For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
These words of Jesus speak of four great realities in life. Each begins with “D” to help us remember.
The danger we all face: perishing under the wrath of God because of our sin (3:36).
The design of God to rescue us from this danger: his love which sends the Son to lay down his life (10:18; 15:13), and take away the sin of the world (1:29).
The duty of man in response: believing on the Son of God.
The destiny promised to all who believe: eternal life.
The danger. The design. The duty. And the destiny.
Last week we talked about the danger of perishing under the wrath of God. This week we ponder the design of God to rescue us from perishing: the design of the love of God to rescue us from the wrath of God (John 3:36).
One of the steps in coming to embrace something as true is a serious, focused consideration of what it is. That’s what I want us to do this morning under this heading of God’s design of love. Pray with me that, as I simply direct the focus of your mind to these things, God would confirm the reality of what you hear — that he would give you spiritual taste buds to perceive and apprehend the true value of these things. We’ll focus on four great truths.
1. There Is a God
The verse begins “For God . . .”
Jesus teaches us that there is a God. That God exists. Jesus is absolutely saturated with his consciousness of God. Everything he says relates to God. Everything he does relates to God. He is a God-entranced human being.
There are many reasons — good reasons — for believing in God. One of the best is that Jesus taught us that God exists and that he is the central reality in a life. If someone says, “Why do you believe in God?” you can say, “I believe in God because Jesus believed in God, and all that I know of Jesus makes me trust him more than I trust any philosopher or any scientist or any theologian or any friend I have ever known or read about.” Then you can ask them, “Do you know anyone more trustworthy or better qualified to teach us about the existence of God than Jesus?”
We begin with God. Don’t rush over this lightly. Pause in your life, and say to yourself. There is God. The world began with God. The world depends on God. I am a person with a conscience and a sense of justice and the capacity to contemplate spiritual things, and speak in sentences, and to love — all because I am created in the image of God. He was there first. And he made me like himself and for himself — that he might be known through me (Isaiah 43:7). The meaning of my life is knowing and showing God.
2. God Has a Son
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . .”
Now this is a stunning reality. Jesus teaches us that God has one only begotten Son. For Muslims this sounds like blasphemy. They say it means that God must have had sex with an angel, or with a woman.
It is a startling thing to believe with Jesus that God has a Son — a one and only begotten Son. So focus on this for a moment. Don’t fly over it because it’s so commonplace. It is amazing and wonderful and mind-boggling — and O so crucial for our salvation from perishing.
In calling the Son of God “only begotten” Jesus means to distinguish the only begotten Son of God from sons who are made or adopted as sons. The angels are called “sons of God” (Job 1:6), and we Christians are called “sons of God” (Romans 8:14–16). Angels are “sons of God” by virtue of being directly created by God; and Christians are “sons of God” by virtue of being adopted into his family through our being joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit.
But the “one and only begotten Son” is not a Son by creation or by adoption, but by begetting. And begetting is simply a human analogy for what is beyond our comprehension. But it carries a crucial truth, as C.S. Lewis said: “Rabbits beget rabbits; horses beget horses; humans beget humans, not statues or portraits; and God begets God — not humans and not angels.”
God’s only begotten Son is God. And there never was a time when God had not begotten his Son. Because the begetting of the Son is equally eternal with the existence of the God the Father. The standing forth of the Son as a perfect, personal image and representation and equal of the Father so that they exist as two persons with one divine essence is simply what it means to be God. This is the way God has existed from all eternity, without beginning. This is the point of John 1:1, 14,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In other words, the Word, Jesus, is the only begotten Son, and co-eternal with the Father. There is God. And God has a one and only begotten Son.
3. God Loves
“For God so loved . . .”
Jesus teaches us that the God who exists loves. Let that sink in. He loves. He loves. Of all the things you might say about God, be sure to say this. He loves. The writer of this gospel says in 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” Which I take to mean at least this: giving what’s good and serving the benefit of others is closer to the essence of God than getting and being served. God loves. God is love.
Now Jesus tells us more specifically what he means by love in John 3:16. “For God so loved . . .” The “so” here doesn’t mean an amount of love but a way of loving. He doesn’t mean: God loved so much, but God loved this way. “God so loved” means “God thus loved.”
How? What is the way God loved? He loved such “that he gave his only begotten Son.” And we know that this giving was a giving up to rejection and death. “He came to his own and his own received him not” (1:11). Instead they killed him. And Jesus said of all this, “I glorified you [Father] on the earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do” (John 17:4). So when the Father gave his only begotten Son, he gave him to die.
That’s the kind of love the Father has. It is a giving love. It gives his most precious treasure — his Son. We need to meditate on that this Christmas. It was a very costly love. A very powerful love. A very rugged, painful love. The meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this love. “For God so loved . . .”
And the fourth focus this morning is that God gives this costly love to an undeserving world of sinners.
4. God Loves the World
“For God so loved the world . . .”
The manner of his love is not merely seen in the infinite value of what he gives — his only begotten Son — but in the rebelliousness of whom he gives him for.
Perchance for a good man one might dare to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7–8)
Just before John 3:16 Jesus compares his own coming with the what happened in the day of Moses when the people rebelled against God and said they were sick of manna. The result of this sin was a plague of serpents all through the camp, people dying everywhere.
When Moses prayed for the people, Numbers 21:8 says,
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.”
So God’s design of love to rescue the rebellious people from perishing was to lift up a serpent on a pole so that all the people had to do was look at it in faith and be saved.
Then Jesus says in John 3:14–15,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
When John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave,” it means he gave his one and only begotten Son to a world of rebels, serpent bitten, sinful, perishing — and him their only hope. God loved this world.
- There is a God.
- He has a Son.
- He loves.
- And he loves the world.
And the upshot of that for us this morning is powerfully in the word “whoever.” “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes. . . .” God means for his Son to be lifted up before the world of sinners — all sinners, all kinds of sinners, all degrees of sinners — the way the serpent was lifted up on the pole, because he loves the world.
You say, “I have carried the poison of the serpent of sin in my life for a long, long time.” Yes, God knows that. He is God. He knows everything about you. You are in worse shape in his eyes than you are in your own. But that didn’t stop him. In fact, it is precisely the measure of our unworthiness that makes the love of God reach for his Son as the only adequate sacrifice.
Do not look at yourself this morning. Look to the Son. And to the love of God. And to the promise that whoever believes will never perish but have eternal life.
Look to Jesus
When Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher from the last century, was sixteen years old and unconverted, he happened into a small Methodist Chapel with fifteen people in a snowstorm. The preacher was a layman. He took his text from Isaiah 45:22, “Look to me and be saved all the ends of the earth.” At one point he looked right at the boy and said, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look. Look. Look”
I saw at once the way of salvation . . . Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, Look! what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun.
I say the same to you this morning. Look to Jesus. Believe on Jesus. And you will not perish.