If asked what the most well-known verse of the Bible is, many of us would respond “John 3:16”, right? If you grew up in a church setting, it is probably one of the first verses you learned. We see it in people’s social media biographies. We even see it painted on the faces of some of our favorite athletes. We can recite it, right? Let’s go ahead: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Very good! Your old Sunday School teacher and I are proud of you.
Sometimes I think that we can become so familiar with something that it loses its significance to us. For example, how often do you just take for granted that the ice machine in your freezer works? Then one day, you really need some ice, and poof, there is none. I think we rush through so much, especially the holidays, that much of what makes them Holy Days (where we get the word “holiday”) is overlooked, or worse, forgotten. It can be that way with John 3:16, too.
God loved the world– God “agape” the world. Remember, agape is the most committed form of love. C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” God loved, and loves still, the world, his creation, especially his most cherished creation, humanity. He was and is committed, not to our momentary happiness, but to what is our ultimate good. And by virtue of being our Creator, He knows that better than anyone else ever could.
He gave– Every year, someone will go on about how Christmas has its origins on paganism and that the traditions we observe have nothing to do with Christ. I disagree. While, yes, there are a lot of cultural appropriations in Christmas, things we have taken from culture rather than scripture, that does not make them inherently bad, but I digress. No, we give gifts because our heavenly Father gave a gift. We are most like God when we give and when we are generous.
His only Son– But God didn’t give us a new gaming system or a subscription to the Jelly-of-the-month Club. No, He gave something of much greater value. Quick Bible nerd moment. I’m not a fan of the word begotten in the phrase “only begotten son”, because it doesn’t appear in the original Greek, and gives the appearance that Jesus was created rather than pre-existent with God the Father from eternity past. The literal phrasing should be “one and only Son”. But regardless of the translation, the key thing here is that God the Father gave God the Son to be our Savior, the ultimate gift.
You see, God doesn’t love humanity because of what it is, but rather despite what it is. We didn’t somehow earn a gift from the Father. But because of our sins, the things we do that violate God’s laws, we are separated from Him. Our separation is both now in this life and in eternity. That’s not what God desires. It’s not something He is okay with. God is a relational being and He desires us to know Him and love Him.
And so, Jesus came. Not to condemn us, because apart from Christ we are already condemned. But to save us. To bring light to our darkness, hope to our despair, and healing to our brokenness. That’s why John 3:16-21 isn’t just good news at Easter or Christmas. It’s the Gospel, the Good News for every day. So take some time today and this week and thank God for His ultimate gift.