“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16
John 3:16 is the most quoted Bible verse, but one of the most central to our faith and understanding of the gospel. It can be so easy to take this verse for granted, but when we flippantly read the verse or think Yeah, yeah, I know that one already, we miss out on the beautiful truth of God’s love for us.
In John 3, Jesus is visited by Nicodemus, a religious ruler (or Pharisee). Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, likely to have uninterrupted time with Him or avoid the criticism of his fellow Pharisees, who were already starting to dislike Jesus. They spend their conversation talking about the idea of being “born again” (through faith in Jesus), but in verse 16, Jesus shares with Nicodemus the single most important truth behind the reason He is here.
“For God so loved the world” might sound totally fine to us, but in this context, this idea was extraordinary. The Jewish people were God’s chosen people, and believed that God loved them more than anyone else. Yet Jesus shares God’s true affection: the whole world. God calls any and every type of person to come to Him and experience real life and love.
And God loved each and every person so much that He chose to give (and sacrifice) His greatest gift of all: His Beloved Son, Jesus. Through Jesus’s life, God granted us a deeper understanding of His love. Hebrews 4:14-16 says it this way: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” God didn’t keep His distance and just love us from afar; He came to be with us, in everything we go through.
And not only that, but He allowed Jesus to sacrifice Himself on the Cross, taking on all of the sin of the world, taking on the death and punishment that each of us deserve, so that we might be freed from sin and death and find redemption through the Sacrificial Lamb of God.
F. F. Bruce writes, “If there is one sentence more than another which sums up the message of [John’s gospel], it is this. The love of God is limitless; it embraces all mankind. No sacrifice was too great to bring its unmeasured intensity home to men and women: the best that God had to give, he gave – his only Son, his well-beloved.”
For us today, this gift is still available: if we choose to believe in God’s love and Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, if we declare that Jesus is Lord, we are given the gift of salvation. While our bodies will wear out and perish, our faith enables our spirits to live forever with Jesus. God loved us enough to give everything for us to be with Him forever. Let it be that our hearts receive this truth and remember there really is no greater gift.