John 3:16 is the Bible’s most famous verse. Its familiarity also means it can easily slip into Christian jargon we sling. We assume it. But the verse is staggering, and in it we come to understand what it means to receive Jesus Christ into our lives. John Piper explains in his 2009 sermon, titled, “God So Loved the World, Part 1.” Here’s what he said:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” Muslims, and others, stumble over the idea that God has a Son. So let me say a few things and, perhaps, say them in a way specifically with verses so that you can help your friend who stumbles like that.
God did not have sex with Mary in order to have a Son. You hear that all over the world in Muslim contexts. Turn with me back to chapter 1 where we see the basic understanding that John has laid for us, knowing this is a strange, strange thing to say: that God has a Son. That is a strange thing to say.
We Christians have taken it for granted for decades, but a brand new person who has never stumbled onto Christianity and hears that God has a Son won’t have any idea how to conceive of such a thing. He must have had sex with some goddess or something, you know? So John knows this is coming. John is giving us help here. He is not leaving us adrift with conceptual confusion about how to think about this.
So here’s John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Now, so far no mention of any Son, just Word. And he says three things about the Word.
- He is God. The Word was God.
- He is with God and therefore distinct from God. The Word was with God.
- He has always been in existence and did not come into being because he was God. “In the beginning was the Word.”
Those are three absolutely massively important and crystal clear statements from verse 1. You don’t need a seminary education to see that. Those are simple, straightforward, gargantuanly mysteriously important.
Now drop to John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Now you have got an idea about the Son. It is not some product of sexual union with a goddess or Mary. This is the Word. And now we know something about the Son. The Son is God. He is God.
We know he is with God and therefore distinct from God, which is why he is called Son. And the one who sent him is called Father.
This relationship has always existed and never had a beginning. It’s hard to conceive. Little children will ask you: Where did Jesus come from? Where did God come from? How did they get started? And there is no answer to how they got started, because they didn’t get started. This is the most mind-boggling reality that is. God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one God, one divine essence, one divine nature in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit, existing in a relationship of infinite purity and joy always — world without end or beginning. That is who he sent.
Believe. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes . . .”
In John 1:11–12 there is another word used to explain believe: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So receiving Jesus is another word used to describe believing. So believing and receiving interpret each other. You ask: What does it mean to receive? Believe. And what does it mean to believe? It means to receive him.
That point is worthless without the next one. I hope that you are not among the number who sling around religious jargon with no meaning. To say: “I received Jesus,” means nothing until you have answered the question: As what? As an unwelcome guest in your house whom you are going to poison? A person you had to let in because he wants to work on the furnace and you stick him down there and don’t want to talk to him?
There are all kinds of ways to receive Jesus that have zero effect on your eternity except to make it worse. So the last point is: As what? Receive as what? And surely the answer to that question is: Receive him as what he is — not what you think he is or what somebody told you he is or what you would like him to be — but as what he is.
There are many verses that describe what he is — like all of them, almost. But here is one:
John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’”
I am bread.
I am water.
If you believe, you receive me as that: bread for your soul, water for your soul.
Your heart is a thirst factory. You wake up with thirst, you go to bed with thirst, you thirst for a thousand things. And Jesus says, “I am the kind of Savior that, if you would drink here, your thirsts would be satisfied. All of them. Forever!”
Your heart is hungry. If you eat, you won’t have that gnawing craving that has ruined your marriage. It is wrecking your sex life. It is making you greedy and dishonest at work. You’re just controlled by these cravings and these longings — because Jesus is bread — and when you received him as a six-year-old, you received him as a ticket out of hell. You carry him in your back pocket and, frankly, when you sit down, it makes you uncomfortable. That is not saving receiving.
He is Christ, Son of God, Savior, wrath-remover, sin-forgiver, righteousness-provider, soul-satisfier, strengthener. O, what isn’t he for us?! “All in all,” Paul called him (Ephesians 1:23). When you believe, that is what you receive. And that means that the rest of life is growing up into that. Which means that receiving the gospel is the way you solve every problem in your life: marriage problems and health problems and every other problem.
Call out to him, “I need more. I need more. You are everything I need. And I got fed yesterday. I am taking after you today. So I am back at the gospel fountain where the blood buys me everything though I am such a jerk.”