In London, England there is a 70-foot high red granite obelisk called “Cleopatra’s Needle” that stands beside the Thames River. In the 1870’s it was given to Britain by Egypt. When it was moved to England, they put a “time vault” at the base of it, with all kinds of representative clothes, toys, etc. in it for future generations to uncover. They also appointed a committee to place into the vault what they considered to be the single greatest verse of scripture. The committee chose John 3:16, and put into the vault that verse, translated into the 215 known languages of that day.
On this week when people all over the world are celebrating the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, there is perhaps no greater passage of scripture for us to turn to than John 3:16. We introduced this verse with a message last Sunday, and now today we are going to begin to go word by word, and phrase by phrase through this great verse for the next several Sunday mornings. It proclaims the message of Jesus, as we saw last week, in a succinct and yet marvelous way. And it begins with these important words: “For God …”.
I. A Very Specific “God”
This verse begins, “For GOD so loved the world.” In the Greek text, there is an article with the word God. In other words, in Greek, it does not just say: “theos”, but “ho theos”. That article, “ho”, makes it definite: it is not just “a god”, but “THE God”! The Bible is not referring here to “just any” God, but to One, very specific God: “THE God”! The God of the Bible; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. THE God!
— This is not just “any” God, this is THE God who Genesis 1:1 says in the beginning created the heavens and the earth.
— This is THE God who told Abraham that He would bless all the nations through him.
— This is THE God who told Moses that His name was “Yahweh”, “I AM that I AM”!
— This is THE God who had the Israelites put the blood of the lamb on the doorposts so that their first-born might be saved.
— This is THE God who promised the people ofIsraelin Isaiah 53 that there was coming a Messiah who would bear their sins in His body.
— This is THE God who said of Jesus, “This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
— This is THE God whom Romans 1 says demonstrated that Jesus was His Son with power by raising Him from the dead.
The Bible is not just speaking about ANY God here; it is speaking of THE God – the One True God; the Most High God – the God we have been speaking about in our Sunday morning messages this year, who is the Triune God, existing eternally as Father, Son & Holy Spirit. This is THE God, who is eternal, and holy, and spiritual, and omnipotent, and omnipresent, and omniscient. This is not just “any” God here; it is speaking of THE God; the God of the Bible; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There are a lot of people today who believe in “a” God; but the beliefs of people in “a god” are widely varying. Surveys tell us that the number of people who believe in “a god” is still over 90% of the American population – where it has been for a number of years. But there is a difference, and one which has been growing for the last number of years. There are more people now in that 90% who do not believe in the God of the Bible but in some “god” of their own personal belief system.
I have never seen the tv series, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (and I am pretty sure I hope you have never seen it either) although I understand that some people like it because it supposedly has a “spiritual” side to it. But that is part of the problem; the show tries to be “spiritual” in a general kind of way, without specific Biblical conviction. The lead actress in the show, Sarah Michelle Gellar, who plays “Buffy”, is the same way. When interviewed, she said her personal spirituality borrows from a hodgepodge of religions. “I consider myself a spiritual person,” she toldScotland’s Daily Record. “I believe in an idea of God, although it’s my own personal ideal. I find most religions interesting, and I’ve been to every kind of denomination: Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. I’ve taken bits from everything and customized it.” In other words, she has “picked and chosen” what she “liked” from a number of religions that sounded good to her, and came up with her own, personal, hand-picked religion. This is becoming more and more commonplace today; people are just picking up their own ideas from what they consider to be the “smorgasbord” of religious beliefs, and coming up with their own ideas of who God is: usually one who condones whatever they personally want to do!
