The Love of God

(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click here)

Pastor Scott L. Harris

Grace Bible Church, NY

December 19, 1999

The Love of God

John 3:16-21


This morning we come to what may well be the most familiar verse in all the Bible – John 3:16. But before we can look at that verse we must make sure that we understand the context in which it is set.

Remember from last week that this whole passage is Jesus’ response to Nicodemus coming to Him and seeking to understand the nature of the Kingdom of God and how one enters it.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin – the ruling council of Israel (Jn. 3:1). He was also a respected teacher of the Jewish law (Jn. 3:10). He had come to Jesus one evening during the Feast of Unleavened Bread to learn from Jesus. He had seen the signs that Jesus had been doing and because of them had recognized that, at the very least, Jesus was a teacher from God (Jn. 3:2, cf. 2:23). It is probable, in view of John the Baptist’s preaching, that Nicodemus was already wondering if Jesus could indeed be the promised Messiah.

Jesus demonstrates His omniscience by answering Nicodemus’ question even before he asks it. Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born again (Jn. 3:3). Nicodemus does not understand this direct statement (Jn. 3:4). As I pointed out last week, Nicodemus would have understood a simile of becoming like a new born through repentance and entering the kingdom of God through dedication of one’s self to following its religious laws. That was what the Pharisees taught and believed, but what Jesus said was much more radical. It required becoming something new before even being able to enter the kingdom.

Jesus went on to explain (vs. 5-8) that to enter the kingdom of God a person had to be born both of water and the Spirit. The water referred to the baptism of repentance that would take place after a person was convicted of their sin and publically declared their desire to turn from that sin to righteousness. The baptism was symbolic of the cleansing that took place. This was the nature of John’s baptism, but John also pointed out that his baptism was only a shadow of the reality needed, for the Messiah would baptize with the Spirit (Jn. 1:33). Jesus points out that for a person to be part of His kingdom, they need to both repent, (born of water), which is an act of man, and be regenerated by the Spirit, (born of the spirit), which is an act of God. Man is born dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1) and must be made alive by the Spirit (Eph. 2:5; Jn. 6:63).

Nicodemus now wanted to know how these things could be (vs. 9). Jesus chides Nicodemus in vs. 10-12 for his ignorance of things he should have known, but then He also begins to reveal to Nicodemus new, heavenly things which Jesus knew about first hand because He was descended from heaven (vs. 13). Jesus calls his attention to an Old Testament story to illustrate the nature of the faith that saves (vs. 14). It is this type of belief placed in the Son of Man who would be crucified that would bring about salvation. This was the "how" of being born again. The Spirit would regenerate the heart of the individual to belief in what God was doing through Jesus to bring about redemption.

I explained the Old Testament illustration last week, but it bears repeating. The story is found in Numbers 21: 4-9. The children of Israel had received the Law of God at Mt. Sinai and were now in the Wilderness making their way to the promised land, but even though they had already seen so many miracles from God, including the plagues on Egypt and the daily miracle of manna for food, they did not believe God and complained against Him. God sent fiery serpents among the people and many had already died. The people repented and asked God to forgive them, so God provided a means to be saved. He commanded Moses to make a bronze replica of one of the snakes and set it on a standard outside the camp. If a person who was bit by a snake would go look at that bronze serpent, they would be healed. God did not get rid of the snakes or provide some sort of drug to cure the bite. Instead, He instituted a cure that operated completely by faith. If you believed what God said, you would do what He said and be healed simply by looking at the bronze serpent. True belief is not an intellectual assent to stated propositions, it is an active faith. The faith could have been weak and wavering and filled with doubts, but if the person would look on the bronze serpent, they would be cured. At the same time, regardless of how strongly a person might profess their belief, if they did not go out to look upon the bronze serpent, they would die.

That is the nature belief required to be born again. A person must believe God with an active faith placed in the Jesus, the Son of Man, who was lifted up – crucified – for our sins. This belief is something generated in the individual by the Spirit of God, yet, the promise is made to "whosoever will." Salvation would be based on true belief that results in an active faith rather than man’s self effort gain salvation by trying to be good in order to appease God and earn His favor. What a contrast to the system of the Pharisees that Nicodemus’ followed in which you had to earn your salvation through good works and diligence in keeping the law. That is a system that still exists in its essence, though in many various forms, throughout so called "Christianity" today.

Jesus now goes on in verse 16 to explain something even more wonderful to Nicodemus about how a person is born again and the nature of those who enter the kingdom of God. Jesus tells Nicodemus of the great love of God for all mankind.

GOD’S LOVE (vs. 16)

There are many wonderful verses in the Bible, but few come even close to describing the great love of God as succinctly as John 3:16 (NASB) "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

The little conjunction, "for," gives us the cause for God’s plan of redemption that Jesus was explaining to Nicodemus. His love.

