“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)
A Biblical commentator tells the story of God’s love from an incident that occurred during World War I. During the darkest times of that conflict, a conflict that took the lives of a shocking number of English sons, a man took his little boy out for a walk at night. The boy noticed that some of the houses had stars in the windows. “That comes from this terrible war, laddie,” the father explained. “It shows that these people have given a son.” They had walked a bit further when the young boy stopped, and pointed up to the sky where a bright evening star had appeared. He said, “Daddy, God must have given a Son, too.”
The apostle John tells us that this is precisely what God has done for sinful creatures like us; he has given his Son in our place. The gospel, therefore, is the greatest love story ever told. This morning, I want you to notice six characteristics of God’s love from John 3:16.
First, John shows us the greatness of God’s love. God “so loved the world.” God’s love is unfathomable. It is greater than any love we’ve ever known or will know. At the end of the day, there is only one answer to the question, “Why did Christ come to die for sinners who hated him—people like you and me?” Because of the greatness of God’s love for those who not only don’t deserve it, but have positively forfeited it.
Second, John defines the scope of God’s love. It is for “the world,” John tells us. The world—lost in sin, opposed to God, breaking his law every day. Yet all people are invited to come and experience God’s love in Christ (Is. 55:1). It doesn’t matter your background, race, class, etc. God’s love is a missionary love that is to be taken to the farthest reaches of his creation.
Third, John tells us the of action God’s love. “He gave his only Son.” God not only tells us he loves us, but he demonstrates that love by his actions. He demonstrates it in a way that staggers our minds: he kills his Son on behalf of those who don’t love him. Our love is not like this; it is often self-focused, asking, “What’s in it for me?” Isn’t this what causes so many problems in our marriages? We put ourselves before our spouse. But God’s love is just the opposite. He sends Jesus for his bride, the church. God’s love to us in Christ never asks, “What’s in it for me?” but instead demonstrates what he will do for us because of his great love.
Fourth, John offers us the incarnation of God’s love. To put it in different terms, God’s love is Christ-like. Christ is the perfect picture of God’s love. Throughout his life on this fallen earth, he loved those whom the world scorned. He ate with sinners, loving them and ministering to them. Jesus shows us God’s love because his life, death, and resurrection are the apex of God’s love. God became a man and demonstrated his love not only by becoming one of us, but by dying in our place on the cross. Therefore, God’s love is cross-shaped.
Fifth, John rejoices in the availability of God’s love. “Whoever believes.” God’s love is not just for those raised in the church. It’s not just for Americans. It’s available for anyone at any time to experience, right where you are. There’s one condition—it is for those who “believe.” All it takes to know God’s love is to turn from your sin and put your faith and trust in Jesus to forgive your sins. He delights to receive sinners. He’s always ready, never scorning the brokenhearted, never turning away from those who desperately need his love. God is always more ready to show us his love than we are to receive it.
Sixth, John concludes with the result of God’s love: “Should not perish but have everlasting life.” God’s love, as we have seen, is beyond our comprehension. It is so much greater, so much more counterintuitive than our love. But, as we saw last week, people make a wretched choice. They spurn God’s love in Christ. John says they will perish. But those who accept God’s free gift of love in Jesus receive eternal life. Not just in the future. Now. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38) Eternal life—knowing and experiencing God’s love in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit—starts now.
When you get stressed this week, when you begin to doubt God’s ways, when all seems dark and confusing, come back to the blazing center of God’s love. Remember that he pursues those who don’t love him or have forgotten how to love him. His love for us in Christ changes everything about the everyday. After all, it is only when we know God’s love that we can begin to show God’s love to those in our circles of influence. Meditate on the words of the old hymn:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.