“The Greatest Verse in the Bible?” (John 3:16 sermon)

People often enjoy discussing who or what “the greatest” is in different areas of life. A new acronym has arisen in light of that: “GOAT,” which stands for “Greatest of All Time.” The first time I saw that, it was attributed to Tom Brady, who has continued to play into his mid-40s, and has won more Super Bowls than any other quarterback in history, so he has been labeled “The GOAT”: “The greatest of all time.” And others have been called “the greatest” of this or that, in many different fields. 

But what about the Bible? We are reading through the Bible together this year. What might be the greatest verse in the Bible? What would you say that it is? Poll after poll, survey after survey, consistently say that ONE verse is considered to be the “the greatest verse of scripture” in the Bible: John 3:16. Is it really the greatest verse? Well, greatness, like beauty, may be in the eye of the beholder, but I think you can certainly make a case that it could be the greatest verse. Why? Let’s look at it.  John 3:16 may possibly the greatest verse in all the Bible because it shows us:

I.  The greatest motivation:

“For God so loved the world …”

The words “God so loved” here are important because they tell us how God responded to mankind. From the very beginning God made us to know Him and love Him, but from the Garden of Eden on, all mankind has sinned against God and turned away from Him in disobedience.  Ephesians 2 says “we all lived in the lusts of the flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” None of us are an exception to that: Romans 3:23 says, “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That’s what God saw in us. So how did He respond to our sin?

Theoretically, He could have responded in a number of different ways. He could have immediately wiped us out with a lightning bolt from the sky! He could have responded to us with contempt or spite or anger. And we would have deserved whatever He did to us! But instead the Bible says He responded with love. “For God SO LOVED.” It’s an amazing thought — but we see this taught all through scripture:

— Ephesians 2 says that when God saw us “dead” in our trespasses and sins, :4 says: “But God, being rich in mercy, BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE with which He loved …” sent Christ for us.

— Ephesians 5:2 “as Christ also LOVED you, and gave Himself up for us”

— Titus 3:4 “But when the kindness of God our Savior and His LOVE for mankind appeared, He saved us …”

Over and over, the Bible says God responded to us with LOVE. “God so loved the world.” 

Many of you know that we are reading C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters together for Discipleship this Fall. In it, the demon Screwtape tells his “apprentice” demon Wormwood, “One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men … is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really DOES (love them)”!  That demon had it right. God really does love us. Despite all we’ve done: “God SO LOVED”!

God didn’t send Jesus to earth to show how powerful He is.

He didn’t have Him die on the cross out of disgust for what we’d done.

He didn’t carry out the gospel plan just to outsmart the devil.

He did it because He LOVES us. “For God so LOVED.”

And you need to realize this morning that God not only loves “the world.” He loves YOU, personally. I think this can be one of the hardest things for us to really grasp: with all our sins, all our failures, all our shortcomings — God is not angry with you; God’s not waiting to strike you down with a lightning bolt; GOD LOVES YOU. He loves YOU! The Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:20 “He loved ME, and gave Himself for ME”! 

I hope you can really grasp ahold of that this morning: God. Loves. You. That’s why He did all He did in the gospel. That is what it’s all about. He loves you, and wants you to spend eternity with Him in heaven, loving Him, and being loved by Him. Understand God’s greatest motivation: “For God so LOVED …”.

II.  The greatest sacrifice:

“That He gave His only begotten Son”

God loved us, despite our sins. So what did He DO? Love acts; love always does something. What did God do? The Bible says, “He gave His only begotten Son.” What does it mean, that He “gave” Him?

Because we had sinned and disobeyed God, we all deserved punishment for our sins. Romans 6:23 says: “The wages of sin is death.” And not just physical death, but eternal death, separated from God forever in Hell, the place of punishment that Matthew 25:41 says was reserved for the devil and his angels. But God loved us. You don’t want someone you love to go to hell. So what could He do? God is a perfect and just judge. He can’t just say “Oh don’t worry about those sins.” They had to be punished. What could be done to make our sins right? The Bible says there was ONE answer to that: if a perfect Man died to pay for our sins. But there IS no perfect man! So God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth, to become a man, who could die on the cross and pay the price for all our sins. It would be a horrific death — NOT just because the death of the cross was horrible, but because God’s Son who was perfect, and who had never sinned or disobeyed Him, would be contaminated with all the guilt of our sin — Isaiah 53 says: “the sins of us all would fall upon Him.” And God the Father would pour out the wrath of His justice on Jesus for all the sins of the whole world. He GAVE His only Son as a sacrifice to pay for all our sins.  

