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Todd explains why John 3:16 is the most quoted verse in the Bible and also speaks of the greatest good, the greatest action, the greatest need, the greatest example, the greatest sacrifice, the greatest invitation, the greatest response, the greatest horror and the greatest gift the world has ever seen.
The Most Quoted Verse in Your Bible
Shedding Light on Jesus' Chat in the Dark
When Christ Flips Tables, There's More Going on than You Think
The First Sign and All it Signifies: The Creator is Back at Work
Come and See. Go and Fish.
Come, See, Stay: What Followers Do
John the Baptist: A Witness to the Word, an Example to Us
The Five Words that Change Everything
Don't be a Bird Brain: Receive and Respond to the Goodness of the Word
The Word: Not What You Think... But Even Better
We realize there are many friends here this morning who don't know how great our God is. We often say, and want to say again this morning, that it's not right to ask you to sing love songs to somebody you're not in love with. We are grateful that you are here, that you've trusted yourself to us this morning, that you would believe you could come in here and find out if there are people who know God, if there is a God, that this would be a place you could learn of him.
It shouldn't surprise you that having claimed we have met and understood the goodness of who our God is, we would say he is great; that if he is everything the Scripture says he is and everything we've come to believe, we would sing about him, we would write poetry and lyric and put melody and live lives, that in everything we did we wanted you to know the greatness of our God. That's really where we're headed this morning. We are thrilled to be able to declare who he is and remind ourselves about his goodness and greatness.
Now, you may not know this, but you can track what is on the hearts and the forefront of the minds of Americans by going to a little service Google has which tracks that which Americans are searching for. I happened to go back and look, and on January 8, 2009, the thing we're going to focus on today was the number-one thing that was searched for on Google. It's interesting, because this thing people search for, you might go, "What are they even doing searching for that?" because you go, "It's very familiar to me."
You need to know that 65 percent of Americans have no idea what this thing they searched for is or what it means. Fifty percent of folks who say they believe God loves them and that he evidenced his love through Jesus Christ have no idea, according to one man who studied such things, what this verse says. Only 24 percent of Americans can even say this thing we all searched for on January 8, 2009, has something to do with the Bible and something to do with salvation.
That means three out of four people you meet would have been the ones who when they saw this would go, "What is that thing?" Well, what is it? It is John 3:16. Now you ask yourself, "Why on January 8, 2009, did John 3:16 come into the forefront of people's minds?" Here's the reason. There was a young man from South Florida who had eye black and, on that eye black, wrote John 3:16 on the night on which most of America was locked into a football game.
They were so perplexed by what this thing meant on his eye black that it was the number-one thing searched for in that 24-hour period by Americans. If you are here this morning, my goal is that at the end of today you would not have to go to Google to find out what John 3:16 means, that you would understand it, and that you by grace would respond fully to it; if you've known it for a long time, like me, that you would be overwhelmed by it and respond more fully to it.
What is it? It is a story about God (the greatest good) who so loved (the greatest action) that he gave (the greatest kindness) his only begotten Son (the greatest gift), that whosoever believes (the greatest invitation) should not perish (the greatest horror) but have eternal life (the greatest joy). When you come to understand that great promise, you can sing with us what we're about to sing.
Lord, we want to respond completely and fully to you. We want everything about our lives, everything about this place we're in to echo your worth, and we can say, "Hallelujah! You are here," because you have come not to judge the world but that the world might be saved through your gracious provision in your Son.
If you know Christ, will you stand and pray that our lives could respond rightly to John 3:16 in all of Scripture? And if you are here and are not sure you can celebrate that God is here, we hope you are convinced in the way we declare him to you this morning through song, illustration, and Scripture. Let's sing together.
This morning, we're going to look at this verse that you would think, because it's the most quoted verse in a book about God, when you think of it you would think of Jesus being the one who is most associated with this verse or you would think of maybe a great communicator of God's Word…Billy Graham or someone like that. When you think of the most quoted you would think of that guy, but oddly enough, it is not the case.
