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John 3:16: The Gospel in Under 40 Minutes

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John 3:16 has been called the greatest verse in the bible.

Martin Luther called it “The heart of the Bible–The Gospel in miniature.”

Pastor John MacArthur said it was “the most familiar and beloved verse in all of Scripture.” 

One man wrote that it’s “a text that contains an ocean of thought and a drop of language.”

In the 19th century Charles Spurgeon would preach on this text once a year as a reminder that when individuals were converted because of this verse it wasn’t because of anything new or clever he said, but because it was the power of God.

The message I preached last weekend explains what John 3:16 really means. It’s the unadorned Gospel, the reason why Jesus had to die. If you know of any atheists, Jews, Muslims, Hari Krishnas, Scientologists or people who are just to smart to believe, send this short sermon.

You can listen to it by clicking here. (The video will be ready on Wednesday.) Or you can read it below.

The Heart of the Gospel

(John 3:16-21)

 

I’m sure that most of you have heard Pastor Zac say many times that we as preachers of God’s Word have a particular purpose: a ministry of reminding.

Every week we celebrate the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of what Christ has done for us.

Every week we read from the Bible as a reminder that this is the Word of God. It is God-breathed, absolutely trustworthy, and free from error.

And every week, as we teach from the Bible, we are reminded that it is our only standard for faith and practice.

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time you have heard many of the same truths from the pulpit many times, over and over again. That’s a good thing. Because we as preachers are doing our job: reminding. Today is no exception.

The message you will be hearing can be summed up in the first verses of the 1939 hymn, “Victory in Jesus”:

I HEARD AN OLD, OLD STORY
HOW A SAVIOUR CAME
FROM GLORY
HOW HE GAVE HIS LIFE
ON CALVARY
TO SAVE SOMEONE LIKE ME

Let’s read John 3:16-21:

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19  And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

I want to focus primarily on John 3:16 because it sums up the extent of God’s love in one succinct, easy-to-understand 24 word sentence, in the English Standard Version, that is. Let’s recite it together in the version you have memorized it.

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

This has been called the greatest verse in the bible.

Martin Luther called it “The heart of the Bible–The Gospel in miniature.”

John MacArthur said it was “the most familiar and beloved verse in all of Scripture.” (MacArthur commentary on John, Vol. 1)

Another man wrote that it’s “a text that contains an ocean of thought and a drop of language.”

In the 19th century Charles Spurgeon would preach on this text once a year as a reminder that when individuals were converted because of this verse it wasn’t because of anything new or clever he said, but because it was the power of God.

Also in the 19th century, famous evangelist D. L. Moody, who in his lifetime over 100 million people heard the Gospel from his lips, learned from this passage that God loves sinners.

One man discovered “The 7 Wonders of John 3:16”:

  1. FOR GOD: The Almighty Authority
  2. SO LOVED THE WORLD: The Mightiest Motive
  3. THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY SON: The Greatest Gift
  4. THAT WHOEVER: The Widest Welcome
  5. BELIEVES IN HIM: The Easiest Escape
  6. SHOULD NOT PERISH: The Divine Deliverance
  7. BUT HAVE ETERNAL LIFE: The Priceless Possession

These are the words that Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, who Pastor Kevin talked about last week in John 1-15. Remember that Jesus told this righteous Jewish leader that he could not see the Kingdom of God unless he was born again, born from above.

This teacher of the Old Testament Law was a bit surprised and confused over what Jesus said to him because this was a new teaching to him. “Born again? What does that mean?”

Jesus clarifies it for him in John 3:14-15:  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

He explains that just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert so that all who would, by faith, look to it and be saved from their snakebites, so, too, the Son of Man would be lifted up on a cross, “that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” and be saved from their sins.

Which leads us to our verse. John 3:16 starts with, “For God so loved the world…”

Nicodemus must have thought, “The world? I thought the Jewish people, his chosen people, were the only ones God loved.” This is another new teaching to him: The Gentiles—we!—are included in God’s salvation plan!

No longer are the Jewish people the only Chosen Ones. If they are to be included in God’s Kingdom, if they are to be saved, they too would have to come to Jesus by faith and faith alone.

If you have already come to Jesus, you are a Chosen One as well—and much more!

1 Peter 2: 9-10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10  Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

How can this be? Why are we included? What did we do?

The key word in the phrase “For God so loved the world…” is the word “loved.”

A.W. Pink writes: “It is not God “loves”, but He “loved.” That He loves us now that we are His children, we can, in measure, understand; but that He should have loved us before we became His children passes knowledge. But He did.”

Romans 5:8: “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Eph.1:4c-5: In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,

God loved us when we were unlovable sinners, wretched, naked and blind. It was his work, his love that saved us.

