John 3:16

Sunday Morning Bible Study

October 18, 2009


We’re going to look at one of the most famous verses in the Bible.  Certainly it is one of the most important.

Perhaps you’ve seen the numbers before on TV:  Rollen Stewart the “Rainbow Man”, Tim Tebow the Florida State quarterback, or just signs in a stadium.

Martin Luther called it “the Bible in miniature”.

It’s also called “the little Gospel”, and “the comfortable word”.

Last week we got to peek in on an appointment at night that  Jesus had while He was in Jerusalem with a Jewish man named Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a strict follower of the Scriptures. He was a good guy.

Jesus told him that he needed to be “born again”.

Jesus elaborated that this was a spiritual birth, a work of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that this was something that happened through faith.

Jesus mentioned the Old Testament story of how the people in the wilderness had been bitten by snakes. 

God told Moses to make a bronze snake, put it up on a pole, and if anyone was bitten by a snake, and looked upwards at the bronze snake and believed, he would be healed.
Jesus said that like the bronze snake, He would be “lifted up”.  Jesus dying on the cross is an essential part of our salvation.

And now John summarizes this process of salvation with the simple words:

(John 3:16 NKJV)  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

For God so loved

sohoutos in this manner, thus, so

The word “so” isn’t used here to describe the size of God’s love as if God loves us “this much” or “this much more” or even “THIS much”.  No.

The idea conveyed in the Greek is meant to get us to look at the thing that was described in the previous verse.

The people under Moses (vs.14-15) were saved through the bronze serpent being lifted up on the pole, and the people looking and believing.
In this manner, in the manner of lifting His own Son up on a cross, in that manner, God has loved the world.


There are several Greek words that are used at various times to express our one English word, “love”.

Eros – is a word that means physical, sexual love
Sturge – a word that is used for family love, as between parents and kids
Phileo – used for affection, friendship, an emotional feeling between two people
None of these words are used here.

The Greek word used here is agapao  the verb form of the word agape

Rather than being centered in the hormones (eros), family relationships (sturge), or the emotions (phileo), it’s a love based on choice, centered in the will.
It is the choice that a person makes to place value on another person.
It is an unconditional kind of love in the sense that it depends not on the object to meet certain requirements, but on the lover, who chooses to love.


Choosing unconditional value

This is the same kind of love a husband is to have toward his wife:
(Eph 5:25 NKJV)  Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,

The kind of love a husband is commanded to have, is a love based on a personal commitment.

It’s a love that is based upon a husband’s choice to love his wife, not because she can still fit into a certain dress size, or her abilities in the kitchen, but simply because he has chosen to love her.

He has chosen to place a high value on her in his heart.

It’s a love that you don’t “fall out” of.

It will only stop when the lover chooses to stop.

God in His love says,

(Rom 9:15 NKJV)  For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”

This is the same kind of love that we are all supposed to have towards each other.
(1 John 3:16 NKJV)  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.

Sometimes it gets hard loving certain people.

It doesn’t hurt sometimes to come back to the “3:16s”.

We learn to love by seeing how God loves us.

This may all sound a bit too hard.
“Gosh, I don’t think I should waste my time with learning how to love like that”
Yet agape is what gives your life meaning, weight, and solidity.

(1 Cor 13:1-3 NKJV)  Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. {2} And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. {3} And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

the world

worldkosmos – the world, the universe; the inhabitants of the earth

God’s love is not just for nice people.

It’s not just for people who are going to respond by saying “I’ll follow Jesus”.

But God loves the entire world, dirty rotten sinners included.

(Rom 5:8 NKJV)  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.


Love the unlovable

God loves the unlovable.  So should we.
Jesus said that we were to learn to have that kind of love as well.
(Mat 5:43-48 NKJV)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ {44} “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, {45} “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. {46} “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? {47} “And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? {48} “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

When you are learning to love the unloveable, you’re proving that God is your Father.

that He gave

gavedidomi – to give

thathoste – so that, insomuch that

The grammar conveys that the practical result of God’s love was giving.

The expected result of God’s love for the world was that He gave His Son.
Because God had agape love, He HAD to give His Son.

What did it mean for God to “give His Son”?

It meant that Jesus had to take on human flesh.

It meant that Jesus would one day die on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins.

In the book of Genesis, God asks Abraham to do a horrible thing. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only begotten son, Isaac.

