If you?ve read our SOWER lately then you know that a few months ago we started spotlighting a different Sunday School teacher in each issue. We do this as a way of giving all Redlanders an opportunity to better get to know these gifted men and women…who rightly divide God?s Word of truth to us Sunday after Sunday.
One of the questions we ask our Bible TEACHERS in the interview is this: ?What is your favorite Bible VERSE?? Here?s a sampling of some of their responses:
- Both Bob Michael and Lisa Jenkins say their favorite is John 1:1: ?In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.?
That?s a great verse to claim because it reminds us that all Jesus is…Jesus always was!
- Patti Staines picked 2nd Corinthians 5:17 where Paul writes,?Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
I don?t know about you—but I can think of lots of examples of people who?s NEW BIRTH is proof that this verse is true. A saving faith in Jesus really does make us new!
- Bob Dame claimed the entire 11th chapter of Hebrews as his favorite.
I love that text as well because it serves as sort of a Hall of Fame for the faith heroes of the Bible—people who trusted God no matter what. It?s a very inspiring chapter!
- Roger Price said that his favorite text is Philippians 4:12-13 where Paul writes,?I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him Who gives me strength.?
I wish more of us learned to LIVE OUT that verse!
- CC Day said his favorite is 1st Kings 3:9. This is where the newly-crowned King Solomon says to God,
?So give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours??
I think that?s a great favorite verse for a magistrate judge to claim!
I don?t know about you but I really enjoy the Sunday School Teacher Spotlight part of the SOWER. I always read it first—even before I read the pastor?s column! But seriously—I like discovering which verse our teachers claim as their FAVORITE because that bit of knowledge helps me get to know these amazing Christians a little better. It increases my already GREAT admiration of these wonderful people.
I bring all this up because our text for this morning has been claimed as a FAVORITE by countless people down through the ages—so many that it is been referred to as, ?Everybody?s Text.? In fact, there is hardly a place in the world where the Gospel has been preached that this verse has not become instantly known and loved. This text is inscribed on books and buildings. It is reflected in songs. I?m referring to John 3:16. The words are on the screens, let?s say them together. This is the NIV translation.
John 3:16 – ?For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Just curious—how many of you have committed John 3:16 to memory? I can?t say for sure—but that looks like almost everyone. How many of you would say you claim it as your favorite verse?
Well—as I said, you are not alone—and this morning I want to talk about WHY this is true—I want to focus on the REASON John 3:16 is so beloved by so many people. You see, this week I did a lot of pondering on that particular question, and I think I have found the answer. I believe this verse is so popular—because in these precious words Jesus tells us what sinners like you and me most NEED to hear—most WANT to hear. In these 26 words our Lord shares the comforting, reassuring news that our sin has not kept God from loving us.
And, I think we love—and cling to—this verse because as fallen beings we need to know that our Creator—the God we have all rebelled against—we have this inner need to know that He hasn?t changed how He fells about us…that He loves us and wants us back.
As I was thinking about all this, I remembered a time when Daniel was just over 2 years old and we joined my parents on a cross-country vacation. The five of us packed into mom and dad?s two-door Grand Prix…and drove all the way to Arizona and all the way back….four adults, a baby…and DIAPERS. As part of our trip we went to Sunday School Week at Glorieta Baptist Conference Center, which as many of you know—is located outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. I remember one day we picked Daniel up at the nursery they provide at Glorieta and the five of us were walking back to our rooms—and Daniel was just in a bad mood. In fact, it was more than a bad mood. He was having one of those ?terrible two moments.? I mean, my cute little ?innocent? son was throwing a temper tantrum because he didn?t get what he wanted and he screamed and kicked…and embarrassed us all the way across the Glorieta campus…right in front of all the missionaries and pastors and Sunday School directors who had come to the conference—you know the people who have ?perfect? children.
Of course I?m kidding—because there is no such thing as a perfect child and if you have children then I?m sure your two-year-old has had a meltdown in a mall or the grocery store…or maybe even at a Christian conference center. How many of you parents have ever experienced a moment like that?