But the problem with that is, here we have all these people, with all of these differing ideas about “god”. And the sad thing is, they all want everyone to be “ok” with their differing beliefs about their “god”, as if they can all be right. But the fact they are missing is that there really exists One True Living God. And He is not all the different things that anyone happens to want to believe about Him. To say that it doesn’t matter what you believe about God is tantamount to saying that He doesn’t exist at all! You don’t do that with math; you don’t say: “it doesn’t matter what answer you give; they are just all right.” You don’t do that with science, either, or any area of reality. In any area of reality, there is a right answer to something. If God really exists – and he does – then He really exists with certain specific characteristics. We have seen over the last weeks that He has revealed Himself to us in the word of God, the Bible, and He has shown us what He is like: He is Triune, He is holy, He is just, He is loving. He is not just anything that anyone wants to believe about Him. He is the God the Bible describes. And when we come to John 3;16 THAT God is the One the Bible is speaking about. It is not just anyone’s idea about a “god”; but THE God; the One True God; the God of the Bible; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ – “THE God”!
II. It All Revolves Around God
John 3:16 begins with God; which is very symbolic. It reminds us that philosophically – and practically – everything is centered around God. It all starts with God: a God who is a very specific God; who is glorious, who is worth being with for eternity; who loves us and made us to know and be satisfied with Him.
It is significant that this verse does NOT start with man. It doesn’t say, “For MAN …”, but “For GOD.” But this is the problem that many of us have. We want everything to revolve around US; and it does not. It revolves around HIM. “For God”!
Back in olden days, when nations would make a map of the world, they had an interesting and very revealing habit: they would always put their own country in the middle of the map. All of the rest of the world would revolve around them. This is very revealing; it shows that they felt like THEY were the most important people; that everything else in the world revolved around them. This is called “ethnocentrism”: ethno, meaning a specific ethnic group, and centrism, of course meaning at the center. “Ethnocentrism” means that you think that your particular ethnic group is at the center of history. For example, the ancient Chinese called themselves the “Middle Kingdom” – they believed that they were literally the center of the universe. (I have read that even today, China places itself at the center of their maps which are printed domestically!) So “ethnocentrism” has been around a long time, and is still with us.
But the problem of mankind is bigger than that: Our problem is not only that we are “ethnocentric”; it is that we are EGOcentric! We personally think that everything is all about US; the whole world must revolve around US! It is basically selfishness; and it is the root of most of the problems we face in our families, in our economy, in politics, in our churches – in every sphere of life. This “egocentrism”; this selfishness is the very root of sin itself. We want everything to revolve around US; as if WE were God – and we are NOT!
This is the problem with the so-called “prosperity gospel” that so many are proclaiming today in place of the gospel of John 3:16. The prosperity gospel starts with YOU: You pick out your dream, and God is there to help you reach it. You have your goals, and God will help you meet them. He will make you rich; He will make you successful; He will make you the winning athlete; He will make you the head and not the tail; He will give you “your best life now” – do you see what the problem with all of that is? It is all about YOU! It is as though God exists for YOU. John 3:16 reminds us that He does NOT! God does not exist for YOU; YOU exist for GOD! It starts with GOD!
In fact, the first thing that needs to happen for you to get back right with God is for you to repent of your self-centeredness and say to God, “Lord, I am sorry that I have tried to run my own life; that I have made it all about me. I have only hurt myself and others trying to go my own selfish way; forgive me for that.” That is repentance; turning away from the SELF-centered life, and making GOD the real center of your life.
John 3:16 reminds us that we need to put God back where He belongs – in the center of our lives. It is all about Him. You were made to know God, and love God. Sin is self-centeredness and separates you from God. When you come back to Him, you will not just “pray a prayer”; you will put Him BACK in the center of your life where He belongs, and you make the rest of your life revolve around Him. And then when we go to heaven, we will spend all eternity around the throne of God, where He will be glorious center of our undivided attention and awe and worship forever. And it will all be about Him. “For God …”. John 3:16 reminds us that it is all about Him.
