Do You Believe?

John 3:16, is likely the best known verse in the Bible. Don’t let your familiarity with it make you overlook the crucial question with which it confronts you — do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?

Understand the love of God. The world that God loves is the world that has rebelled against him. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. The time reference seems to suggest the darkness into which the incarnate Word came, John 1:4. Sometimes “world” simply refers to the physical creation, the planet on which we live. But in John it often has an ethical tone. John 1:9–10 suggests the character of the world. This is the world that hates Christ, John 7:4,7; “prince of this world” is Satan, John 12:31; 16:8. 1 John 2:16–17 describes the character of the world. This is the world dead in sin, justly under God’s righteous anger, the world of which you and I are part by nature. Do not think of yourself as needing a tune up, minor surgery, or even major surgery. By nature you are part of the world, you are dead, you need nothing less than Christ’s sacrifice and the renewing, rebirthing, work of the Holy Spirit, as we saw last week. As Warfield puts it, God’s love is so great “that it is able to prevail over the Holy God’s hatred and abhorrence of sin.” Does your God love people? The God of the Bible does. But does the God you deal with every day, does he love people? Does the conviction that he does color your life as a Christian, your efforts at reaching out with the good news?

God gave his only begotten Son. Love, despite Hollywood, is not just an emotion, something that grabs you and leaves you helpless. It includes placing your affection on someone. Love involves action. God acted by giving his one and only Son. The author of this Gospel understood what Jesus was saying and reflected it when he later wrote, “God is love,” 1 John 4:8.

“This is the measure by which we are invited to measure the greatness of the love of God. It is not that it is so great that it is able to extend over the whole of a big world; it is so great that it is able to prevail over the Holy God’s hatred and abhorrence of sin. For herein is love, that God could love the world–the world that lies in the evil one; that God who is all-holy and just and good, could so love this world that He gave His only begotten Son for it,—that He might not judge it, but that it might be saved.”

Benjamin B. Warfield, “God’s Immeasurable Love,” Biblical and Theological Studies, pages 515–516

This is the One who was with God, and who was God. As the Council of Nicea made clear, Jesus is the second person of the Trinity who became man. That shows the perfect fellowship between the Father and the Son. To say, “God gave the world for his Son,” would be unremarkable. To say, “God gave his Son for the world,” is almost incredible. But it is true.

God gave his Son to be lifted up. Jesus takes Nicodemus to a Scripture passage he knew. Israel in the wilderness, having just experienced God’s deliverance, turned ungratefully against him, speaking against both God and Moses. The chose the Egypt from which they had been delivered over against the daily care and provision of the Lord. God punished them by sending poisonous serpents, many were bitten and died. When the people repented, Moses interceded. God had him make a snake of bronze, put it on a pole, and all who looked at it were healed. Repentant Israelites looked at the cursed serpent and were given life. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the only way into the kingdom of God is through the Son of Man who came from heaven and would be lifted up like the serpent. The lifting up recalls the curse, Gal. 3:13. God’s curse against sin would fall on his one and only Son as he was lifted up on the cross. But that is not the end of the story. With deliberate ambiguity, the lifting up becomes a theme (John 8:28; 12:32–34), not only the crucifixion but also the lifting up of the resurrection and of the exaltation. What seems to be defeat becomes triumph.

Believe!. Believe in the Son. Jesus calls Nicodemus, covenant child grown to be a teacher in Israel, to believe in the Son God gave. Believe involves resting in, depending on. The concept of believing was used in the Old Testament, Abram believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. What is different here is that it is God’s own Son who is given to you to believe in.

“[T]he essence of believing in his name becomes clear. The starting point of faith… is that God in his eternal love returned to the world as to his own, that he loved it in the surrender of his only-begotten Son (cf. 3:35), and that he Father loves the Son because he gave his own life (cf. 10:15) in a love that persisted to the end (cf. 13:1ff.). It is faith in a path that, before it ascended to the glory of heaven, first descended to the depth of the earth, that is not itself from below but from above as the sign of true sonship and of those who are born of God (cf. 1:12f.).”

Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John

Receive eternal life. Life, life eternal replaces death and condemnation. Just as birth marks your entry into this world, being born of the Spirit marks the beginning of your life eternal. This is God’s work, not yours! Because the Son was lifted up you are no longer guilty. You have life as a free gift.

God sent his Son to save the world. Just as we sometimes have too shallow a view of God’s love, so we sometimes have too narrow a view. Don’t picture John 3:16 as a Coast Guard effort to successfully rescue the crew of a sinking ship or fishing boat–we regret the loss of the vessel, but give thanks that all the souls are safe. Heaven is not simply a safe haven for a few redeemed while the earth perishes. To be sure, there are those who are condemned, as this passage makes clear. But the overall picture (true regardless of what label you put on your view of eschatology) is that God redeems the world. While the rebellious are cast into the lake of fire, John describes in Revelation the result of Christ being lifted up: he restores all things, culminating in the new heaven and earth. It’s not just new wine or a new temple, but a new world as well. John wrote his Gospel, not just to pass on to you some historical events — though he certainly does that. But, as he writes in John 20:30–31, he recorded these things so that you might believe. That call to believe continued in the preaching of the other apostles and the early church. The Spirit who inspired John summons you to believe today.

“Faith includes the conviction that certain things are true, that certain events have happened and have redemptive power, and specifically that God has brought eschatological salvation in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah…. Yet the apostles did not merely call upon people to reverse their intellectual opinions. The summons to faith is also a call to personal commitment to a living person, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your household’ (16:31).”

Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 154

Do you believe? Only as you do can you begin to grasp what real loved is — God giving his only-begotten Son so that you might have life! Do you believe in him? If not, place your trust in him today. And if you do, rest in that love, revel in it, reflect it in the way you deal with those around you.