“3:16”                                                                                           October 26, 2014

John 3:1-15


INTRO:  Many Christians have a favorite Bible verses, a verse for life.

David Livingston, the great pioneer missionary to Africa,

   chose as his life verse, Matthew 28:20.

   “Surely I am with you always, to be very end of the age.”


John Newton’s was Romans 5:20 

   “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

Amy Carmichael’s was John 15:7 

   “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you,

   ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 

Tim Tebow’s is Philippians 4:13

   “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”


Perhaps you have one too—a favorite Bible verse, a life verse.

   Allison’s brother Dan used to say his was Genesis 27:11

   “And Esau was a hairy man.”


But certainly the all-time favorite verse of Christians everywhere is John 3:16.

   It’s probably the most memorized Bible verse of all time.

The church I did my internship in, The Covenant Presbyterian Church of St. Louis

   had the entire verse painted in gold letters on the white plaster wall behind

   the pulpit.  So every single Sunday, you would look up and read it as worshipped.


In America, the actual reference itself—John three colon sixteen—

   has become a sort of symbol for evangelical Christianity.

The clothing store Forever 21 prints the reference John 3:16 on bottom of bags.

In-N-Out Burgers, a California chain, prints it on the bottom of drink cups.


Remember the man who wore the rainbow wig at sporting events in the 80s?

His name was Rollen Stewart and he was a nutcase. 

   He was a professing Christian, but he was a nutcase. 

He had a knack for strategically positioning himself with a sign that said John 3:16

   so that he would get national TV coverage.

He was copied by a number of Christians and ministries.

   So there are lots of people who are familiar with that reference, they recognize

   the words, John 3:16, but have no idea what the verse actually says or means. 

My parents’ next door neighbors in Florida are two Jewish women.

Once my dad was talking to them about a football game and they asked him:

   What is that John 3:16 sign that someone was holding up at the game.

   And my dad said, Let me tell you.  It’s very interesting. 


So why is this verse such an all-time favorite?

Martin Luther called John 3:16 the Bible in miniature.

   What he meant was that in this one verse, in a shorthand fashion,

   are all the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.

I listened to a sermon this week that outlined all the doctrines found in this verse.

   God’s attributes, the Trinity, the incarnation, sin, faith, heaven, hell.

   It was a fascinating sermon. 

   I almost decided to go that route myself this morning. 


But there is another reason it’s such a favorite,

   and that’s because of the greatness of the main theme—the love of God.

Love is the most wonderful thing in all of life—

   and in John 3:16 the love of God is expressed most wonderfully.


God loves sinners.  God loves the unlovely.  God loves people in rebellion.

   He loves the world so much he gave his only Son to die to rescue the world.

And just as he loves me and wants me to trust him and know him,

   so he extends that love to the world. 

And he wants all people everywhere to know him and trust him

   and believe in his Son Jesus and live forever.

That’s why this verse is a favorite, because of its expression of the love of God.

   And that’s how we are going to study it. 


There are many ways we could approach the love of God in this passage,

   but let’s look at it under two classic headings that great preachers and

   theologians through the ages have used.

1.  The immensity of God’s love

2.  The intensity of God’s love


Credit where credit is due:  Dr. Robert Rayburn, sermon.


MP#1  The immensity of God’s love

“For God so loved the world.” 

The world is a big place with lots of people.

   God’s love extends to them all.  His love is immense.

There is a whole class of Scripture passages

   that describe the saving love of God in universal terms. 


Some examples:  Matthew 5 says God’s love for all people causes him to give

   sunshine to evil and the good, and to send rain on the righteous and unrighteous. 

2 Peter 3 that he is patient, he puts up with people’s sin and rebellion.


   Because he is not willing for any to perish, but wants all to come to repentance. 


Over and over in Scripture, God shows his love to all

   by a universal invitation of salvation to all mankind.

In Isaiah 45 the Lord says:

   “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth.”

And in Ezekiel 33 he says:

   “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the

   wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.  Turn!  Turn from your  evil ways! 

And 1 Timothy 2:4: 

   God our Savior . . . wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 


Once Jesus Christ sat on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem,

   and he wept and this is what he said:

   “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you,

   how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks

   under her wings, but you were not willing.” 

He was calling out in prayer and love for all the inhabitants of that city,

   even those who wanted to murder him.


Of course Jerusalem had a special place in the Lord’s heart,

   but surely he looks at all the great cities of the world with love.

He loves New Orleans, and New York, Beijing, and Bagdad,

   Calcutta and Cape Town, he sees millions of people trapped sinful unbelief.

And he doesn’t see them as a mass or a statistic.  He sees them as individuals.

   And wants them to come to him in faith so that he can gather them.


I could go on.  There are many more.  That’s just a sampling of this class of

   Scripture passages that describe the love of God in universal terms. 

Now, confession time.