Especially if you are a child of the 80s or 90s, when you think of this verse, your mind probably goes to a different individual. This is who it goes to: a guy by the name of Rollen Fredrick Stewart. Now you're going to go, "That is not true. I've never heard of that brother, so there's no way the most quoted verse is most identified with this guy." Well, I'm going to tell you it is, because this guy you may not know by name, but you know him by appearance. That's what he looks like.
He's known as the "Rainbow Man." You don't see him much anymore. In fact, you haven't seen him at all since 1992, so if you're younger, you would not associate this verse with the Rainbow Man, because he has been incarcerated since 1992 and is currently serving three consecutive life sentences, but if you're like me and you were around in the 80s and early 90s, you saw this guy, and he appeared to you often at major sporting events.
He would be wearing his little rainbow wig, and he'd be holding up a sign that talked about the most quoted verse in the Bible. Well, if I do my job today, you will understand that verse like never before. It's a verse that's often quoted, at least the reference to it is often seen, but what does it mean? What's interesting is that 64 percent of Americans, according to a gentleman who makes it his purpose to regularly assess these sorts of things…
He found out a number of years ago that 64 percent of Americans have no idea when they see John 3:16 what it is talking about. That means two out of every three people you meet… It's largely true and especially true in the West and the East, but it is still true here. When you see John 3:16 written down, most folks have no idea what it's referring to. Twenty-four percent of the people you meet can tell you at least that it has something to do with a verse in the Bible, and specifically, that it has to do with something about salvation in the Bible.
Think about that. Only one out of four understand even that much. If I do my job today, you're going to understand this verse like you've never understood it before, and it will be more of a quoted verse than it has ever been before, and you'll use it the way God wants us to use that verse. It's great that that one verse has been chosen to be the verse that shows up a lot of places, because it is the Bible in a nutshell. It's the story of what God has done in a nutshell.
You'll see it next week if you're at Texas Motor Speedway. You'll look at the 18 car there with Interstate Batteries, and tucked in a number of different places you'll see that our good friends at Interstate Batteries have decided to put that there. You'll see it Monday night when you watch the NCAA Final Four. Somebody will hold it up.
When our good buddy Rollen was making his way around… He was a guy who was really searching for fame and lusting after being noticed, so he had taken his little rainbow wig, and he would travel around the country with his rainbow wig and go to a number of different major events, as many as he could, in order to be seen. He would carry with him a TV Guide. It was really his Bible that directed him where he should go.
Later, somebody shared with him John 3:16 and, at least in profession, changed his life, but he was a man who was given to many fleeting self-indulgences and became so disturbed in his isolation, as he left his family and relationships to go around and do what he thought God wanted him to do now, wearing his rainbow wig at famous places, holding up a sign, that eventually he took a maid hostage in California and held her for many hours, demanding a three-hour television broadcast where he could speak to the world about the fact that Christ was coming in six days and the world needed to repent. The man was loony, but the verse is not.
This verse captures for you everything you need to know about life, forgiveness, purpose, and right response, so let's break it down. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." "For God…" Who's God? God is the greatest good.
God has chosen to reveal himself most fully, we're going to find out a little bit later, through one person in particular, and it's going to be important how that Son is described as begotten, not made. For now, the word theos is what shows up, if you look in your Bible. In fact, even if you look at the word before the word God in this little verse, the word for, it's really a condensed version of a little series of words that mean, in effect, "This can be illustrated and seen."
As Jesus was talking to a man named Nicodemus, who came to him at night and was trying to understand what Jesus was talking about and who God was and what Christ was trying to reveal, he said, "This can be fully illustrated in that God (Theos)…" Theos is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Elohim, which is the word for God, but not God singular; it's the plural word for God. Not gods, but God in his grandeur who is one, the Bible says.
