John 3 v 16
Thank you all for listening this morning so intently to the beginning of our Advent series. We’re in the time of Advent. In the liturgical calendar in the history of the Church, people used to follow the flow of the year according to the liturgical calendar and it was Advent and Pentecost, there was Passover season. And I think it was good. It reminded us in the daily warp and woof of our life that something happened. God created us and redeemed us, and if we just see all the reminders of things of this world around about us, we tend to want to change John 3:16 to read as follows: ‘For the world so loved itself that it rejected the unbegotten God, so that whosoever unbelieves, should not live but perish.’ That’s of course not what John 3:16 says. It says the following:
16For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
I want to think through this a little bit with you this evening. It puts me in trepidation because it’s possibly the best known text in all of the Bible. You ought to not be too surprised if you even bump into some pagans who can recite it to you. “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” The word that jumps out there for most people is the word ‘perish’, because we know about it every day. We see it. I remember when we were young we used to say that our bicycle tires were getting perished. How many of you remember that? That gives away your age by the way. Perishing is a real thing. Do you see it around about you? It was graphic on Friday night, and pardon me if I belabour the point, but I wonder what kind of animal it was that crossed the street – possibly a mommy rabbit who wanted to get to the brood and never got there. I don’t know – or a cat – I don’t know, but it perished and you can still see some of its carcass in the street. For some reason, we don’t remove those from the street, and I think we should because we should never get to like perishing and having it stare us in the face.
The word ‘perish’ jumps out. We know what that is about – we’re getting old. You see perishing when you get around 55 or so, you begin to see the perishing in the mirror every morning. If you don’t, don’t worry, your wife does! Perishing is just part of reality. It’s part of our lives, and it’s a problem. And whenever we see it, we say to ourselves: ‘this hurts, this is painful, this is not pleasant, this is not life! Something’s wrong!’ And something is, and that something that is wrong is serious! That something is the depravity of humanity. That something – that perishing is the consequence of something other than itself. It’s the consequence of sin! Suffering is not a problem in itself. It’s not a cause – it is a consequence. It is a consequence of sin – of fallenness! Something that we need to repeat in this church far more often than we do is that you need to live your life according to a Christian World and Life View. Now that may sound philosophical to those who’ve never heard about it, but all it is, it means that there’s a specific way in which you look at the world and at life – whether you know it or whether you don’t – it’s conscious, or its unconscious. You have a World and Life View. There is some way in which you answer these questions: What is the world and how did it get here (first question)? How’s it going to end if I believe it is? And what needs to happen in between? There’s some way in which you answer those questions – whether you’re a Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist or whether you are an Animist, or whatever you are – there’s a certain way in which you will answer those questions, and how you answer those questions will affect everything in how you live.
The Christian World and Life View is this: We answer the question ‘what is the world and how did it get here?’ We say that the world is a planet, the cosmos – the universe is the creation of God. It was created. We don’t believe like the evolutionists that everything never came out of nothing, that’s why there’s everything. It’s a head spinner! We don’t believe it. We believe that God created it. We believe it’s going to end in the fullness of time when God fulfils and brings redemption to its fullness in glorification at the return of His Son. It’s going to end in the glory of God and the creation of a new Heaven and a new Earth. We believe that and we believe that in between we ought to live our lives: “To love the Lord Our God with all our hearts, all our minds all our souls and all our strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.” That’s what we need to be in between. And that love for God and for neighbour needs to be expressed not only in how nice we speak to one another or not – although that is very important – how we speak to each other. You need to remember when you speak to somebody it’s not just ears you’re speaking to – you’re speaking to a heart – you’re speaking to a soul – not just two ears.
So how we love does affect how we speak to people – how we treat them – how we relate to them, but it also has to do with what kind of structures we set up in our society – in our civilization – what kind of schools do we have – what kind of neighbourhoods do we have – how does our medical services work – how does our justice system work – do all those things follow the will of God and glorify Him, or not? – Because anything more or less than that or other than that, is an unchristian lifestyle.