It’s Greatness. The greatness of God’s love is magnified by the little adverb, "so." It may not seem like much, but it adds a lot for it describes the manner of His love. It is not just that God loved the world, but that He "so" loved the world that He gave. God’s love for the world is seen clearly enough in His creation of it and provision for it to continue. And as Col. 1:17 points out, He holds it all together.

The tense of the verb, "love" here takes into account all the actions of God’s love and view’s them as one, great, central fact. Jesus reaches back into eternity and the near past when He became a man. He looks as well as to the near future when He would die at Calvary and forward to the Millennium and eternity in Heaven. All of this is taken up as one great thought and presented as fact.

How can someone be born again? Through the unbounded, overflowing love of God that always has and always will be. We would not know love in any sense except for God. Our love for Him only exists because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). The greatest question for secular philosophers to wrestle with is not the origin of evil, but the existence of love and moral good, for they exist as reflections of the God who created us and can not be explained apart from Him.

It’s Object. The object of God’s love is the world. John’s use of the term here (kosmoV /cosmos) is in reference to mankind and not to either the world’s system or the creation as a whole. It corresponds to "whoever believes" in the next phrase of the verse. John is clear in 1 John 2:15,16 about the nature of the world’s system which is evil.

Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.

Again we find that this is a great contrast to what Nicodemus would have been taught as a Pharisee. They thought God loved only those Jews who were keeping the law and their system of traditions. For God to love the world He would also have to love sinners, and even worse, gentile sinners. That is exactly the object of God’s love. Paul expresses this well in Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we were enemies with God, He loved us and made provision for our salvation. Jesus said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Luke 5:32).

The object of God’s love may be one of the most astounding aspects of it! There are natural loves that we can all understand, but God’s love is amazing. Consider that parents will naturally love their children simply because they are reflections of themselves. Yet God loved us though we were "sons of disobedience" and by nature "children of wrath " (Eph. 2:2,3). God so loved us sinners that He made a way for us to be adopted as His children (Gal. 4:5).

Consider how a person will respond in love to someone that loves them. How is it that marriages form? Two people meet and find something attractive in the other so that they are kind to one another and show an interest in each other. A friendship forms and loving actions toward one another are followed by loving feelings toward one another to the point that the two are willing to commit themselves to each other for the rest of their lives. The commitment is not made until there is a belief that the other person will love them. There was nothing attractive about us nor did God have any need for us. Yet God set His affection upon man and was good and kind to all men (Rom. 2:4). Man’s response to God is one of disobedience and hatred as already mentioned, yet God still loves man. It is easy to love someone that loves you, but God loves even those that hate Him. In love Jesus called out to the Father to forgive even those that had placed Him on the cross to die. This is agaph (agape) love, the love that chooses and gives of itself sacrificially for the others best benefit.

The object of God’s love is all mankind. There is no one who is so sinful that God’s love is not extended to them. Abraham was the son of an idolater. Jacob was a deceiver. David was an adulterer and murderer. The apostle Matthew was a dreaded tax-gatherer. Paul was a murder and persecutor of the church. The early believers in Ephesus were pagans who practiced witch craft. Those in the church at Corinth included those who had been fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, revilers and swindlers. Perhaps you have practiced some of these sins, but even if not these sins there are others, for who among us has not violated God’s laws? If take something that is not yours, even if just a pen from work, you are a thief. If you fail to reverence the name of the Lord, even if it is just an off handed remark, then you are a blasphemer. If you purposely tell someone something that is not true, even if it is just a face saving excuse, you are a liar. If you hate someone, even if only to the point of calling them names, you are liable in heaven’s court of murder. That is just a start of our violations of God’s laws. Yet, God’s love extends to you regardless of your background or the sins you have committed.

What a shock to Nicodemus the Pharisee and to all those today that would want to restrict God’s love only to those that meet their own criteria of righteousness. God loves the sinner.

It’s Sacrifice. While the object of God’s love is astounding, the sacrifice He has made in the demonstration of that love is even more astounding. God loved the sinful world so much that He gave His only begotten Son. The nature of true love is to give of itself, and the greatness of that love is demonstrated by the value of what is given. God gave the most valuable and treasured object that exists – His only begotten Son.

Some have stumbled over this title for Jesus. In a way that is understandable because it speaks of the inter-trinitarian relationship. With out limited minds we can not understand fully the relationship of the Godhead; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The best we can do is to hold fast to what the Bible clearly says even if we don’t understand how it all fits together. We have to leave what is beyond our current understanding as a mystery that will one day be explained in heaven.

