It’s quite honestly one of the most over-quoted verses of the Bible. John 3:16. It’s referred to as the “Gospel in a nutshell”, so why do I say such a thing? How could any of the Bible be over-quoted? The reason that I say that it is over-quoted is because is has become a comfortable catch phrase amounting to “God loves me enough to die for me”. The truth is that God so loved the “kosmos” (kosmos is the Greek word that is usually translated in this verse as “world”, but can imply a much larger scope, which I believe should be applied here). The last time I checked, you and I were very important, but certainly not the “kosmos”. So let’s dig deeper.
When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit all of creation became cursed (Genesis 3). God loved His creation and wanted to see it flourish under His guidance, not suffer under sin. In true Johannine style, John is thinking of the whole of Scripture, right from the very beginning. By including this bit in Scripture, John is pointing out that God so loved all of creation that He set out to redeem it through His Son. Yes, Jesus died for you and me and countless other people, but His scope was much bigger than just us.
“That He gave His one and only Son“. With this bit we run to the Cross without a second thought. I am mystified at how often we forget that Jesus became human. (John 1:1-14 NIV) “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The God of all things sent His Son to be Immanuel “God with us”.
The start of the culmination of the Gospel was Jesus coming to Earth to be with us in the flesh. Now that’s a God that cares. Somehow I think we have divorced that little baby from the real life grown man that died to set creation right. We dispense with the innocent baby. We dispense with the child of Mary. We forget that He came to live, teach, start the Church or rather usher in the Kingdom of God, and with His death purchase our pardon. That is the life the baby Jesus we celebrate this time of year is destined for. He came knowing the misery and suffering that He would endure in life and in death. He came knowing that the only eyes gazing on Him as His died would be those of scoffers, a crushed and questioning disciple, and the woman that birthed and raised Him, Mary his mother, broken at the sight of her little boy beaten and dying. He knew what He was in for, and yet he came, and God the Father sent Him.
God sent His only Son knowing that He would get tired and weary. He sent His Son knowing that only a handful of people would listen to Him, and even fewer would follow Him. God knew that His Son would have to pray often, as we ought to, in order to resist temptation. God sent His Son knowing that prayer was His only way to be in touch. He knew that the intense intimacy that was shared would go with Him, and that on the cross the separation would be complete. When God gave His only Son He knew how much He was giving up.
“that whoever believes in Him will not perish” It is in God’s will that we not perish. Paul wrote Timothy and encouraged him in 1 Timothy 2 “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” The fact is that all we need to do is believe in Jesus. Mind you that actually believing in Jesus brings with it a slew of other responsibilities, but if it is perishing or serving God and believing in His Son, believing sounds pretty good to me. I also love the “whoever”. God made no distinctions. This Good News is for everyone!
So what’s the punchline, so to speak? “But have eternal life“. Here we tend to run straight to living forever, or going to heaven. If this were it I’d have no right to complain, but it is even better than that! “After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:1-3 NIV) So that’s what this whole thing is about? Knowing Jesus and God? YES! And I find it wonderful! God wanted me to know Him and His Son so much that He sent His Son to endure all and then die and resurrect. Now we can talk about how much God loves us.
For me the point of Christmas is to remind me that God cared enough to send His Son to muck out a life with sinful, hardheaded, spiteful, and vengeful mankind. He did this because He loves the “very good” creation that He made, and He wants for all of it to be redeemed. Yes, He loves us, but Christmas is about God sending His Son to begin the redemption of the world. And the great news is that he has invited us to help. We are to be in the Kingdom, but also to BE the Kingdom. Christmas is the Sunrise celebration of the Kingdom of God coming to Earth to make things right. That is Christmas, and that is the Christmas Gospel.