“Why John 3:16?” (John 3:16 series introduction)

(Preached at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church, Morganton, NC, 9-11-16)

In 1991 Cheryl & I moved to Beggs, Oklahoma, into the parsonage of the First Baptist Church there. What was at that time the parsonage sat on the top of a big hill, and the first time I pulled out of the driveway I noticed that I could look down that hill at a view the whole town, and then over across a pretty valley, to some hills beyond town. It was a striking and very beautiful view! When I got down to the church, some of the folks were there to meet with me, and I said something to them about that incredible view from the top of the hill? I’ll never forget their response: they said, “What view?” They either had never noticed it, or more likely, they had gotten so used to it that it didn’t mean anything too them any more. That day I vowed that as long as I lived in Beggs, I would never take that view for granted, but appreciate it each time I stood there — and I did.

Unfortunately, we as human beings have a tendency to take a lot of things for granted: our family, our health, our freedom — many things. And this verse that we are looking at this morning is one of them. John 3:16 is perhaps the single greatest sentence that has ever been spoken or written in all the human vocabulary. But like the view from that hill in Beggs Oklahoma — it has become so commonplace that many of us just take it for granted.

That is one of the reasons why I felt convicted to begin a series today on John 3:16. Now someone may say, “Why would we study John 3:16? Everyone already knows that verse. Many of us have it memorized.” It is true that many of us do “know” this verse – but have you really thought about what it means recently?  Is it possible that you are taking it for granted — or that you have never really looked in-depth into what God is trying to tell YOU through it? Next Sunday we will start looking at this great verse word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase. But this morning I want us just to think about this verse by way of overview.. Why would we do a several week study of just ONE verse in the Bible?  Why is this verse so important?  For several reasons:
I.  Not everyone knows it.

As I said, many of us are very 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 many of us are. Jesus originally spoke these word to Nicodemus, the Jewish religious leader, who didn’t understand the way of salvation, and when Jesus first spoke these words they must have hit him like a lightning bolt! Can you imagine being there the very first time Jesus spoke those words and this man heard them: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life”? But the truth is, a lot of people have STILL never heard them!

When Tim Tebow was playing quarterback for the Denver Broncos several years ago, he led them in the playoffs, and in the playoff game he put “eye black” under his eyes like a lot of quarterbacks do, and in that eye black he had printed “John 3:16”. Now, a lot of us see that and think, “I know what that is.” But what we don’t realize is that a lot of people DON’T! In fact, Google statistics that year revealed that during that playoff game and immediately afterwards, 94 MILLION people went to the internet to look up “John 3:16″! So even though a lot of us are very familiar with this verse, not everyone is. We can’t take for granted that they know this verse and its truth. We may know it — but a lot of people don’t!

It reminds me of the time when I was pastoring in Louisiana a few years ago, and one of our Sunday School teachers came up to me after church, heartbroken. She said that she had a little girl in her class that day who came to Sunday School with her friend. The story that day was about Jesus, and she said in the story they had been saying that “Jesus did this” and “Jesus said that” — until finally this girl who was visiting interrupted and asked: “Who is Jesus?” The teacher said she was stunned. This little elementary school girl did not know who Jesus was! It is a good reminder to us not to take this for granted. Not everyone knows who Jesus is — not even here in Burke County, North Carolina.

We may think “everyone” knows John 3:16; everyone knows who Jesus is; everyone knows that they have sinned, but that God loved them anyway and sent Jesus to die on the cross for them so that they can be forgiven and have eternal life. But they don’t! Maybe you’d say today, honestly, I have never really heard, or understood this message! Listen, that’s nothing to be ashamed of; the Bible says “How will they call upon Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” Too many times we have taken for granted that everyone knows these things, and they don’t, and it is OUR responsibility teach it — we want everyone to hear what God did for us, and how we can have eternal life — and that is one of the reasons why we are doing this.

If you want to know what God is trying to tell you through this verse, and why it is so life-changing — you are going to hear it spelled out very simply, word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase over the next 8 weeks. Or if you know someone: a family member, a friend, someone from your neighborhood, or who works with you, who may not be familiar with the simple gospel of John 3:16, then please invite them to come with you to church one of these next weeks.  Every week for the next 8 weeks the simple gospel will be shared which can change lives and save souls. We need to look at John 3:16, because we can’t take for granted that 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. When Nicodemus came to Jesus, asking these questions, Jesus said to him in :10, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” In other words, Jesus was saying, this the fundamental truth that everyone needs to know. And it was just a few moments later that He spoke the words of John 3:16. He was saying that these are the fundamentals of faith & salvation.

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.”  Now THAT was getting back to the fundamentals!