It's interesting. The word God (theos, which you know because you know theology…study of theos, the study of God) is used in your New Testament of three different persons. It is used of Theos, the Father. It is used of Jesus, Theos, the Son. It is used of the Spirit. Now, who is this God? God is immutable; meaning, unchanging. He is personal. He is immanent, which means he is here. He is transcendent. He is omnipresent, everywhere. He is omnipotent; meaning, all-powerful. He is omniscient; meaning, all-knowing. And he is good.
When you read your Bible, you sometimes will have a red-letter edition. We think those red letters are somehow more important than the black letters because the Son, Theos, spoke them to us. We should pay attention to them, but we know that all Scripture is given to us by Theos, by God, so they're all equally important. But when you look at Jesus, you'll find out that not just what Jesus said but what he did is a revelation to us about who God is.
God has not left us to try to figure out who he is on our own, but he has explained him most fully through his Son who was in the beginning. John 1:1: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." We see that Theos was there, singularly, but there was something with him, and we're going to find out a little bit later what that was. God is the greatest good.
It's interesting. Jesus, when he was here, was approached by a young man who wanted to know how to have eternal life, how to have a relationship with God. He walked up, and he used a very specific word in addressing Jesus. He said, "Good Teacher…" Now, there are two different words he could have used in the language of the day to describe Jesus as good. One just talks about his character or his deeds, that he does good things.
The other one, the one he chose to use, is a word that talks about intrinsic goodness. He walked up and said, "You intrinsically good teacher, I've been observing you. You're different than others. Good Teacher…" Jesus had a very interesting response. He said, "Why do you call me good? Why do you say that I am intrinsically, in my nature and character, good? Don't you know that nobody is intrinsically good in his character and nature but God?"
Jesus was not saying, "I'm not intrinsically good in my character and nature." What he was doing right there, as this guy approached him and was saying, "How can I have a relationship with God?" Jesus was saying, "If you knew what you said when you addressed me and didn't just honor me with your lips while your heart was deluded, you would have the answer to your question."
Meaning, this guy came up and said, "Good Teacher, how might I inherit eternal life?" Jesus said, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." Then he goes on to say, "You know what the commandments say," and he goes on to talk about how the man should treat his fellow neighbors and his fellow men. He says, "Hey, I've done all of these things. I've met the standard as I understand it."
Jesus says, "Great. You think you love God? Then take everything you have and get rid of it and come follow me." Jesus did this not because that's the requirement for salvation but because he was trying to instruct and teach this young man that he, in fact, did not love what was essentially good. He didn't love the Good Teacher. He didn't love God the Father more than he loved what God the Father had enabled him to have at that particular time.
The guy wasn't around when Jesus told a little bit earlier about what the real standard of righteousness was, when Jesus said, "You've heard it said that you should not murder, but I tell you, if you look at your brother and say, 'You fool! You blockhead! You idiot!' you've committed murder. You've heard it said you should not commit adultery, but if you've looked at a woman with lust in your heart, you've committed adultery."
Jesus said to this guy, "You've heard it said, 'Don't commit murder. Don't commit adultery.'" The guy said, "I haven't done those things," and Jesus said, "Well, let me just show you something. You don't love God as much as you think you do. The Bible also says you should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, all your strength. The Bible says that you can't serve two masters.
So, that you might see that you're serving two masters; in fact, you elevate one over the other, and that you are not, therefore, intrinsically good, I'm going to show you. Go sell everything you have and come follow me. If you know I'm intrinsically good, you'd be happy to give away all that you own to get this pearl of great price. You'd be happy to go sell everything you own to buy this field, because you know the treasure that is hidden in it."
It says the man walked away very sad, but he wasn't the only one sad. Theos was sad. Jesus was sad, because this one he loved was choosing to hold on to something less than the greatest good. "Let me illustrate to you," Jesus is telling Nicodemus. "Let me explain to you about the goodness of God."
"For God [the greatest good] so loved [the greatest action] …" Now, when you think of love, you are a victim, as I am, of what we often think love is. Love, to us, is that feeling you feel when you feel like you've never felt before. I already told you that two-thirds of Americans don't have any idea what John 3:16 refers to. We also know there are many, many millions of Americans who watch American Idol.