Love necessitates that we do that but we didn’t love, we fell into sin. As I prayed in my prayer, it was all our fault – that Cross – was my fault. I have big stakes in that. What happened to Christ on that Cross, your pastor had a lot to do with that. I want you to know that. You can speak for yourself – how much you had to do with that.
Now, what I want to do this evening is look at John 3:16 and see what do we do about this. What does this text speak of? It’s a favourite text of evangelists, and rightly so, but I believe if you look at that text, it speaks about two things: The Glory of God and the Gift of God – it speaks about those two things. The Advent season is an appropriate time to speak about that, because we are remembering God’s unspeakable gift in this Advent time on Christmas day. In some homes that still do [it] that way, you’ll see the little manger scene – the little nativity scene. Just so that my reformed brothers can have something to talk to me about around a cup of coffee, I want to confess to you that I have one. You see, this is about the glory of God and the gift of our God.
- The Glory of God
I believe the glory of God – as John Piper said to us this morning – is the going public of God’s infinite worth. It’s the going public of God’s infinite worth. We defined the Holiness of God as the infinite value of God. Why am I talking to you about God now? Because the text starts: “For God”, and you cannot go any further in that text before you have your whole heart, your whole mind, your whole attention, all your emotions and every single attitude that you have around those first two words. “For God”. God! Who is He? What is He like? We spoke about Him this morning. The Holiness of God is the infinite value of God – the infinite intrinsic worth of God. And when that infinite, intrinsic worth of God – when that goes public, so to speak in creation, what happens? What the Word tells us: “The heavens are telling the glory of God…” And human beings are manifesting His glory, because we’re created in His image and we’re trusting His promises. Why? So that we make Him visible as gloriously trustworthy and true to His Word. That’s why we do it. That public display of the infinite beauty and the worth of God is what we mean by glory. We see some of it in Isaiah chapter 6, where the seraphim rise up and they say: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His” – what? – “His glory!” And we would expect them to say ‘His Holiness’ and they say ‘Glory’. They’re describing “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of His glory.” That’s why Piper tells us that [the] glory of God is the going public of His infinite worth. The Holiness of God has the infinite value of God, and when that goes public, that is the glory of God. I am eternally grateful to my brother John Piper for his definition.
So God’s glory is the radiance of His Holiness, the radiance of His manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections. Now that may sound to you like a repetition of some of what I said this morning and I kind of hope as your pastor that your reaction would not be: ‘Oh I heard that this morning – I can go to sleep now.’ You can find another reason to sleep. This is a good reason to stay awake, because if you heard what I said this morning, you will all be shouting at me: ‘Pastor, tell us again and again and again and again of the glory of God! Tell us!’ Do you want to hear more of it? Because that’s where the text starts: “For God…” and we looked this morning and we saw some of His glory in His attributes – the characteristics that we attribute to God gleaning His Word and observing His creation. We see certain things that are true about Him. And I know we express them in what we call in theology Anthropomorphisms (it just means in human terms). We express it in terms that we can understand from a human perspective. And those are the attributes of God – we observe His creation, we read His Word and we learn certain things about Him and we say: ‘God is like this and God is like that and we see this about God. God tells us this about Himself.’
What are these attributes? Let me say something else first and you need to try to get your head around it. And I’m going to have to say it many more times in order to bring that about. So, let me say it the second time tonight: ‘All of God is always all of God’s attributes together. You can distinguish God’s attributes from one another, but you can never separate them. It’s like the Persons of the Trinity: You can distinguish between the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but they are one – you can never separate them. The same goes for the attributes of God. What are they? We looked this morning at the two categories that Millard Erickson in his excellent Christian Theology teaches us. I’m eternally grateful to that brother too. Read them. I milk many cows, but I churn my own butter, and I milk good cows.
