The Gift of Christ (John 3:16-18)
Topic: John Passage: John 3:16–3:18
The Gift of Christ
December 10th, 2006
I. The Gift as a Barometer of the Heart
Traditionally, Advent has been a season for confession. And so, because this is true, and because I thought this would make a good introduction to this message, I want to confess something to you that I was recently reminded of, maybe by the ghost of Christmas past.
When my wife and I were first married, I was having a tough time thinking of a good gift to get her for Christmas. So I kept thinking about some of the things she said she needed. After some time, I finally remembered something she had said a few weeks earlier. So I rushed out and picked up her present.
Now, my first mistake in this story came when I took this gift to the family Christmas get-together so that my wife could open it in front of everyone else. Big mistake. Guys, if you get your wife something for Christmas, give it to her in private, or maybe with just the kids around; but not the whole family. Trust me. This is to protect you, because I can assure you, you are not as good of a gift buyer as you think you are. I see some ladies agreeing with this.
So we got to the family get-together and we’re opening presents, and it comes to my wife who is handed my gift. Now to be fair, I had given my wife some other little fun gifts before this, all of which she liked (I’m just trying to cushion the blow). So she begins to excitedly open this present from her sweetie pie only to discover…a Dustbuster.
Now I know some of the men here are saying, “That’s sounds like a pretty practical gift!” And that’s what I thought. But, guys, just for your information, household cleaning tools are not the best way to say “I love you” on Christmas.
But it is true that the gifts we give, or the lack thereof, say something about our love for someone else. This is certainly the case when we fail to give anything at all for Christmas or an anniversary or birthday to someone who would naturally expect something. Such an oversight communicates something about that person’s place in our heart.
But even when we do have something to give, what we give can also be revealing. Have you seen these vendors who appear on street corners right before Christmas, or right before Valentine’s Day. They stand out there selling gifts, I guess for the last minute shopper. And let me tell you, their merchandise looks like last minute kind of merchandise. I always wonder what wife or girlfriend or whoever is going to look at one of these gifts and say, “Oh, you cared enough to stop at the corner five minutes ago. How thoughtful!”
You see, the gifts we give communicate something about how well we know, about how much we consider, about how much we love the recipient. Or we could say…
The extent of our love is expressed by the extent of what we give to the one we love.
This morning, we are going to see that very principle at work in our passage. Turn with me to John chapter 3.
II. Setting Up the Scene (John 3:1-15)
Now, I’d like to focus on verses 16-18 this morning, but as we always need to do when we look into God’s word, when we study Scripture, we need to know a little something about the context of our passage.
In John 3, we read that a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. It’s not exactly clear why Nicodemus came, but Jesus takes the opportunity to challenge Nicodemus’s perspective in regard to his need for God’s grace, his need for a second birth through faith.
And as Jesus eventually indicates in verse 14, 15, this kind of saving faith would be fixed on Christ Himself, as he is lifted up on the cross, and ultimately lifted back to glory. So for the Pharisee Nicodemus, Jesus reveals that only through faith in Him, not by the law, not by any birthright or any human effort, only by faith in Christ will anyone come to know eternal life.
Now, this is the first time in the book of John that this phrase “eternal life” appears. What is eternal life? Well, we’re going to talk more about “eternal life” next Sunday, but the important thing to know about how John uses the phrase “eternal life” is that his emphasis is not on duration, but transformation. “Eternal life” is not first and foremost about an infinite quantity of life, but rather it’s about the inherent quality of that life that will last forever. We might say it’s the “eternal kind of life” or “the age to come” kind of life.
Eternal life is that life that is in right relationship with the Eternal One who gives life. And it’s a relationship, it’s a life that can begin right now through faith, not just when we die. Everyone who dies will live forever, but only through faith can we know eternal LIFE and not what is qualitatively eternal death.
Eternal life is, to get straight to the point, our greatest need. It’s what all of us are searching for, usually in all the wrong places.
So Jesus has described for us our need, “eternal life”, and also how we obtain it, through faith in Him. So keep this in mind as we transition to what is arguably the most well-known verse in the entire Bible, John 3:16.
III. An Incomparable Gift; An Immeasurable Love (John 3:16-18)
Now before we look at the next few verses, I’d like to suggest that there is a shift that takes place in these verses, from Jesus speaking to John commenting. All commentators on this book agree that scattered throughout this book we find instances where the Apostle John breaks in to make a comment or comments about what he’s just recorded.