Recently, as you were watching American Idol, you would have seen young Kevin, before he got voted off, say that he looked forward to the day that he was in love. He'd never been in love before, but one day he hopes to give his heart to somebody and that they would give their heart to him and he would then feel like he has never felt before.
That's not the love that's talked about here. There are a number of different words in the language of the Scripture that communicate love. One is phileo love, where we get Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. Phileo love is a love of convenience, a love of "Hey, if this is good for you and good for me, we'll hang in there and phileo each other." Often, things don't go so well, and we end up filleting each other.
There is eros love, where we get the word erotic. It is a love that has assigned with it great physical passion and pleasure. It is a love of convenience. I'll take you back to my BC days in the 70s. There was a guy by the name of Meat Loaf, and he talked about this love. He talked about a guy in the back seat of a car with a girl in the song "Paradise by the Dashboard Light." Remember that one? Most of you guys don't. Good for you.
It's about a guy in the back seat of a car, hanging out with a girl, and he says, "I love you." She says, "I know what you mean. What you mean is you feel right now like you don't feel very often. If I just let you go and take a shower, you wouldn't feel this way anymore. What I want to know is what you really mean by that, and I want to know if you really are going to love me."
In that moment of eros, he started swearing on his mother's grave that he would love her to the end of time, so now he's praying for the end of time to hurry up and arrive, because if he has to spend another minute with her, God knows he surely will not survive. Not that I've memorized the song or anything.
The point is most of us, when we think about love, think of it that way. We think of it as a feeling I'm going to feel like when I feel a way I've never felt before. Let me just say, I'm not doing a series right now on relationships and dating, but if I were, I would develop for quite some time this idea that, gals, when a guy says to you he loves you, what he's saying in that moment should be one thing. It should be love as defined right here, in the way God loves.
This is what Jesus says. "Men, you want to love a woman? You love this woman the way I have loved my people, the way I have loved the world." When you define love by anything less than a cross, you make it a very meaningless thing. I told my wife I loved her one time before I asked her to marry me, and it was my way of firing a warning shot across the bow of her life and just saying, "Look. I'm defining this relationship very differently than I've ever defined another relationship, and I'm going to tell you something. I'm ready to give my life for you.
I purpose, by the grace of God, which works in and through me, to do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit but with humility of mind to consider you as more important than myself; to not merely look out for my own personal interests but especially yours; in fact, yours above all others. In fact, what I am purposing to do is to offer you my life and to treat you in such a way that in the way the world sees me treat you, it's going to think I hate everybody else by comparison."
This is where I hang my head in shame and ask my wife for forgiveness, because while I've purposed to do that, I fail her every day toward that end. When I do, I ask her for forgiveness. I had the opportunity to do that yesterday in a very small way. My sweet wife comes in and starts to tell me a story, and I'm doing something. She says, "Hey, a good friend of ours just had a great April Fool's joke pulled on him." I go, "Really? What was it?" She goes, "Well, you know…" and she starts to tell this long, elaborate, detailed story.
I'm like, "Look, lady. When I asked you to tell me the joke, I meant tell me the punch line so I can move on with my life. I don't need the details that you're providing me right now. I don't need to know the personalities of everybody involved, their families of origin, their likes and dislikes and how they got to the point that the joke was executed. I want to know how they were taken, how they were brought to their knees, and how they were delivered when they realized it was April 1. Get to it."
Now, you're asking me how long I waited patiently before I communicated that to my wife. It was a good 12 seconds into the story. I just said, "Come on, come on! What, what, what?" She looked at me and goes, "You are such…" I go, "I know what you're thinking. You're thinking when I told you I'd love you about 16 years ago I didn't mean it. That's what you're thinking." That's what I was showing her at that moment, so I had to own that and work back through that, because it was about me.
