One movie that Cheryl, Michael & I enjoy watching together is the 1960’s musical, “My Fair Lady”, in which Professor Henry Higgins takes Eliza Doolittle, a young flower girl from the streets of London and transforms her into a well-spoken and young lady who attracts the affections of others. In the musical one young man is trying to woo the “new” Eliza with a beautiful, word-y song, when she interrupts him with a song of her own. She says: “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words; I get words all day through,first from him now from you … Don’t talk of stars, burning above, if you’re in love, show me! … Sing me no song, read me no rhyme, don’t waste my time, SHOW ME!”
A couple of weeks ago we saw in I Corinthians 13 that love is not merely a “feeling”, or saying certain words, but it is defined there by a series of 16 VERBS; ACTIONS which “SHOW” us what real love is. Here in John 3:16 we see that God Himself has this kind of real love towards us. His love for us was not just a mere feeling; because of His love He took ACTION on our behalf. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His own love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” God “so loved”, that He DID SOMETHING: “He GAVE His only begotten Son.” As Eliza Doolittle might say, He “SHOWED US” His love towards us. Today we come to the central part of this great verse, and the heart of its message: the sacrificial gift that God made for our sins. (Next Sunday we are going to look in more detail at the Person of Jesus who was sacrificed for us, but today our emphasis will be on the giving of the gift: “For God so loved the world THAT HE GAVE His only begotten Son …”.
I. A Gift Was Needed
The first thing we need to understand is: why did God give Jesus? Why was a gift even needed in the first place? In the beginning, God created mankind to walk in perfect fellowship with Him in the Garden of Eden, as Adam & Eve did for a short time. But He also commanded them to obey, and not to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil. He told them: “In the day you eat of it, you will surely die.” Now this did not necessarily mean that they would die instantly — although that could have happened — but that they WOULD surely die as a result — and not mere physical death, but eternal death and separation from God in hell forever. We will talk about that some more here in a couple of weeks.
So because of their sin — and the sin nature that they passed down to each one of us who have followed them, and we have each also chosen to sin — mankind has been estranged from God. The fellowship that we were created to enjoy with Him, that we were designed to be fulfilled by, was broken. Isaiah 59:2 says: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.”
Mankind has separated ourselves from God by our sins; we need something that would reconcile us with Him. We know this inherently. That is why throughout history, in virtually EVERY culture around the world, there has been some kind of “sacrifice” that is offered to the god or gods to appease the god and make the people right with him. It is virtually world-wide:
— I have traveled to India and seen thousands of Hindus, walking down to the Ganges river to offer what they call “puja” — sacrifices of food and fruit — to their gods. This is common in religions all over the world. Virtually everywhere you go, they are offering sacrifices to their gods.
— But this is common not only in the “Old World” of India and the Middle East, but in the Americas in the New World as well. I was reading the other day that when the Spanish explorers came to the New World, they found that the Maya and the Aztec people were offering sacrifices to their gods. They would hunt deer and offer them as a sacrifice — and they even found pictures and the graves of a number of 2- and 3-year-old children who had been offered up to their gods as human sacrifices as well.
— They had made these same kinds of abominable sacrifices in Israel too: the Old Testament prophets condemned the people of Israel for burning their little babies as sacrifices to Molech, a false god. It was horrific!
But the question is: WHY would they do this? WHY is it that in virtually every culture, in every age, in every part of the world, you find that people are making these costly sacrifices to their gods? It is because mankind knows deep down in our hearts that we are NOT RIGHT with God, and we need some kind of gift, some kind of sacrifice, in order to make us right with Him. Unfortunately, the gifts that we have given are given in ignorance, and they do not really solve the problem. Actually that is what man-made religion is; it is man’s vain attempt to try to figure out some way to make a sacrifice that will “put us back right” with God again. But it never works. None of the things we have come up with to offer God, ever really make us right with Him.
It is just like Jacob in the Old Testament, who had cheated his brother Esau out of his inheritance and his birthright, and Jacob had left the country to avoid his wrath. After some years Jacob decided to go back home, but as he headed back with his family and all his possessions, he heard that Esau was headed in his direction with 400 armed men! So Jacob figured that Esau was still mad at him, and so he began to send all these gifts ahead of him to Esau: he sent ahead 200 goats, and then he sent 30 milking camels, and then he sent 40 cows and 10 bulls, and then he sent 30 donkeys — all these gifts and more, one after another, trying to appease Esau’s anger and make him right with him.
