“Introduction to John 3:16”

     Last January, Focus on the Family produced a commercial, featuring a group of children quoting “John 3:16″.  The commercial ends with a little girl saying, “Wow!”  I literally laughed out loud for joy when I watched that for the first time – John 3:16 really IS a “wow!”  It is surely the greatest message in all the world! 

     For many of us, John 3:16 is not only the greatest message in all the world, it is also a most familiar message.  Many of us can quote it from memory.  And yet as sometimes happens when something is familiar to us, it is easy to take its truths for granted. 

     That is why in this season in which we celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, I wanted to begin a series today on John 3:16.  Beginning next Sunday, we will look word-by-word and phrase by phrase through this verse.  Many of us “know” this verse – but have you really thought about what it means?  Today I want us to look at it just by way of introduction: WHY would we do a several week study on just ONE verse?  Why is this so important?  For several reasons:

I.  Not everyone knows it. 

     As I said, many of us are most familiar with this verse; most of us could almost quote it in our sleep.  YET we also need to understand that NOT everyone is as familiar with it as some of us are.  When Tim Tebow, the former Denver Broncos quarterback, who is famous for sporting “John 3:16” on his eye black, led his team in the playoffs last January, they tell us that 94 MILLION people went to the internet to look up “John 3:16.”  So even though many of us are very familiar with this verse, evidently not everyone knows it. 

     It reminds me of the little girl who came to Sunday School here at our church just a few years ago, and when her teacher was telling a story about Jesus, and kept referring to Jesus, the girl finally interrupted to ask, “Who is Jesus?”  It is just a good reminder: not everyone knows.  And this is something that is so important, we must not take it for granted. 

     You may know some people: family members, friends, someone from your neighborhood, or who works with you, who may not be familiar with the simple gospel truths of John 3:16.  Invite them to come with you to church one of these next several weeks.  They will hear the gospel every week, in a simple, clear way, from John 3:16.   We need to study it, because not everyone really knows it.

 II.  It is Fundamental:

     John 3:16 deals with the most basic, fundamental truths of the Christian life.  It is good, from time to time, to just focus on the fundamentals.

     Years ago, when Vince Lombardi was coaching the Green Bay Packers, he had told his team as they came to training camp one year, that they were going to focus on the fundamentals.  But no one was expecting what he did to open the camp.  He gathered the team together, and rolled a football out in front of them and said: “Gentlemen, this is a football.”  That was getting back to the fundamentals!

     Sometimes it is good to get back to very basics like that.  It is so easy in the church, to get bogged down in so many different things – and even in our considerations of Biblical things – that we neglect the fundamentals. 

     In a sense, we are rolling John 3:16 out this morning like Vince Lombardi did that day with the football, and saying, in effect: “Church: this is the gospel!”  This is the most important thing we are about.  We are not primarily about shades of meaning of disputed passages in the Bible; we are not primarily about slight nuances of meaning in Biblical truths; we are not primarily about Calvinism vs. Arminianism; we are  not to be focusing on pre- vs. post-millenialism; or infra- vs. supralapsarianism.  There is a place for the discussion of those things – but they are not to be our focus.  THIS is.  THIS is basic. THIS is fundamental.  THIS is the thing which we are never to take our eyes off, lest we miss the great priority.  “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.”  THAT is the fundamentals of our faith. 

     As such, don’t take for granted – make sure you really DO know it.  Make sure your kids know it.  Make sure everyone in your Sunday School class knows it.  John 3:16 is fundamental to our faith.

 III.  It is succinct.

     John 3:16 is great to study because it summarizes in one short verse (25 words, depending on your translation) all of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. 

     We have heard a lot in recent days about “sound bites.”  A “sound bite” is a term for a brief statement, usually an audio or video clip that they use on television when they are reporting on a story.  When they report the news, the anchor person will read something of the story, and then they will often show a 10-20 second video of the person or issue that is making the news.  That little “clip” is called a “sound bite.”  Over time, as politicians and leaders have come to see that they were only going to get a few seconds on the news, they have gotten really good at speaking in “sound bites” – summarizing their point in a very brief statement that the news people will run on the news that night.  Sometimes this is criticized, as there are issues which are hard to reduce to a “sound bite.” 