When it talks about love in the Bible, it means… When you use the word love to another, you should mean what I meant when I said to my wife, "I love you." I purposely said it to her in a moment where there was no romantic opportunity. It wasn't late at night when we were watching a DVD, and it ended and I leaned over and went, "I love you." It wasn't in some romantic setting. It was in the middle of the day where I had to be somewhere very shortly.
I just let her know, "I'm about to tell you something, and you can either respond by looking me in the eye and saying, 'Well, that's very nice, Todd; thank you,' and letting me know you're not ready or you can look me back and say, 'I'm ready to give myself to you as well.'" That's what we mean by love. We had talked about that. So she looked me back and said, "I love you as well." Meaning, "I'm ready to covenant with you, not make this about convenience, how we feel."
Three weeks later, I told her that again, and when I did I had a ring in my hand. When we got married, inside our little wedding rings we put 1 John 4:19, which says, "We love, because He first loved us." Which means when we purpose to love each other, it has nothing to do with how the other person is behaving.
My wife had a decision to make yesterday. Was she going to love me because I listened to her attentively, took notes, told her how wonderful it was just to look into her eyes while she spoke, no matter what she said? No. She chose to love me yesterday because she was committed to me, and she chose to forgive me because she knows I'm a man who is not perfect in loving the way Christ loves yet, and there are times when I grieve him and quench that Spirit and love the way that makes sense to me.
When I do a wedding, I always talk about love. I talk about love as it's defined right here in this verse. The word is agape. It's unconditional love. It's a love that is not defined by convenience. It's not a love that is defined by a contract. It's not Donald Trump with a number of his wives, saying, "I will love you if you sign this." It is a love which says, "I will serve you. I will give my life for you."
Now watch this. Another very familiar verse: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. "Love is patient…" Patience has nothing to do with how you feel. "…love is kind…" It doesn't talk about if that person deserves kindness; it talks about how you will act. " [Love] is not jealous…" Meaning, I don't need to be the one who gives you what you think is satisfying; I am just excited if you are in a good place.
God, it says, is a jealous God. Why is that? How can love not be jealous? It said in 1 John 4:8 that God is love, and it says that love is not jealous. Well, God is jealous for you to experience what is best for you, and because he alone is good, he is a jealous God, but not of his own self-interest. I'm often jealous. When somebody else is having a full life without me or experiencing goodness without me, I can sometimes say, "No, no, no. I don't want that. I want you to only identify me with what is good because I'm about me," which is what love is not.
God has the right to be jealous, because God is love. Love is not god. Love is defined by God, but God is not defined by love. God is much more than love, but he is the fullness of love expressed, and he is patient toward you. He is kind toward you. He is jealous that you know him, because he alone is good, and he loves you. He doesn't talk about himself for his self's sake, but he is concerned that you know him for who he is, because when you know him for who he is, you will be drawn to him and will experience what you long for.
God never acts unbecomingly. God never seeks his own. He reveals himself, because the more you know him, the more you're going to want to know him, but he doesn't seek his own best interests; he seeks yours. I want to tell you something that's amazing. God is never provoked. Meaning, he never does something because you made him, but he does what he does because it's good for you to know who he is.
Sometimes his wrath is revealed. One day, his wrath will be revealed fully so that you might finally and fully see that he is a God to be feared and not to be trifled with, but he never does something because somebody makes him; he does it because it's the right time to do it to show who he is. So sometimes, when judgment falls, it is an act of mercy to remind us that ultimate judgment will one day come, and sometimes, when God in his grace withholds the judgment that is due to us, it's also an act of his mercy, that we might repent before judgment comes.
God is not provoked. Love is never provoked. If you tell your wife you love her, there's never a reason to deserve to act toward her in an unbecoming way. When you tell your wife you love her, if you mean anything less than, "Sweetie, I will always act toward you with your best interests in mind, with kindness, with great patience. I'm not going to think about if you have loved me the way I want to be loved. I'm just going to keep giving myself to you…" That is love as it's talked about right here.
