“The Love of God”
Advent Series (2/5)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
Please take your Bibles and join me in John’s Gospel, chapter 3.
We are in a short series of Advent messages, these few Sundays leading up to Christmas. Each of the four candles around the center candle represents a common theme related to Advent, or arrival, or coming of Christ: hope, love, joy, and peace. So last week we talked about hope—hoping in God. Next week joy and then peace. This week, this Sunday, the word is love. And we think about the love of God I think about the 3rd chapter of John’s Gospel. While you’re finding John 3, let me invite you to watch this short video on this word “Love.”
**VIDEO: Skit Guys; 2:15
“This candle of love, this light, shows us where to give love, shows us the empty spaces in the world and in each other. When we share love we are sharing God.” Let’s read about God’s love to us in John 3.
Please stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word.
16 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.
Let’s read it all together now, John 3:16:
16 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.
John 3:16 is a helpful summary of the gospel; the good news succinctly captured in one statement, like an Advent “tweet,” it’s a story in a sentence. Like many of you, John 3:16 was the very first Bible verse I memorized years ago as a child. The love of God in a verse. So we’re going to take this verse a phrase at a time and consider what it teaches us about the love of God.
Before we isolate verse 16 this way, let’s consider the larger context of this verse. There’s a religious guy named Nicodemus. He’s a good man and he’s talking with Jesus. And Nicodemus knows there’s something special about Jesus. He sees Jesus as a good moral teacher and prophet, but he seems to think that this is enough, one good man acknowledging the goodness of another good man.
And Jesus sort of cuts off Nicodemus, cutting short his spiritual accolades and gets right to the point. Jesus says rather tersely and concisely: “You must be born again.” And then Jesus begins talking about the need for spiritual regeneration, spiritual birth, new birth. Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3, John 3:7).”
And after a bit more discussion, Jesus refers to Himself as one “who came down from heaven.” He says in verse 13:
13 “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.
And then Jesus explains why He came down—He, the Son of Man. He came down to be lifted up. And Jesus is speaking of His being lifted up on the cross in order to save those who would believe in Him. In the two verses preceding John 3:16, Jesus paints a picture to illustrate His being lifted up on the cross. Verse 14:
14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
15 “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus reaches back to the Old Testament for an illustration. He recalls the sin of the Israelites in the Book of Numbers, Numbers chapter 21 to be precise. Were you to turn there later you would read that God’s people had complained and rebelled against God so He judged them by sending serpents to them. Many of them were bitten by the serpents and died. And Moses prayed for them and God told Moses to fix all this by making a bronze serpent and holding it up on a staff. God said that all the people who looked upon the bronze serpent would be healed from the judgment and live. And that’s exactly what happened. All the people who looked upon the bronze snake lifted up were healed.
So Jesus says here in John 3 that just as Moses lifted up the serpent that others would look upon it and live, so the Son of Man, Jesus, must be lifted up so that whoever looks upon Him will live. The Son of Man is lifted up on the cross. The Son of Man is the One who takes the judgment of sin upon Himself that the judged, sinners, may go free.
For in this way, God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
What John 3:16 teaches about God’s love.
1) God’s Love Extended to the World
“For God so loved the world…”
This is God’s indiscriminate love, a love for all people all over the world. For God so loved the world. Here is the free offer of the gospel, a gospel for all people, every single person irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, goodness—or badness.
And the remarkable truth is that God loves bad people. And in truth, apart from God we are all bad people; I mean this in the sense that we are sinners. God’s love is extended to a world of sinners. Most of you know Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
And yet, God so loved the world, this world of sinners, that He came to fix the world’s sin problem. This is the idea here. God’s love extended to the world. Now each of these four points coheres with the succeeding point. They are tied closely to one another. Secondly, we see:
2) God’s Love Embodied in the Son
“…that He gave His only begotten Son…”
God’s love comes to us, taking upon Himself skin, flesh. The eternal Son of God, second Person of the Trinity, condescends, comes down from heaven and enters into this world of sinners. He comes as an expression of God’s love. God’s love embodied in the Son and taking on flesh in what is called the incarnation.
Bernard of Clairvaux called the incarnation the “kiss of God.” I like that! God’s love for us embodied in the Son.
John the Gospel writer spoke of this at the very beginning of his gospel:
John 1:1-3, “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 were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” or, “…nothing was created except through him (NLT).”
The Son of God, Creator of all things!
Then John 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters as the Son of God created the world, so the Holy Spirit hovers over the virgin Mary, overshadowing her as this same Creator takes up residence within her womb! And all to make possible a new creation, a new race, a people called Christians.
