“His Only Begotten Son” (John 3:16 sermon)

In Matthew 26, the Bible describes how just before He went to the cross, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” Facing the inconceivable agony of the wrath of God that was deserved for all the sins of world, Jesus asked that if there were any other way to bring about salvation, that God would let this torture pass by Him. He prayed this same thing three times, and it should be instructive to us that after He finished this prayer, He went ahead to the cross. What’s so important about this episode is that it demonstrates to us that there was indeed NO OTHER WAY of salvation than that God had to give His Son. Had there been any other alternative, in the face of the fervent pleading of Jesus, God the Father would have given it. But there was no other way, and Jesus went to the cross to die, bearing our sins in His body.

Last Sunday we saw how God loved the world so much “that He GAVE” — He didn’t merely “say” He loved us; He demonstrated it by giving the gift that would make us right with Him. All the sacrifices that mankind tries to make to put us right with God are not sufficient. There was only ONE sacrifice that would suffice, and that is what we are going to look at today, the one gift that would save: “His Only Begotten Son.” Just Who was this gift, and why did it have to be Him and Him only who could save us?

I. Who Is This “Only Begotten Son”?

What does John 3:16 mean here when it says that God loved us so much that He gave “His only begotten Son”? In the original Bible language it is literally: “The Son, the only-begotten, He gave.” Who is this who is called “The Son”, and what does it mean that He is “the only begotten”?

Now I will forewarn you that we need to get into a little bit of theology this morning in order to explain this — and although it can be somewhat challenging, I think it is important for us to address it, so that we can begin to grasp just what it was that God really did for us.

First, what does it mean when it says “the Son, the only begotten.” Who is this “Son”? The Muslims are infamous for their criticism that “God is one; God can have no ‘son.'” Well, Christians also believe that God is one. Deuteronomy 6 says: “Hear O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is ONE.” Christians are “monotheists” — that is, we believe that there is only ONE God. But Christians are also unique in that we believe the Bible teaches that the one-and-only God is a Triune God: that is, that He has existed eternally as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are not “3 gods”; the three are ONE. That is the mystery of the Trinity: One God, who exists eternally in 3 Persons. “Existed eternally” means they have always been; there was never a time when any of them came into being. Jesus didn’t come into being when He was born in Bethlehem; He always existed. John 1, speaking of Jesus, says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and without Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” So the Bible teaches that Jesus was “in the beginning” with God. And He created “everything that has come into being” — so since He created “everything that came into being” then HE Himself never “came into being”; He is the creator of everything. He has always been. So when John 3:16 speaks of “the Son”, it is speaking of this 2nd Person of the Trinity, God the Son.

This gets us to the phrase “only begotten.” What does that mean? When I was growing up, I thought this was referring to how Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but it is not. It is speaking of what theologians call His “eternal generation” from God the Father. In the early days of the church some said: “Well if the Son was ‘begotten’ of the Father, that means He was created by Him. And if He was created by Him, then He is not equal with God, and is not Himself God”. (This is actually the Mormon view of God. They believe that Jesus is a being that God created. Quoting from Mormon material here: “He was God’s oldest Son, the first spirit created, and so, our oldest brother.” In fact, the Mormons believe Satan is also Jesus’ brother. This is why it is important to know your theology, and to get past the smiling faces and good works of Mormonism to know what they really believe! They are not “Christian” in their beliefs about Jesus!) The Bible teaches us that Jesus was never “created.” John 1 says He never “came into being.” So in what sense then can the Bible say that He is “begotten”?

Jonathan Edwards, whom many historians consider to be America’s first great theologian, compared it to the sun. From its very first moment, the sun had rays which emanated from it, the rays of its sunshine and glory. There was never a moment in which the sun did not emanate those rays. In the same way, Hebrews 1:3 speaking of Jesus’ relationship to God, says, “And He is the radiance of His glory.” So Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory, much like the rays of the sun are the radiance of its glory. But just like the sun, as long as it has been the sun, has always had those rays of its glory; so as long as God has been God — which is forever — Jesus has always been “the radiance of His glory.” So He was never created but eternally generated; He has been eternally “the radiance of His glory”, forever He has been His “only begotten Son.”

And the same thing is true of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit didn’t “come into being” in the New Testament on the Day of Pentecost; the Old Testament is full of references to the “Spirit of God.” Just like Jesus, He has always existed, as the 3rd Person of Trinity. So for eternity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have existed as the One, True God, in perfect loving relationship with each other. This is important to understand: because some people have speculated that God made us to have someone to love, but that is not true. God the Father has always enjoyed perfect love in His relationship with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. He created us to invite us to SHARE the perfect love which He has always had in the Trinity.

And we need to understand the depth of the love that the Father and the Son have eternally shared together. Jesus said in John 17:24, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world.” God the Father and God the Son have for eternity had a love for each other that we cannot even begin to imagine the depths of.