Nothing we did that day got Daniel to behave. He was loud and disrespectful. And, when we FINALLY got to the room my Dad took matters in his hands and shocked Daniel into obedience by spanking him. I remember being kind of shocked that dad did this as well. He put Daniel across his knee and gave him a firm wack on that padded but painful part of our bodies that I think God designed for this purpose. And…it was the right thing to do because it humbled Daniel. I think he thought, ?Gosh, if my grandad spanked me—I must have done something wrong!? So, he stopped misbehaving and started crying that truly repentant cry. Then he calmed down.
Well, about ten minutes later my Dad laid down for a nap and I still remember what happened next. Daniel got up and walked over until he stood by the bed which made his face right on eye-level with dad?s, and with his lower lip trembling he said, ?Granddad—can I lay down with you?? Dad smiled and said ?Of course Daniel!? and picked him up and nestled him in his arms and it wasn?t long before they were both fast asleep.
Here?s my point. We are like Daniel was that day at Glorieta. I mean, we all know we have done wrong. We know we?ve disobeyed God and we all have this inner longing to know that He still loves us. Well, as I said, I think that?s why this verse is so popular—because in it Jesus not only tells us that God loves us…but that He?s done something to make it possible for us to be together again. Of course the main difference from my ?Daniel story? and the message of John 3:16 is that God sent Jesus to take the punishmentwe all deserved. Jesus came to take our sin on Himself—and God did this—because He DOES still love us—still wants to be in relationship with us….still wants to hold us in His arms like my dad did Daniel that day…and that is wonderful news—news that makes this the favorite verse of more people than any other text!
William Barclay writes,?God is not like an absolute monarch who treats each man as a subject to be reduced to an abject obedience. God is the Father Who cannot be happy until His wandering children come home.?
With all this in mind I want to say four things about the love of God—four BASIC but PROFOUND truths about our Heavenly Father?s feelings toward us that are found in this beloved verse.
(1) First, God?s love is a GREAT love.
Now—my dad loved his grandson—and his granddaughters when they came along. He loved them so VERY much. They were all the apple of his eye! I know that because after they were born, whenever I spoke to dad on the phone, he always asked about them, before he asked about me! And, I think all grand-parents are that way. They deeply love their grandchildren. But, listen—as great as my dad?s love was for his grandchildren—it is nothing compared to the GREAT love our Heavenly Father has for you and me. And I think we hear the GREATNESS of this love in those first three words, ?God SO LOVED!?
On our trip out west with my parents we saw amazing views like The Painted Desert and The Grand Canyon. We even saw the world famous Meteor Crater in Arizona. I loved all those views—and sometimes just the incredible beauty of the horizon stretching out in front of me as I drove would make tears well up in my eyes. Throughout that trip, we were always saying to each other, ?Hey, look at this view! Isn?t it amazing!? I mean, the GREATNESS of God?s CREATION is an awe-inspiring thing! Well, so is His LOVE! When sinners like me realize how great the love of God is it just bowls us over! In fact, whenever I read one of MY favorite verses, I picture Paul feeling bowled over as he comprehends how GREAT God?s love is and then writes, ?Because of GOD?S GREAT LOVE for us…My prayer for you is that you may have power, together with all the saints to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.? (Ephesians 4:4,3:18-20)It?s almost as if Paul is taking a tour of God?s attributes and when God?s LOVE comes into view he says, ?I wish you guys could see this! I wish you could see how wide and long and high and deep…is the love of Christ!?
God?s love is indeed GREAT! As Tozer puts it, ?Since God is SELF-EXISTENT, His love had NO BEGINNING; because He is ETERNAL, His love can have NO END; because He is INFINITE, it has NO LIMIT.? Frederick Lehman was inspired to express this truth in his famous hymn text. Do you remember these words?
The love of God is greater far, than tongue or pen can ever tell.
It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win:
His erring child, He reconciled and pardoned from his sin.
