“The theme for the day is For and the idea that God/Jesus is For us and that because he is for us we can be for people. This is especially played out in verse 17 which talks about Jesus not condemning the world and then if we follow him shouldn’t that be the way we engage with people, that we are really for them? Yet, so often, Christians are perceived (and maybe rightly so) as against people.”
To start this new series, we will begin with a verse that I think I can say without any exaggeration is the best-known Bible verse of all. One that, if you grew up in the church, you probably learned as a little kid, one that you can probably quote without looking it up, one whose reference is sometimes found on big posters held up by fans at sporting events. We are looking at John 3:16-17 today. Let’s read: 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. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
Verse 16 seems simple enough, right? It encapsulates Jesus’ earthly ministry & why it is important to us, His followers these 2000 or so years later. It is a beautiful summary of the humble, selfless act of the Son of God becoming a human, becoming one of us, & His atoning death on the cross, together with His resurrection, His work of conquering sin & death. Verse 16 is rightly very well-known.
But what about verse 17? Did you have that one memorized before we looked at it just now? And what does it mean that these two verses are one right after another, that Jesus spoke them in nearly the same breath? Let us look at the context in which these verses were spoken for some insight.
These verses are part of a late-night conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus & Jesus.
Nicodemus was a member of Jewish society’s religious elite, the Pharisees. While we look at them now through the eyes of hindsight, they would have been educated, likely well-respected men who knew the Scriptures inside & out. For Nicodemus to be coming to Jesus, a carpenter’s son without nearly as much “formal religious training” as he himself likely had, showed some humility. And some embarrassment, too – he probably met with Jesus at night because he was ashamed to be seen “consorting with the enemy” – clearly the way that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day viewed Jesus - & asking Jesus questions. Nicodemus found himself in a position in which it likely wasn’t okay to have questions about faith.
Jesus seemed perfectly willing to spend time with ANYBODY – including a member of a group that he knew was plotting to kill Him - & tell Him about His plan for His Kingdom & the salvation that he offers.
As for John 3:16 itself, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers remarks that “most young preachers have sermons upon it; older men learn that its meaning must be felt & thought rather than spoken. Still less can it be written; & this Note may not attempt to do more than indicate some lines of thought which may help to lead to others…While the words of the verse are quite familiar to most of us, they were uttered to Nicodemus for the first time”. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was being fulfilled in the person of Jesus, & this would have likely rocked Nicodemus’ world. The Jews of Jesus’ time were figuring on a Messiah who would wipe out the Gentiles, a military Savior who would obliterate their political enemies. There is, after all, an abundance of talk about judgment for sin in the Old Testament, especially in the prophetic books like Ezekiel & Isaiah. But Jesus shows another plan at work – something that is also hinted at by those same prophets, Isaiah in particular. He paints the picture of a Father & his only Son - a picture that suggests the man of faith that the Jews looked up to most – Abraham. God provided a substitutionary sacrifice to take Isaac’s place on the altar then, & Jesus is saying here that God is providing Jesus Himself in place of the guilty parties – all of sinful man, every single person. He doesn’t draw a boundary & say that the salvation would be only for Israel, either, but the whole world. The one & only condition: “That whosoever believes on Him (Jesus)”. Any relationship needs to be two-sided, so Jesus included the fact that each individual person needs to choose to follow Him. Which leads us in to John 3:17.
In verse 17, Jesus seems to be directly taking on the notion of a vengeful Savior. He says, “ For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Jesus is FOR us – He wants to see us saved, & He gives us the avenue for that – Himself. Earlier in the Gospels, in Luke 4:16-21, Jesus ties it all together beautifully. Let me read it: “16 So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. 17 And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[j] To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; 19 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” 20 Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. 21 And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Jesus makes it clear that He is FOR us. He loves us, & God the Father loves us so much that He gave Jesus for us & raised Him from the dead, so that we can spend eternity in fellowship with Him. And also so we can follow Him in life, in building His Kingdom, & in being His hands & feet in the world as we know it.
Let me also make it clear, though that Jesus wants EVERYONE to be saved, to experience His love, to know Him truly. It is all too easy to fall into the trap that the Pharisees & the Jews were likely prone to – the idea that God was only for them. I feel that American Christianity has all too often come off as a judgemental club of easily-offended finger-waggers, breathing condemnation on those who don’t believe as they do. But Jesus is not only FOR us as Veritas, or as American Christians, or as members of the developed Western world. We can’t treat the truth that Jesus communicates in John 3:16-17 as something on which we have cornered the market. This salvation, this life, this relationship is available to all who want it, without restriction. That includes our loved ones, our enemies, total strangers, people on the other side of the world, homeless people, rich people, saints, criminals, you, & me. Simply put, Jesus is FOR us, FOR all people – let us live in the light of that truth.
1. What thoughts/comments/questions/pushback do you have about these verses of Scripture/this message?
2. Jesus is FOR us - what does that mean to you personally? To Veritas as a community? How might this change your perception of other people?