis 1 it begins with God - For God. It goes on to speak about his love for this world, which we see in the rest of Genesis and beyond. It speaks of how he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. This is what the OT points forward to and what the NT reveals so clearly.
Someone else said it contained the gospel in a nutshell. All you need to know is contained in this wonderful text.
The great C H Spurgeon surprisingly only preached on it once – in 1885. He was rather surprised that he had not preached on it more as, he said, it was ‘the sole topic of my life’s ministry’. I’ve preached on it more than once and maybe you've heard more than one sermon on it but it is such a great text that just as you can go again and again to certain houses and see things that you haven’t seen before so we can turn to it again and again, I’m sure, without exhausting it.
When Spurgeon finally got round to preaching it he spoke chiefly of the love of God. Interestingly, when his contemporary Bishop J C Ryle, turned to this text, his emphasis was chiefly on faith. Both are here and I want to give them equal weight. So I want to consider two things: God's love and our faith. We will ask two questions
1. What has God done? 2. Why has he done what he has done?
1. According to this famous text, what has God done?
1. According to this famous text, there is a God
Now this may seem a rather obvious thing to say to some of you but we mustn’t miss it. The text begins For God and we must not go rushing into what the text means without pausing first to remind ourselves that there is a God. Now I know that by no means everyone accepts this. There seems to be a small but growing tide of atheism in the country today. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, etc, are very keen to get us not to believe in God. And even where others at least accept the idea of God in theory, they nevertheless live as if there were no God. What is the theory of evolution all about but a desperate attempt to push God out of the picture? The Bible recognises this phenomenon. Ps 14:1-3 The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no-one who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no-one who does good, not even one. The truth is that everyone knows there is a God – we all know the truth. However, for the most part we try to suppress that truth (Rom 1:19ff) What may be known about God is plain to all, because God has made it plain. For example, since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Those who deny God’s existence or who live as if there were no God are without excuse then. Although in one sense they know God, they neither glorify him as God nor give thanks to him, but their thinking is futile and their foolish hearts are darkened. Although they claim to be wise, they have become fools. They have exchanged God’s glory for a lie. One day we will all stand before God to be judged and then all our feeble excuses about not knowing him or not being sure will crumble to nothing.
2. According to this famous text, he is a God who loves
Well, what about this God then, the God who created all things and rules over all things, the God who will judge us all one day? For God so loved … That is the thing about God that this verse focuses on. There are many other things to say about God, it is true. He is powerful. He is perfect. He is eternal. He is infinite. However, he is also the God who loves. Indeed the Bible famously says God is love. This comes out both in the Old Testament and the New.
OT - Ex 35:5-7 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. He is (Neh 1:5) the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love.NT - near the end of 2 Corinthians Paul says the God of love and peace will be with you. The reason we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us is that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:44).
What an important fact this is to keep in mind. What a wonderful subject – the love of God!
3. According to this famous text, he is a God who loves the world
Love always has an object and here it is the world. Now we use the word world in different ways. When we talk about 'travelling the world' we mean something different to 'feeding the world' and something else again when we talk about 'not following the world'. The Bible certainly uses the word world in various ways – as many as seven according to one writer. What is its meaning here? Some assume it must mean every person who ever has or ever will live. It is far more likely, however, that the word is being used in the sense of the fallen world, the wicked world of sin that opposes God – the world that lies in the lap of the evil one. As one writer puts it, it may seem to us an amazing thing that God loves the whole world but he is God – that is like being impressed with a blacksmith who can carry a whole mustard seed in the palm of his hand! No, the amazing thing is that God should love this wicked and rebellious world, the world that would crucify his Son and that even now is in open rebellion. Despite its wretchedness and sin God loves the world.
Spurgeon notes how great the love of God is in that it is seen in
1. The gift it led to – God’s very own Son. We will come to that next.
2. The plan of salvation – God’s purpose to save a people for himself in this very way.
3. Who salvation is available to – As we have said, the point is not that God loves the vast world but that he loves this rotten world. Who did he love? Those worthy of it? No! He loved rotten sinners like us. Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.4 According to this famous text, he is a God who so loves the world that he gave his one and only Son
That he gave his one and only Son. Cf 1 John 4:9, 10 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. In Titus 3:4 Paul refers to the coming of Christ as the time when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared.Several writers tell the story of a family somewhere in a time of famine coming to the conclusion that the only way they can raise money is by selling one of their sons into slavery. But which one can they give up? As they think it through they realise it is impossible and conclude it will be better for them all to die than to sell one. I can identify. Which of my 5 sons would I willingly give up if I had to? Not my first and eldest, not my youngest and neediest, not my calmest and best looking, not my brightest and most helpful, my smartest and most like me. None of them. Yet God, we are told, so loved the world that he gave up his one and only Son for the world. It is not one of the angels that God gave but his very own Son. He didn't lend him either, rather he gave him. He didn't spare him so that he might by this means save us who believe.
Spurgeon again mentions an aged minister of whom it was said ‘Whatever his text he never failed to set forth God as love and Christ as the atonement for sin’. This is what this text teaches us so clearly – God’s great love and the sending of his Son to deal with sin by means of his holy life and his death on the cross.
Spurgeon speaks of
1. Who he gave – his own dear Son. It is clear from Scripture that God is a Trinity and it is the Father who has sent the Son into this world.
