16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Without a doubt John 3:16 is the most famous verse of the Bible. Placarded in all sorts of interesting places for the sake of witness and evangelism, this verse is used to declare the message of the Gospel in a single sentence. You can probably recite this verse from memory without hesitation, but what is John 3:16 really about?
While it most certainly testifies to the eternal life that has come in Christ—a new life that comes from being “born from above” (3:3)—the verse is speaking first, and most fundamentally, to the love of God. And what do we learn about His love? That He loved the world in such a way that He gave. A supreme act of the giving love of God was demonstrated in the Incarnation and Crucifixion of His Son; even as Paul declares in Romans, “but God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:8).
Verse 17 parallels verse 16: as God gave, so He sent His Son. Was Jesus given, was He sent for Israel alone? No, the Son was given and sent for the sake of the world, for the sake of all humanity. He was sent to be “lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should have eternal life” (3:14-15). Though deserving of judgment, the world was sent a Savior. Isn’t that the surprise of the Gospel? Isn’t that the unexpected twist in the story? Instead of condemnation rendered, love is lavished.
Do you want to see the measure of God’s love? Look first to the manger; see the Child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and there behold the love of God. Then look to the Man stripped of all and lifted up on the cross, and yet again behold the love of God. Behold Him and believe that, for the sake of the world, the cross was the ultimate destination of the manger.
—Pastor Joe Thacker, St. Mark Reformed Church, Nashville, Tennessee
Heavenly Father and Mighty God, how great is the love that You have lavished upon us in the Lord Jesus Christ! Teach us to understand more deeply the love displayed in the birth and death of Your only-begotten Son, and may our lips and lives express the thanksgiving that You are worthy to receive for such a great salvation. Fire our hearts with Your love that we may never grow cold to the Gospel. We pray in Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Has John 3:16 become too familiar to you? Too mundane? What are some things that you can do to keep from “getting bored” with such a familiar verse? In what ways is the love of God a model for own lives? Meditate on Genesis 28:12; John 1:51 and John 3:14, and consider how the cross is the ladder between heaven and earth.