Some of you this morning are here and you go, "You don't know me. You have no idea who I am. If you knew the depth of my darkness, if you knew the corruptness of my thoughts that shock me sometimes, if you knew what I did last night, if you knew what I was planning to do this week, you wouldn't tell me God could love me. Nobody can love me if I'm really known." I'm going to tell you, you're not listening. You're creating theos on your own. Theos is here, God is here, and he's going to explain to you who he is. He is good and he loves.
I'm going to show you who he loves in a minute. The most needy people are who he loves. The most needy place is what he loves. But here, it says that he's not provoked. He doesn't take into account a wrong suffered. That's not what motivates him. He never rejoices in unrighteousness. Why? Because he knows unrighteousness wounds you and hurts others, but he delights always in the truth. It says that love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures everything, love never fails.
Some of you are sitting here right now and thinking, "I hope my husband" or "I hope my wife is listening." When you say that, what you're saying is, "I hope they start treating me well so I can love them," and you're missing the meaning of love. When I start to think, "Does my wife deserve my love right now?" I've already perverted love to be less than what it is right here in John 3:16. It never acts on its own best interests. It never acts unbecomingly. It's never provoked to act that way. It gives and gives and gives.
I'll say this: it is a covenant commitment. That doesn't mean it does what the person who is being loved wants; it does in its perfect goodness what the person who it loves needs. So God doesn't give us what we want; he gives us what we need, which is forgiveness. He's not a genie in a lamp that we can say, "If you love me, you'll do this." He says, "No, because I love you and I'm a perfect heavenly Father who is all-knowing… You're my child. You don't know what I know. You're not good, so even what you think is good sometimes will not be good for you."
God loves you and will give you what you need, and he'll endure you while you complain, he will bear with you as you reject him, and he will hope that one day you'll respond to the perfect love that is revealed. Are you here today and don't think you're lovable? You need to keep reading with me, because the greatest good has revealed the greatest action to those who are in the greatest need.
"For God so loved the world…" Who is the world? The word is kosmos. It's a word which means, basically, that which pertains to space and time. It is the sum total of all materials in the universe. It's a derivative of another Greek word: kosmeo. It's where we get the word cosmetics. Do you know what kosmeo means? It means to set in order.
So, girls, what you're doing is you're going before a mirror, and you go, "I don't like the way that looks. I'm going to set it in order. I'm going to cover up all of the blemishes that are there. I'm going to realign what I don't like the way it looks, and I'm going to try to cover it up." I want to tell you something really encouraging. God is not looking for you to cover up who you really are.
One of my favorite places in the Scripture that talks about what love really is is a place that talks about how God knows every detail of who you are and what you're about. In fact, it talks about how his deep, penetrating gaze, when you will stand before him and God looks right through you and sees everything about you… At that moment when you are exposed utterly by a perfect, all-knowing being, it says his kind intention toward you, if you will accept his provision for you, will allow him to see you as one who is holy and blameless.
I heard a friend of mine say a long time ago, "If you knew me for who I really was, you would not listen to me speak to you the way I'm speaking to you." Then he always says what I should say to you, which is, "And if I knew you for who you really are, we wouldn't have let you in." Isn't that the way we are with each other? We have this cosmetic life we live before each other, where we try to set in order in a way that we think will make us lovable, but that's not who God loved here.
Perfect goodness, in the greatest action that could possibly happen, loved the greatest need. Meaning, specifically, those who were rebels and transgressors and sinners. Look at what it says in Ephesians, chapter 2, verses 1 and following. It says that you were dead. Meaning, you're really no good. Do you want me to throw you back to another 70s reference?
When I wasn't listening to Meat Loaf, I was listening to Dr. Demento. No kidding. A few of you know who Dr. Demento is. He would always have the "Demented Top 5." One of my favorite ones was set to a genre like Jim Croce. It was a love ballad. It was called "Dead Puppies," and it was a sweet little love song about dead puppies. One of the lines was…
Dead puppies aren't much fun
My puppy died late last fall
He's still [lying] in the hall
Dead puppies aren't much fun.