I don?t know if you realize it or not, but the final stanza of this famous hymn was not written by Lehman. No—it?s words were found written on the wall of a room in an asylum—written by a man who obviously took a lot of comfort from the GREATNESS of the love of God. His lyric wasn?t discovered until after his death. The people who cleaned out his room saw that he had written Lehman?s words on the wall…and then added this verse of his own:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.
Would you sing the chorus with me?
O love of God, how rich and pure! How measureless and strong!
It shall forever more endure the saints and angels? song.?
Now—the MEASURE that shows us just HOW great God?s love really is—is the fact that it is GREAT enough to love every single individual who has ever been born or ever will be born. I mean, God?s love is so great that He doesn?t just love the human race. No—He loves every single person! God loves you and me as individuals. He knows YOUR name and YOUR needs. He understands YOUR hurts and YOUR fears. Even though you are one among countless BILLIONS, God? love is so GREAT, He loves you as if you were the only person in the world.
As Augustine put it,?God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.? Paul was obviously rejoicing in this fact when he wrote,?The life I live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved ME and gave Himself for ME.? (Galatians 2:20b)
I think it was his understanding of the personal aspect of God?s GREAT love that led John the Apostle to refer to himself as ?the disciple Jesus loved.? I mean, knowing that my GREAT God, loves ME with His GREAT love—well, that is truly a defining fact. Think of it. People often brag that they are close to some FAMOUS person…some GREAT individual—a movie star or a sports star or a famous musician or politician. Well, as a Christian I can say that I am close to GOD HIMSELF! I can say the CREATOR of the universe loves ME! This is another reason this verse is so popular. The fact that GOD HIMSELF loves us as individuals—well that trumps all other loves! And it also trumps any problem this fallen world can throw at us. Do you remember what Paul said about this in Romans 8? He lists all the bad things that come our way: ?trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword…death itself…angels, demons, the past, the present, the future…? And then he says, ?Hey—in all these things we are MORE THAN CONQUERORS THROUGH Him Who LOVED us! If God is for us…Who can be against us?!? (Romans 8)
God?s love is a GREAT love. He does indeed SO LOVE each of us! This leads me to point out a second facet of His love.
(2) It is an INCLUSIVE, UNCONDITIONAL love.
Remember—Jesus said that God so loved..THE WORLD—no exclusions—no limitations—God so loved…literally EVERYONE—no conditions. I mean, John 3:16 doesn?t say that God so loved a ?nation? or ?the good people? or that He so loved…only the people who loved Him back. No—it says God so loved the entire WORLD! This means God loves the unlovable, and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the man who loves God…and the man who never thinks of God. God loves everyone—period.
That wonderful word in John 3:16, ?WHOEVER? means exactly that! It tells us God loves every single person in the world. He wants everyone to respond to His love. And we see this in the fact that ?WHOEVER? was apparently Jesus? favorite word. He used it all the time. Here?s a few examples:
- In Matthew 10:32 He said,?WHOEVER acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in Heaven.?
- In John 4:14 He said,?WHOEVER drinks the water I give him will never thirst.?
- John 6:37,?WHOEVER comes to Me I will never drive away.?
- John 11:26, ?WHOEVER lives and believes in Me will never die.?
- Revelation 22:17,?WHOEVER is thirsty, let him come; and WHOEVER wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.?
I?m reminded of something John Newton once wrote. He said, ?If I read ?God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that when JOHN NEWTON believed he should have everlasting life,? I should say, perhaps there is some OTHER John Newton, but ?whosoever? means THIS John Newton AND the other John Newton, and every body else, whatever his name may be.?
Newton was right on the money! God does indeed LOVE everyone unconditionally. And this is wonderful news because as sinners NONE of us DESERVE to be loved by our Holy God. I mean, truth be told, none of us are completely LOVEABLE. All of us sin—all of us rebel against God—ALL the time—all of us engage in thoughts and behaviors that disappoint God like Daniel disappointed us at Glorieta that day…but that doesn?t stop Him from loving us. Yes—He hates our sin—but He still loves us. Romans 5:8 says, He ?…commends His LOVE for us in this. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.?