We see something about God’s love for Jesus in an Old Testament word, “yachid.” This word means “only one; solitary.” Several times in the Old Testament it is used to express one’s “only child” or “only son.” But Bible scholars also tell us that “yachid” expresses a special kind of love. You might imagine if someone had an only child, what a special love they would have for that child. So this word “yachid” came to mean “a special love”. A couple of times the King James translates this word as “Darling.” What is even more interesting is WHERE this word is used in the Old Testament: one is in Genesis 22:2, the passage we looked at last week, when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, “Your only son, Isaac, whom you love.” “Only son” there is this word “yachid.” God didn’t mean his half-brother or anyone else; it was Abraham’s “darling” child Isaac — his “yachid” — his special beloved son He was asking for. And then the second time it is used in the Old Testament is in Psalm 22, which is a Messianic Psalm which begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?”, which Jesus quoted on the cross 800 years later; and it goes on to talk about how his hands and feet would be pierced, and how they would divide up His garments among them. And the Psalmist asks God to save His “Yachidi” — His “darling”, His special beloved one!

The fact that this word “Yachid” is used in both of these passages to refer to Jesus tells us a lot about the sacrifice God made for us when He gave Him to save us. He didn’t just give “something” to save us: some angel, or some possession, or some son, He gave His “Yachid”; His “special love”; His “Darling”; “His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). (Some of you remember the song “Worthy Is The Lamb”; there is a line in that song that says: “The Darling of Heaven crucified.” That is what this is talking about!) This is yet another reminder to us of the indescribable depth of the sacrificial love God had for us when He sent Jesus.

And this also helps us understand something more about the sacrifice Jesus made at the cross. It was no small thing when He fulfilled those words of Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The love that He had known from all eternity; as the Yachid, the “Darling”; the Special Beloved of the Father, the deepest love of all eternity, compared to which all other loves are but a shadow, was suddenly CUT OFF from every vestige of the love of His Father as the wrath of God for the sin of the world fell upon Him. THAT is why He cried, “My God, My God, why have YOU forsaken Me?” Because we can’t begin to imagine the depth of the love They have, we also can’t begin to imagine the depths of the pain that Jesus experienced at that moment, when the “Yachid” was totally separated from His Father’s love, and bore the wrath of God for our sin.

God created you & I to share in that amazing love that He has with His Son. He created US to be His “yachid”; His greatly beloved — but as we have seen, we all separated ourselves from Him by our sin. It would take a sacrifice we cannot even begin to comprehend to pay for our sins and restore us back to God: the sacrifice of God the Son, the “Yachid”; His “Darling”; “His only begotten Son”

II. WHY Did It Have To Be The “Only Begotten Son”?

But it was not enough for God the Father to somehow just “hand over” His Son. He had to come to earth, take on human flesh and blood, and die on the cross, bearing our sins. To do this, Jesus had to become what theologians call “Incarnate.” The word “incarnate” means “in-flesh-ment.” This God the Son, 100% God, without forsaking His Godhood, became a real 100% man, so that He could pay for our sins in His body.

This is important: He is not “only” 100% God; He is not only 100% man; He is NOT 50% God and 50% man. He is “fully God and fully Man.” 100% God and 100% man, two full natures in His one being. This is what makes Him unique. There has never been anyone one like Him: As the sweet hymn says: “Fairest Lord Jesus … Son of God and Son of Man.”

But listen, this is not just some “theological trivia.” It is vital. Jesus HAD to be like this, in order to save us. He had to be 100% God; and He had to be 100% man.

Hebrews 2:17 says: “Therefore, He HAD to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” In other words, He had to be like us in every way; 100% man, to die on the cross and pay for our sin.

But on the other hand, He also had to be more than just a mere sinful man when He died on that cross. As we saw last week, Exodus demonstrated that it took a perfect lamb to be sacrificed for sin. The offering on the cross had to be perfect, and none of us are.

This is why only God could make this sacrifice. This is why we saw last week that none of our sacrifices were sufficient. Nothing we can do would save us. Not even dying on the cross. Listen, in the Roman Empire, people were executed on crosses all the time, and it didn’t pay for anyone’s sins, not even their own. It had to be more than a mere man who died on that cross.

One of the most blasphemous things I have ever read was spoken by the word-faith preacher Kenneth Copeland, whom I hope no one in our church listens to. A few years back Copeland said: “The Spirit of God spoke to me and He said, ‘A born-again man defeated Satan, the first-born of many brethren defeated him.’ He said, ‘You are the very image and the very copy of that one.’ I said, ‘Goodness gracious sakes alive!’ I began to see what had gone on in there. And I said, ‘Well, now You don’t mean–You couldn’t dare mean that I could have done the same thing.’ And God said, ‘Oh yeah! If you’d known that–had the knowledge of the Word of God that He did, you could’ve done the same thing …’.”