The attributes of greatness and the attributes of goodness. We say two things about Him: God You’re great and God You’re good. Well, what makes Him great? The fact that He’s a spirit. He’s not contained in a body like we are. Yet, He does have personality. He’s not just a force or influence – He’s a person and He does have life is infinity. What are the aspects of His Infinity? Infinity means it never ends. His never-ending-ness. The forever, The Great I AM. His wisdom is infinite – there’s no limit to it. His knowledge – there’s nothing that God doesn’t know. You need to understand that in your day tomorrow. ‘O, why is the Lord doing this?’ Here’s why you don’t know: If He explained it to you, you wouldn’t understand it. You just need to trust Him. He’s got this – He knows what you don’t know. His knowledge is infinite. Don’t try to get Him to do your will – ask Him to do His, because His wisdom is also infinite and we’ll see when we get later on into the text why that is such a wonderful thing. His being is infinite. There’s no end to God. His presence is everywhere. There’s no limit to His presence. There is nowhere where God is not – all of God – not just a bit of Him. All of Him is everywhere all the time. I wish the world would get that. And His constancy – by the way, His power is infinite as well. We call Him Almighty. There’s nothing He cannot do. That’s part of His Infinity; is His almightiness.
You see something of the glory of God, this God is so loved the world? That’s not just anybody who loved the world. That’s not just anybody. That’s a somebody who loved the world. Now, we’ve only spoken of His greatness, but the text speaks later on of His goodness.
Why do we say God is good? We saw this morning. Let’s see again. We see it in His moral qualities; in His integrity and in His Love – the three aspects of His goodness. Moral Purity, Integrity and Love what kind of being is this? His moral purity we see in His Holiness. He’s unblemished. In Him there is no spot or wrinkle at all. He is the ‘altogether other’ – that’s His Holiness. We see it in His righteousness: whatever He does is always righteous in its motive. We see it in His Justice: whatever He does is always fair, He can do no wrong. And then in His integrity, we see His goodness. The old Latins used to call it so beautifully ‘Integritas’ together with ‘gravitas’ (gravity) – the gravity of God – the weightiness of God!
How do we see His integrity? We see it first of all in His genuineness. He is not a phony like we are – He’s the real deal, He’s genuine! What you see is what you get. His veracity in other words – His truthfulness. He’s not able to speak a false word. And then we have the Stoics telling us simply, Marcus Aurelius: ‘Stop talking about what it takes to be a good man and be one.’ How do I be one if I don’t know what it is Marcus? He tells us – He says if it’s not true, don’t say it. If it’s not right, don’t do it! God always speaks the truth.
His faithfulness. He never lets up. God is the God who hangs in there with you. Nothing will pluck you from His hand. He’ll never leave you nor forsake you – that’s His faithfulness. Then His Love – and that takes us into the goodness of God that we see in the text after the “For God”. Here it comes.
His love: “For God so loved the world.” What does that mean? Did He get a queasy feeling? Was it just a feeling like you hear in the pop songs with those guys who can barely tune a guitar? Is it just a feeling? What is it? What is this Love? Here are the aspects of love that we see from the Word. The first is – and if I’ve seen two Ministries in the church come under the quickest criticism throughout my Ministry – third congregation and I taught at Baptist College – two of the things that are always getting queried: Missions and Benevolence. What is the first aspect of God’s Love? It’s benevolence – it is good will – to give to those who lack, but not only lack – they lack because of their own doing! It’s nice to give something to somebody who’s a victim of somebody else’s evil, isn’t it? It’s not so easy to give to someone who is the victim of his own evil. And that’s exactly what God does! He’s not just benevolent to those who are the victims of other people’s evil – He is benevolent towards those who are the victims of their own evil! That’s the Cross – His benevolence!
And then, most beautiful word, His Grace is an aspect of His Love. Grace is when He gives us the good we don’t deserve – freely. That’s Grace. And then Mercy is when He keeps from us the bad things that we do deserve. In Afrikaans we say ‘Genade’, and the other word I think is ‘Barmhartigheid’. Mercy – when He withholds from you the Cross you deserve.
And His persistence. He never gives up. He holds on – He keeps on redeeming His world. He created it and is redeeming it, because it’s fallen. Now, you see that love – the aspect of His Love – that this gift that we are going to talk about springs from is His Grace and His Mercy. His Love for the world – the world that He created – the world that fell and the world that He is redeeming. The drama you’re living is that drama. The drama you’re living is not the drama of the secularists and the humanists and the atheists who say: ‘Everything never popped out of nothing, that’s why there’s everything. It’s going to end in a Utopia and all you need in between is evolve.’ That’s not the drama that’s playing out on this earth. It is not, Richard Dawkins, ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. You’re wrong! This world was created by God. It fell into sin and He so loved it that He redeemed it in the Redeemer.