The little devotion book we are giving away, today’s reading December 3 refers to 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If any one is in Christ he is a new creation.”
God’s love embodied in the Son. John writes elsewhere, 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son (to take away) our sins.”
In God’s love for us, the Father gave His Son Jesus, giving Him to die. God gave His Son at the cost of His life. Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.
The word “begotten” there is not a word that means made. Begotten is a word that refers to the unique, one-of-a-kind of Son that Jesus Christ is. There is no one quite like Him. He is unique in His Person and He is unique in His work. He’s unique in who He is and unique in what He has does.
In the incarnation, the eternal God, righteous, pure, and without sin, comes to us in the Person of Christ. Taking on flesh, Christ takes on the nature of man. He takes on flesh so as to be 100% God and yet 100% man. As God, Jesus lives a life we could not live ourselves, perfectly fulfilling the righteous demands of the law. And as man, He takes the penalty of our sins upon Himself, a penalty He did not deserve, but we deserved.
This is what we mean when we speak of the substitutionary atonement. We’re talking about Christ’s dying as our substitute to atone for our sins. He dies for us, for our sins.
God is under no obligation to do this for us. He gives us a gift that is not obligatory. We sometimes buy gifts for people because we feel obliged to do so. You may buy some Christmas gifts this year because you sort of feel you have to. But God is not obligated to us. After all, we are the ones who have rebelled against Him. We deserve nothing.
We are sinners. We’re under condemnation for our sin. This is a truth often overlooked when people quote only John 3:16, with little regard to context. It’s helpful to remember the verses that follow John 3:16, especially verses 17 and 18:
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Apart from Christ every single person in all the world is already condemned. We’re all sinners. We are born this way, born as unbelievers. We may be good unbelievers or bad unbelievers, but we’re all lost unbelievers. God sent His Son into the world to rescue us from our condemnation.
The very last verse of John chapter 3 is verse 36. Here’s what it says, John 3:36:
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
The wrath of God abides, or remains upon, those who do not believe in Jesus and receive Him as Lord. If God’s wrath remains upon unbelievers then we may reasonably infer that God’s wrath is already upon unbelievers. So no one is born morally neutral. No one enters the world in a neutral position in relation to sin. Apart from Christ we are all equally condemned, equally lost, equally sinners, and equally deserving of God’s wrath.
We are not naturally children of God, but children of Adam, our first father. Sometimes people say—without really thinking—that every person in the world is a child of God. Well, every person in the world may be created by God, but every person in the world is not born a child of God. We are children of Adam. We are sinners. We can become children of God and John 3:16 summarizes how we can, but let us first be sure we are clear on this: no one is naturally a child of God. We are sinners, children of the one who brought sin into the world, children of Adam.
So we deserve nothing and yet God, in His grace, comes to us and gives His Son that we may be saved. He gives His Son to die. What great cost, the cost of this Son to die for us.
Jesus dies as our substitute to atone for our sins. He dies for us, dying for our sins. The theology of substitution is summed-up in five words: “Jesus Christ in my place.”
We often use the word substitute as a way to designate the replacing of one thing for something of lesser or equal value. We go the restaurant and ask if we can substitute one item for another item. Is it okay to substitute a baked potato for the salad. Can we substitute French fries for green beans. We exchange one thing for another of lesser or equal value.
But a restaurant will not let you “trade up” for something of greater value. You can’t go into a restaurant and say, “Well, look, I don’t want the broccoli so let me substitute that for a filet mignon.” Or, “Hey, instead of the garden veggies, let me substitute those for a slice of the gourmet apple pie à la mode.” Not going to work.
But in the gospel, God allows a substitute to take place. He allows someone to stand in for us, someone who is by no means of equal or lesser value, nor equal worth or merit, but One of far greater worth and inestimable honor, a Substitute that is the greatest upgrade ever possible. In the place of a condemned criminal, a sinner inside and out, God substitutes Himself in Christ Jesus, the perfect, holy, spotless, Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! “Jesus Christ in my place.”
God’s love extended to the world. God’s love embodied in the Son. Thirdly:
3) God’s Love Embraced by Faith
“…that whoever believes in Him…”
The way to eternal life comes by believing in Him, believing in Christ. We don’t naturally believe in Christ or love Christ because we are sinners. Skip down to verses 19 and 20 and you’ll see this:
19 And this is the condemnation (or judgment), that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
Naturally, we do not come to the light because the light exposes our sin. But something amazing happens through rebirth, through regeneration! In a way as mysterious as the wind blowing, we see evidence of the wind blowing leaves this way and that, yet we can’t put our finger on the origin of the wind, so the Holy Spirit moves upon sinful unbelievers and awakens faith within them through the power of the gospel!