Right after the infamous 1938 Munich agreement in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain attempted to appease Hitler by giving him parts of Czechoslovakia (and giving in to the dictator didn’t stave off World War II; it only postponed it.) When that happened Guy Burgess of the BBC interviewed Winston Churchill, who was then a member of British Parliament. Churchill told him that the Czechoslovakian president asked him for help. But Churchill told Burgess: “What answer shall I give? — For answer I shall and must … what assistance can I proffer?”  Burgess said he didn’t know how to answer. Churchill wasn’t yet Prime Minister; he was at that time just a relatively powerless member of the British Parliament. What COULD he do?  Burgess could think of nothing to say. Then Churchill spoke. “You are silent, Mr. Burgess. You are rightly silent. What else can I offer …? Only one thing: my only son, Randolph, who is already training to be an officer.’” (William Manchester, The Last Lion, Volume II, pp. 365-366)  

Churchill was going to send his own son into the military to fight the Nazis. 

And that’s what God did out of His love for us: He sent His Son to earth, to atone for our sins. Jonathan Edwards, the great American Puritan preacher of the 1700s, wrote about the glory of Jesus as God’s Son, and said:
“How great for Him who was in Himself worthy of the infinite love of God to endure God’s wrath. How great a thing in whom God from eternity had infinite delight … (to) be delivered into such darkness and the shadow of death … it is enough to balance the debt contracted by the sins of the whole world.”

But that was the only way our sins could be forgiven. God had to give His Only Son. Nothing else could pay for our sins and appease the justice of God. That’s why when Jesus, faced with alienation from His Father because of our sins, asked if there was any other way this could be accomplished, to let this cup pass from Him — God sent Him to the cross, because there was no other way. That’s why Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.” There was no other way; there IS no other way — than the Greatest Sacrifice that was ever made, when Jesus died on the cross for our sins.  When we share the Lord’s Supper in a few minutes, that’s what the elements of this Supper picture: the bread represents the body of Jesus that bore our sins on the cross; the juice represents the blood of Jesus that was shed to pay for our sins. It was the Greatest Sacrifice that was ever made.  

III.  The greatest invitation:

“That whoever believes in Him shall not perish”

A. This is the greatest invitation, first of all, because the opportunity to be saved through what Jesus did, is open to anyone: it says “WHOEVER believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Whoever.”

In the original Bible language, it’s literally “ALL the ones believing in Him.” The point is: if you will believe in Jesus (and we’ll talk in a moment about what that really means) then you will have your sins forgiven and have eternal life. The invitation is open to everyone. “God so loved the WORLD” — the whole world, the sinful world, all the ethnicities of the world — so that people of every kind, every sin, every person, can be saved. The invitation is for everyone: “WHOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”
— Jesus said in :15, “WHOEVER believes, may in Him have eternal life.”
— Romans 10:13 “WHOEVER will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
— Revelation 22:17 “WHOSOEVER will, let him take the water of life freely.”

WHOEVER … WHOEVER … WHOEVER — That means anyone!

— The Apostle Paul was a “persecutor and a blasphemer and a violent aggressor”
— Sadhu Sundar Singh was an Indian Sikh who persecuted Christians in India and once burned a Bible page by page
— Rosaria Butterfield was a left-wing Lesbian professor at a liberal university
— Chuck Colson was a counselor to the President of the United States who would stop at nothing in his quest for power.
— Dr. Bill Tolar was an atheist who delighted in his intellectual acumen
— Mike Viator was a Catholic who thought all his good works in the church would save him
— Joshua Breland was a young college student caught up in the culture of drugs and rock & roll
— Cheryl Thomas was a young high school student whose heart had been broken
— Shawn Thomas was a little boy in a poor family whose car broke down when they were trying to move to California and ended up in Oklahoma.