The term, "only begotten Son," is a messianic reference to the second person of the trinity. He is unique with equality in all aspects with the Father except the Father is the Head of the Son (1 Cor. 11:3) for He is greater (John 14:28). The Son matches the Father as the Creator (Col. 1:16), being eternal (Col. 1:17), omniscient (John 2:24; 16:30;), Omnipotent (Mt. 28:18); and the object of worship (Mt. 28:9; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:8). Jesus claim is to be one with the Father (John 10:30) who reveals the Father (John 14:9). The only begotten Son is the eternal, living Word, who has become human flesh (John 1:1,14).

Though we can not comprehend this fully, the gift God gave as the demonstration of His love was the second person of the triune Godhead. There is nothing more precious or valuable.

The sense of the Son being given is in keeping with the comment already made in verse 14. The gift was given for the ultimate purpose of being "lifted up" – to be made a sacrifice for sin on a cross. It would have been a sacrificial gift just for the Son to have laid aside part of His eternal glory to become a man, as Phil. 2 explains. But this was even more of a sacrificial gift for the son was

given for the purpose of being a sin sacrifice for man. There could not be any greater demonstration of true love than this.

It’s Offer. God’s abounding love for man, even in his sinful state, was so great that the second person of the trinity, the only begotten Son of God, became a man in order to be a sacrifice for sin. This was for the purpose of giving man the offer that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

This is the same statement as made in verse 15 except for the addition of explaining the negative future that would be missed. "Perish" here is not annihilation, for the word never means that. It is the opposite of eternal life and is used here as a negative contrast to give greater amplification to the positive gift of eternal life. The implication is, of course, that without this belief you will perish, which Jesus explains further in the verses that follow. It is used here to emphasize the great offer that God is making out of His love to whoever will believe on the Son.

Again, I must emphasize that this idea of belief is in keeping with the previous two verses. It is not an intellectual assent, but a belief that results in an active faith that trust Jesus and His sacrificial death as the payment for sin. It is a belief that understands who Jesus is as the Son of God and because of that seeks to follow Him. It is pretty silly to say that you believe that Jesus is God in human flesh and not also want to do what He says, for that only proves that you think yourself smarter than God. Tragically there are many people that do live in that manner. They profess one thing, but their lives demonstrate a belief opposite of their claim. They say they believe in God and Jesus, but they live as practical atheists.

Again we also find that the offer here in verse 16 is made in the same manner as in verse 15. It is a universal offer made to "whosoever believes." It is not God’s sovereign election that keeps a person from salvation, but man’s sinful nature that refuses to repent from their own self-righteousness and believe the loving offer that God has made to him that grants salvation from sin based upon God’s own sacrificial gift. The offer is made to all, what have you done with it? What will you do with it?

GOD’S PURPOSE (vs. 17)

Nicodemus would have been astonished by what Jesus said in verse 16. He would have continued in amazement by what Jesus says in verse 17. "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him."

The Jews of that time were looking for a conquering Messiah. They longed for God to deliver them from the bondage they were in to Rome and restore Israel to its former glory that existed during the time of King David and King Solomon. They were looking for the establishment of an earthly kingdom with a powerful king whose throne would be in Jerusalem. They were looking for God to send a judge into the world that would punish the Gentile nations and bring them into subjection to Israel.

Now Jesus says that the purpose of the coming of Messiah was exactly opposite of their expectations. Messiah was not coming to condemn the gentiles, but to save everyone that would believe. It is interesting that root meaning of the word "judge" here means "to separate," but the purpose of Jesus’ first coming was to save people from every tribe, people, tongue and nation and form them into one new group, the church (Eph. 2:11-22; Rev. 7:9). Instead of coming to separate Jews and Gentiles, Jesus came to bring together all who would believe, both Jews and Gentiles. The Old Testament speaks to this issue in several places (Gen. 12:3; Isa. 2; Zech. 2; Mal. 1), but the ethno-centric pride of the Jews prevented them from seeing it.

It should be pointed out as well that Jesus would not need to come in order to judge the world. God had judged the world previously in the days of Noah for their utter wickedness, and He will do so again when the present Earth and Heavens are destroyed by fire and new Heavens and Earth and will be created (2 Peter 3:12,13). Jesus came to bring salvation.

GOD’S JUDGMENT (vs. 18-19)

Jesus gives hope for eternity in verses 14-17, but He gives warning in verse 18. There is a judgement to come, but it will not be based on any human division such as nationality, language or people group. It will be based instead upon the individual’s response to Jesus Christ. Do you believe in Him or not?

John 3:18,19 (NASB) "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Those who Believe. For those who believe, there is no judgement. Paul stated it this way in Romans 8:1 – There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. The person that believes in Jesus Christ has been saved from their sins because God has already paid the just penalty for their sins in Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus was judged in their place. The one that believes stands before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

Those who do not Believe. Jesus could have stated this from the more positive, "those who believe will be saved and those who do not believe will not be saved" but by using the negative He makes a stronger warning. The text states this judgement as a reality. It does not say that those who do not believe "will be judged," but that "they are already judged." The perfect tense used here indicates that they have been and remain judged. Jesus does not remove hope of salvation by pronouncing this judgement, but rather brings out the seriousness of refusing to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God. The offer is to "whosoever will," but why is it that people do not believe? Jesus explains in verse 19 the reason for the judgement.


