It is a twenty-five word ‘parade of hope.’ It’s small enough to fit on a post-it note, yet powerful enough to last 2,000 years. It is the entire message of God in a nutshell. It is the gospel in one verse. It is the Magna Carta, the Rosetta Stone of Christianity. It is John 3:16. If you know nothing of the Bible, start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here.*
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
When you think about the world – who fills it: abusers, heart-breakers, hope-snatchers, dictators, sinners – there is no good reason for God to love it. For Him to love us. To love me. I might expect anger, tremendous displays of intimidating power, ultimate pride – but there is not of that. He reveals of Himself, first and foremost, love. It is a love we cannot win, nor is it a love we can lose. As George Matheson wrote in his hymn, it is a “Love that will not let me go…” Deuteronomy 10:15 speaks of God’s infinite love for His people. He loved Israel so much that He bound Himself to them. Just as a man and woman stand at an altar and commit to love – no matter what, God has chosen to love His people no matter what.
God’s love is His Divine choice. It is not an emotion that waxes and wanes. It is not emotional, but decisional. It is not selfish, but sacrificial. Often we love based on our pleasures. We love what makes us feel good, what makes us happy. But God is able to love fully even when He is not happy, when He is not pleased. Like the Prophet Hosea (3:1) was commanded to go love a prostitute, still living unrepentant in her sin, God loves us. Unconditionally. Undeserved. Unbroken. Undeterred.
His love moved Him to action. He gave, but not what most would assume. Some still think God gave rules, edicts, declarations… condemnation. But no, He gave His Son, His only begotten Son. This was God wrapped in flesh, the solution to man’s greatest problem. This problem of sin has reigned since the Garden of Eden, but Jesus came to conquer the Serpent. The problem is simply stated: None of us are good enough (Romans 3:10, 23). We all fall short of God’s desire for perfection. Measuring our life against the Ten Commandments reveals that we fail, miserably, every single time (Exodus 20). It is a hole without a rope, a prison without escape, a destiny without another option… if it were not for Jesus. He came to die ‘for’ me (1 Cor. 15:3; Luke 22:19-20). He died the death that you and I deserved, in our place, so that we could have the life that only He deserves, in His place!
The universal invitation is made: whosoever. Anyone. You. Me. The best of us, the worst of us, and everyone in between. We have been invited… to what? To believe. I know that’s far too simple. I realize that books upon books of explanation, preclusion clauses, and ‘what-ifs’ need to be discussed. But no, it’s really that simple. It’s simplicity often allows it to be dismissed and overlooked, but that’s it. Sorry if you were looking for more. Faith: stop trying and start trusting (Romans 4:5). Just like you’re trusting that chair you are resting in, rest in Christ to hold you up spiritually. Take your feet off the floor for a moment – totally trust your chair. Have you totally trusted Jesus for your eternity?
In John 3, Jesus reminded Nicodemus that there were only two places that will last forever: Heaven & Hell. In order to understand the offer of life, it is important that we understand the alternative. To perish meant ‘to be put outside of’ or ‘to ruin.’ It means Hell. Although many would like to dilute or to delete the idea of a literal Hell, the Bible is clear about its existence. There seems almost a conspiracy today to minimize or even deny it’s sobering reality. But, unless Jesus is a liar, it is tragically real (Matthew 10:28). A place where hope and happiness have perished. A place of darkness, torment, regrets.
In high contrast, Heaven is life. It is a place where wolf and lamb can dwell in peace (Isa. 11:6), where victims forgive, forget, and even trust their abusers, where sons embrace their mothers who aborted them, where the innocent and the guilty are all completely righteous by God’s grace! No more sin, no more curse, no more pain, no more death (Revelation 21:4). And to think that this life, eternal life, begins the moment you accept Christ, by faith! We don’t have to wait until death to receive eternal life, we have it the moment we have Jesus living in us (1 John 5:12). In Christ, we live. Today, forever!
*Some ideas / basic outline from Max Lucado’s 3:16