We now know that what God was asking Abraham to do was to paint a picture for future generations.
When Isaac and Abraham were going up the mountain for this sacrifice, Isaac became curious as to why they didn’t have a lamb for the sacrifice …
 (Gen 22:8 NKJV)  And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering." So the two of them went together.
When Abraham raised his knife to sacrifice his son, God stopped Abraham from killing his son. The picture was complete. 
A Father would one day sacrifice His only Son.  God would provide a Lamb.

Here’s one of the primary qualities of agape love.

Agape is not characterized by gushy feelings that can change with the kind of pizza you order for dinner.

It is not qualified by what it gets in return.

It is simply characterized by giving. Love HAS to give.

Why did God have to give His Son?

Because He saw the problem of our sin.

The Bible says that we have all sinned:

(Rom 3:23 NKJV)  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
I know that some folks are not happy to be labeled “sinners”.  But the truth is that this is what we all are.

He saw that we needed a permanent solution to the problem of our sin.

Anything that doesn’t meet up to the standards it was created for, is called sin.

And none of us meet the standards we’re intended for.

The Bible says that there is a price tag that comes attached to our sin:

(Rom 6:23 NKJV)  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God thinks that this pricetag for sin is higher than He wants you to pay.
So Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because you owed a debt you couldn’t pay.

Since Jesus Himself was God, when He gave up His life to pay for our sins, He didn’t just lay down the price of an ordinary human, but the eternal, immortal life of God Himself.

He paid enough for all of our sins.
(Heb 10:14 NKJV)  For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

This is why God gave us His Son.


Love gives to needs

The focus of agape is always on the needs of the other person, and how to meet them.
It’s not giving just for the sake of giving.
It’s not like the father who has been away on too many business trips, and is always giving toys to his kids so he won’t feel so guilty.
Agape gives to others what they really, really need.
(Phil 2:3-4 NKJV)  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. {4} Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
God realized that our greatest need was for our sin to be taken care of, once and for all.
And so He gave ...

His only begotten Son

only begottenmonogenes – single of its kind

The word indicates that Jesus had a unique relationship with the Father.  We are all “children of God”, but Jesus is the “only begotten”.

He is the only one who has been begotten by the Father.

It does not mean that Jesus was some sort of created being.

It does refer to the fact that as the eternally existing Word, He came down from heaven, put on flesh, and was born from the womb of a virgin named Mary.

But I have to admit, that since I’ve been a dad, I’ve looked at this verse in just a little bit different way.

Ever since my sons were born, I’ve had a whole new appreciation of the words used here like “Father”, and “Son”.

I know what it’s like to hold your baby in your arms, and to feel this overwhelming flood of feelings come over you as you look in your baby’s eyes.

God didn’t just go out to the store and by $10 worth of groceries for us.
He gave His Son for us.


The clip I’m going to show is from the award winning short film “Most”.  Made in Czechoslovakia, it is the story of a single dad and the treasure of his life, his little son, Lado (“ladyo”).  The father is a bridge man, the guy who raises the bridge for boats to pass in the river, and lowers the bridge for the trains to cross the river.  One day Lado gets to come to work with his dad.  He is eager to help his dad with the bridge …

Play clip from “Most” video.

Did you notice the folks on the train?  Did you notice how much they were aware of what this father had just done for them?


God really loves you

God has freely given us a priceless gift.
God could use this against us, to make us feel guilty over His great sacrifice that He has given to us.

Do you know people like that, who have given you a gift, then make you feel guilty for taking it, because it was such a great sacrifice for them?

But that wasn’t His purpose in sending Jesus.

His purpose was to demonstrate just how great His love for us is.

(Rom 8:32 NKJV)  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

There may be times in your life when you will begin to question whether God loves you.
It’s usually during times of difficulty that we begin to think this.
Sometimes it’s when God doesn’t answer a prayer like we want Him to.
We need to go back to the basics and recall just what God has done for us.

If God allows difficulty in your life or if He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want, understand that it’s because of His great, great love.

that whoever

whoeverpas – all, each, every, any

There isn’t one person here who doesn’t qualify as a “whoever”.

This is the purpose for which God gave His Son, that we might have a chance to believe.

believes in Him

Jesus told the story about Moses lifting up the bronze serpent, the people believing, and being saved.

Now He reiterates it again.  You must believe in God’s Son.

The means by which God saved us was for God to have Jesus be the sacrificial sacrifice for our sins.

The method by which we receive God’s payment for our sins is faith.

Some people may think that God’s ways changed from the Old Testament to the New Testament.  They would say that in the Old Testament that you were saved by keeping the Law but in the New Testament you are saved by faith.  Not so.
It’s always been about faith.
The people in Moses’ day were saved from the fiery serpents by putting their faith in this odd method, looking up at the bronze serpent.  It was faith.
(Heb 11:6 NKJV)  But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Faith is what is required to please God.  He wants His children to trust in Him.