Then other great lines of insight go throughout the song. You're thinking, "What in the world is he doing?" I'll tell you what I'm doing. When you want a puppy, that cute little lovable, adorable thing, dead puppies are not good. They smell. They're infested with maggots. They bring disease. Right? That's who you are. That's who I am. I go places I shouldn't go. That's a trespass. I do things I shouldn't do. That's sin.
This is where I formerly walked, before God in his goodness called me out of this…according to the course of the world that is no longer in order, because the world has left God and gone to its own way; according to you little Satan, you little demonic rebel. God knows exactly who we are. You walked according to the Prince of the Power of the Air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience, those who still have not responded to the God who so loved them that in their greatest need he cared for them.
He says all of us were like that. We formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of our flesh and of the mind. We were by nature unlovable. We were children who deserve one thing, and that is a massive whupping. That's who God loved. Martin Luther basically said, "If the world had treated me as I treated God, I would have kicked the vile, wretched thing to pieces." So would I.
Here's my problem and here's your problem. Even if we know where this verse is in the Bible, when we read it we're not impressed, because when we read about anybody's love, we make it like our love, and we're not listening. God says, "I know who you are." You here today, are you disgusted by your abortion? Are you disgusted by your divorce? Are you disgusted by your alcoholism? Are you disgusted by your anger? Are you disgusted by the fact that you can't listen to a woman you covenanted to be kind to, that you can't listen to her for three minutes?
Are you disgusted by your sexual immorality? Are you disgusted by your addictive behaviors that you even find repulsive, but you keep going back to them like a dog returns to his vomit? Are you in need? Man, I am, and God loves me. You can't impress me with your darkness. I'm telling you, man. I've heard this mind. I've written the history of this life. I know need, and by the grace of God, I can tell you something else: I know love, and that love is reaching out to you.
"The world." Put your name in there. The greatest need. "For God [the greatest good] so loved [the greatest action] the world [you and me, the greatest need] , that He gave[the greatest example]…" In a nutshell, do you want to know what this is? Christianity is "God gave." It's not God wants. It's not God needs. It's God gave. It's possible that you can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.
I've talked about this before. Why did God create in the first place? It's not because he was needy. God is not a needy lover. It's because God is love that he had to give who he was to others. So, since he was the only one who has always been…he is the uncaused cause…what did he have to do? He had to create those he could share his goodness with.
That's why we're here. It's impossible for love to not share its goodness with others. So if love exists in the character and nature of God and there is nobody but God, God is going to create. That's why he created: so you might enjoy him. He doesn't need you. God is never alone. Why? Because theos is plural and yet one.
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were always together, never alone, never lonely, yet they said, "Because we are love…love is not us, but love is a part of who we are; love that is fullest is revealed in who we are…we must create and share with those we create our goodness and be jealous that they would experience our goodness and pursue them and not be provoked by them, because we are good, and not ever act in a way that is unbecoming but to pursue trespassers and sinners, to seek to redeem children of wrath."
God gave. The world doesn't get this. I was at a restaurant this week, and they had hired some marketing company to poll different people with a certain dish they had just created. I did not order that specific dish, so the guy moved on to the person who was sitting right next to me. He was talking to this guy, and he said, "Can I give you a little survey?" The guy goes, "Well, what about?" He said, "Have you tried this dish?" He goes, "I just ordered it." He goes, "Great. Eat it. I'm going to come back and ask you about it."
I sat there and listened to this whole thing. The guy interrupted this dude for about 25 minutes taking a survey. At the very end of it, he got ready to take off, and he said, "Thanks a lot for listening to me." I said, "Hey, do you want to hear him take a survey?" The guy looked up, and they both looked at me. I said, "He just took about 25 minutes." I go, "Why don't I ask you a two-question survey?" to the marketing guy. He goes, "All right." I go, "First question: Are you at a point in your life where if you died you know you'd go to heaven?" The guy goes, "Yeah, I am."
