Summary: Sure, you can quote it, but do you know what’s really behind it all. This sermon tells the story behind the famous verse, and drives home the point that YOU MUST BE SAVED. This overview sermon is part one of six in series 3:16

Message was inspired and adapted from Max Lucado’s book 3:16, Numbers of Hope, and his sermon series by the same title.

Scripture: John 3:1-5;14-16

Title: Three:Sixteen

Series: 3:16 (part 1)


John 3:16 is probably the most quotable verse in all of Scripture, the most widely known. Sure… you can quote it, but do you know what’s behind it all?

For instance, have you ever noticed that John 3:16 begins with "God," and ends with "life?" It’s more than a child’s memory verse, it’s a powerful promise that real Life begins with God.

Maybe somewhere between Sunday School lessons, and memory verses, you’ve missed or forgotten the very message you need to hear.

That’s why Max Lucado, who recently released this book, 3:16: Numbers of Hope said about this verse, “If you know nothing of the Bible, start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here.”

When I read that, It made me want to get right back to the heart of the Gospel in this church. Everyone needs to know it, everyone needs to be called back to it.

[Well, you’re going to encounter family, friends, and neighbors that say, “I know John 3:16.” Yes, that’s great, but do you know, really know what’s all behind it?]

Read Scripture 3:1-16

[What’s behind John 3:16?...Let’s examine the background]

I. A religious man approached Jesus

He was an important Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, and later called a teacher of Israel. All this means that he was a highly religious man. People expect that if anyone has it right, it is the Pharisees. [But in his heart Nicodemus knew that something wasn’t right. Something was missing]

He went at night, presumably because the Pharisees were known for disliking Jesus and his ways. Jesus often called them hypocrites, so why would Nicodemus want to talk with Him?

He was impressed with Jesus. He thought He was a teacher and miracle worker sent from God. He essentially says that we know you’re a blessing to us. We’ve seen your signs, and …”No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

[Sounds very flattering, and perhaps that’s just one of the reasons…]

II. Jesus got to the point

Nicodemus said, “these signs are from God.” Nicodemus was right about the signs, but Nicodemus wasn’t saved.

Jesus said “unless you’re born again, you can’t even see the things of God.” He implies that Nicodemus hasn’t seen anything yet.

You can imagine Nicodemus was put off by such a response, but Nicodemus plays along, “true, but to be born again…” and comments about the impossibility of a physical rebirth.

Jesus doesn’t play, and restates, “You MUST be born again.”

[Seems rough doesn’t it? So…]

III. Why does Jesus come down so hard?

Nicodemus is supposed to understand the simple message of God’s Word is spiritual, but he’s playing around thinking about the physical realm. Jesus probably wouldn’t do this to any other than a “ruler or a teacher of Israel.” You see, He came down so hard on the Pharisees because they knew God’s Word, loved it, but refused God’s message in it.

Think about the Rich Young Ruler. Here’s another one who claims to have kept the Law, even from infancy. He too came to Jesus looking for more, and Jesus told him, “sell all you own.” Jesus isn’t interested in playing around with religious people who are right about many things, but aren’t saved.

IV. An Illustration to Look to Jesus

So to this one who is even a teacher of Israel, Jesus reminds him of an Old Testament illustration. Jesus reminds him of Moses and the fiery Serpent.

The incident happened in the book of Numbers, where the Israelites were wandering in the desert with rebellious attitudes. They knew better, and God sent a plague of snakes that bit them and many people were dying. God commanded that Moses make a bronze snake, lift it up on a pole. And whoever would obey God by looking up to it, and believing that God would heal them were healed from the lethal venom.

Jesus is saying that similarly we are all spiritually stricken, and we are dead men and women unless we look to the One lifted up, and believe that God will heal.

Jesus was implying that He will be lifted up on a cross, and those who look to him will be saved.

[Why does Jesus get right to the point about this? Because we are dead without Him. People around us are dying, and we need God to save us. ]

V. John Explains

John 3:16 looks back at this story and explains “For” God lifted Jesus up that whosoever would look to him for healing would receive eternal life. Even though many Bibles make 3.16 red lettered, it appears that John is the author of this important scripture so that it underscores Jesus’ point, that to be saved, you must look to the One and Only Son.

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