Believe in Him

It’s not just enough for God to give the whole world the gift of His Son.
For the gift to be of any value to you, you must accept the gift.
If a girl gets a dozen long-stemmed roses delivered to her door, but it’s from somebody she doesn’t like, she might end up refusing the gift. The man who sent the roses might think he’s doing something to further his cause with the woman, but if she refuses the gift, then they haven’t accomplished anything.
You get your kids a brand new Xbox gaming system with all the RockBand controllers.  Nobody will enjoy the gift if your kids never open the present.
Believing is like the key to a locked door.
To get through the door, you have to insert the key and turn it.
To receive God’s salvation from your sins, you need to learn to believe.
Believing is not just intellectual assent.  It’s trusting.  It’s putting your confidence in something.
It’s not agreeing in your mind that Jesus died for your sins.
It’s putting your whole confidence in God’s plan to save you.
It’s placing your entire eternal destiny in God’s hands, and trusting the Jesus’ sacrifice for you was enough to secure you a place in heaven.
When you came in today, you believed in your chair.

How do I know that?  Because you are sitting in it.  You have entrusted your entire body weight to that chair.  You expected it to keep you up off the floor for the entire church service.

Is there something that’s keeping you from believing?
In fact, you’re actually already believing, but just in the wrong thing.

Do you realize that whatever your excuse is, it’s keeping you from God’s love?

It’s keeping you from receiving the joys of heaven itself.

It’s keeping you from knowing that when you die, you will be safe in heaven.

should not perish

perishapollumi – to destroy, to perish, to be lost; eternal misery in hell

This word “perish” is a word used to describe what happens to a person who refuses to accept God’s free gift of salvation.

It’s important that we have a correct concept of this.

Some teach that since this word in the Greek literally means “to destroy”, that when a person dies without salvation, that their soul is literally annihilated.
Once they’re dead, that’s all there is, baby.
That would be actually much nicer than the truth.
The Greek word does indeed means “to destroy”, but the false concept some have is that this destruction would someday be completed.

The truth is every single human being will live forever.

Some will live forever with Jesus in heaven.
Some will live forever apart from Jesus.

What’s hell like?

On a church sign outside Atlanta: The name of the church, the name of the minister and, under that, the title of the sermon.   The title of the sermon was “Do You Know What Hell Is?”  Under that title, in capital letters, it read, “Come hear our organist Sunday morning.” (play clip from Toccata and Fugue)

There’s a common idea that hell is where you’re going to party forever with your friends.

Actor Hugh Pryor just before he shot himself in Las Vegas. The note read, “Tell my friends I’ll meet them in hell.”

Others just think it’s a joke.

Ted Turner, told the folks at a Baptist church luncheon “I’m looking forward to dying and going to hell because that’s where I’m headed.”  If he only knew what it was like.—Associated Press  6-14-90
Actually, it’s far from a laughing matter.

Jesus gave a good picture of what it’s like when he described a rich man arriving in hell:

(Luke 16:23-24 NKJV)  “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. {24} “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
It is a place of eternal torment.
(Isa 66:24 NKJV)  “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”

The picture is that of a person’s body being consumed by worms, but in a way that never ends.  The body will somehow endure and not waste away, but be under constant decomposition.

How can a God of love send someone to hell?”

You are right in calling Him a “God of love”.

The truth is that God has done the one and only thing to keep you from going to hell.
He paid the price of your sins by sending His only Son.
All you have to do is receive God’s payment for you by believing and following after Jesus.

The question you should be asking yourself if, “Why would I be so stupid as to refuse God’s offer of salvation through Jesus?”

but have everlasting life.

As I said before, every will indeed live forever.

But this is talking about living forever with Jesus.  In heaven.

The Greek word carries an emphasis on the immeasurableness of eternity.

Eternity is a long, long time.

What is heaven like?

It’s not boring.

(Psa 16:11 NKJV)  You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It’s better than you could imagine.

(1 Cor 2:9 NKJV)  But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

It’s where Jesus is.

(Rev 21:3-4 NKJV)  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. {4} "And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

It starts now.

(John 10:10 NKJV)  “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.
You don’t have to wait until you die to experience “everlasting life”.  It’s a quality of life that begins when you open your heart and believe in Jesus.

If you haven’t opened your heart yet to Jesus Christ, what are you waiting for?