What did we do to merit our salvation? What can anyone do? Nothing. It’s a total work of God.

Here’s the Apostle Paul’s own testimony of God’s love and grace in his life.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 (NIV):  I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

******

Many of you know my testimony… (Give the short 3 minute version.) (You can read the long version by clicking here.)

*****

And with what kind of love did God love us with? Agape love. God’s love; the love that seeks and works to meet another’s highest welfare. Agape love may involve emotion but it must involve action.

How did God demonstrate love in action?

“…that he gave his only son,”

God so loved that he gave. That’s how he showed his love. By giving his best.

Leon Morris says, “This is the essential point. Love is not to be thought of as some beautiful but helpless thing wringing its hands…in the face of evil, but unable to do something about it. The love of God is active, and we see it in the cross.”

The whole world has been bitten by that serpent, sin. No one is immune from its poison. That sin gene has been passed down from generation to generation ever since our first parents took matters into their own hands in the Garden.

I just did a funeral for a man I didn’t know. About 50 people attended the memorial service. I don’t think there were many believers present. There were lots of tears over the loss of this man who died tragically and unexpectedly.

At every funeral service, including this past one, I say this:

“Death is not a surprise to us. We all know that death is a looming reality for each of us. Our pain at death is increased by how much we loved the one who died. We cannot, unfortunately, escape the grief of death.”

And, because I have a ministry of reminding, I explain, regardless of the spiritual make-up of the mourners, how death and pain and grief came to be.

“Way back in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, God told Adam: ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”Genesis 2:16-17

I continue with the Memorial service by stating: “We know, from the bible, that both Adam and Eve ate from that tree. They disobeyed God and died. From this we learn many things, but two very important facts stand out.

“One, we originally created to live forever. Two, People have been dying very regularly since the time in the Garden.”

I have to say that sometimes I feel rather odd when giving the biblical reason for death. I can almost see the eyes rolling as I tell this old, old story to a crowd of unbelievers. But it’s true. That’s why God became a man and died on a cross. That’s how he showed his love. By giving. By dying.

Romans 5:18-19: Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

1 Cor. 15: 21-22:For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Think of the sacrifice God made on your behalf by dying on the cross- an innocent man- to save you!

There’s a story told in the book, “Miracle on the River Kwai” about some Scottish soldiers who were being forced by their Japanese captors to work on a jungle railroad during WWII.

The soldiers, due to the horrible treatment by their Japanese guards started acting like barbarians toward one another. But one afternoon, something happened:

“A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else.

“When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. It was obvious the officer meant what he said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death.

“When it was over, the survivors picked up the bloody corpse and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point.

“The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! The incident had a profound effect. The men began to treat each other like brothers.”

Jesus died on our behalf so we could live.

I Jn 2:2: He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

1 John 4:10: In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

You rarely, if ever, hear the word “propitiation” any more. But it’s an important word; “propitiation” is used in the English Standard Version of the bible we are using.

Propitiation means to satisfy the wrath of God by sacrifice and so being reconciled to him. Jesus Christ is the propitiation that reconciles us to God and satisfies his anger toward is when we believe in His son as payment for our sins.

Which brings us to the last part of John 3:16: “…that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

This is not just a static belief. You can believe that George Washington was the 1st president, but he won’t save you.

Many people say they believe in Jesus Christ, but if there isn’t a life change accompanying that belief, you might as well believe on George Washington.

To believe means there must also be action on our part. With belief comes repentance! Repentance is not just saying “I’m sorry.”

To repent means to change your mind and attitude about sin, so that you turn from your sin and turn toward God.

There is a town called Wabush in a remote portion of Canada, which was completely isolated for some time. But a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and only one road leading out.

If someone would travel the unpaved road for six to eight hours to get into Wabush, there is only one way he or she could leave—by turning around.

Each of us, by birth, arrives in a town called Sin. As in Wabush, there is only one way out—a road built by God himself. But in order to take that road, one must first turn around.

That complete about face is what the Bible calls repentance, and without it, there’s no way out of town.

Sin means simply “missing the mark.” It’s a picture of an archer aiming for the perfect bulls-eye and missing by just-this-much. We all miss the mark and fall short of perfection-the only way out.

Romans 3:23: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

The bad news is, because of Adam’s sin, all unbelievers will perish, all are headed for Hell.

The bad news is, because of your sin, you will be punished for all eternity in Hell.

Are you a sinner? Are you in need of a Savior? Read these following passages of Scripture and decide for yourself if you need to be born again.

 

1 Cor. 6: 9-10: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:19-21: Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Ephesians 5:5-6: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Add to this violations of your own conscience….