     But distilling information into a short, summarized form can be useful.  I read where a business leader said that every business person should have what they called a “30-second elevator speech” – a brief summary of what their business is about, that they can share very quickly with someone they are on an elevator ride with, in case that person might turn out to be a business partner.  They said, it is important to have your “30-second elevator speech”; a “sound bite” for your business.

     If there were a “30-second elevator speech” for Christianity, John 3:16 is it.  If there were a 20-second “sound bite” for Christian truth, John 3:16 is it.  This is Christianity in a “sound bite.”  This is “the gospel in a nutshell.”  There is a whole lot more you can say about the gospel, of course, but this is a good summary of it – and it is Jesus’ summary of it, to someone He was talking with about being saved.  It is so brief, and yet it is so rich in essential, Biblical truth.

 IV.  Rich in Truth

     John 3:16 is very succinct, but it is rich in spiritual truth.  It is a compendium of the major doctrines of the faith, all found in 25 words!  Virtually every major Christian doctrine – especially those necessary to salvation – are found here, in this one verse.

     In 1988, Robert Fulghum, a minister, wrote the little book, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a book of short essays on things, and the first is little poem/essay that is also the title of the book.  In it he writes: “

Most of what I really need  To know about how to live
And what to do and how to be  I learned in kindergarten.
Wisdom was not at the top  Of the graduate school mountain,
But there in the sandpile at Sunday school …
Share everything.  Play fair.  Don’t hit people.  Put things back where you found them.  Clean up your own mess.  Don’t take things that aren’t yours.  Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody … (etc.)

     Fulghum’s book became a best-seller, as he reminded everyone that many of life’s most important lessons are not complex; they are simple.  They are just a matter of applying the basic truths we learned in kindergarten.

     Well, in a lot of ways, the same thing is true of John 3:16.  It is short, simple verse; only 25 words, as we have seen – and yet virtually everything you really need to know spiritually is contained there.  We find in this one great verse: the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of heaven, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of faith, the doctrine and meaning of love.  Sure, there is much more to flesh out regarding each of these, but the “bones” of virtually every major doctrine of the faith are all found here in John 3:16.  Matthew Henry wrote: “Here is all in a little; the word of reconciliation in miniature.”  It is rich in theological truth. 

 V.  Most importantly, it tells the message of salvation that our world needs to hear today. 

     There are some verses that people use, which are wrenched out of their place in scripture, and are quoted out of context.  John 3:16 is NOT one of those verses.  John 3:1 says that Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus by night and told Him that he knew that He had come from God as a teacher.  But Jesus spoke to him those famous words, “You must be born again.”  Nicodemus did not understand this; so Jesus began to explain to him what He had come to do.  He said we had to be born again, or we would never see the Kingdom of God.  He said that man can’t understand spiritual things, and that is why Jesus came to earth.  He said that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that He would be lifted up, that whoever would believe, would in Him have eternal life – and it was in that context that He spoke these immortal words: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son ….”.  Quoting this verse to someone about how to be saved is not wrenching it out of context; Jesus Himself spoke these very words to a man who needed to be saved.  This verse is the highlight summary of what Jesus said to him.   It is indeed, as it has been called: “the gospel in a nutshell.”  This is the message our world needs to hear today:

— in a world where people think that everyone is basically good, and we are all going to the same place no matter what you believe, and that God is so loving that He would never send anyone to hell, we need the message of John 3:16.  In a world where even many of the so-called “Christian” leaders like Rob Bell are proclaiming that there is no eternal hell, and that in the end no one will perish, we need to hear the message of John 3:16, which reminds us that only those who believe in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life. 

— In a nation that is looking for answers today, our country needs to hear John 3:16.  That simple gospel message is the only hope for us now.  America is fast approaching fiscal, moral and spiritual meltdown — and the only hope we have to survive as a country is for a spiritual revival of the message that is contained in this verse.  We need to stop thinking that salvation is going to come from any politician of any party; we need to realize that salvation is not going to come out of Washington, D.C., or Baton Rouge.  The answers we need for our country today are not found in government; they are found in the truths of John 3:16! 

