God So Loved the World

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John 3:16

INTRODUCTION: Today’s Scripture is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible. You see it emblazoned on bumper stickers and banners; you see it waved on posters at athletic events; you hear it quoted by the politicians. It is one of the first verses we learn as children, and one that many adults can still recite from memory. It is one of the few verses that many people can identify just from the reference — John 3:16. For some people it is the only Bible verse they can identify by the reference, but that discussion is for another time.

Suffice it to say that John 3:16 is one of the most familiar verses in the Bible – and deservedly so. “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.” It has been called the gospel in a nutshell, a summary of Scripture, and a blueprint for salvation. It is all of those things, but it is also a wonderful verse to reflect on with respect to missions and bringing the gospel to the world. And it is within that context that I would like us to take a closer look at this verse this morning.

I. The scope of God’s love – the world

The first thing I would like you to notice from John 3:16 is the scope of God’s love. And you will see that the scope is very wide indeed. “God so loved the world.” God doesn’t just love one set of people. He does not just love one particular nation or race. God is a big God, and he has a very big love indeed. The scope of God’s love covers the whole world – every nation, tribe, language and people.

This was clear even in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God chose the nation of Israel as his special people. Was this because God didn’t care about the rest of the world? Far from it! When God called Abraham and promised to build a great nation from him, God’s promise to Abraham included all the other nations. God told Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3) God’s purpose in calling Israel was to bless all the other nations through Israel. This would take place through the coming of the Messiah or Christ.

We especially see this in the prophet Isaiah. In the book of Isaiah Christ is portrayed as a servant who will accomplish God’s plan and bring salvation to the world. In Isaiah 49:6 God says to the coming Messiah: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

When we come to the last book in the Bible, the book of Revelation, we see God’s plan of salvation realized through Christ. We read in Revelation 7:9-10: “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” (Revelation 7:9-10)

It is important to stop and reflect on all this because we have the tendency, at least in America, to view the gospel mainly through a personal lens. “Why should I become a Christian? What will God do for me? How will accepting Christ make my life better?” We sometimes even take this very verse, John 3:16, and we ask people to personalize it: “For God so loved (insert your name here), that he gave his one and only Son, that if ___________ believes in him, ______________ shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Now there is nothing wrong with that in and of itself. We are all part of this world that God loves, and it is important to realize that God does love each one of us personally and individually. But we also need to realize that God’s plan is so much bigger than you or me. It’s not about me. It’s not about you. God loves the whole world, and we need to get our eyes off of ourselves, and reach out to those who have not yet heard of Christ and God’s love. (Eric Liddell illustration.)

How wide is God’s love? “God so loved the world.” John 3:16 teaches us the scope of God’s love. God’s love extends to all people everywhere in world.

II. The depth of God’s love – his Son

Secondly, John 3:16 teaches us the depth of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.” (John 3:16)

There are echoes of Abraham and Isaac from the Old Testament here. You may remember in the Old Testament that God gave Abraham and Sarah a son in their old age. Sarah was barren, and Abraham was old, and yet Isaac was born according to God’s promise. But then some years later God tested Abraham. He told Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” (Genesis 22:2) And Abraham did it. As much as he loved his son Isaac, he loved God more, and he showed the depth of his love by his willingness to sacrifice his only son. Of course God was only testing Abraham, and so he stopped him before he actually killed Isaac. But the knife was already raised high, and Abraham was ready to go through with it.

Then we come into the New Testament, and we learn that God has a Son. His name is Jesus. John 3:16 says that he is God’s “one and only Son.” You may be familiar with the earlier King James translation, God’s “only begotten Son.” The word translated “only begotten” is a word that means “single, unique, one of a kind.” Jesus is not only God’s only Son, but he is uniquely God’s Son in a way that no other person can ever be.

For example, when you put your faith in Christ, God adopts you into his family and you become a child of God. But you will never be a child of God in the same way that Jesus is God’s Son. We are only adopted into God’s family. But the Bible says this about Jesus: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2) And so Jesus has always been God’s Son. He has always existed as God’s Son. Jesus is part of who God is. He shares God’s very essence. He is God’s one and only Son.