Folks, the answer to that question, “Could I have done the same thing” is “NO!” A thousand times NO!! It could NOT have been Kenneth Copeland who died on the cross and rose again for our sins. It could not have been Mother Theresa. It could not have been Billy Graham. It could not have been you or me or the best person you have ever known. It had to be the Perfect Sacrifice of the God/Man in order to atone for our sins and make us right with God. It had to be this “Only Begotten Son.” He was the ONLY ONE who could have done it. That’s why in the Garden when Jesus pleaded if there is any other way, let this cup pass from me — THE CUP COULD NOT PASS — because THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY of salvation. THERE WAS NO OTHER PERSON who could have done it. This was the one-and-only way!

And folks, this is why we proclaim there is only one way of salvation. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to Father except through Me.” This is why the Apostles proclaimed in Acts 4:12, “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” We aren’t just trying to be “exclusive” or “narrow minded” in proclaiming that. The fact is, there IS ONLY ONE sacrifice that can atone for our sins; it took this 100% God, 100% man perfect sacrifice to die on the cross bearing our sins and no one else HAS made or COULD ever make that sacrifice. Nothing and no one else will do. It had to be “The Only Begotten Son.” It was the only way. That’s not being exclusive; it’s just the truth!

Last week I read about a little baby girl that was born with what they diagnosed as Diamond Blackfan Anemia, a very rare condition. Not long after her birth, doctors identified this condition, and they told her parents: there is only way to cure this illness. Her parents didn’t say to the doctors, “You are being narrow-minded. You are so bigoted. It seems to us that it would be only fair if there were a number of ways to heal this, so we are going to look for another one.” No, those parents understood that those doctors were not being “exclusive”; they were telling them the truth in love that medically there was only one way that their daughter could be saved, and so they took that one course and they saved her life.

Listen, there are a lot things in life to which there is only one answer. If someone told you that you had a dire illness, and there was only ONE medicine that would treat it, would say they were being “narrow minded”? No, you would say they because they loved you, and wanted you to live, that they were speaking to you the truth, so that your life could be saved. That is exactly what we are saying with the gospel message. We are not proclaiming that there is only way of salvation because we just want to be exclusive; we are saying there is only one way of salvation because the Bible indicates there is only one possible way. God the Father, who so loved His only begotten Son from eternity, sent Him to the cross despite His agonizing plea to avoid it, because THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY mankind could be saved! Jesus Christ is His “ONLY begotten Son”. There is no other. There is no other God/Man. There is no one else who could die on the cross. There is no other way of salvation. He is the “ONLY” one! Nothing else will save us; it absolutely took the sacrifice of God’s “Only begotten Son.”

I hope you know that I realize that the message I am trying to convey here today is inexpressible in its depth. And I am fully aware that my explanation of it is hopelessly inadequate: how do you describe the glory of Christ; Who He was and Why He had to be given? But I hope that you have gained least SOME idea of what it was that God gave up for us when He gave “His Only Begotten Son.” The sacrifice God made for us is truly beyond our understanding.

A little over a week ago now, a young lady from our community was killed in an early morning automobile accident. As many of you know, Pastor Keith took our youth group to join student groups from all over Morganton to this young lady’s church for a memorial meeting there last Sunday night. At that meeting, the gospel was shared, and many young people made commitments to Jesus as their Lord & Savior — including three from our church and their friends. I could not help but think this week of the parents of this young girl. How must they feel in light of what has happened? Here we have all these young people who have been saved, and many other lives renewed in their commitment — all because the death of their beloved daughter. Would they look at this and say, “This is worth it. All this is worth the death of my child”?

It is difficult for us to even imagine being in that place. I can only rely on the testimony of someone who has himself been in that position. Many of you know Tony Dungy, the former coach of the Indianapolis Colts, who is now a commentator — you may have seen him last week on Sunday Night Football. Several years ago, Tony Dungy tragically lost HIS own son, who was only in his 20’s, to suicide. In the aftermath of his son’s death, Dungy maintained an amazing Christian testimony that touched many people’s lives. As a result, he got all kinds of letters and e-mails, sharing how people had been blessed by his testimony; two wrote of how their family members were given sight by the corneas his son had donated, others told of how their own children were saved from suicide as a result, and some shared how they or their children had given their lives to Christ though his testimony what had happened. Just an amazing harvest of good things came from his son’s death. But speaking at a breakfast at the 2006 Super Bowl in Detroit, Tony Dungy shared his heart. He began telling about all those good things that had happened as a result of the death of his son, but then he said:
“If God had talked to me before James’ death and said his death would have helped all these people, it would have saved them and healed their sins, but I would have to take your son, I would have said no, I can’t do that.”
But then he added: but you know: that is exactly what GOD did for us. He saw the good that it would do for us, that it was the only possible way we could be saved, and He did give His only Son for us.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave … His only begotten Son …”.


“What shall I render to Thee for the gift of gifts … in Him Thou hast given me so much that Heaven can give no more.” p. 28 “The Gift of Gifts” (Valley of Vision)

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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