We’ve all seen them, at sporting events and concerts. The obligatory John 3:16 signs. In case you are wondering that all started in 1980. A guy by the name of Rollen Stewart had been making a name for himself by appearing at major sporting events wearing a rainbow coloured wig and dancing wildly for the cameras. He was referred to as “Rainbow Man”. In 1980 following the Super Bowl, Stewart was sitting in his hotel room watching a Televangelist by the name of Charles Taylor and committed his life to Christ. Shortly after that he decided to add the John 3:16 sign to his “Thing”.
He claimed that he travelled 100,000 kms a year to various sporting events, including the Indianapolis 500, the Olympics, The Super Bowl and even showed up at Prince Charles and Lady Diana’s wedding. He truly felt that what he was doing was a ministry that would lead people to Jesus.
Not everybody agreed. One sports director actually threatened to fire any cameraman who focused on Stewart.
But things spiraled out of control for Stewart, and his actions became increasing bizarre. His wife left him claiming that he choked her for holding her John 3:16 sign wrong, at the 1991 Masters he blew an air horn as Jack Nicklaus lined up a putt.
And in 1992 he was arrested after an attempted kidnapping turned into a hostage situation. He is presently serving 3 consecutive life sentences in California.
But it wasn’t just Rollen and his sign. You might recall Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow wearing John 3:16 printed on his eye black while playing College Football. When his team won the 2009 BCS (Bowl Championship Series) Championship game John 3:16 was the most googled term on the internet the next day. Shortly after that the rules were changed, forbidding college football players from having words written in the eye black. This is sometime called the “Tebow Rule”.
And on January 8, 2012 exactly three year to the day from that College win Tebow played his first NFL playoff game and led the Denver Bronco to victory over the Pittsburg Steelers. and here are some stats for that Game. Tebow threw for 316 yards. He averaged the highest single-game postseason completion average in NFL history and that was 31.6 yards per completion,The second-quarter interception, which resulted in the Bronco’s taking a 17-6 lead, came on you guessed it the third-and-16.
But it’s not just football, pro-wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin has been known to wear an Austin 3:16 shirt, and some Christian Businesses try to include it, here is a cup from Christian owned “In and Out” Burgers in the states, and it creeps up on Road signs every once in a while.
Back in the day a buddy and I were hitchhiking from Sussex to Saint John, and so we included 3:16 on our sign. We walked a lot on that trip.
Just a year ago Keith Urban went to number one on the Country charts with this little ditty. (John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16)John 3:16, in case you are wondering, is probably the most memorized verse in the Bible, it has been called “The Gospel in a Nutshell”. In the King James Version it says John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In the New Living Translation it reads John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
The story has been told about President Obama, John Kerry, Al Gore and George W. Bush or you can simply insert the name of your least favorite politician.
Actually the first time the story was circulated was in 1990 in regards to George W. Bush’s Father the first President Bush. But the story is always the same that that particular politician is speaking at a gathering of religious leaders and as part of his remarks he comments on his favorite Bible verse and he means to say John 3:16 but instead he cites John 16:3 which says John 16:3 And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. Completely different meaning.I guess we’ll stick with 3:16. But John isn’t the only book in the bible to have a third chapter with a sixteenth verse. And so this summer we are going to look at a variety of 3:16s throughout God’s word.
Now please understand that there is nothing magical about 3:16. Every Chapter 3 verse 16 in the bible doesn’t have something profound for us. The system that we have of Chapters and verses in the bible has only been around for the past 500 years or so. And they are pretty arbitrary and were just put in place to make it easier to find locations in the bible. So there aren’t 66 parts to this series, there are only 11.
And so it only makes sense that our first message comes from John 3:16. But like most verses in the bible John 3:16 doesn’t stand by itself, it is a part of a bigger story. And it is the very beginning of the story as told by John. By now we have seen Jesus baptized by John, we have been able to watch as Jesus turns the water into wine at the wedding in Cana and have seen how he cleared the temple courts for the first time.
And chapter 2 ends with this statement John 2:23-25 Because of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration, many began to trust in him. But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew human nature. No one needed to tell him what mankind is really like. And that doesn’t sound like Jesus, but it was.
And then chapter 3 begins with these words John 3:1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. And the next 21 verses chronicle the discussion that ensued between Jesus and the man Nicodemus and it is in the discussion that we read the words of John 3:16.
It is a given that John 3:16 is about lover, but what is it we can discover about this love? Let’s take a look.
So let us start with John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The first thing we discover in this verse is The Person of this Love How often do we hear about the wrath and anger of the Old Testament God and the love and grace of the Jesus in the New Testament?
Somehow we get the picture of a gentle graceful Jesus rescuing us in just the nick of time from this grumpy Old Testament deity.
When we are challenged about events from the Old Testament that we can’t explain or that embarrass us we blame the vengeful jealous Old Testament God. But seriously, is that a reality?
Listen up folks there is no Old Testament God and New Testament God, there is only God.
Or perhaps we see God the Father and God the Son sitting around the heavenly strategy table and the Son saying “Well Dad, we tried it your way and it didn’t work, so let’s try it my way.” And it’s almost like Jesus argued with and persuaded the Father to try something different. To stop being so judgmental and angry with the world
But that wasn’t it. Listen again “For God”. This was God’s idea, this was God’s love that is spoken of in John 3:16. “For God”. And we diminish the character and the love of God when we try and define him by putting him in an Old Testament box or New Testament Box.
Throughout the Old Testament we read about the unfailing love of God, the love that God has for his people and God’s everlasting love.
And so the Person of this love is God. So let’s go on from here.