I’ll be the first to admit that within our Calvinistic, Presbyterian circles

   there has sometimes been a tendency to explain away

   the passages that speak of the universal love of God for the world.

I’ve read commentaries by people in our circles that say: 

   “God so loved the world” doesn’t mean God loves all people,

   it just means he loves all kinds of people. 

Really, is that what it means?  Of course not.   

   “For God so loved the world” means God loves all people. 

   And not just as a mass, but as individuals. 


Now, there is another class of Scripture passages that speaks of God’s love not

   in universal terms, but in particular terms.  The Bible says that

“Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for her.”

   It says “He will save his people from their sins.”

   It says Christ laid down his life “for the sheep” and Christ himself said

   that some people did not believe because they were not his sheep.

And there are all those passages that speak of God’s love and salvation being

   directed towards his elect and chosen people as distinct from the world.


So how do we reconcile the Bible’s clear teaching that God loves all people

   and wants all people to be saved with the Bible’s equally clear teaching

   that God loves his chosen people and that he accomplishes their salvation? 

Here’s the answer: 

Rather than trying to reconcile them, we should preach them both.

   We should listen to both, we should glory in both,

   we should be faithful to both, and we should enjoy the sweetness of both.


So let me focus on the immensity of God’s love for the world

   and show you one important way this ought to cheer us up. 

I think all of us would admit we are living in strange times. 

   In America the church under pressures in ways our forefathers never imagined.

Just this week in the news:  Pastors’ sermons were subpoenaed in Houston, a

   Pentecostal minister in Idaho and his wife, also a minister, were threatened with

   arrest and fines for not performing a homosexual wedding, Gordon College, a

   historic Christian college, in Mass. about to have its accreditation revoked

   because of the code of conduct it requires students to sign politically incorrect.

And these attempts to marginalize Christianity in the United States are nothing

   compared to the genocide of historic Christian communities in the Middle East.

It’s very easy to shake our heads in despair and think, Oh, no, things are grim for

   the church.  What’s going to happen?  We’re going to be reduced to a remnant.

But here’s something that should cheer you up.

God so loved the world, and God so loved America, and God so loved Middle East,

   that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish

   but have eternal life.


And what that means, what it has to mean, is that in the long run, in the big picture,

   in the grand scheme of things, God intends to save a great many people.

In fact, when you take all the biblical evidence into account,

   the overwhelming picture is that because of God’s immense love,

   there will be, in the last, an immense number of people saved.

We will not be a remnant in the end, maybe a big group to us,

   but a tiny fraction compared to the vast number of those lost.

No.  God’s immense love will certainly triumph and save far more people

   than those who will be finally lost.


Listen to Charles Spurgeon:

   How often do I hear people say, “Ah! straight is the gate and narrow is the way, and few there be that find it.  There will be very few in heaven; there will be most lost.”  My friend, I differ from you.  Do you think that Christ will let the devil beat him?  That he will let the devil have more in hell than there will be in heaven?  No; it is impossible.  For then Satan would laugh at Christ.  There will be more in heaven than there are among the lost.  God says, that “there will be a number that no man can number who will be saved;” but he never says, that there will be a number that no man can number that will be lost.  There will be a host beyond all count who will get into heaven.  What glad tidings for you and for me!  For, if there are so many to be saved, why should not I be saved?  Why should not you?


Of course there are going to be setbacks.

   The Lord allows the tares to grow alongside the wheat until the harvest.

   And there will be times and places where it seems darkness is growing.

But God’s immense love will triumph.

   The earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

   The kingdoms of this world will stream into Jerusalem to worship Christ.

So the next time you watch the news or listen to it on car radio and get discouraged,

   say to yourself:  For God so loved the world!

   And be cheered to know that his immense love will triumph.


That brings us to the second point . . .


MP#2  The intensity of his love

For God so loved the world.”  The world is not just a big place, it’s a bad place.

   And it takes a divine intensity to love people who are evil enemies.

   Scholars have often noted that John uses the word “world” in different ways.


Sometimes when he says “world” he means the created order, nature.

   The heavens and the earth.  We might say the universe.

   Remember he says in chapter one that Christ made the world.

Other times when he says “world” he means the dwelling place of mankind.

   The theatre of human history.  Jesus came into this world.

   Came to live in the world of men. 


And then there is a third way John uses world.

   He uses it negatively to speak of fallen humanity alienated from God.

   Humanity in rebellion against God.

One scholar put it this way:  The world is a synonym for bad men everywhere.

   The world is just the synonym for all that is evil and noisome and disgusting

   That’s the way it’s used in John 3:16—the world in opposition to God.


The world contains no believers.  John says later that when a person believes

   in Christ, he is no longer of this world, he is saved out of the world.

   The world then, as John defines it, consists entirely of God’s enemies. 

So what does this tell us about the love of God?  Listen to DA Carson:

“When John tell us God loves the world, far from being an endorsement of the world, it is a

   testimony to the character of God.  God’s love is to be admired, not because the world is so

   big, but because the world is so bad.”

