Ep. 15: Taking Hold of the Love of God - John 3:16
May 11, 2020 Speaker: Jeff Brewer
Topic: Encouragement Passage: John 3:16
Hello, Hope Fellowship! Welcome to our podcast “Full of Hope: Encouraging One Another with the Word of God,” where we seek to regularly equip the people of Hope Fellowship with truth from Scripture in order to help us cling to our Savior during troubled times.
Today, we’re going to look at one of the most well known verses in the Bible—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.”
Charles Spurgeon said of this verse, “This is the whole Bible in miniature. It is the essence of the gospel, the good news in brief.”1
John 3 starts with a Jewish ruler, a Pharisee named Nicodemus, coming to Jesus by night to ask him a question and to find out more about him. There is an exchange between them and Jesus tells him in verse 4, “Unless someone is born again they cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus asks a question about how this is possible. Back and forth they go until Jesus says, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?” Jesus then tells him truth about who he is in verse 13: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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.”
Jesus is telling him two things about himself. First, he can explain heavenly realities because he is from heaven. And second, Jesus, the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, which symbolized the judgment of God that came upon the people of Israel, so will Jesus be lifted up on the cross and bear judgment for the people’s sin on behalf of those who believe in him. Jesus is pointing, through an Old Testament example, to his cross.
When we get to verse 16 we learn the reasoning behind why this eternal life and new
birth is possible—“because God so loved the world.”
All of humanity is groaning under the weight of sin and the results of sin: death and pain. We rightfully reap the consequences of our sin. No one is guiltless and no one escapes the pain of living in a sinful world. But in the midst of this pain we hear these words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It is a ray of sunshine in the midst of a storm. It is hope for the hopeless. And then if you read the next verse, which seems to be hardly ever quoted along with verse 16, Jesus fills it out even more:
“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.”
Now, just so you don’t think this is teaching some sort of universalism, that God’s love for the world and saving the world means everyone will be saved, see that the qualification is clearly on those who believe. Jesus came with a mission to seek and to save those who were lost in sin. His first coming was not the final judgment of all people but God’s love revealed so that people might not face the wrath of God for their sin. The love of God for the world is in him saving those who believe in his only Son. We so easily think that belief is some sort of gift to God from us that merits us his love. But it is exactly the opposite—his love comes then we believe.
Sometimes people have a hard time receiving gifts, such that when someone has given an extraordinarily generous gift they don’t know what to say. But what we don’t say when someone is giving us a gift is, “I’ll pay you back for your generosity.” And we don’t say, “I’m not going to accept your gift because I can’t give you as good of a gift back.” We accept the gift, and in accepting it we are receiving the affection and love that the other person is wanting to show us in giving it. But what we don’t hear from God is what you sometimes hear when a giver gives a gift, “I wish I could do more.” God will never say that because he gave the unique Son of God for the salvation of those who believe. He literally couldn’t give us more than he has already given in his Son!
We need to see the mechanism that God intends we use to take hold of this love: fatih. Someone who just talks in generalities about God’s love is going make it seem as if you just bask in it like you are getting a sun tan. Some people want to stop at this verse, “For God so loved the world,” period. We don’t just passively sit back and soak it in like it is some warm feeling. We receive God’s love by taking ahold of the love he has shown us by believing in Jesus. This is what acknowledges God’s love and his gift in the only way possible. One way to think about belief, then, is that it is actively receiving the love of God given to us in Jesus.
Imagine a man is down on one knee proposing to a woman, and she says, “I know you love me with a love that I have never known. I know you want to spend the rest of your life with me. I know you want to stand beside me in sickness and health.” Does this supposed knowledge or belief mean anything unless she takes the ring and tells him yes? The love of God cannot be known in truth and experienced unless it is received and depended on.
If someone doesn’t believe in Jesus, they don’t understand the love of God. If your conception of the love of God doesn’t involve Jesus, you don’t understand the love of God. But the converse can also be true: if you believe in Jesus, you can know the love of God for you by believing in His Son!
If you believe that God sent his son to pay for your sins, and you are trusting in him alone for your salvation, the love of God belongs to you! And this love, as we’ll see on our next podcast, is a powerful motivator to love others.
And so, Hope Fellowship: remember, we have hope in Christ because we have been shown the love of God through him. Let’s encourage ourselves with this love and make
this hope known in a struggling world. See you next time.
1. Spurgeon, C. H. (1995). 2,200 quotations: From the writings of Charles H. Spurgeon : Arranged topically or textually and indexed by subject, Scripture, and people (T. Carter, Ed.) (295). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book.
Music by Joseph McDade. https://josephmcdade.com. Used with permission.