So you see for God, this God – His spirituality, His personality, His life, His infinity, His constancy, His holiness, His righteousness, His justice, His genuineness, His veracity, His faithfulness, His benevolence, His grace, His mercy, and His persistence – all of that, all together, always, everywhere. God is not sometimes just, but other times He’s gracious. God is always gracious and just and merciful and life and infinity and constancy and spirituality and personality. He is always holy, He is always righteous, He is always just and genuine and trustworthy and faithful, benevolent. All the time, all of God in all places is always God. And when that goes on display in your life, in mine, in our institutions – because as Francois will tell you, there are three things that shape how we live: Thought, actions and institutions. How you think is going to determine how you act and that’s going to erect the institutions around you. Once we had Christian universities and schools and hospitals. What do we have now? And we’re letting the world supplant them for us with things that God didn’t want us to have. But as that Grace and Mercy – those aspects of God’s Love – this glorious God who so loved the world – how? In Grace and Mercy, that’s how. How did He put that aspect of His glory on display – of His Holiness? It was a gift!
- The Gift of God
Now we’ve seen something very little of the glory of God – now we need to look at the gift, because that’s how we put the glory of His Grace and His Mercy on display. How? We’re going to talk about it on Christmas day again. I wonder who wove that manger. Was it a man? What do you think? Do you think it was a man or do you think it was a woman? You think it might have been a little boy or a little girl who wove that manger for Mary? ‘Here Mary, here’s the manger you ordered. It’s for the baby that’s coming – not knowing that it’s for the Creator of the world that he just wove a manger! It’s the gift, and it’s free! We wanted to become gods as men and women. We couldn’t. It took Him to become a man, because He can in His glory, and He did! And He could hang on a cross later on – His glory on display, His grace and His mercy – His justice on display on the Cross! Why does the Cross reflect the Glory of God? We saw Him as a real person, a spiritual one. We saw Him in life – we saw His power, His constancy. We saw His Holiness, His righteousness, His Justice, His Genuineness, His Truthfulness, His Faithfulness, His Benevolence, His Grace, His Mercy and His persistence on public display in a manger and on a cross – in this gift, because this gift is not a something – it’s a Someone.
What did He give, what did He love? He loved the world – fallen world – who are all the opposite of these things. They’re so carnal, or despite what everybody thinks about the people on TV, they don’t have personality either. And life? They look like death warmed up. We do. Infinite? We are so finite! That’s why we’re dodging a virus! There’s a bit of a contradiction to me there because I remember before this pandemic came, everybody looked around like they were the eternal. Now it’s (stomping around in the Pulpit). We’re finite! That finite world – that perishing world and an ever-changing! It is never good changes: Unholy, unrighteous, unjust, no integrity, phony, untrustworthy, unfaithful, harsh instead of benevolent, no grace, no mercy, and they can’t stick to anyone. Other than that we’re in good shape.
That’s the world that the text speaks about! We’ve seen the God that text speaks about. We see the context in the third pair of words ‘the world’. Do you see the contrast? That God loved that world. How? Don’t miss the word ‘so’. ‘So’ loved. How? We won’t even ask why, but let’s just for now ask ‘how’. That He gave. It was a gift. And what is this gift? We need to see two things about Him. We need to see Him in His glorious relationships and in His glorious redemption.