I think John intended both.  God’s love is to be admired because world big and bad.


The intensity of God’s love for the bad world is intended to shock us.

Think of it this way. 

In John’s first letter he lists as our enemies the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

   How jarring would it be if John said that God loved the flesh,

   or that God loved the Devil. 

But stop and think.  How does God feel about the devil?

   The Devil was the most glorious of angels on whom God lavished great gifts.

   He was once a being of such promise and potential for good

   before he turned and became filled with pride and hatred.

Isn’t it likely that in the heart of God there is the sadness of disappointed love

   even for the Devil?

This is the way the heart of God is described over and over in the Bible.

On the one hand, he utterly condemns evil and rebellion, he hates it,

   but on the other hand, his heart is full of love and compassion for rebels.

In Jeremiah 48, God condemns the nation of Moab for its pride and cruelty.

He says: 

   Let Moab wallow in her vomit; let her be an object of ridicule . . . We have heard of Moab's

   pride, her overweening pride and conceit, her pride and arrogance and the haughtiness of her


But then after describing Moab’s judgment for her pride and cruelty he says,

   Therefore I wail over Moab, for all Moab I cry out.  My heart laments for Moab like flute.

That’s God’s love, even for those who were hateful, proud enemies of his people.

   Once again, this is intended to amaze us at the intensity of his love.


In Christianity Today there is a monthly feature, the Open Question column.

A provocative question with several different responses.

   One question a few months ago was this:  Would Jesus visit a strip club?

You can see the provocative nature of that question:

   The Lord’s demand for purity on the one hand, but on the other his willingness to

   associate with sinners and his compassion for those trapped in sin.


The three answers appealed to different sides of the issue.

Two said that Jesus would go there to reach lost sinners,

   although one envisioned only women having that ministry.

The third said that Jesus was never uncritically present where open sin was

   occurring or where God was being mocked. 

He ate with sinners, and spoke with ease and compassion to prostitutes,

   but he didn’t hang out in brothels, and those certainly existed Palestine in his day.


I can imagine Jesus storming into a strip club with a whip—

   driving out the men and rescuing women trapped there.

I can’t imagine him hanging out, sipping cocktails with his disciples,

   and hoping for a possible evangelistic conversation.


Here’s the point:  The very distastefulness of the question,

   the startling nature of it, sharpens the meaning of John 3:16.

God so loved the world, the disgusting, vile world of men and women in rebellion,

   that he gave his one and only Son to go into that world.  That’s intense love.


Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem about a mother’s love.

   If I were hanged on the highest hill,

      I know whose love would follow me still.

   If I were drowned in the deepest sea,

      I know whose tears would come down to me.

   If I were damned of body and soul,

      I know whose prayers would make me whole.


There’s something wonderful about a mother’s love.

   I know you parents understand that, both mothers and fathers.

If you were given the offer of the lifelong holiness and happiness of

   your children in exchange for your life, would take it in a heartbeat.


But the mother in Kipling’s poem, and the love you parents have known is

   for your children, for your own flesh and blood.

It’s not love for a bitter enemy.  It’s not love for someone who has done you

   or your loved ones great harm.  Someone who has worked against everything

   important to you and who sneers at your point of view.


Let me put the imaginary offer another way.

Supposed you were offered the happiness and holiness of one of your enemies in

   exchange for the life of one of your children, not your life, but the life of a

   beloved son or daughter?

And this person has a sneering disregard for you and your child

   and lives a totally self-centered, disgusting life.  Would you do it?

That’s what God did for the world. 


So how does this help us in our daily lives.  We first of all, we have to admit that

   we barely have a clue how great this is. 

   There is a universe of love and pain in the heart of God.

But let me make a simple application.  This should change the way we view

   every single person we meet or even think about. 

If they are your closest friends,

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

If they are in your family members,

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

If they are people you work with or go to school with,

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

If they are strangers who pass you in a crowd, people who you have the slightest,

   momentary impression of, you know this about them,

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

If they are celebrities and world leaders on TV,

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

If they are just statistics, more than a billion people in India . . .

   God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.

And if they are people with lives disgusting and vile, who sneer in utter

   contempt at God and Christ and the Christian faith, that’s what we all

   were apart from grace,

God loves them and gave his Son for them and wants them to be saved.


And since is this true, as Paul says in one of his letters,

   we ought to pray that other people will come to a knowledge of the truth

   and know that love, and be taken out of the world and into God’s love.


Love is the biggest deal in life—

   parental love, romantic love, love of friends, love of country,

   it’s the theme of all the great songs and stories.

It’s what all people everywhere know deep down they need and look for.


And it comes from God himself. 

It is the overflow of the perfect love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

   And God has made that love known by giving his one and only Son,

   so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish,

   but have everlasting life.