Summary: A sermon that explains JOHN 3:16, using an illustration about American soldiers held captive in Viet Nam in 1968.

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‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’

Those are not only the most beautiful words ever spoken, but they are the most meaningful words ever spoken. Almost everybody knows this verse, but not everyone understands it.

A pastor was at a baseball game once, and there was a man with his young son sitting in front of him. Someone flashed the ‘3:16’ poster and the boy asked his dad what that meant. The father told the boy it meant ‘the Lord is my Shepherd.’ The pastor said he almost tapped the man on the shoulder to correct him, but realized that one of the deeper meanings of JOHN 3:16 is that the Lord is our shepherd.

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‘For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son…’

The first part of this verse tells us that God loves the world. God loves the world so much, says John, that He didn’t remain distant from our pain and suffering. God entered into this world - with all of its evil - and embraced us in the name of Jesus. The God of our salvation loved us enough to die for us.

And, like a great magnet, the shadow of His cross reaches across the years to offer us that same love today. And He cries out that if we will but lift Him up, He will draw all men to Him. But we have to lift His name up for that to happen. Are we lifting His name up in our daily lives, or are we trying our best to keep Jesus our own little secret?

So, if God loves us and wants to offer each of us salvation, why are so many people going to hell? In tonight’s verse, we see the key to receiving what God offers. It is found in our believing in Jesus’ holy name. It is in the “believing” that Jesus is the Son of God and Jesus is the only path, or doorway, to God’s Heavenly city.

But there is a catch. The catch is; to receive salvation through Jesus, we need to do one thing – we need to change. We need to change our hearts so that we can focus on Christ instead of ourselves. As the old saying goes, “Lord, put more of Thee in me.”

The year was 1968. The place was Viet Nam. There was a little hamlet along the Mekong River and some Viet Cong were holding some American’s captive. The jails were pits that were dug into the muddy ground with stone and mortar on the sides and a bamboo grating over the tops act as doors, and they were high enough off the floors to keep anyone from unlocking them. Sometimes, the Viet Cong would stand there and ridicule them or throw food on top of them, or worse.

Early one morning, the enemy received communication that the Americans were getting ready to overrun the hamlet, and in fear of their lives, they unlocked the bamboo cages and then fled into the jungle. The American prisoners didn’t know the gates were unlocked, though, so they just stayed there, not knowing what was happening above. Later that day, when the Americans came, all they had to do was to open the cages and let the prisoners climb free.

Just like the United States military sent its army to liberate those prisoners on the Mekong River, God sent His Son Jesus to liberate us. Now, nobody has to be a prisoner of this world any longer. The good news is that we are set free by the blood of the Lamb.

Now, let’s talk a little about ..


If the key is to believe as our verse says, just what are we supposed to believe? Jesus tells us right here what we should believe. We should believe in Jesus – that He is the Son of God; that He is our only Redeemer; that through Him, all sin is forgiven. Notice I did not say that anyone who ‘feels’ something towards Jesus is saved, but only those who ‘believe’ in Him.

So the Good News is that God sent His Son, so that whosoever would believe in Him, as the Savior, would be saved from hell. Now, before I go on, let me throw a little something extra in. If a person really believes in Jesus, they will want to do all the things that God has told them to do. That includes being baptized the way Jesus was baptized (by immersion) and by doing the other things a Christian is supposed to do, like read the Bible so we can mature in our faith, love others in Jesus’ name, and such.

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