Why do I believe this is the case in verses 16-21? There are several reasons: 1) “gave” appears to refer to Jesus being lifted up, but here, it is in past tense. This giving certainly involves the incarnation as well, the birth of Christ that we celebrate during this season, but in light of verse 15, the death of Jesus is also in view here. 2) In most cases, Jesus refers to God as “Father” or “my Father”, and 3) the phrase “only” or “only begotten Son”, used in verses 16 and 18 clearly belongs to John in the three other places it’s used in John’s Gospel and in his first letter (cf. 1:14, 18; I Jn 4:9).
So I believe that Jesus’ words in verses 14 and 15 have inspired John to say something important about Jesus’ imminent death, about faith, and about eternal life.
Let’s listen to what John says:
“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.
Now, if zoom in on verse 16, see that even though there are many themes contained in this verse, there is a primary point that John is wanting to make here. And that main point has to do with the extent of God’s love.
John wants his readers to see that the “lifting up” that Jesus mentioned in verse 14, that “lifting up” that would bring eternal life to all who believe in Him, that it is, in fact, an expression of the love of God. The birth and death of Jesus are expressions of the love of God.
But don’t miss that little word “so”. Don’t overlook it, because “so” tells us something so amazing.
The word “so” here indicates how much God loved the world. John is saying, “Let me tell you how much God loved the world. Let me describe for you the extent of His love.” Remember the principle we talked about earlier:
The extent of our love is expressed by the extent of what we give to the one we love.
Notice that God did not simply say, “I love you”. No, he proved the extent of His love. The tense of the Greek verb for “loved” here is emphasizing the demonstration of that love. How did God demonstrate His love? He gave the greatest gift that could ever be given. He gave His only Son, or His unique Son.
And if we were to carefully read this entire Gospel, we would come to appreciate the real extent of this gift. For example, if we were to read through John’s Gospel and find out more about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son, we would discover some profound truths.
From the opening line of the book, John tells us that before he become the man Jesus, the Son of God existed with God. John calls Him God’s word. We read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1, 2) So the Son was not only with God, He was one with God, from all eternity past. He wasn’t created like us because we go onto read that All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:3)
John 1:18 tells us that the Son was, from all eternity past, “at the Father’ side”, or literally, in the bosom of the Father. That intimate language is reinforced later as we learn in 3:35 that the Father loves the Son. And as Jesus states in 17:24, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”
You see, the terms “Father” and “Son” are merely human words that God has chosen to use because they are the human ideas that most closely resemble the loving, intimate relationship that God has with His Son. Could there be anything more precious to God than the Son that He has loved for all eternity, the Son that is part of His very being.
And yet Christ was His gift to us.
But what does it mean that God “gave His only Son”? Does it simply mean that He sent Him to us? No, remember the giving in John 3:16 is John’s comment on Jesus’ statement in verse 15 about being lifted up. And this “lifting up” is eventually fulfilled in John’s Gospel, first in the horrible death of Jesus.
If we were to fast forward, we would go on to read that the Son, through whom all things were created, was eventually mocked, flogged, and beaten by His creatures.
We would go on to read that the Son, who was loved by God the Father from all eternity past, was eventually scorned and rejected by His own people.
We would go on to read that the Son, who shared glory with God before the foundation of the world, was eventually exposed to public shame as He was nailed to a criminal’s cross.
Could there be anything more precious to God than the Son that He has loved for all eternity, the Son that is part of His very being.
And yet He gave Him in this way so that we could know eternal life and not perish.
Do you understand the extent of this gift? It’s an incomparable gift. But remember: The extent of our love is expressed by the extent of what we give to the one we love. Or to express it in reverse: the extent of what we give to the one we love is an expression of the extent of our love.
So what does this incomparable gift tell us about the love of God for this world? It is an immeasurable love.
IV. Love and a Lack of Loveliness (3:17, 18)
And yet there is another aspect here that simply deepens, broadens the extent of God’s love. It has to do with our need. We need to see that the words of John in 3:16 are describing the meeting of our greatest need, perfectly. What if we were to borrow this formula and say:
For the rich man so loved the poor man, that he gave all his money, that if the poor man accepts this from him, he will not be taken to jail, but will be able to pay off his astronomical debt.
For the mother so loved her daughter, that she gave her heart for transplant, that if the daughter accepts this from her, she will not experience cardiac failure, but will have chance to live a healthy life.