When that happens and we sense the Spirit of God moving upon us, our response is to say yes to Jesus. To believe in Him which includes to believe entirely in Him, recognizing that He is more than a prophet, more than a good man, more than an example, but Lord and Savior.
Martin Luther said, that the chief element of the gospel “is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own.”
God’s love embraced by faith, received by faith. This is John 1:12: “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”
The little Greek preposition that is translated “in” is ordinarily translated “into,” which suggests a complete giving of our self into something, in this case Christ. We believe into Christ the same way we lean into the wind or fall into the water. We believe into Christ. We rest into Him, allow ourselves to be united into Him, together with Him.
In fact, the word “believe” there in John 3:16 is in the plural form. See the “s” there at the end of the word “believe.” Maybe you’d like to underline it. “Believes.” There’s an “s” there, “believes,” a present-tense participle, conveying ongoing activity.
Saving faith is not just a one-time act of faith. It is ongoing, continual. Salvation is not just, “I made this decision years ago” in Vacation Bible School.” It is, “I have believed and I continue to believe, I’m going on believing, living for Jesus.”
God’s love extended to the world, embodied in the Son, embraced by faith, and fourthly:
4) God’s Love Enjoyed Forever
“…should not perish but have everlasting life.”
John began this Gospel with an emphasis upon life, back in chapter 1, in John 1:4: “In Him was life.” In fact, John writes the entire Gospel to tell all about the life of Christ and how anyone can have life in Him.
He uses the term “life” thirty-six (36) times in the Gospel. So at the end of his Gospel he writes in John 20:31, “[I have written this] so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”
Life both eternal and abundant. Eternal life, living forever, living beyond the grave not in hell—which is what we deserve and what we get apart from Jesus—but life in heaven for believers, life in heaven for those who believe “into” Christ. Life eternal.
And life abundant. God’s love is enjoyed here and now by Christians! Now. God’s love enjoyed. God’s love embodied in the Son, who took on flesh, Jesus Christ, God for us. God to satisfy us.
You know, we often speak of God’s self-sufficiency. That God created us not because He was lonely. There is eternal satisfaction and enjoyment among the persons of the Trinity. So think of it: the Father is eternally satisfied in Christ. Given that the Father is eternally satisfied in Christ, so may we be eternally satisfied in Christ. If Christ is eternally satisfying to the Father, then He must be immensely satisfying and all-sufficient for us!
This is why Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.” Look to Jesus every day and every moment of the day to have life, real life, abundant life, enjoying life by enjoying Christ!
When we find our greatest satisfaction in Christ, the embodiment of God’s love, then we are able to love others. We love all people—lost and saved. We love because He first loved us. We live out that love, a missional love, a disciple-making love from the community to the continents.
As in the video clip, Christians see where love can make a difference. Christians love differently than non-Christians—at least they should!
You know, even pagans are good to those who are good to them. Jesus said in Romans 5:8, “But God shows His love to us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” What sets Christians apart from pagans is our ability to show love to those who are not good to us!
We talked about this in Grace Marriage yesterday. If I show love to my wife only when she meets my expectations then I’m focusing only on myself and making my love conditional on her measuring up to my standards. Gospel marriage, grace marriage, grace employment, grace living, is our loving people regardless of their love for us, loving regardless of how they treat us in return, loving them whether they meet our expectations or not.
God’s love extended to the world, embodied in the Son, embraced by faith, enjoyed forever.
Say this verse with me one more time:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
And while there is much mystery in the new birth, it really comes down to this: Look to Christ and be saved. “Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Hebrews 3:15).” Look to Christ and live.
Repent from sin and turn to Jesus. Say to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, I admit that I am weaker and more sinful than I ever before believed, but, through you, I am more loved and accepted than I ever dared hope. I thank you for paying my debt, bearing my punishment and offering forgiveness. I turn from my sin and receive you as Savior.”
We’re going to respond right now in song and I will be available today in the Response Room between services. If you have a spiritual question or you’d like to join the church or you want to be baptized, come to the Response Room after the worship service—right over here in the office area. There’s a sign: “Response Room.”
And we can respond right now through song. Remember what Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”
Let’s do that. You need to repent of sin, some secret sin, turn from that sin and turn to Jesus. Look to Him. Look to Christ.
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