“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
John 3:16 is one of the most well known verses in the New Testament. It is a favorite verse of children, and is often quoted to dying people. It has also become part of our popular culture. The phrase John 3:16 has been printed on T-shirts and billboards; it has been displayed on signs and banners at sporting events; and has been used as the title of several songs.
John 3:16 has been called the “Gospel in a nutshell,” because it condenses God’s entire plan of salvation from the beginning of time and throughout Scripture, into a tiny “nutshell” of a verse.
Think of it as the Gospel in miniature. It contains 25 words that summarize some of the most central doctrines, or principles, of the Christian faith – God loves … God gives … God’s Son … we believe … and … we live.
Now, I want to ask you a few questions:
What if this great verse were not true? What if God had not loved the world? What if God had not given His only begotten Son? What if God’s offer of salvation was not to the whosoevers? And, what if God’s offer of salvation was not based on faith alone?
The verse, John 3:16, comes from a discussion between Jesus and religious man named Nicodemus. It is part of a conversation on what it means to be born again and the concept of salvation. They are words that Jesus chose to win over this ruler of the Jews.
In John 3, we learn that Nicodemus did not come to Jesus during the day, but rather he came to Jesus in the dead of night. He came to see Jesus when the majority of people were sound asleep in their beds.
You see, Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a teacher, a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling Jewish council of the day. Nicodemus came secretly in the night because he didn’t want to be seen by anyone who might tell the council of his visit. Nicodemus would have a lot of explaining to do if someone caught him talking to Jesus.
This is because Jesus was considered a rebel by the council. They feared that Jesus’ activities would anger the Romans, who in turn might retaliate against the Jewish people and remove the leaders from their council position. John 11:48, tells us that the chief priests and Pharisees worried that “the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”
But Nicodemus could not help himself. He had to know more about Jesus and His beliefs and teachings. So he heads out in the middle of the night, so he will not be seen. How many people today want to learn more about Jesus, but they don’t want their friends or family to find out? They are afraid of being ridiculed or criticized.
Nicodemus knew that there was something special about Jesus, and he was convinced that Jesus had come “from God” because of the miraculous signs and miracles that he witnessed Jesus performing.
Jesus patiently speaks with Nicodemus, and explains the meaning of being born again. Then Jesus uses the words recorded in John 3:16 to summarize His lesson to Nicodemus: that belief in Jesus is the path to eternal life … that God so loved the world that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Now that you know where John 3:16 came from, I want to ask you again …
What if John 3:16 were not true? And, what if God had not loved the world?
Without God’s love there would be no hope at all. The earth would be just a dark planet hurtling through space. We would have nothing to live for and no purpose for existence. We would be no better than the ants that scurry around in an endless pursuit of stuff.
If God had not loved the world every death would be the end of personal hope and every grave a place of despair. There would be no everlasting life. People would live only in the pursuit of their own wants and wishes. Forgiveness would have no meaning. Death would have the final word.
If God had not loved the world, prayers would be nothing but useless cries to the sky. There would be no hope for healing, no miracles, and no breakthroughs. There would be no need for people to say “Thank you Jesus!” or “Praise the Lord!”
But, I want you to know that God does love the world! Everything around us speaks of His love. Every ray of sunshine … every blade of grass … every body of water … every singing bird … and, the face of every child tells us of God’s love for the world.
2 Corinthians 13:11 calls Him “the God of love.” Love is both an attribute of God and a description of His being. He alone is the personification of divine love and the source of all true love. His love is unconditional.
Rather than being a stand-offish creator, who simply set things in motion and went away, God is actively involved in the world. He has a relationship with His creation. He remains a part of it, and He truly loves the world.
God’s love for the world was clearly demonstrated at Calvary. God loved the world so much that He gave His very best … He gave it His son Jesus.
Now I ask you, what if God had not given His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ?
If God had not given His only begotten Son: God’s love would be of not effect … we would have no personal access to the Father … we would have no peace with God … we would have to carry our own sins … we alone would have to pay the cost for those sins … and, our sins would not be taken away.
Real love always demands giving. The book of Genesis tells us that when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham did not hesitate. He took Isaac up on the mountain and prepared to do God’s bidding. Abraham was willing to give up his precious son, because he revered God too much to disobey Him.
Because of Abraham’s obedience, God in His mercy saw fit to save Isaac from death. Instead, God gave His own Son … His only begotten Son …as a sacrifice for our sins. What an awesome show of God’s love for us.
I want you to know that God did give His only begotten Son. And, because of that … God’s love is of effect … we have personal access to God … we can have peace with God … we don’t have to carry our own sins … the price has been paid for those sins … and, our sins have been taken away.
Jesus went to the cross … He shed His blood … and, apart from this there would be no salvation.
So, now I ask you, what if God’s offer of salvation were not to the whosoevers?