Listen to John again:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Look at how verses 17 and 18 help us understand this possibility of perishing. An interesting question that is not often asked is, “Why does John follow this incredible statement in verse 16 with a qualification like this in verse 17? Who is responding to here? Why does he have to clarify that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world?”
It may be the case that John is speaking to those who themselves are only interested in condemning the world; those who believe that God’s basic disposition toward the world is only one of wrath, anger, and condemnation.
So is God not angry with the world? He is angry. Look at verse 18 again: Whoever believes in him [in the Son] 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.
Do you see how John is confirming our preexisting condition here? When John says that God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, he’s saying that God is not bringing judgment YET. If we do not accept God’s love through Christ, we’re already condemned because we’ve rejected the only thing that could save us.
And why are we to be judged? Well, if we were to keep reading, John makes it clear in verse 19: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.
You see, God’s love for us is not inspired by something lovely in us. His love is not like the hero of a romance novel whose love is driven on by the loveliness of the fair maiden. No, there is nothing lovely in us.
God is like a man, who is both a passionate father and a passionate judge, having to judge his own child, who is fundamentally opposed to law and order. On one hand, he burns with anger at this child who so arrogantly mocks the law. But on the other hand, he loves this child and wants to save this child from the horrible consequences of his actions.
Our greatest need is our need for a new life, for eternal life; a life in right relationship to God. And God has met our need perfectly through the gift of Christ. What does this tell you about the extent of God’s love?
V. Winning Our Hearts
This morning I believe we have answered the “what” of this passage, that is, we’ve explained what John was saying in His comments on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. But there is an equally important question we have to ask: “Why?”
Why might John break in here to explain what the death of Jesus tells us about the love of God?
Well, John tells us in chapter 20 that this Gospel was written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John is trying to persuade his readers to believe that what He’s telling them is true.
So, here in 3:16, we could say that John is trying to convince them, and us, that the death of Jesus is the ultimate testimony to us of God’s love. As John would write in one of his letters: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. (I John 4:9)
I believe that what John is doing here is trying to win our hearts. John knows that all of us are searching for love. Is there any doubt about this? Just look around. If pop songs are any indication, then all of us are definitely searching for love:
What is Love? – (Howard Jones)--What is Love? (Haddaway)--I want to know what love is (Foreigner)--Love me tender (Elvis)--Do you believe in love? (Huey Lewis)--Do you love me? (The Contours)--Is this love? (Whitesnake)--Is This love? (Bob Marley)--We live for love (Pat Benatar)--Is That Love? (Squeeze)--Your Nobody Till Somebody Love You (Sinatra)
All You Need is Love (Beatles)--Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? (The Shirelles)--Love Me Do (The Beatles)--I’d Do Anything for Love (Meatloaf)--I Believe in Love (Dixie Chicks)—
I Want Love (Elton John)--Could This Be Love? (Jennifer Lopez)
Now I know most of those have to do with romantic love, but wherever we might look for it, love is love. Our desire for love is the same. All of us are looking for ultimate love, for acceptance, for belonging, for security, for fulfillment. But we’re usually looking in the wrong places. There are so many things that are competing for our affections.
But here in John 3:16, John points us to the reality of ultimate love. John points us back to the One we were made to love, the only one who possesses ultimate love, because as John would write in I John 4, “God is love”.
The movies often show us how a hero can win the heart of the fair maiden. In romantic comedies, the hero usually ends up traveling some incredible distance and doing something incredibly creative to win the heart of a woman.
In action movies, the hero must usually fight a great battle in order to prove the extent of His love.
In a drama, the hero is usually shown paying an astounding price, whether emotionally or physically, in order to testify to the reality of his love.
Of course, we also see movies where the love in question is the love of a parent for a child, or between friends, or for one’s own people.
Whoever the object, I believe all of us are looking for evidence of ultimate love.
What do you think of God this morning? Do you picture him as simply a stern lawgiver? Do you picture him as simply a disinterested and distant deity? Do you picture him as simply disappointed? Disengaged? Is He unknowable? Unapproachable? Maybe you think you’re too far away? Maybe you’ve been trying to win his approval; trying to get all your ducks in a row?
Well this morning, God is reminding all of us that He has given the world an incomparable gift that proves the extent of His immeasurable love. God has loved the world. Has He won your heart? Is He winning your heart each day?
The gift of Christ is being offered to you this morning. Maybe you’re being reminded of it this morning. What does it communicate to you about the Giver? About His love?
But equally important, will you receive this gift? Will you believe?