     I have to tell you that I was at first taken aback when they announced that Peyton Manning had signed with the Denver Broncos, to be their next quarterback, and then that they had traded Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.  Why would God let that happen?  Why bring in Peyton Manning, one of the most successful quarterbacks ever, to take Tebow’s place – where he had been such a witness for the Lord — and then get rid of him altogether?  Until I saw where they traded him: New York!  New York, the media capital of the world.  Many of you saw in the American Press how many flocked to Tebow’s first press conference.   All of the sudden, it made sense.  God moved Tim Tebow to New York, because New York needs the message that he is going bring: the message of John 3:16.  That simple gospel is the only hope for our nation; John 3:16 is what America needs to hear today.  

— We as a church need to be reminded of John 3:16.  We need to be reminded as that John 3:16 is the impetus behind our mission efforts.  Why are we going to Nepal and Suriname this May, New Orleans in June, and India this fall?  Because “God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son …”.  John 3:16 is the motivation behind everything we do on mission.  God loves the Aukan people who are bowed down in fear to the demonic spirits, and wants them to be set free in Jesus’ name; God loves the Nepalis who think that doing good deeds and making sacrifices will make them right with God.  God loves the little children in the slums of Tigri, India, and wants them in a school where they can learn to read and write that He so loved them that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus for them.  And God even loves the people in New Orleans, Louisiana, and wants us to help start a church there to share that message with them. 

     We also need to remember that the proclamation of the message starts right here where we are.  We need to share that message verbally.  Ask yourself: when is the last time you did – with someone right here in our town? 

     And just as importantly, the personification of the message needs to start right here, too.  We talked last week about how we need to “follow in His steps” who left the glories of heaven to save us.  “For God so loved the world that He gave”, this great verse begins.  We need to so take this truth into our lives that WE so love the world – those right around us; we need to so adopt this message that it becomes a part of us, so that we love so much that we give, and stop at nothing to reach and teach and care for those God has placed right here around us. 

     When our Governor, Bobby Jindal, was saved, one of the people who was influential in that was a young lady he admired.  He said that the way she loved, the way her face lit up with love and passion for the unborn, was one of the things that brought him to Christ.  He said, “I could see that she had something I didn’t have, and that planted a seed in me.”  This verse is a reminder that we are not only to proclaim, but just as importantly, LIVE John 3:16 right here, so that people in Moss Bluff may believe.  Quite frankly, a lot more people around here have HEARD the message, than have SEEN it in many of our lives!     Many of us in the church need to hear again the basic message of John 3:16, and call out to God to forgive us of our sins of apathy, selfishness and lack of love, and ask Him to revive us, and fill us with His love for “the world” that is right here where we are, and give us opportunities to share with them His love and His truth.

  We ALL need to be reminded of the truths of John 3:16. 

— John 3:16 is just like the ocean: shallow enough for the smallest child to wade in, yet deep enough for the most learned theologian to spend all eternity exploring the depths of its glory.  It glorifies God, it exalts Jesus, it convicts the lost, and equips the saints.  It is the crown jewel of the treasures of scripture that God has given His church, and it will be our privilege to gaze at its beauties together for the next several weeks.   


     Following the showing of Focus on the Family’s “John 3:16” commercial last January (which we watched to open our service today), a man from Sugar Land Texas wrote to Focus on the Family, and said that as a result of watching the commercial, both of his sons were saved.  That is what I pray will happen as we share this series together, too.  I hope that some people you know will be saved.  I hope that some of YOU right here will be saved as well!    I read where one critic said, “Just reading John 3:16 doesn’t save you!”  He is correct; just reading it doesn’t save you; you must hear God knocking at your heart’s door, and respond to Him personally in repentance and faith.  Have you ever done that?  Some of you today know: this is what YOU need; right now.   Would you respond to God’s message today? 

“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.” 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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