Those Who Hide from It

19 "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Judgement comes because the light causes a separation between itself and darkness. Those who do evil deeds do not want those deeds exposed so they hate the light and will not come into it. They love the darkness because in it they can do their evil deeds without exposure. They very fact that they do not want their deeds to be known condemns them by their own guilty conscience. Their efforts to hide their deeds is foolish for they are not hidden from God and Rev. 20:13 tells us that God’s condemnation of them at the Great White Throne judgement will be based on those very deeds.

I have heard people accuse God of not being fair because some are saved and others are not. I praise God that He is not fair, for if He was fair everyone would be condemned without hope. Instead, we find that God is loving, merciful and gracious. Those that are judged by God are condemned for their refusal to come to the light of the world, Jesus Christ, and believe in Him. They refuse to come because they love their sin and so reject God’s offer of forgiveness in Christ.

Those Who Come to It.

Jesus concludes His message to Nicodemus in verse 21. "But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

Those who believe do so because they have a different heart. They desire to come to the light because they strive to practice the truth and they want to see God working in them. They want God to be glorified by their deeds. A person must be humble in order to do these things. They must believe that life is not about their own glory, but God’s. They must be see themselves as God’s servants and submit to His will and commands. That can not be done unless there is a change in the human heart. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5).

This was the answer to Nicodemus’ question. "How could these things be?" How could a person be born of water and the Spirit? In humility they repent from their sins, that is, they turn from them agreeing with God that they were wrong. That is the "born of water." It is something that any person can do. It is a "fleshy" thing that even the unsaved can do as a response to their guilt.

Then the person has to seek the light. They have to love truth and practice it. They have to respond to the report that God has given to us about Jesus, who He is and what He has done and go outside the camp, as it were, to look upon the Son of Man lifted up. They have to trust in God’s grace and mercy which come out of His great love to enable them to believe on the name of the Son of God and be saved.

Hebrews 11:6 states And without faith it is impossible to please [Him], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and [that] He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

If you do not already believe in the name of the Son of God and have that demonstrated by your practice of truth, then understand that you can not save yourself. You can not earn your way into heaven through good works because all your good works are as filthy rags before Him (Isa 64:6). You can never appease God. God must save you. The good news is that He has made all the provisions to do so. He so loved you that He sent His only begotten Son so that if you believe on Him you should not perish, but have eternal life. You must simply walk in faith that He will fulfill His promises. His promise in Heb. 11:6 is the starting point for He will reward those who seek Him. You can trust Him that as you do He will faith to believe and follow.

There is no fence sitting with God. Either you believe and are saved or you do not believe and you are condemned. Either you love and seek the light or you hate and reject the light. The offer is to "whosoever will." What will you do?

Today is the day of salvation, and you do not know if you will have tomorrow. We stand ready to help in anyway we can, but only you can humble yourself before God to repent and start to seek Him.

Sermon Study Sheets KIDS CORNER

Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.

Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) How many times does the word "believe" occur in the sermon? 3) Talk with your parents about the meaning of John 3:16 and what it means to "believe in Jesus."


Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Does God love you? How do you know? What is the context of John 3:16? Who is Jesus talking to? What was Jesus explaining to the man? What does verse 16 add to that explanation? What is great about God’s love? What is the object of God’s love? What is the sacrifice of God’s love? What is the significance of "only begotten son?" What is the offer of God’s love? What is the condition of that offer? Can you earn your way to heaven? Could this condition be considered "work"? Do you meet that condition? Why did God send Jesus (vs. 17)? How does that differ from what Nicodemus and the other Jews were expecting from the Messiah? God judges some men and not others – what is the basis for this difference? What factor(s) does God judge man upon? What is the nature of those who are judged? How is that nature demonstrated? What is the nature of those that are not judged? How is that nature demonstrated? What nature does your life demonstrate? Verse 14 is critical to understanding the nature of belief called for in the rest of the passage. Write out what you think it means "to believe" in your own words. If you do not meet the condition for salvation, what would need to change so that you could meet the condition?

Sermon Notes – 12/19/1999 a.m.

The Love of God – John 3:16-21

Introduction (vs. 1-15)

God’s Love (vs. 16)

It’s Greatness

It’s Object

It’s Sacrifice

It’s Offer

God’s Purpose (vs. 17)

God’s Judgment (vs. 18-19)

Those who Believe

Those who do not Believe

Responding to the Light (vs. 20,21)

For comments, please e-mail  Church office