Now I can’t imagine sacrificing one of my own children for someone else. I suppose it might be even more difficult if I only had one child. But God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son. That is astonishing. It would be one thing if the world was worthy of such a sacrifice, but we are not. We are all sinners who have rebelled against God and his ways. And yet God gave his Son. He sent his Son into the world as a helpless little baby at Bethlehem, and he gave his Son as a sacrifice at Calvary.

III. The fruit of God’s love – our salvation

John 3:16 teaches us the scope of God’s love – God loves the world. It teaches us the depth of God’s love – he gave his Son. It also teaches us the fruit of God’s love – which is our salvation. “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 3:16)

The reason God sent his Son is because we were lost. We are all sinners. We have all broken God’s law, and we are separated from God because of our sin. God is a just judge who must punish sin. The punishment for sin is death – not just physical death, but spiritual death, eternal death. That’s what the word “perish” means in John 3:16. It means to die in your sins, eternally separated from God and his love. God loved us, and he didn’t want us to die. And so he sent his Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Isaiah 53:6 says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) How deep is God’s love for the world? We had all sinned. We had all gone our own way instead of God’s way. We all deserved God’s righteous punishment for sin. But God gave his only Son. He took our sins and laid them upon Jesus, and Jesus paid the penalty of sin for us. The fruit of God’s love is our salvation.

Notice what John 3:16 says about who receives this gift of eternal life. Not everyone is saved, but only those who believe in Christ. That word “believe” means to trust. It means believing that Jesus truly is God’s Son and that he died on the cross for your sins, and trusting your life into his hands. That’s why God sent his Son. That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Notice the word “whoever.” It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how badly you have sinned against God or against other people. It doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. If you will put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of your life, God will save you. He will forgive your sins and give you the gift of eternal life. It’s not something you earn or deserve. You receive it as a free gift simply by believing in what Jesus has done for you. “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.”

Application points for believers:

Let me close out this message with three application points for believers this morning. If you are not a believer, the application is obvious. You need to trust Christ. You need to put your faith in God’s Son who died for you. That will mean turning away from the sin in your life and following God’s way instead. It is the most important decision you can ever make. And it is the best decision you will ever make. God will enter your life and make you a new person. He will forgive you for all your sins and wash you clean. Best of all, you will have the assurance that when you die, you will go to be with God in heaven. You will not perish, but have eternal life.

But let me highlight three application points for believers this morning.

    1) Make worldwide missions a priority.

First of all, make worldwide missions a priority. Support the worldwide effort to share the gospel with those who have never heard about Jesus Christ. We need to develop a heart for the world. We need to ask God to give us his heart for the world. Make no mistake about it. God loves the whole world. He did not send Jesus so that just a few people in a certain corner of the globe would be saved. He sent Jesus because he loved the world. The scope of God’s love covers the whole world, and so we must also love the whole world. And that means supporting missions – with our finances, with our prayers and with our personal involvement as we have opportunity.

    2) Exalt Christ.

Secondly, exalt Christ. God so loved the world that he sent his Son. There would be no salvation for anyone apart from Jesus. God showed the depth of his love by sending his Son, and so we should lift up the name of Jesus every chance we get. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior. He is the deepest expression of God’s love for us. And so let us exalt Christ with our lips and with our lives.

    3) Share the gospel.

And thirdly, we need to share the gospel. Yes, we need to support worldwide missions, but we need to share the gospel locally as well. Our friends and neighbors are also lost without Jesus. Without Christ in their lives, they will perish in their sins as surely as the tribal person on the other side of the globe who has never heard the gospel. Your friends and neighbors are part of this world that God loves. God sent his Son into the world for them, too. We need to share the gospel with those around us.

And what is the gospel? Remember, John 3:16 is the gospel in a nutshell. “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.” You probably already have it memorized. Now you just need to share it with those whom God has placed in your life.

© Ray Fowler

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By Ray Fowler. © Ray Fowler. Website: http://www.rayfowler.org

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