Summary: God’s love has two sides—salvation / judgment… life / death… redemption / righteousness. He loves with a purpose—salvation. He loves with a consequence—judgment.
What was the first memory verse you ever learned? For most of us, it was John 3:16. I have a set of 6 books at the house that I bought a few years ago. They are by a man named Carl F.H. Henry. When Carl Henry died in 2003, the New York times called him the brain of the evangelical movement. That’s how smart he was. The editor of the magazine Christianity Today said, “If we see Billy Graham as the great public face and generous spirit of the evangelical movement, Carl Henry was the brains.” That’s why his books still sit on my shelf at home, unread. They’re deep. They’re so deep that I don’t get what he’s talking about most of the time. But here was this brilliant Christian man. Here was this man who has been called one of the greatest of thinkers since the Apostle Paul. And do you know what his favorite verse was? John 3:16. He called it majestic. He said it is more cherished than any other. Well, now I can say that I have something in common with Carl F. H. Henry. I’m not nearly as smart as him, but I agree with him that John 3:16 is majestic. I agree with him that it is more cherished than any other. I agree with him because, in a way, the whole story of the Bible is told in this one verse. Spurgeon said that it is the essence of the gospel. He called it the good news in brief. That’s why it’s one of the first verses we learn in Sunday School. That’s why it’s one of the few verses that people memorize anymore. That’s why it’s one of the first verses that translators put into other languages. It is in songs. It is inscribed on buildings. One of the most popular Christian books in the past year is called 3:16. For many people, John 3:16 is instantly known and recognized. It’s known and recognized, but is it understood? Do people that know the verse understand what it truly means? Do you understand what it truly means? And if you understand what it truly means… do you understand what that means for your life? As you read through the Bible, you can’t help but notice that you are reading a text with two great themes. All the way from the first pages of Genesis to the last chapters of Revelation… two themes are consistently revealed on every page. On every page, you see something related to the two themes of God’s redemption and His righteousness. And nowhere in the Bible are those two themes more clearly and concisely revealed than in the 25 words of this verse. But this verse doesn’t stand alone. Remember that Jesus is talking to a very important Jewish scholar and political leader named Nicodemus. He had just finished telling Nicodemus that his complete foundation of understanding and learning was all wrong. He just finished telling him that he needed a fresh start. He needed to be completely and totally born again. When Nicodemus asked Jesus how that was possible, Jesus told him. He told him that he had already been physically born. Now, he needed to be spiritually born. And then Jesus told him how that was possible in verse 15. He said, “Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus showed Nicodemus his need for salvation. And He showed him the means of salvation. But now, over the next 6 verses, Jesus gave Nicodemus the essence of the gospel. He boiled it all down for him. He explained all that needed to be explained for him to make a clear choice. He laid it all out for him and moved on. This verse that we are so familiar with is actually an introduction and an overview of the rest of the passage. In it, Jesus tells us what He’s going to tell us. And what He’s going to tell us is about God’s love. When He says, “For God so loved the world,” He’s not being quantitative. Some of the modern translations miss the boat on this one. He’s not saying, “This is how much God loved the world.” It’s not quantitative, it’s qualitative. It’s not how much God loved the world. It’s, “in what way God loved the world.” In other words, Jesus is saying, “It is in this way that God loved the world.” Or, “Nicodemus, let me tell you the way in which God loves the world.” “He loves the world in such a way that it requires Him to send His only Son to provide salvation for people who don’t deserve it.” And that’s how much God loves you this morning. How much does God love you this morning? First, He loves you enough to send His Son to bring salvation to you. Look at verses 17-18: