Few verses in the Bible explain the significance of Jesus’ birth as clearly as John 3:16 does. This verse often appears on Christian bookmarks and calendars, and most Christians might skip over the next sentence because they’ve memorised it: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). In this familiar verse, having just recorded Jesus’ conversation with Jewish teacher Nicodemus, John succinctly explains the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation. The sentence is full of cherished gospel truths, and gives us much cause to rejoice. As we remember the incarnation, let us rejoice in these truths.
Let us rejoice in the truth that God is a loving God. God is love even within the Trinity—without the need for anything in creation to receive his love (1 Jn. 4:8). But he is not an impersonal distant deity for whom people are just chemicals and cells. Instead, in the Bible, God reveals himself as being mindful of human beings (Ps. 8:4) and “abounding in steadfast love” (Ex. 34:6). God’s interactions with his people throughout the history of humankind, especially the incarnation, have flowed out of his love. As we reflect on Christ taking on human flesh, let us rejoice that God is a God of love.
Let us rejoice in the truth that God’s love is a giving love. One of the most amazing things about God’s love is that God has chosen to show love to sinful humanity. When John writes, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” the “so” shows the way in which God displayed his love. “God loved the world in this way that he gave his only Son.” God did not have to demonstrate his love to the world which had rebelled against its creator, but he did. And he went further—he demonstrated his love very tangibly by giving. He gave his son. His only son. Can there ever be any doubt about whether or not God loves us? How do we know that he loves us? He gave his only son.
Finally, let us rejoice in the truth that God’s love is a forgiving love. In Jesus, God not only gave the world a priceless gift, but he also gave the only hope for human salvation. Ever since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the garden of Eden, every human has been born bearing the guilt of sin and a sinful nature. We may not be as bad as we possibly can be and we may not be as bad as the people we read about in the news, but an honest assessment of our lives would reveal that our whole existence is tainted by sin. Try as we might, there is nothing we can do to rescue ourselves from the prospect of certain and just eternal punishment. Grasping this grim reality is what makes the incarnation of Jesus so breathtaking.
In the incarnation, the eternal Son of God, came to the earth in human flesh. Having been born, he lived a sinless life and then bore the punishment for sin when he died on the cross in the place of sinners. In John 3:16, having been a witness to Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the apostle John explains that God gave Jesus so that “… whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The reason we can rejoice that God is loving and his love is giving is because God’s giving love means we can be forgiven. Instead of perishing, we can have eternal life because of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.
This is the gospel recorded in Scripture and proclaimed by the church—that believing in God’s loving gift is the only way for sinful people to be forgiven and welcomed back into fellowship with a holy God. This is the message of Christmas. This is the message of Easter. This is the message of the Bible for every day of the year.
Do you believe this wonderful gospel? Do you admit that you are a sinner who can do nothing to save yourself from the certain prospect of perishing? Have you reflected on the depths of God’s amazing love in giving his only son? Have you examined the claims the Bible makes about Jesus? Do you realise that believing in Jesus is your only hope for spending eternity with God? If you want to know and understand this gospel of God’s love more, please get in touch with a church in your city.
Christian, do you believe this gospel? Do you rejoice in what God has given you by giving his son? Do you cling to the gospel through all life’s situations? Do you forget that you do not deserve the forgiveness you received because of Jesus? Is your life characterised by love? Is the love of God that you have experienced being poured out into the lives of people around you? Does your Christmas “celebration” display God’s love for undeserving sinners? Do you love your friends and family enough to share the only gospel which can take them from destruction to eternal life?
May the truths of this verse never be far from our minds. And may we always rejoice because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Hallelujah!