You’ve probably seen it while watching an American football game on TV. It’s usually exhibited on a placard with large lettering. Protestant reformer Martin Luther called it the gospel in miniature. Wikipedia says it’s one of the most widely quoted and famous of Bible verses. Know what it is? Yes, it’s John 3:16.
Why, of all the 31,102 verses in the Bible, is John 3:16 the most well known? Luther may have accurately answered that question long ago when he called it the gospel in miniature. John 3:16 does provide a glimpse of the basic message of Christianity in a nutshell. Yet the scope of this verse is more magnificent and immense than the immeasurable universe.
Let’s take a look at the first half of the verse, “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son” (italics added). The New International Version of the Bible uses the word love 551 times. Of these, the exact phrase “God is love” appears only twice (1 John 4:8, 16). However, a number of verses describe God’s loving essence using different wording. For example, in 2 Corinthians 13:11 the apostle Paul used the expression “the God of love and peace.” In 2 Thessalonians 3:5 he said, “May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” And in Romans 5:8 he said that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We are often identified by our profession. For example, my husband is an engineer. My sister is a teacher, my older brother is a doctor and my younger brother is a contractor. Similarly, God is identified as love: It doesn’t say that God is a love; no, He is love. His character, His personality, His presence, His thinking—everything about Him—is love. He’s the source of love. He’s a perpetual spring ever giving and ever flowing with the healing water of love.
The love we experience in this life is a mere drop in the ocean compared to God’s love. Our finite minds cannot grasp the fullness and vastness of His love. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul gave us just a peek at His love. He said that “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (verses 4–7). Yet Paul went on to say that we can only see even this as if it were “through a glass, darkly” (verse 12, KJV). God’s love is always selflessly giving.
God created us in His image, which includes a limited aspect of His capacity for love. We’re capable of experiencing the strong, intense emotions love brings. Our bonds can become so inseparable that the one we love seems part of our own being. It’s horrifying to lose a loved one. We feel like we’ve lost our own identity. We feel hollow and empty. We feel as if our heart has been ripped out of our chest. We feel like we have an open bleeding wound and we need someone to apply a tourniquet to stop the flow of pain. We feel this so deeply that it’s as if our own lives will be crushed under the weight of it all.
If we humans can feel such debilitating sorrow and suffering from the loss of a loved one, how much more did God suffer at the loss of His only Son, who had been with Him for all the aeons of eternity? Author Ellen White said, “It was a struggle, even with the King of the universe, to yield up His Son to die for the guilty race.” The struggle was not in God’s desire to save us. The struggle was making the decision to let His Son go. Neither of them wanted to be separated. And it was a very risky endeavour. Jesus was stepping into the centre of Satan’s battleground as an innocent, helpless, newborn baby. Yet the decision for Jesus to come into our world was made “before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9). Despite the pain, Father and Son both voluntarily proceeded with their plan.
Satan, the originator of sin, accused God of being infected with selfishness—the very infection that was running rampant in him and which he himself had started! Christ’s life on earth opened the way for the inhabitants of the universe to witness for themselves God’s utterly unselfish nature. God is completely the opposite of Satan’s accusations. This was dramatically demonstrated on the cross when Jesus gave up everything by allowing His created beings to torture Him to death.
Let’s consider our pets—those sweet, cuddly creatures that are so much a part of our families. They always greet us at the door. They make us laugh with their funny antics. They cheer us up. They calm us down. They love us with their whole body and heart. They love us unconditionally. And we love them back.
If you’ve ever had to make the decision to euthanise a beloved furry family member, you know how gut wrenching it is. In your head you know it’s for the best, but you just don’t want to let your pet go. It’s difficult to imagine life without your companion. Your home and heart will be empty. The cheer and joy your pet brings will be gone. You know the animal will drift off to sleep while you hold it in your arms. You know this will relieve the animal’s pain and bring peace. Yet making the decision and following through brings anguished, agonising tears and heartbreaking sorrow.
Correlate that with God making the decision to let Jesus go. Rather than being euthanised, His Son would be brutalised. He wouldn’t peacefully go to sleep in His Father’s arms. He’d die the most gruesome death imaginable. The word excruciating is derived from the word crucifixion. Not only would God’s Son suffer excruciating physical pain, tremendous emotional and spiritual trauma would overwhelm Him too. He’d be abandoned by nearly all His earthly family and friends and He’d even feel rejected by His Father at the end, when He cried out from the cross, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). God knew before giving up Jesus that at the bitter end He’d have to forsake His only Son. They’d been together forever. They were closer than any family has ever been or could be. How harrowing that decision must have been for God!
If God hadn’t done it
Why did God do it? Why did He allow His Son to come to this undeserving, guilty globe? Why did He allow the infection that sin breeds in humans to kill His Son? Because He is love. God is unconditional, true to the core, love. He’s completely good and completely giving. He loves us, His sin-sick, selfish children. Sin caused us to be infected with selfishness. We’re born with a “me first” infection. This “me first” selfish sin infection is terminal. Had God not provided a cure, we’d all suffer eternal death.
And the only One who could provide a cure was the Master Physician, the Creator Himself. It was an inestimable sacrifice, but He was willing to become the Antidote against sin. He was willing to do anything necessary to save His children. He doesn’t want to lose us. The reason is just four letters: love. He loves us, His wayward, selfish children. Even though we cursed Him, mocked Him, denied Him and rejected Him, He still loves us—every one of us—more than we could ever imagine or hope. That’s His nature. “God is love.”
Now that He has provided a cure, how do we access it? Are there pills to take? Is there a monthly injection? Are there radiation treatments? Would physiotherapy work? What about if we pray more or read the Bible every day or do many good deeds or take a homeless person into our home? Would doing all of this cure us of our “me first” infection?
No. We cannot cure or save ourselves. Jesus is the cure. And accessing His cure is so much easier than trying to do all the above. We just need to believe He truly loves us, as sin-sick as we are. Just believe in Him and His ability to cure our sin disease. Just believe. As the last half of John 3:16 says, “whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” We’re the “whoever,” and God says all we need to do is believe in His Son, Jesus.
"God’s love is always selflessly giving."
There’s plenty of historical and archaeological evidence that verifies the life of Jesus on this earth, including the Bible stories. Some of them were written by those who were His closest earthly friends. Here’s an example from 1 John 1:1, 2: “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life. This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life” (NLT*).
We can study history and archaeology, read our Bible, learn about Jesus and know intellectually that He existed on earth. But how do we move past believing about Him to believing in Him with all our heart? How do we believe not only that He existed in the past but that He’s alive today?
When we start dating someone, we let them into our life. We build a relationship by spending time with them. The more we get to know them, the more we become certain their love is genuine. This leads to trust as we grow to know that their love for us is real. We can feel it. We experience it. We want to make a lifelong commitment to this wonderful person.
It’s like that with Jesus. He said, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person . . .” (Revelation 3:20). We let Him in every day. We build a relationship. We want to be with Him all the time.
We need to realise having a relationship with Jesus doesn’t mean everything will suddenly be perfect—that will have to wait for heaven where we’re guaranteed He’ll make all things new.
But we can have—right now—the incredible free cure that was bought with Jesus’ own blood. His cure infuses us with His love. Why not accept it? When you do, you begin your journey to forever.
* Bible quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.