2. How he gave – He gave him willingly and purposefully in order to make salvation certain.
3. When he gave – The coming of Christ was, of course, something that occurred in history. However, he is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world and it is in eternity that this wonderful redemption was planned – the Father’s plan was formulated before the beginning of time. Even then the Father was willing to send and the Son was willing to go.
What an encouragement this is. He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32).
2. According to this famous text, why has God done what he has done?
The verse also explains why God has done what he has done. That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. So why did God give his one and only Son?
1. So that something may happen to change the lot of many
At its most general we can put it this way. God did not send his Son, as some think, simply to provide a good example to us of how to live. He is a great example, of course, but by his life and death he is very much more than that. He came to make the difference between life and death, deliverance and destruction, heaven and hell. He did not come to give life to every single person, as we've said, but he did come to give life to the many. Do not think of God or of his love in a vague way. God’s love means redemption, deliverance and blessing for many. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is the most significant event in history. It has changed everything.
2. So that
1. Negatively - They may not be destroyed as they would be otherwise
We tend to think that for some reason we all deserve to go to heaven. The truth is, however, that we have all broken God’s Law. We are all guilty sinners and so we all deserve his judgement in hell. All we like sheep have gone astray. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. Have you realised this of yourself? You are a sinner, guilty before God, deserving of hell and damnation. However, through Jesus Christ you can be delivered. You can be saved from destruction. Like a man condemned to death being told there is a reprieve. What glorious good news!
2. Positively – So that they may have eternal life through him
The positive side is that God has provided a way for sinners not only to be delivered from perishing but also to receive the gift of eternal life – everlasting life in Christ. Do you see that that is what Jesus Christ has purchased for sinners by his coming and living and dying and rising again?
3. What must I do to escape destruction and to receive eternal life?
That is made very clear here. God has given his Son so That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Faith is the thing that is needed – trust in Jesus Christ. ‘But what is faith?’ you say to me. It is not simply a matter of accepting certain facts intellectually. It is not merely a matter of feelings either. What is called for is an unreserved trust in Jesus Christ. Spurgeon helpfully speaks of it like this
1. You must firmly and willingly give cordial assent to the truth. Some don't accept the fact Jesus is God come in the flesh – that he lived and died and rose as it is described for us in Scripture. Without accepting that we cannot even begin to believe. This is basic. Do you accept these facts?
2. You need to accept these facts for yourself. It is possible to accept the facts but then say ‘But that has nothing to do with me. It’s all in the past.’ True faith sees that Jesus’s coming was for them. True faith can say ‘he lived and died and rose again and that can set me free. It can save me.’
3. Finally, there must be personal trust. Can you say ‘Living he loved me, dying he saved me, buried …’? Just as in the OT the one making a sacrifice would identify with the animal by putting his hands on the animal’s head so we must closely and personally identify with the Saviour. He must be ‘My Saviour’ ‘My Lord’. Can you say with Paul He loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20)?
In the NT faith is described in various different ways.
In terms of the eyes - it is looking to Jesus (John 3:17, Hebrews 12:2). Are you doing that today?
In terms of the ears – it is to hear Jesus This is my dear Son. Hear him. (Mark 9:7) He who has ears let him hear.In terms of the feet, faith is coming to Jesus (John 6:35 I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty). Come to Jesus today.
In terms of the hands it is receiving Jesus (Colossians 2:6, Revelation 3:20, John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God). Receive him today. Open your heart to him.
It is to build your life on Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:20). Is he your foundation?
It is called putting on Christ (Galatians 3:27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ) – it's like putting on a coat. Have you put on Christ?
It is like eating or drinking (John 6). Are you feeding on his flesh and drinking his blood as it were?
It is a matter of commitment (2 Timothy 1:12 I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day). Have you entrusted/committed all to him? You won’t regret it.
Each of these pictures underlines how simple faith is and how suited it is to what is required. Nothing could be easier than to come, to eat, to look, etc. In each case, as well, although something is required from us, we need to depend on someone or something outside us (what we put on, what we drink, the one we commit everything to, etc). I’m sure that is why I is by faith that God chooses to save.
We usually know when we have truly trusted in Christ as it leads to peace, a new heart, holiness, good deeds, overcoming world, the inward testimony of the Spirit and a special regard to Christ.
I do want to underline that Whoever - whatever your background, whether you are wealthy or poor, intelligent or not so intelligent, young or old, whatever your religious background, etc. What matters is not us but him. Look to him! Look only to him. Not just sometimes but always. If we have already come to believe then let’s seek to believe more, to grow stronger in faith. Ask God to increase your faith.
In a sermon on this text the Puritan John Flavel makes two helpful applications.
1. Consider the preciousness of a soul. 1 Peter 1:18, 19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.2. To slight or reject Christ is the greatest evil. Hebrews 2:3 How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?I want to end by referring to a well-known way of illustrating this verse. It is clear here that in giving his Son God has given the greatest gift there can be and that gift is freely given. However we need to take it. To illustrate sometimes evangelists will hold out a £10 note or sweets for kids and say ‘Here is a free gift for anyone who wants it’. Usually no-one takes it (unless they’ve seen it done before!). They think there must be some catch but there isn’t. God offers salvation to you today.
You may say ‘I don’t want it’ but that just shows that you really don't understand heaven or hell.
You may say ‘I don’t believe this free gift is available’ but this verse is very plain.
It’s tempting to say ‘I’ll think about it’ but there is no guarantee of a future offer.
Perhaps you say ‘But surely I have to earn it in some way’ but no you simply need to receive it. Receive it today.