And—this is not a NEW thing for God. He?s ALWAYS loved sinful humanity. In Deuteronomy 7:7 Moses said to the Hebrews,?God wasn?t attracted to you and didn?t choose you because you were big and important—the fact is there was almost nothing to you. He did it out of His GREAT LOVE, keeping the promise He made to your ancestors.? So, God?s love doesn?t have conditions. You and I don?t have to DO something to get Him to love us.
This week I read about a survey that was done by Fuller Theological Seminary?s school of Inter-cultural Studies. This survey was conducted From 1991 to 2007 and in it they questioned 750 Muslims who had converted to Christianity. They wanted to find out what had attracted them to the Christian faith. One of the top reasons cited—was this precious Christian teaching: that God loves us UNCONDITIONALLY. And—doesn?t that idea attract you as well? Isn?t it wonderful to know that God loves ALL people—even the unlovely ones like you and me? Isn?t it reassuring to know that our sin doesn?t negate God?s great love!?
The following is a letter from a father to his daughter, and it?s taken from Dr. James Dobson’s book, When God Doesn’t Make Sense and it underscores this wonderful fact:
?My Dear Bristol, Before you were born, I prayed for you. In my heart I knew you would be a little angel, and so you were. When you were born on my birthday, April 7, it was evident that you were a special gift from the Lord. But how profound a gift you turned out to be! More than the gurgles and rosy cheeks, more than the firstborn of my flesh—a joy unspeakable. You showed me God?s love more than anything else in all creation. Bristol, you taught me how to love. I certainly loved you when you were cuddly and cute, when you jabbered your first words. I loved you when the searing pain of realization took hold that something was wrong—that maybe you weren?t developing as quickly as your peers, and even when we understood it was more serious than that. I loved you when we went from hospital to clinic to doctor, looking for a medical diagnosis that would bring us some hope. And of course, we always prayed for you. We prayed and prayed. I loved you when you moaned and cried; your mom and I and your sisters would drive for hours late at night to help you fall asleep. I loved you when you were confused—when, with tears in your eyes, you would bite your fingers or your lip by accident. I loved you when your eyes crossed, and then when you went blind. I most certainly loved you when you could no longer speak, but how profoundly I missed your voice! I loved you when scoliosis began to wrench your body like a pretzel, and when we put a tube in your stomach so you could eat. We fed you one spoonful at a time—even up to two hours per meal. I managed to love you when your contorted limbs made changing ten years of diapers difficult. Bristol, I even loved you when you could not say the one thing in life that I longed to hear back: ?Daddy, I love you.? Bristol, I loved you when I was close to God and when He seemed far away—when I was full of faith and also when I was angry at Him. And the reason I loved you, my Bristol, in spite of these difficulties, is that God put this caliber of love in my heart. This is the wondrous nature of God?s love: He loves us when we are blind, or deaf, or twisted in body or in spirit. God loves us even when we can?t tell Him that we love Him back. My dear Bristol, now you are free. I look forward to that day when, according to God?s promises, we will be joined together—completely whole and full of joy. I?m so happy that you have your crown first! We will follow you some day in His time. Before you were born, I prayed for you. In my heart, I knew you would be a little angel. And so you were. Love, Daddy?
The love of our Heavenly Father is a GREAT love. It is an INCLUSIVE, UNCONDITIONAL love.
(3) And, third, it is a GIVING love .
Now, when you think about it, giving is what love does. Giving is how love EXPRESSES itself. Giving is the heart of LOVE; and therefore, as John 3:16 reminds us, giving is the heart of GOD. We see this way back in the book of Genesis—where it tells us that God is so giving—so generous that He creates with beauty and says, ?Now take it. Now enjoy it.? I mean, God has been giving from the beginning. James says,?Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows.?