John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” So the next thing we need to understand is The Breadth of this Love God didn’t just love part of the world, he didn’t just love the loveable, he didn’t just love the obedient. The word says “For God loved the world.” That’s not just a part of the world that is all of the world.
It was for the world; it was not for a single nation. Or a single group of people. It was not just for good people, and it wasn’t just for people who loved God. It was all the world that God loved, the lovable and the unlovable, it was for the lonely and the lost. It was those who accepted the love of God and for those who have rejected the love of God.
And that is hard to get our head around, I’ve talked in the past of the scandal of Grace. We all know who should be on the naughty list and we all know who is on the nice list.
And while we are sure that God loves us and our family, and the nice old lady next door who bakes us cookies and smiles at our kids. We’re not sure about the terrorist and despots or the jerk who cut us off in traffic or the old guy who yells at our kids for cutting through his yard. Or the person whith more than 8 items in the express line.
But John 3:16 doesn’t tell us that God loved nice people or lovable people, but that he loved all people. Regardless of their gender, their race, their colour, their religion or even their political party or personality.
Which is why we are told in Romans 5:8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. When? While we were still sinners. And that is the reality that whether we can get our heads around it or not, God loved the world, this broken unregenerate world. And he loves it the way that parents love their rebellious child. It is a love of broken-hearted grief but it is love.
And so we continue John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” And here we discover The Depth of this Love It doesn’t just say “For God Loved the world that he gave” No, it says “For God loved the world so much.” How much did God love the world? He loved the world so much, that he gave his one and only son.
Think about that. Who is there that you would willingly sacrifice one of your children for?
There was a time that I questioned this. I thought, “If God loved us that much why wouldn’t he have given himself instead of his son?” And then I became a parent.
I have mentioned this before, there are many of you here that I would sacrifice myself for, what’s the phrase? I’d take a bullet for you. But there isn’t one of you here that I would sacrifice one of my kids or grandkids for. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.
But God loved the world so much, that he was willing to give up what meant more than his very existence.
Paul tells us in the book of Romans 8:31-32 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?
And so this leads us to the next point, John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The Acceptance of this Love This is where universalism breaks down. If the verse simply said “everyone” then it wouldn’t matter what you did, or how you behaved or what you believed.
But the scripture doesn’t just say “Everybody” but it says “Everybody who believes in him”. Believes in who? Believes in the Son.
Jesus goes on to say in John 3:18-20 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.
And that isn’t just an isolated statement, remember the first two weeks in June when I preached on baptism we kept going back to Mark 16:15-16 And then he told them, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.
Jesus came to the world, salvation is offered to everybody, and salvation is like the sun, it provides light for everyone, but you have to open your eyes if you want to benefit from that light. And it’s not just a head knowledge, it’s not enough for the belief to be here in the head but not here in the heart. You can’t just say you believe if that belief hasn’t actually had an impact on your life.
I love the story of Charles Blondin, better known as the Great Blondin. And the Great Blondin was a tightrope walker, and he was the first person to walk across Niagara Falls. He did it on June 30th 1859. And after he got across he asked the crowd “Who believes I can walk back across with a man on my back?” And everybody cheered, and then he asked “Who wants to be that man?” And nobody said anything. They believed here, but not here. And then one man stepped out of the crowd and said “I’ll be that man.” The rest said they believed, but Harry Colcord really believed.
God extends the invitation of his love to us, but it is up to us to accept it the invitation.
So what happens when you believe? John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The Results of the Love Did you catch that? It is a twofold result. The first is that the person who believes will not perish. You will not be separated from God for the remainder of eternity. That means you won’t go to hell.
But it doesn’t just end there, you see more than simply being a fire escape from hell the person who believes is promised eternal life, not just living forever but living forever in the presence of the God who we serve. And sometimes I wonder if we miss that.
We think of heaven with pearly gates and streets of gold, and good times lasting forever and ever. Yep, in the presence of the God who we love and serve and in the company of his children, other Christians.
Which is why I find it so hard to get my head around why there are those who call themselves followers of Christ and children of God who don’t spend any time with God or his kids now.
A little aside here, it was J. Oswald Sanders who wrote “It is impossible for a believer, no matter what his experience, to keep right with God if he will not take the trouble to spend time with God. Spend plenty of time with him; let other things go, but don't neglect Him.”
So, to sum up Nicodemus comes to Jesus and Jesus tells him in John 3:3 that he must be born again, they get into a discussion about what that means and Jesus eventually tells Nick how much God loves him, and Nicodemus’ response? We don’t know. We have no clue how the conversation ended.
In John Chapter 4 we read the story of the Samaritan woman at the well and how she embraces the claims of Christ and goes back to her village to tell everyone she knows about him.
In Mark chapter 10 we read about the rich young ruler who came to Christ and left rejecting Christ’s claim on his life. But there is nothing in this account to indicate that Nicodemus either accepted or rejected the claim of Christ on his life.
Now we do hear from Nicodemus again before the story ends. When the religious leaders begin to plot against Jesus we read in John 7:50-51 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.
And then after Jesus has been crucified and Joseph of Arimathea asked permission to take down Jesus’ body we read this, John 19:39-40 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth.
In his book “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week” , Pope Benedict XVI comments "The quantity of the balm is extraordinary and exceeds all normal proportions. This is a royal burial."
And in both the Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox Church Nicodemus is revered as a saint.
But we just don’t know. We see Nicodemus at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and again at the end of the story. But we don’t know if he actually embraced the grace that Jesus offers each one of us.
And the question really isn’t how did Nicodemus’ story end, the important question is “How will your story end?” and only you will be able to answer that. Let’s personalize John 3:16 and read it together, you ready? John 3:16 “For God loved me so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that when I believe in him I will not perish but I will have eternal life.”