And that is exactly what mankind has been trying to do with God. We know that we have made Him angry because of our sins; we know that we are not right with Him, so we try to send all these “gifts”, these sacrifices, ahead of us to “smooth the way” with God and reconcile us with Him.
We still do this today. Whether consciously or subconsciously we say:
— “God, look, I’m putting money in the offering plate!”
— “God, look at how often I go to church now!”
— “God, look, I’ve cleaned up my language!”
— “God, look, I have adopted one of those poor children and I am buying them groceries”
— “God, look at all the ‘religious’ stuff I am doing now!”
— “God, look at all the things I am giving up for You!”
— The other day we saw where Pete Rose said, “I’m gonna face God with a .300 lifetime batting average, what do you have?” That’s an extreme example, but that’s basically what most people are trying to do: trying to give some gift, or make some sacrifice that will put things right with God for them. BUT IT WILL NOT WORK! NO sacrifice we can give is enough to pay for our sins and make us right with God. Romans 3:20 says by our human works, “NO FLESH will be justified in His sight.” There is no sacrifice we can make that can atone for our sins and make us right with God. We have committed an eternal and unforgivable sin of disobeying the Holy God of the universe, and nothing we can do can make up for it. Only GOD is able provide the ultimate, priceless, sacrifice that would save us — and that is exactly what He did: “For GOD so loved the world, that He GAVE”!
II. The Gift Was Provided
“He GAVE His Only Begotten Son”
God provided the sacrificial gift which we could not provide for ourselves. The whole Old Testament is the story of how God was preparing us to understand the idea that He would make the sacrifice that would save us. A lot of Christians just see the Old Testament as a bunch of unrelated stories: we have the story of Adam & Eve, and Abraham & Isaac, and the Exodus, and the prophets — all these “stories”. And unfortunately, that is how we often teach it in church too: just as a bunch of unrelated stories.
But the Old Testament is really ONE all-connected story: of how mankind sinned in the beginning, and how God promised that He would do something to atone for our sins and make us right with Him. That “something” of course is the Messiah, Jesus, whom God would give as the gift that would pay for our sins. And the whole Old Testament points to that gift:
— In Genesis 22 God told Abraham to go and offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on the mountain. As we have seen, many of the peoples of the land did this for their gods, so Abraham was ready to do for his God what other peoples would do for theirs. So he took Isaac, and tied him up, and reached out his hand for the knife — when God stopped him, and showed him a ram caught in the thicket, and he offered up that ram to God as the sacrifice instead. And the Bible says that Abraham called that place; “Jehovah Jireh” or “YHWH Jireh”, which in Hebrew means, “The Lord will provide.”
What we need to understand is, that’s not just a “neat story”; God was teaching Abraham — and all of us who would read this word, that HE would provide the sacrifice that we need to make us right with Him. Nothing that we can offer — not even our best-prized possession, or our best-loved son, would be enough to pay for our sins. But HE would provide the sacrifice that we need, one day in the gift of Jesus. Genesis 22 was just getting us ready to understand John 3:16, that “God so loved the world that He GAVE” Jesus as the sacrifice that would atone for our sins.
And so it is with the whole Old Testament:
— Genesis 22 shows us that GOD would provide the sacrifice
— Exodus 12’s Passover Lamb taught us that it had to be the blood of a perfect sacrifice that was shed for our sins.
— In Leviticus all the sin sacrifices of the Law pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would make one day for our sins.
— Numbers 21 tells the story of how when the people of Israel had been bitten by poisonous snakes, God told them to put a bronze snake on a pole, and whoever believed and looked at that serpent on the pole would be healed. Again, that’s not just an interesting story. It is teaching us the idea of looking up with faith to the sacrifice that was raised up to save us. In fact, Jesus referenced this very thing here in John 3:14-15, when He said “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life” — and it was THEN that He spoke those famous words: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” See, John 3:16 didn’t just come “out of nowhere.” Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers — we could go through the whole Old Testament and see how it all points to this: that GOD was going to provide the sacrificial gift that we couldn’t make for our sins.