And let’s not forget the 10 Commandments…

Are you in need of a Savior? Can you see how John 3:16 is the greatest verse in the Bible? God gave so you wouldn’t perish, so I wouldn’t perish.

The good news is that Jesus took the punishment you deserve-the punishment we all deserved—by being mocked, brutally tortured, and nailed to a cross. But there was more….

The full wrath of God fell upon Jesus because of our sin. When God, in His justice, demanding payment for sin, laid the crushing guilt of sinners upon Jesus, God in His holiness—his set apartness—then had to reject His own son as a sinner.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34

2 Cor. 5:21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Isaiah 53:5: But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

God was pleased to punish Jesus in such a violent, torturous, bloody fashion because that was the punishment we deserved.

Isaiah 53:10: Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;

And the torture of Christ was horrible. He was crushed, pierced, the blood flowed, the precious blood of Jesus.

Do you remember that one scene in the film, “The Passion of the Christ,” where after Jesus’ horrible scourging Mary is on her knees soaking up her son’s blood with a white towel? The scene shows not the vulgarity of blood, but the preciousness of Christ’s blood.

To illustrate the preciousness of Jesus blood, here’s a true story:

Several years ago in Canada, George and Vera Bajenski’s lives were changed forever. A very normal Thursday morning. The phone rang at 9:15 a.m. “There’s been an accident…” It involved their son Ben.

As they approached the intersection of Adelaide and Simcoe Streets near the high school, they could see the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance units. Vera noticed a photographer and followed the direction of his camera lens to the largest pool of blood she had ever seen.

All she could say was, “George, [our son] went home—home to be with his Heavenly Father!” Her first reaction was to jump out of the car, somehow collect the blood and put it back in her son.

“That blood, for me, at that moment, became the most precious thing in the world because it was life. It was life-giving blood and it belonged to my son, my only son, the one I loved so much.”

The road was dirty and the blood didn’t belong there. George noticed that cars were driving right through the intersection—right through the blood. His heart was broken, he wanted to cover the blood with his coat and cry, “You will not drive over the blood of my son!”

Then Vera understood for the first time in her life, one of God’s greatest and most beautiful truths…why blood? Because it was the strongest language God could have used. It was the most precious thing He could give—the highest price He could pay.

Hebrews 9:22: “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

God was pleased to crush Jesus and put him under all that suffering knowing we would be saved by his death. That’s real love! What truly seemed so horrible, so tragic, was really very good!

And it was good when Jesus announced from the cross, “It is finished.”

He meant that because of God’s love, he sent Jesus to be the wrath-taker for the sins of people who did not yet love him.

1 John 4:9 (NIV): “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him.”

When Jesus died, it was finished. The transaction took place. The debt for sin was paid. All who would believe in him had everlasting life.

But that not the end of the story though, is it? After 3 days dead in the tomb, Jesus Christ rose again to give us all the hope of eternal life. He proved he was God by rising again, and defeating death.

It’s the same now as then for all who would believe in him. That’s amazing love!

The remaining verses 15-21 restate the truth of John 3:16:

Vs:17-18: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

If you refuse to believe, you are condemned already. You need to do nothing to enter Hell when you die.

Vs.19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”

These verses explain the biggest difference between an unbeliever and a believer: An unbeliever wants to remain hidden from the light so his sins will not be exposed.

A believer comes into the light so his true motives may be revealed. He’s not afraid of the light because he is a child of the light. The light of course, is Jesus.

John 8:12: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

If you choose to not believe and repent you simply love your sin too much. You love the darkness.

My hope is that you will choose to come into the light, that you may be saved, that you may enjoy the life that is truly life.

*****

John 3:16 image from Epitome blog.

3 Comments

  1. Steve:
    This is a job well done! You covered all the bases and brought a clear and fresh understanding to the text! Good for you!!

  2. Pingback: John 3:16: The Gospel in Under 40 Minutes « Stone the Preacher | Christian Dailys

  3. John 3:16 The Gospel of Grace
    (A song filled with Bible truths, very moving and powerful)
    by artist – Gospel Jazz by HL Steins
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    I am an independent emerging Christian songwriter/recording artist whose gospel music combines vocal choral with the exuberance of latin hand/stick drums and effects, accentuated with passion from brass horns and founded upon the rhythmic licks of stringed instruments and keys.

    Through the grace of God, I have written and recorded a song entitled “John 3:16 The Gospel of Grace” which can be found at the site listed above or on most digital download sites such as itunes, amazon.com, emusic, Rhapsody, etc. under my artist name.

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    Please go to this site and listen and help me spread this message in song across the globe.

    Blessings and for HIS glory as we labour together!

    Bro Henry

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