Listen, it doesn’t matter: it’s for rich; it’s for poor; it’s for young; it’s for old; it’s for Americans; it’s for Russians; it’s for Chinese; it’s for every nation; it’s for the “down & out”; and it’s for the “up and out”!

The gospel of Jesus is for all these “whosoevers”. And the old hymn has it right: “Whosoever surely meaneth me”! “Whosoever” you are, the gospel of Jesus is for YOU — if you’ll take Him up on it!  Believe that it’s not too good to be true, and act on it! It’s the greatest invitation because it’s for everyone: “Whosoever”!

B. It’s also the greatest invitation, because what it asks of us is so little. What do we have to do? It’s not like we have to do some “great deed” to be saved; what does it say? “BELIEVE in Him.”  Now, we need to understand that “believe in Him” does NOT just mean “believe there was a historic Person named Jesus.” Virtually any educated person believes that there was a person named Jesus who lived in Israel 2000 years ago. The Book of James says “the demons also ‘believe’ and shudder.” But to “believe” like the Bible says here doesn’t just mean that you know there is a Person named Jesus. It means that you put your FAITH in Him; you put your TRUST in Him, as YOUR own Lord & Savior.

Jia Yanqin was a female Chinese student who came to the University of Oklahoma several years ago to study. While she was there she was invited by a friend to come to a Chinese Bible study at Trinity Baptist Church, where Cheryl, Michael & I attended while I was sick for a couple of years. Jia Yanqin began to study the Bible with several tutors from the church. Through the study she learned that God loved her, but that she had sinned against God, and that Jesus had died on the cross to pay for her sins. She “knew” all these “facts.” But one thing still remained. She had to do something to respond: she had to “believe” in Jesus to be saved. But what did that mean? Here’s what she later wrote in her testimony:

“I suddenly remembered Bill (the leader of Trinity’s Chinese ministry) lecturing on faith. Faith is not that I point to an airplane and (say) to the other people, ‘I think the plane is safe.’ Faith is that I have to get ON the plane and prove it is safe … I believe Jesus is that plane. I am willing to put my faith in Him and trust the fact that He died for our sin.”

I love that picture she gave: Believing in Jesus isn’t just saying, “I believe that plane will hold me”; believing in Jesus is “Getting ON the plane”! And that is what Jia Yanqin did that day: she “got on the plane” and trusted her soul and her life to Jesus as HER Lord & Savior.

And that is exactly what each of us must do. Maybe you’ve heard all about Jesus and salvation, for weeks or months or maybe even years now. But God’s saying to you today — it’s time to “get on the plane” — it’s time to “believe” in Jesus the way the Bible talks about here, and really commit your life to Him today! “WHOEVER believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life”!  If you never have before, it’s time right now to accept the greatest invitation that has ever been given! 

And if you will accept that invitation, you will have:

IV.  The greatest destination:

“But have eternal life”

A. What does that mean, to have “everlasting life”? The first thing most people generally think about eternal life is that it is life that lasts forever. And that IS indeed PART of what that means. The Greek word “aionion” means “to the ages” — Greek Bible scholars Louw and Nida translate it “an unlimited duration of time; eternal” — in other words, forever.

— In Matthew 25:46, Jesus says the wicked will go away to “eternal punishment” but the righteous to “eternal life.” Both are “eternal”; that is, they last forever.
— II Corinthians 4:18 says: “The things which are seen are temporal (temporary); but the things which are unseen are eternal” — in other words, they are NOT “temporary”, but they last forever.

So “eternal” life means that it’s a kind of life that lasts an eternal length of time; it will never end. Just like the great hymn says: “When we’ve been there 10,000 years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” “Eternal life” will be forever.

B. But: when Jesus speaks about having eternal life, He doesn’t only mean “living forever.” If you think about it, merely living forever is not necessarily that great of a thing:
— ask the senior adult whose body and mind are deteriorating; simply to live forever while continuing to deteriorate would not be much of a blessing!
— Or the person who is forced to live a life of slavery wouldn’t think that eternally living in oppression day after day was a good thing!
— Or the person who is miserable and can’t find peace and joy in life. Simply extending eternally a life which is so miserable would not be appealing to them.
So there has to be something MORE that makes “eternal life” a blessing than just living for an unlimited duration of time. And Jesus tells us

that there IS indeed “something more”:

In John 17, Jesus begins His final, High Priestly prayer to the Father before He went to the cross, and He is praying for us. As He begins His prayer He says in :3, “THIS is eternal life, that they may KNOW YOU, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.” That sentence is such a key. Jesus shows us here that eternal life is NOT just “an eternal length of time.” It’s not just a “quantity” of time (forever) but a “quality” of time: that you are WITH GOD; knowing Him; amazed by His beauty, wondering at His glory, tasting the delights of His presence. Psalm 16:11 says, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” God’s presence, the pleasures we will receive from being with Him; THAT is what makes eternal life, eternal life: glorying, rejoicing, receiving pleasures from God, and just being with Him. The greatest pleasures; the greatest thrills; the greatest joys you’ve ever known — are NOTHING compared to heaven. It is the greatest destination!

The thing is, we don’t have to wait until we die to start to experience eternal life. We can begin to taste it NOW; and if you are a Christian, you have begun to taste eternal life now. You have it already! 

— In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, HAS eternal life — not “will have” but “has” it—now! In other words eternal life is not just something you wait for after death. It is something you have NOW if you have given your life to Jesus.

When you are saved, God’s Holy Spirit comes into your heart, and you begin to fellowship with Him, and worship Him, NOW — not in all the fullness which we’ll experience one day in heaven, but we get just a “foretaste” of it, right now. His Spirit is in our heart, helping us to know and love Him; and we learn to sing to Him and praise Him, in church, and as we walk or drive, or wherever we are. As you do these things, and enjoy them, it’s a sign that eternal life has already begun in you. One day you will perfectly worship God forever in heaven. But it starts now. In fact, if it hasn’t started now, then you are almost certainly not a Christian. If you don’t love Him now; if you don’t get pleasure from worshiping Him now; then you surely do not have eternal life. Someone has well said, If you don’t enjoy worship, you’re gonna hate heaven! Because eternal life is all about worshiping God. It begins the moment you get saved, and extends past death and into eternity. 

But heaven, everlasting life, forever with God, is the absolute greatest destination. So many people don’t understand this. Sadly, I read where even one pastor admitted that he was so afraid he was going to be BORED in heaven: “just sitting on a cloud, strumming on a harp.” This is from a PASTOR! How foolish! Nothing we have ever seen or experienced compares with what the Bible says is waiting for us in heaven: rainbows of living colors; lightning flashes; the roaring sounds like a mighty ocean; the glory of God Himself that earthly eyes can’t bear to see but we will behold face to face; the pleasures that God will feed us from His right hand; joy, joy, joy, unspeakable and full of glory! Nothing on earth compares to it!

The other day on the Houston Channel 13 news website they had a story on the top travel destinations. That kind of thing is interesting. 

What would YOU say is the greatest destination you’ve ever been to on earth; the greatest pleasure; the greatest thrill you’ve ever experienced? Some might say going to Disney World; others might say hunting in the wilderness; whitewater rafting might be near the top of my list. But none of it compares with heaven. The greatest pleasures of earth are like a candle next to the sun, compared the glory and pleasure and joy that are waiting for s in heaven. 

It is the greatest destination — and you need to make sure you’re going there!

And the great thing is, you CAN know you are going there. This verse tells you how you can. That’s why it may just be “The Greatest Verse” in all the word of God! 


— Have you ever made sure you are going to the greatest destination?

Have you ever taken God up, on His greatest invitation?

If not, or if you’re not sure; you should do it right now …

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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3 Responses to “The Greatest Verse in the Bible?” (John 3:16 sermon)

  1. Linda Rowton says:

    Thank you for sharing these truths to your subscribers. Is it permissible to forward to family and friends your articles if I give you credit? I listen to your YouTube helps for preparation for teaching my Sunday School class of Senior,Adult Women. It is challenging because these precious ladies have heard these Bible stories all their life and have learned to live by them. Your review of the upcoming lesson reveals to me, by the Holy Spirit, a new way to present God’s truths. May God give you wisdom and health to continue as His faithful servant.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Absolutely you can forward or share the sermon, Linda! I pray that the Lord will use it. And thank you for letting me know that the SS lesson overviews are helpful to you, and for the blessing!

  2. Brian Ray McKee says:


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