And God?s generosity isn?t just lavish, not just creative; it is CONTINUAL. It is ceaseless. It is unstoppable. As Lamentations 3:23 says, ?Your mercies are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.? At the start of every day, God is saying: ?Did you like that sunrise yesterday? Here?s another one. Here is food for your body. Here is air for your lungs. Here is beauty for your eyes. Here is music for your ears. Here is strength for your needs. Here are friends for your heart. Here is a purpose for your day.? All the time, God is giving, giving, giving. That is what He does all day long—because He loves us.
But of course God?s greatest gift—the greatest expression of His love was when He gave us Jesus. ?God so loved the world…His love is so GREAT…so INCLUSIVE…so UNCONDITIONAL…that He GAVE…HIS ONLY SON…?
In his commentary on John James Montgomery Boice says,?There is hardly a verse in the New Testament that speaks of God?s love and that does not ALSO speak in the immediate context and sometimes within a space of a few words…of the cross. How do we know that God loves us? Because the world is beautiful? Not at all! We know that God loves us because He has given us His only begotten, His unique, Son.?
God?s love is GREAT…it is INCLUSIVE…it is a GIVING love…and this leads me to say one more very important thing.
(4) God?s love is a love that calls for a RESPONSE.
I mean, God loves us such that He doesn?t MAKE us love Him back. As I said a moment ago, the nature of God is love. It is His essence. 1 John 4:16 says, ?God Is love.? And because of this aspect of His nature, God VALUES love above all things—which is why He created us to exist in a love RELATIONSHIP with Him. But this kind of relationship would only be possible if we were made in such a way that we were capable of loving God of our own free will. In his book, Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey says that our Creator,?…desires not the clinging, helpless love of a child who has no choice, but the mature, freely given love…? of an adult.
So—God let?s us CHOOSE how to respond to His love. We get to decide whether or not to love Him back whether or not to put our faith—our belief in Him and His loving plan to save us from our sin. Remember the words? ?For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…that whosoever BELIEVES in Him…will not perish but have everlasting life.? It?s almost like those love notes you sent in grade school. Remember? You wrote, ?I love you. Do you love me? Check one.? And then you left two boxes one that said ?YES?and one that said ?NO.? God wrote this Book—the Bible—as a love note to you and me—and He waits for our response.
That response makes an eternal difference. I mean, in the end, some perish and some live. And the thing that decides which is not our works or talents, pedigrees or possessions. No—the difference is determined by our belief…our response to the GREAT, UNCONDITIONAL, GIVING love of God.
Missionary Bible translators in the New Hebrides islands struggled to find an appropriate verb for ?believe? in that native tongue.This was a serious problem, because of course the word and the concept are essential to Scripture. One Bible translator, John G. Paton, accidentally came upon a solution while hunting with a tribesman. The two men bagged a large deer and carried it on a pole along a steep mountain path to Paton?s home. When they reached the veranda, both men dropped the load and plopped into the porch chairs. As they did so, the native exclaimed in the language of his people, ?My, it is good to stretch yourself out here and rest.? Paton immediately reached for paper and pencil and recorded the phrase. As a result, his final translation of John 3:16 was worded like this: ?For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever STRETCHETH HIMSELF OUT ON HIM should not perish, but have everlasting life.? I like that—because that?s what BELIEF is. It?s responding to God?s love by saying, ?I am a sinner—lost—incapable of saving myself. So I am deciding to RESPOND to Jesus? death and resurrection…by BELIEVING He is God?s Son, Who died for my sin. I?m STRETCHING MYSELF OUT ON WHAT JESUS HAS DONE. I?M RESTING in that.?
What about you? Have you RESPONDED to God?s GREAT, UNCONDITIONAL, GIVING LOVE? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ? Have you BELIEVED that He is God?s SON…that HE DIED FOR YOUR SIN? Have you ASKED HIM TO FORGIVE YOU and COME INTO YOUR HEART AND LIFE? If you haven?t—do so today! God waits for your RESPONSE.
LET US PRAY