John 3:16 tells us, “He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever …”
Whosoever … it is a word that is general, yet oh so personal. It embraces all and yet it touches each one of us individually. It reaches out to you. It reaches out to me. It reaches out to anybody and everybody. We are all the whosoevers.
Just suppose God had offered salvation only to the rich? Statistics report that only about 3% of the people in the world are wealthy. That means that around 97% of the world would have no salvation.
Of course we know that God didn’t want that, or else Jesus would not have said in Matthew 19:24, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.”
Now, just suppose God had offered salvation only to the healthy? That would mean that everyone with high blood pressure, diabetes, back problems, heart problems, arthritis, or any number of diseases or afflictions would never see the kingdom of God.
Of course we know that God didn’t want that either, or else Jesus would not have healed the sick, or given sight to the blind.
I want you to know that God calls all people, individually to trust Him. It doesn’t matter if we are … young or old … sick or healthy … rich or poor … black or white … a high school dropout or a college graduate … American or from some third world country. We are all the whosoevers that God calls to salvation. It is the greatest invitation that we can ever receive. It’s an invitation open to all. God gives everyone the opportunity to be saved and receive His most precious gift … salvation.
Now, I ask you, what if God’s offer of salvation was not based on faith alone.
Imagine having to do more than just believe in Jesus to receive salvation.
Suppose you had to work for salvation. How much work would you have to do to receive that kind of salvation? What would be considered enough? What would happen to you if you worked and worked and just missed the mark?
Working for salvation alienates a person from genuine Christianity, because it feeds our selfish, carnal nature – the very thing God wants to eliminate.
If anyone is trying to work their way to heaven, there is a burden upon them that no man can ever lift – it is impossible for any man to ever be good enough to earn heaven by his own merits.
What if salvation was based on how much you knew? How much would you have to know? How many degrees would you have to have? What would happen to you if you studied and studied and just missed the mark?
It is important for you to understand that it is not what you know, but who you know! Do you know Jesus?
What if you had to buy salvation? How much would it cost? What would happen to you if you saved and saved and just missed the mark?
We can’t buy our way into heaven, because the price has already been paid. Jesus paid that debt at the cross with his blood. It is as free as the sunlight that shines on our face. It is as free as the air we breathe. It is as free as the rivers, lakes and oceans that sustain our life.
What if all you had to do to get salvation was be good? How good would you have to be? What would happen to you if you were good, very good, or exceptionally good, and then you accidentally did something wrong?
We can’t try to be good and hope that our behavior alone will get us into heaven. Romans 3:22-23 tells us, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” And, 1 John 1:8 tells us that “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
The sending of Christ to die for our sins, and to provide salvation for us, was a gift. As a gift, salvation is not something we could ever earn, learn, purchase, or receive just by being good. There is nothing we can do but to receive it, which we can by repenting our sins and through faith in Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, least any man should boast.”
Praise be to God, that our Lord Jesus Christ lived a completely righteous life and He went to the cross in our place. He paid the penalty that we could never pay for the remission of our sins. He offers to give us spiritual rest in Him, and He offers dying men everywhere everlasting life.
Finally, I ask you, what if God’s offer of salvation did not include everlasting life?
Our text tells us that if we “believeth in him” we “should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Well, if that were not true … if man did not receive everlasting life with the gift of salvation … then our life with God would be over at our death and the grave would have the final word.
The only hope that man would have is that his earthly life would get better. People would have to life for today, because that would be all they had. There would not be any heavenly reward to look forward to, and saved men and women would fear death.
But, I want you to know that everlasting life is what its name suggests … unending life. All who have eternal life will live forever in God’s kingdom. Eternal life is not merely everlasting life, but it is an unending life with God.
So, to sum up my message today … Know that salvation is not something you can buy at Wal-Mart. Salvation is not something you can work at for 30 years and receive it along with your 401K. Salvation isn’t given only to the richest or the most intelligent people in the world. Salvation is possible only through faith in Jesus Christ.
Salvation is for the whosoevers. That’s you and me. Jesus died in order to give us eternal life.
So, did Nicodemus heed Jesus’ words? Did Nicodemus come to Jesus? The Bible answers this by mentioning Nicodemus three times: Once in his late night meeting with Jesus; a second time when he defended Jesus before the council; and finally, at Jesus’ crucifixion when Nicodemus stood boldly as a disciple of Jesus and assisted with Jesus’ burial.
In closing, I want you to reflect on the words that were spoken to Nicodemus to convince him to follow Jesus … an invitation that has been extended to us as well:
“For God so loved the world … that he gave his only begotten Son … that whosoever believeth in him … should not perish … but have everlasting life.”
That is the Gospel in a nutshell. It’s God’s salvation plan in miniature. What a wonderful message for us to reflect on, and what a powerful message for us to take to the world.
God bless you all.