For God so loved the world… Those words begin what is perhaps the most beloved single verse of the entire Bible. Creed like in scope, pledge like in cadence, succinct yet complete. Memorized, memorialized, carved in marble, and painted on cardboard. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
We’re not going to tarry long on John 3:16 since a dozen articles could be penned from those words. Maybe someday, I will. But 3:16 sets in a context and a conversation. In many ways, Jesus is pronouncing a sea-change to Nicodemus concerning the purpose of the Messiah.
To understand this sea-change, we need to consider something from our experience. Why do we look forward to Jesus’ second coming? Often there is an unspoken sense of proving to the world we are right. There is also a desire for things to be made right. For God’s judgment to fall on “sinners” and the rest of the world. The Jews of Jesus’ day had much the same expectation for His first coming into the world. The coming of the Messiah would prove them right, would kick out the oppressive Romans, and restore Israel to power. But God had other plans.
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:16–21, NASB95)
Jesus’ purpose was not to judge the world and make Israel great again. His purpose was/is to save the world. But Jesus also recognizes that while salvation is offered to all the “whoevers” of the world, only some will run into His light while others will choose to remain in darkness. There is no judgment, condemnation, guilt, or shame for those who believe in God’s Son. That doesn’t eliminate the struggle with those feelings. No one who calls on the name of Jesus is worthy. And yet we are still welcomed in Christ. Grace and Mercy cover our condemnation and guilt with the blood and righteousness of Jesus.
Jesus’ teaching rocked Nicodemus’s worldview since Pharisee’s strived to perfectly keep the Law and judged all who fell short as unworthy or less worthy. Yet Jesus is clear here. We do not need to judge or condemn those who choose to remain in darkness. Their choices are their judge. Calling out the sin of someone still in darkness is like pointing out someone’s nose, we all have one. We are all sinners. When we shine the light of Christ’s love, their darkness becomes self-evident. Whether they admit it or not.
Jesus’ purpose was to restore the world, but not in the way that believers of His day assumed. That purpose continues; it has not changed. Listen, it is easier to point out everything that is wrong with the world. It is even satisfying to do that since it makes us feel better about ourselves. But Jesus had every right to judge and choose to save instead. He could have chopped Nicodemus off at the knees, pointed out his every wrong motive, every sin, every theological misstep. Instead, Jesus called Nicodemus up into the light.
We don’t know exactly how Nicodemus responded that night. It is not recorded. We do know that Nicodemus became a believer, stood for Jesus before the Ruling Council (John 7:50), and laid Jesus’ body in the tomb (John 19:39).
For God so loved the world… For God so loved you, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him (that can be you too) shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. God has not given up on the world and those living in darkness – neither should followers of Jesus.