III. Salvation is from God
Most specifically, this verse reminds us that our salvation is from God. “For God …”. “GOD is the initiator and principal actor in salvation.” (NAS John 1-11) It doesn’t say “For Man …” as if we realized we had a problem and worked out a way to get back to God. It says, “For GOD”! If GOD had not done something for us, we would have been eternally lost. Ephesians 2:1 and following may say it best:
“1 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.”
This is a hopeless, helpless picture of each of us: DEAD in trespasses and sins, facing the just wrath of God, like all mankind. But then :4 begins with those 2 great words:
“But God …”. You should underline that in your Bible if you haven’t already, because those are the words that made all the difference for us: “But God …”!
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
“But God”, Ephesians 2 says: GOD was rich in mercy; GOD had great love for us; GOD made us alive in Christ; GOD raised us up with Christ Jesus; GOD showed us His kindness in Christ; GOD saved us by His grace. “BUT GOD”! This is just what John 3:16 tells us; “For GOD”! Salvation comes from GOD!
It is just like in Genesis, when God had told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. At the last minute, God Himself provided the sacrifice. Isaac was saved by the provision that came from God. That episode was a foreshadowing of what God would do for us in Jesus Christ. We each deserve to die for our sins, but God has provided the sacrifice for us: “the Lamb of God”, Jesus Christ, died on the cross, bearing our sins in His body. This is what Christians all over the world are celebrating this week, that God provided for our salvation through the death of Jesus on the cross. And He raised Him from the dead, to prove that He is the One way of salvation that came from God.
But you must look to God for your salvation. Unfortunately, that is NOT what most people do. Most look to something in themselves to save them. An extreme example of that is found in the true story of what happened in an airplane a few years ago. Pete Rose, the famous baseball player was once on a flight with his Cincinnati Reds teammates, and the plane went into a terrible storm. They said it was so bad that even the veteran flight crew was shaken by it. Rose’s teammate, Hal King, was sitting by him on the flight, and he said that Rose turned to him and said: “If this plane goes down, I am taking a .300 lifetime batting average with me. How about you?” I don’t think most people would claim that their sporting skills are going to justify them before God and give them a place in heaven. But the truth is, many people DO look to what they have accomplished, or their own good works and deeds, to justify themselves before God. But those verses in Ephesians we looked at a few moments ago says that is impossible. It says that salvation is “not of works.” Romans says: “By the works of the Law, NO flesh shall be justified in His sight.”
You must look to God for your salvation. It cannot come from yourself. “For God”! Look to Him. This is the point of what I believe is one of the great pictures of the right and wrong ways of salvation in the scriptures: the story of the Pharisee & the Publican in Luke 18. Jesus said two men went up to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee said, “I thank You that I am not like other men … I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all I get.” You notice the common word there: “I, I, I”! It was all about him, what HE could do to make himself righteous. But the tax collector was unwilling to even lift his eyes to heaven, Jesus said. He just cried: “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.” He had nothing to offer God in the way of self-justification; he just asked God to do for him what He couldn’t do for himself. And Jesus said THAT was the man who went home right with God – the man who looked to GOD for salvation.
In the very same way, I think there are two kinds of people here today. Some of you are just like that Pharisee: you are all dressed up, looking your best, trying to show God how good you are, being here this “Easter Sunday” – surely you deserve a place in heaven. Only you don’t. You have sinned. You have lived your life for yourself; as if life revolved around you; and you have sinned against God and hurt many others in the process. And you can’t save yourself from that. The only way you can be saved is to be like that second man: to ask God to do for you what you can’t do for yourself. Admit your sin; admit that you have had yourself at the center of your life instead of God. And ask God to forgive you because of what HE did for you on the cross. Look to GOD for your salvation.
Others of us here today need to look to God as the answer to the problems that you are facing. You’ve been looking every other direction for the answer, and today God is saying to you through His word, “Look to ME”! “For GOD”! HE has the answer you need; seek Him. We have people here to pray with you, and help you look to God. “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son …”! Look to Him today; it all begins with Him: “For God …”!