This Sunday we will continue our “Foundations of Scripture” series that began 3 weeks ago with Matthew 25: 31-46, and then took us to The Book of Jonah 2 Sundays ago. I hope you have made time to go back to reflect on those amazing stories of God’s truth! 

Since last Sunday was pulpit exchange Sunday, we took a week off from the series. But now we’re back — and this Sunday we’re returning to the New Testament, and specifically, to perhaps the one most popular and cited verses in the entire Bible — John 3:16.

You might have heard it before: 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

That’s the NIV (New International Version) translation — one most commonly cited. 

But here’s The Message version of the same verse:

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Interesting, isn’t it? You may prefer the NIV translation because it is the one commonly recited, and thus the one we know best. But maybe The Message version says it best! How much does God really love us? Well, Jesus says, let me tell you. This is how much! 

Though we often focus on this one specific verse, John 3:16, we also need to understand the context of the entire scene in the 3rd chapter of the Gospel of John. Here’s what’s happening: A well-known religious leader of the Jews named Nicodemus has come to Jesus in the middle of the night to learn more about this Kingdom of God that Jesus has been announcing and explaining. Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be “born from above” in order to see this Kingdom, and Nicodemus then asks Jesus how could an old man possibly be returned to his mother’s womb in order to be born a second time . 

Jesus explains to Nicodemus that this new birth isn’t about being born of the flesh — one must also be born of the spirit. Without both, the flesh and the spirit, Jesus says, one cannot possibly know or understand the Kingdom of God. Then, as Nicodemus is struggling with that notion — Jesus tells him why this is so important: And this is when Jesus recites the verse of John 3:16.

The Kingdom of God, you see, is all about God’s unusual love for the world … and thus, God’s same unusual love for Nicodemus himself. To understand the truth of the Kingdom, we must be born again with the Spirit from above (Holy Spirit) so that we can understand who God really is and why we would want to be re-born in order to access the Kingdom of God. 

But then it gets even better! In the very next verse, John 3:17, Jesus tells Nicodemus the mission God is on through this divine love, including sending his Son to be sacrificed for all humanity:

Again –let’s look at the NIV translation first, and then The Message version:

NIV: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

The Message:  God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.  

You see, Jesus didn’t come in order to create a new religion that would further divide the world between those who “believe” in Him and those who don’t. John 3:16 is not a tool to help us figure out who is right and who is wrong – or good and bad – or worthy and unworthy – or saved and condemned. John 3:16 is not a spiritual insurance policy for those who say they are “believers” so that they can be assured of their salvation, and assured of others condemnation. 

No! That common interpretation of John 3:16, and others like it, completely miss the truth that Jesus is teaching to Nicodemus. Instead of using these words of Jesus to separate us between the saved and damned, Jesus is actually telling us that God sent the Son so that the whole world could be saved — made one — healed – and put right again. 

Jesus came so that we all could have the Kingdom of God again — right here and now! This verse is not about who is in and who is out. Jesus is teaching us that we are all in! Through Jesus’s coming to the world and giving up His life for us, He is intending to save the whole world – not just some. 

Remember — Jesus is teaching this “new” truth to one of the most religious and devout individuals in his own faith tradition! Clearly — this isn’t just “Good” information — but it is also “News” information. Indeed – this “Good News” is so “new” that many religious and devout people, both then and now, have yet to hear it … much less believe it! 

Just to give you a hint of our hang-ups in understanding this new truth — here are 2 common misconceptions we have about this wonderful verse: 

1) This teaching is intended to be about YOU! It is PERSONAL! Jesus is teaching this truth to one person – Nicodemus — and it is applicable to all of us — it is universal and eternal. Instead — Christians use this text “corporately” — to define a doctrine of a religious movement that today is called Christianity. If you happen to “believe” in Jesus (can someone please tell me exactly what that means?) then you are saved! As in — one of us! If not — too bad. Eternal damnation for you.

2) Which brings us to another misconception we have about this truth. Christians often project this teaching into the future –as in “the next life” — as in heaven and hell after life on earth. But Jesus’s conception of heaven and hell is in the present — not the future. He wants the Kingdom of Heaven NOW! He doesn’t want you to have to live in hell NOW! This text is not about salvation at some later time — it’s all about your salvation and eternal life right now. Jesus isn’t telling Nicodemus how to stay out of hell when he dies. He’s telling him how to have the Kingdom of God today! For Jesus, Hell, for Jesus, is literal and present — not conceptual and later. 

I hope this gives you some grist for the mill – some spiritual food to chew on. 

Come to church this Sunday and let’s see where God takes us. It appears we have much to learn about John 3:16 that perhaps we never knew!

God loves the whole world so much! 

Pastor Bob