For God so loved the world that he gave…
There are few verses in the Bible as well known among Christians as John 3:16. Even in popular culture there has been a general awareness of this verse of the Bible, most notably due to the rainbow wigged man whose t-shirt displayed the reference in national sporting events for years. Among Christians John 3:16 is so well known that we can easily miss the power of Jesus’ words. In this brief statement we learn something quite dramatic about the nature of God and how he works. Specifically, we learn that the mysteriously triune God brings about the redemption of his lost and sin-ruined world through radical generosity; the sending of the Son by the Father.
Contrary to some opinions, John 3:16 is not an encapsulation of the gospel. For instance, in these words Jesus does not explain anything about his death and resurrection. Rather, Jesus’ words are an explanation of the Divine generosity behind the gospel message and a summons to believe the gospel. To believe in “Him” (Jesus) is to place faith in his person and work. So, believing in Jesus is believing in the gospel which is the message that Jesus Christ died for sinners and was raised for their life.
The reference to the world ought to be understood as the world in all of its sinful corruption and willful rebellion against God. That God sent his Son to those who had made themselves his enemies makes his generosity all the more extraordinary (Matthew 21:33ff; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). But John 3:16 should never be understood as advocating some sort of universal salvation. Jesus makes it clear that there is no salvation outside of believing in Him and the consequence of unbelief is condemnation (John 3:17-21). The scope of Jesus’ salvation mission was specific. Indeed, the Scriptures are clear that Jesus came to atone for the sins of God’s own people; all those who by grace will come to faith in Christ.
When the angel announced to Joseph that Mary was bearing the Messiah and told him to name him Jesus, he explained, “for he shall save his people from their sins.” In his discourse on the “Good Shepherd,” the Lord made a point of saying “I lay down my life for the sheep.” And later in that discourse he turned to the Pharisees and said, “You do not believe because you are not my sheep” (John 10:11-14). In his discourse on the “Bread of Life” Jesus said, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). In Ephesians 5 the Apostle Paul writes that Christ “loved the church and gave himself up for her” (vs. 25).
God trains us to see the gift of the Son as proof positive that he is for us and that he will withhold from us nothing that we truly need. Though we will struggle through times of doubt and anxiety we can be assured that our Heavenly Father, who has already given us what was most precious to him, will never fail or forget us.