(i) His glorious Relationships
First with God and then with us. He gave His only Son. God has one Son. His Name is Jesus. He’s the Lamb without blemish, slain before the foundation of the world. He is as eternal as God is – as infinite as God is in terms of time. He is The Great I Am, that’s the gift. I can’t get my head around it sometimes – not after all my theological study – I still struggle to get my head around it! How? Why? He so loved that He gave His only Son – that’s Himself – that’s His heart. That’s who He gave. The great Prophet like Moses, who spoke like never a man spoke, the Priest after the order of Melchizedek, the Lamb without spot or wrinkle, slain before the foundation of the world, the great King on David’s throne, His Son. That’s how He’s related. You can distinguish Him from the Father and the Spirit, but you cannot separate Him. He is God Himself. That’s the gift. How is He related to us? In our creation – we are His creatures, and in our redemption we are related to Him. He’s a gift to us in both! He is Creator and Redeemer – that’s the gift! And He became a man so that you and I can become the sons and daughters of God.
(ii) His glorious Redemption
Here it is in the text. There was a purpose behind this gift. God meant something by it – He wanted to achieve something by it. What? “That whosoever believes should not perish, but have eternal life.” That was His purpose. Whosoever! I know I’m a whatsoever. My wife often says to me ‘whatever’ – I’m a ‘whatever’ too, but He talks about ‘whosoever’ here. Are you a ‘whosoever’? Are there anybody excluded here from the ‘whosoever’s’? Even the little girls. You’re not excluded – the oldest one among us – I don’t care what your race or your ethnicity, or your status your qualifications are or how good or bad you are. Are you a ‘whosoever’, because that’s all that you need to be is a ‘whosoever’! A son of Adam and of Eve – totally depraved and fallen in sin – falling short of the glory of God. That’s who and what you need to be. You don’t need to become good first to be a Christian. You need to realize that you’re becoming worse than you already are. That’s a ‘whosoever’ – someone like your pastor – a ‘whosoever’.
What do you need to do? He made it so free because it’s called Grace: “believes” – you just need to believe! Believe what? What does faith mean? It means that you know certain things, you agree with them and you trust them. “No one who comes to Me will I in any wise cast out” says the Lord. “Come to Me, all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” You need rest! I’m your pastor your friend and I’ve seen how we can heavy-laden you can get. We’ve cried together in that little place. That’s you He’s talking about. Weak and heavy laden! “Come to Me, all who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest.“
Faith is when you hear that, your heart grabs a hold of it and your feet start running after it. That’s faith. The head knows it, the heart grabs it, and the feet start running with it – for it and with it and in it. All you need is to want it!
If you’re sitting here tonight and you’re not saved – you don’t know the Lord as your lord and Saviour, it’s not because you can’t be saved, it’s because so far you haven’t wanted to be saved – or even worse – you thought you were saved while you weren’t! This God so loved that world that He gave that Son so that you and I (whosoevers) who believe should not perish – see no more of that on the tarmac – no more of that in the corridors of our hospitals and in our streets and in our prison cells and in our homes. I don’t want to be graphic, but in my career as a detective I’ve had to stand by and watch as forensics cut the rope of a son who was hanging from the rafters who could no longer take the pressures of life, and the mother standing there and say ‘my son!’ No more of that! No more mothers’ tears! No more fathers’ cries! No more Covid! No more Cancer! No more Arthritis! No more Depression! All those things of putrid death – no more of it! What comes in the place of it? Eternal Life. Do you want it? You can have it. It’s free.
God gave it in His Son – that God who has veracity – He speaks the Truth. That God who has genuineness – He means it when He speaks. That God who in His glory will deliver what He promises in His faithfulness. That God who is all together other Holy – who is righteous, who will never do anything wrong. That God who is a spirit – who is a Person, Three in One – who is the Source of all life and who is infinite and who never changes and who loves SO that He gives His Son for the whosoevers. Do you want that? Do you want that gift? Your children want it. Are you telling your children about it? Are you telling them it’s not just about coming to church? Are you telling them, you know, God gave you something that you need to take if you haven’t got it already. And so not a something, it’s a Someone – His name is Jesus. Are you telling them? You should be! Are you telling yourself that? Are you telling your mom and your dad that – your grandparents – your friends – your neighbours? I think one of the reasons we don’t see so much street evangelism anymore is because Christians don’t believe the Gospel that much anymore. So there is one of the most best-known texts in all of the Scriptures and God forgive my inadequacy and opening it up to you, but it’s really simple: “for God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.“