Sometimes it is good to get back to very basics like that.  Someone wrote years ago that the Bible is simple enough for the smallest child to learn its basics — and yet deep enough that the most learned theologian will never dive to all its depths. But sometimes it is good for even the most advanced of us to come “back to the basics.”

You can “dizzy” yourself with a number of issues in the Bible’s theology:
— as we seem to be coming into the end times, people debate pre-millenialism and post-millenialism and pre-tribulation rapture and post-tribulation rapture and mid-tribulation rapture.
— as we look at the roles of men and women, people debate complementarianism and egalitarianism.
— There are all the intricacies of Calvinism vs. Arminianism, with the issues like how far does the depravity of man go, so that you are not a Pelagian, or what is the role of prevenient grace?
And on and on. And that is not to say that these things are not important; they are.

But from time to time we also need to roll out John 3:16 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; our focus should not Calvinism vs. Arminianism; or what we believe about the end times. There is a place for the discussion of those things – but they are not to be our main focus.  THIS is to be our focus. THIS is basic. THIS is fundamental.  THIS is the thing which we are never to take our eyes off; THIS is the great priority: that God gave His Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross, to save us from our sins, to give us a home forever in heaven with Him. This is the “fundamentals” of our faith.

And because it is fundamental, let’s make sure that we really do know it. Let’s read it; let’s memorize it; let’s study it and make sure we know what it really means. In a sense, like Coach Lombardi that day with the football, I’m rolling out John 3:16 for us today and saying, “Church THIS is the fundamental of our faith.” This is what we are about: “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.”


III.  It is succinct.

Now it can be beneficial, as we have seen, to focus on the fundamentals. But the reason why John 3:16 is so good to study is because it summarizes virtually every fundamental of the Christian faith in one short verse of about 25 words, depending on your translation.

We hear a lot in the media these 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 about a 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 the point they want to make 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 very useful.  I shared a year ago about the business leader who 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 be a potential investor, or a business partner.  They said, it is important to have your “30-second elevator speech”; a “sound bite” for your business.

Well if there were a “30-second elevator speech” for Christianity, John 3:16 is it.  If there were a 30-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.”

A preacher once preached the whole week of a revival, sharing every service from John 3:16. At the very last service he said: “My friends, for a whole week I have been trying to tell you how much God loves you; but I can not do it with this poor, stammering tongue. If I could borrow Jacob’s ladder, climb up to heaven and ask Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, to tell me how much God loves sinners, all he could say would be, ‘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.'”

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 the perfect summation of essential, Biblical truth in one small verse.


IV.  Comprehensive

But even though John 3:16 is so brief, it is rich in spiritual truth.  It is a compendium of virtually every major doctrine of the faith, especially the doctrine regarding salvation, in 25 words!  Everything you need is right here!

In 1988, Robert Fulghum, who was a minister, wrote a little book entitled, All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten.  It is a book of short essays on things, and the first is a 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 …

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.  Here we find in this one verse, perhaps THE single greatest summary of the basic Bible doctrines found anywhere. It tells us that there is a God, that His nature is love; that we have separated ourselves from Him and will perish if we don’t do something; that God made a sacrifice that would make us right with Him, and that sacrifice is His Son. It tells us that there is only ONE Son; so there is only ONE way of salvation. And that if we respond to Him, we will have eternal life — life with God in heaven that can never be taken away. But if we refuse that one way, we will be separated from God forever. Here in one verse is the doctrine of God, the doctrine of man, the doctrine of salvation, the doctrine of heaven, the doctrine of hell, the doctrine of salvation by faith and the meaning of love. It is a Book of Theology all contained in one verse! Sure, there is much more to flesh out regarding each of these truths, but the “bones” of virtually every major doctrine of the faith are found right here in John 3:16.


V.  Most importantly, John 3:16 teaches what every seeker of truth needs to know about SALVATION

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. As we have seen, the first part of John 3 gives us the context of the verse. 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 what this meant; so Jesus began to explain to him what He had come to earth to do.  He said that people had to be born again, or that 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, to show us God’s truth.  He said that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that He would be lifted up on the cross to die for our sins, that whoever would believe in Him and what He did, would be forgiven and have eternal life – and it was in that context then that He spoke these immortal words: “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.” So quoting this verse to someone about how to be saved is not taking it out of context; Jesus Himself spoke these words to a man who was looking for truth, and who needed to be saved.  This verse is the highlight summary of what Jesus said to him.  This is the message God wants to give anyone who is seeking the truth; this is what He wants anyone who wants to be saved, to know.

— In a world where people think that everyone is basically good, and that God is so loving that He would never punish anyone, we need the message of John 3:16, that without the salvation that comes through God’s only Son, we will indeed “perish” in an eternal hell.