And that is exactly what He did: “He gave His only begotten Son”. We will spend some time next week, looking at just who Jesus is; Who this sacrifice was which God made for us. But for today, suffice it to say that just as He showed us in all those Old Testament stories, God DID provide the sacrificial gift that would save us, when Jesus died on the cross for us:
— I Peter 2:24 says “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.”
— Jesus said in Matthew 26:28 “My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
— I Timothy 2:6 says He “gave Himself as a ransom for all.”
— Jesus Himself said in Matthew 20:28 that He had come to “give His life a ransom for many.”
God paid for our sins once and for all with gift of Jesus’ death on the cross for us. He took our sins in His body, in His Substitutionary death for us.
There are not a lot of network television shows that I like, but I love the old tv series “The West Wing” that was on about 10 years ago. The politics are little too liberal for me but it’s a great “living civics lesson” on how government works — and I really enjoy it. On the way to a hospital visit the other day I was listening to a podcast in which they discuss different episodes of “West Wing”, and they interviewed the actor on the show (Michael O’Neill) who played Secret Service agent Ron Butterfield, who was in charge of the President’s security team. This actor said that when he got the part, he called some real former Secret Service agents to get the “inside scoop” on how he could play his part more accurately. Among those he interviewed was an agent who was actually guarding President Ronald Reagan the day that he was shot by John Hinckley in 1981. He said it was fascinating to hear this real agent describe his duties, and he said: “Their job is to take the bullet (for the one they are guarding).” Then he said something that just lodged in my mind. He said: “Who does that?”
“Who does that?” Well, we can think of some people who do that, can’t we: we think of those secret service agents — or of our policemen, or firefighters, or our military, who purposefully put themselves in harm’s way to save others. But the single greatest example of this in all history is when Jesus came to earth to “take the bullet” for us: to die on the cross for our sins.
But we need to understand the real nature of what Jesus did for us. You know, it is one thing to “take the bullet” for President of the United States — that is kind of a glorious thing — or to sacrifice yourself for a loved one — like I saw in the news the other day where a father had sacrificed his own life to save his little girl from drowning. It’s like Romans 5:7 says: “Perhaps for the good man, someone would dare even to die.” But as we saw last week, Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrated His own love towards us, in that while we were yet SINNERS, Christ died for us.” Jesus “took the bullet” for us on the cross, NOT because we were noble leaders or innocent people, but He died for us while we were sinners rebelling against Him.
It would be like the soldier laying down his life to save the very enemy who was trying to kill him; it would be like the policeman dying for the protester who was spitting in his face and burning the American flag. THAT is what Jesus did for us. It was “while we were yet sinners” that Christ died for us. If you don’t understand that, then you don’t really understand your sin or God’s grace. God did not give Jesus for us because we were so good and we deserved it; He gave Jesus for us while we were rebelling against Him in sin. We could raise that same question that actor asked: “Who does that?” The Bible tells us that GOD does that! He loved us so much that He GAVE — even in our sin — He gave Jesus to die for us on the cross. GOD HIMSELF provided sacrificial gift which would pay for our sins and make us right with Him.
And listen: this is the whole heart of Christianity right here. I Corinthians 15:3 says this is the Christian message: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.”
— The Christian message is NOT “you need to go to church.”
— The Christian message is NOT “don’t drink or smoke or gamble.”
— The Christian message is NOT: say a bunch of prayers, give a lot of offerings, and make enough sacrifices so that God will love you.
NONE of those things is the Christian message. THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE IS NOT A LIST OF THINGS THAT YOU CAN DO FOR GOD; THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE IS THE STORY OF WHAT GOD DID FOR YOU. The Christian message is THIS, RIGHT HERE: “For God so loved the world that He GAVE His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believes in HIM should not perish but have everlasting life.” The Christian message is that “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures.” The gospel is that we are all sinners, and that NONE of our religious works and deeds and sacrifices will ever make us right with God, but that GOD loved us so much that HE provided the sacrifice that we needed in the Person of Jesus Christ, and that whoever trusts in Him will be saved.
I John 4:10 sums it up: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins”. “For God so loved the world, that He GAVE …”.