Read John 3:16 - 21
Today’s text is one of the most familiar Bible passages in the entire Bible. I remember a few years ago as the boys were eating breakfast I asked them out of the blue if they could recite John 3:16… My oldest proceeded to say, word for word, the entire verse without even giving it a second thought. This familiar verse is one of the easiest and most challenging passages to teach both for the same reasons that it is easy and simple. It is a simple and familiar passage that contains the full Gospel message in a concise and understandable way but it is also difficult to comprehend because at the surface the theme (eternal life) seems so universal but at the root it is only available to a select group of individuals (whoever believes).
Before I begin I want to caution to not “check out” or skip over this devotional because you may have heard numerous sermons on this passage or you think you have already heard what is going to be written. On the flip side I caution to not to look so deep into the passage for things that aren’t there and miss the simplicity and the attainability of it. I encourage you to take this devotional for what it is at face value; the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today we will look at verses 16 – 21 to get a picture of God’s great love for humanity. We see his best gift given to humanity and our response to God’s gift of eternal life. This is the complete essence of God’s unlimited love for humanity and the fact that he has held nothing back from us, in fact he has given us the best gift he could possibly to us… Himself.
Verse 16: There are so many different Bible translations (my personal favorite is the ESV) but The New English Translation (or the NET Bible – it’s free online) has, I think, one of the best literal translations to John 3:16, "For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." It is not too different from what you and I may be accustomed but the opening line “For this is the way God loved the word…” is wonderfully true. God’s love for the world is so evident through the physical giving of his Son Jesus Christ. The true Gospel is foundational in the love of God. Jesus’ mission and purpose was to be “lifted up” (see verse 15); his death, resurrection and ascension were in the plans since the creation of the world. They were not knee jerk reactions on God’s part because humanity got so out of control over the centuries and he needed resort to plan B so humanity could be saved. This WAS the plan, the mission, the purpose of Jesus Christ coming to the world since the beginning of time. As a gift to the world God sovereignly gave his best gift, his unique and beloved Son.
The idea that God loved the world was a hard pill for the Jews to swallow. They knew that God had favored them as a nation. He made promises to them; He blessed them and committed to being their God. Now Jesus was saying God not only loves Israel exclusively but He loves the world as a whole. His love is not restricted to a race, a nation or a select few it is for the world; literally the kosmos – the inhabitants of the world, the human race. We need to be careful in our understanding of God’s universal love for the world. This does not imply that his love equals universal salvation to everyone in the world this is called Universalism. He loves the world and it’s inhabitants so much that he PROVIDED a way for humanity to be saved and made right with him through his one and only Son Jesus Christ. Those who accept this gift; whoever believes or puts complete trust in him will receive the new birth which is eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Those who do not believe will perish – The word literally means to be lost, ruined or destroyed. To perish is the opposite of eternal life; hence those who do not put complete trust in Jesus will face destruction, ruin or loss. The truth is since God so loved the world there is no need for anyone to perish. A way has been provided by which all might be saved, but a person must acknowledge the Lord Jesus Christ as personal Savior.
This verse can easily be summed up as this, “God’s love for humanity was so great that he gave his best gift he could possibly give, his unique Son Jesus Christ, so that anyone who puts complete faith and trust in him will not face ruin, loss and destruction but will instead have true life for ever and ever.”
Verse 17: This is Jesus’ mission. Contrary to some people’s opinion God’s plan is not to destroy, judge or condemn all humanity. He is not the cantankerous old man in the sky just waiting to do away with sinners. Jesus tells us his plan is not for condemnation (or judgment) that will come at a later time. His purpose is to bring salvation to the world through faith in Him.
Verse 18: If you are a believer then read the words of verse 18 and hold on to and rejoice in these words of assurance. To those who believe you will not be condemned. You are safe from destruction and loss. Unfortunately The one who does not believe stands condemned already and God’s wrath is upon him. F.F. Bruce makes a great analogy concerning this verse, “In a gallery where artistic masterpieces are on display, it is not the masterpieces but the visitors that are on trial. The works which they view are not there to abide their questions, but they reveal their own tastes (or lack of it) by their reactions by what they see. The pop star who reported some years ago to have dismissed the Mona Lisa as ‘a load of rubbish’ did not tell anything about the Mona Lisa; he told us much about himself. What is true in the aesthetic realm is equally true in the spiritual realm. The man who depreciates Christ, or thinks him unworthy of his allegiance, passes judgment on himself, not to Christ. He does not need to wait until the Day of Judgment; the verdict on him has been pronounced already.” 
Verses 19 -21: This is a profound testimony of humanity. Jesus says, “This is why there is judgment…” The shining light (Jesus) came into the world of darkness to shine brightly the light of salvation. The light exposed darkness and evil for what it is and it shone brightly as the glory of God. When the light came and illuminated the darkness some people chose to remain in the darkness and continue their evil deeds in the secret and not run to the light which not only illuminates but consumes darkness. Why did they choose darkness over light? Because they preferred to live their lives without God; their hearts are wicked and their deeds are evil. They are not willing to live their lives in the truth or light. People who choose to walk in their own ways and disregard the ways of God in turn hate the light and refuse to come to the light because they are afraid that their evil works will be exposed. The wicked do their deeds in secret and are afraid of the light because the light will expose their evil deeds; so the light becomes a natural enemy to the dark. Even today those who are unbelievers are threatened by Jesus Christ. His truth and light expose their sinfulness and makes them uncomfortable and ultimately their sin/darkness pushes them farther away from Jesus. “The best way to reveal the crookedness of one stick is to place a straight stick beside it. Coming into the world as a Perfect Man, the Lord Jesus revealed the crookedness of all other men, by comparison.” 
Those who love the truth will run to the light and do their works openly because they are good and they are from God. As one author writes, “Jesus becomes like a magnet. His people are drawn to him and welcome his revelation.” You and I (at least those who believe) are attracted to the light of Christ and we do our works openly for the world to see, not for our benefit but for the glory of God and so that others may glorify God in turn.
So what about Nicodemus, what became of him? We cannot say for certain He became a believer but we can assume or even imply his life was forever changed this evening. In John 19:38 it shows Nicodemus bringing 75 pounds of spices to prepare the crucified body of Jesus Christ. We like to believe he became a follower of Christ that evening because we know, whenever anyone has a true encounter with Jesus Christ their lives will be forever changed.
As I conclude with this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus there is one point and one point only that needs to be made. God loves you; He desires that you are assured that your future fate is secured in Jesus Christ. He gave his one and only son as a gift to you so that you may not perish but have everlasting life. He has given you Jesus so you may look to Him to be your righteousness and NOT your works you have done in your life (Those works are only evidence of Jesus in your life). He has given you Jesus so that you may be born again. Through Jesus your heart will be transformed and you will become a new creation in Christ. God has made every way possible for you to be part of His Kingdom. The question is, will you run to the light of Christ and be saved or will you continue in the secrecy of you sins in the darkness and face impending judgment and condemnation? "For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life."
MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 3:16). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Bruce, F.F. (1994). The Gospel of John, p..91. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdman’s Publishing Co.
MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary : Old and New Testaments (Jn 3:20). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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