— In a nation where many people think that there are many different ways to God, one as good as another, we need the message of John 3:16 that God only has ONE “only begotten Son”, who provided THE only way of salvation through His death on the cross for us.

— In a mixed-up society where people wonder if they can really know anything for sure; and if they can really KNOW they are going to heaven, we need the message of John 3:16, that says if you put your trust in Jesus as your Savior you WILL NOT perish, but you can KNOW that you have eternal life!

— In a nation that is looking for answers today, our country as a whole needs to hear John 3:16. I shared last week that when Bob Campbell gave me a red “John 3:16” hat last Sunday, that at first glance I had thought it was a Donald Trump hat! I laughed, but then I thought, you know, that really IS symbolic. John 3:16 really IS the only hope for our country. Donald Trump cannot make America great again. Hillary Clinton is not going to make America great again. Our country is speeding towards a financial, and 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 realize that salvation is not going to come from any political candidate; salvation is not going to come out of Washington, D.C.; salvation will only come as we turn back to the truth of God’s word that is found in John 3:16!

— We as a church need to be reminded of John 3:16, that this is the motivation behind all our mission efforts.  The reason we go overseas isn’t just to tour and see sights, but to share the message that “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 people in the Indian villages who fear the demonic spirits. God loves the Romanians who think that doing good deeds of the traditional church will make them right with God.  God loves the little children in the slums of Hrip, and wants them to know that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus for them.  God wants us to go on mission and share that basic message wherever we go.

Most importantly of all, each of us needs to realize the PERSONAL salvation that John 3:16 teaches. It says, “For God so loved THE WORLD.” In a few weeks we are going to look at exactly what that phrase “the world” means; but I’ll just tell you this morning, it means YOU! John 3:16 says that God loves YOU and wants YOU to be saved and live with Him in heaven!

If we said this morning, that “everyone who is in church today gets a free John 3:16 mug”; you might ask: “Does that mean ME?” Well, are you here this morning? If everyone who is here gets a mug, and you are here, then that means YOU! YOU get one!

In the same way, the Bible says “For God so loved THE WORLD.” Does that mean you? Are you in the world? If you are in the world, then that means that God loves YOU. He is speaking to YOU; He is talking to YOU in this verse. That’s one of the things that is so important about this verse. God is speaking directly to YOU in this. This is what He wants YOU to know about Him, and you, and salvation, and where you are going to go for eternity. This is God’s message for YOU, personally.
— This isn’t just for your Mom & Dad; it’s for YOU!
— It’s not just for your husband or wife, or boyfriend or girlfriend; it’s for YOU!
— This isn’t just for those “church people” you know; it’s for YOU!
— This isn’t just for people with a lot of money or a certain background; it’s for YOU!

We purposefully left the phrase “the world” blank on the mug we are giving out today, so that each each person here could write YOUR own name in that blank — and I hope you will, so that every time you drink out of that cup, you will be reminded that God loves YOU so much that He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for YOUR sins, and to give YOU eternal life in heaven with Him. But for that to happen, you have to make this verse personal. YOU have to take ahold of this and make it personal. Have you ever done that? If not, why don’t you do it today?
When we began this message I shared about the view from the top of the hill in Beggs, Oklahoma that a lot of people take for granted. But we have a lot of things right here that we tend to take for granted too, don’t we? I think of Table Rock — probably THE great landmark of our area, sitting just to our west, overlooking all of us in Morganton and Burke County. I shared with you a couple of weeks ago that Cheryl & had climbed up the trail that leads to the top of Table Rock, and experienced the amazing view from that mountain top, of the river, and lake, and the valley beneath. After I shared that, I had more than one person come up to me and say, “You know, Bro. Shawn, I have lived here in Morganton all my life, and I have always seen Table Rock — but I have never actually been up on the top of that mountain!” That’s one of the reasons I particularly wanted to hike up there — it is the single greatest landmark of our area, and I wanted to be able to tell both visitors and folks here — and just for my own satisfaction — that that great mountain was not just something that I knew about, and had “seen” from afar, but that I had climbed its steps, I had taken hold of its rocks in my own hands, and that I had personally experienced for myself what was up there on that Rock.

Well in the same way as there is one great landmark for our area in Table Rock, there is one verse in the word of God that is considered to be the greatest; “the gospel in a nutshell”. But let it not be said of you, that you have “heard” about of this verse, and you “knew” some stuff about it — but that you never really experienced what God has for you in it. Listen: God is speaking to YOU in John 3:16. Listen to Him! Take hold of what He is trying to tell you there about Himself, and you, and salvation. I hope that over these next weeks you will continue to join us, and let’s “hike up” this verse together; let’s “climb to its summit”; let’s take it in our hands — and experience for ourselves everything that God has for us in this great verse:

“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, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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