"Great. We're already halfway through. Second question." They're both listening to me. I said, "Second question: If you stood before the Lord and he said, 'Why should I let you in?' what would be your response?" Do you know what his response was? His response was akin to what about 90 percent of the people you ask that question will say. "Well, I'm a good guy. I'm kind. I try to be as philanthropic as I can and care for other people and generally live a good, moral life."
Then I said, "Man, thank you for taking the survey. Do you mind, before you leave, if I take about two minutes and explain to you what God has said he is looking for in his relationship with you and what ultimately he will deem as acceptable as you stand before him?" The guy goes, "I guess." So I had a chance with both of them. I just took a moment and basically shared with them, in detail, John 3:16.
I said, "It's not about who you are; it's about what God has done. It's not about what you do; it's about who God is. God gave. It's the greatest example. There's no greater love than to give your life for a friend." I explained to them, "God's standard is perfection, so he's not going to want your best efforts. He's not going to want your résumé unless you allow somebody else to pay your debt, what you have earned.
The wages of your trespass and sin is death, just like mine. If he didn't make him who knew no sin to become sin on your behalf, and if he didn't allow the righteousness of God to be given to you, then you and I, no matter what we've done, will never be holy and blameless before his eyes. Doesn't it make sense to you that a holy God would require holiness to be married to him? And no matter how good you've been (and I've seen the way you've been kind to this guy during the survey), you and I both know you're not good enough."
I said, "How about if you start to answer this question this way? Because I would tell you that I, too, am sure that when I die I'm going to go to heaven, but here's the reason: not because of anything I've done but because God gave a wretch like me a means through which I could be associated with him, through the shed blood of…" What?
"For God [the greatest good] so loved [the greatest action] the world [the greatest need] , that He gave[the greatest example]His only begotten Son[the greatest sacrifice]…" Think about this. God had one Son; he made him a missionary. God loved his homeland, the glory of where he exists. In effect, if you can think of a place free from sin and darkness and rebellion and selfishness, that's God's homeland.
Jesus said, "You pray that what's true where God is would be true on this earth." What's wrong with this earth is this earth has turned away from him and gone its own way, so what you see on this earth is a broken world. It's no longer paradise, so it's no longer good for his children, but his children are still here.
So you pray that the kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven, but know this: God wants you to be in a place that is perfect and free from pain and free from suffering, and he sent his Son to go, if you will, war on the front lines so you might find freedom and live in that place. He had one Son, and he made him a soldier and put him on the front lines. No greater love is this, than a man would give his life for his friends, and no greater love is this, than one would give his only begotten Son.
This is very important. There's a reason they chose this word here. The word they chose for son is not the word that is used in John 1:12. In John 1:12 it says, "But as many as received Him [the Word] , to them He gave the right to become [sons] of God, even to those who believe in His name…" The word that's used there in John 1:12 is the word teknon, which means a child, a physical offspring, but that's not the word that is used here in John 3:16.
It is a word which means only form, only one brought forth. When you think of monogamous…mono means one, gamous is the word for relationship. So, singular relationship, or singular marriage…one man, one woman. The word that is used right here of begotten is the word monogenous. You think of a genus of a species or a form. He is the only form.
Then it uses a word…not teknon, which means child of physical birth, but a different word. The word is huios, which, basically, speaks of a relationship. Why is this important? Because Jesus is not created. He gave his only begotten Son. Who is this? There is only one God. This God is Spirit, yet there is one Theos that is a visible image of this invisible God. Who is it? John 1:1, 1:14, and 1:18.
Follow this. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Then it says in verse 14, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten [the only form brought forth from] the Father, full of grace and truth." Just like you would expect him to be.
Then verse 18 says, "No man has seen God at any time, because God is Spirit, but the only form brought forth from God eternally from the beginning, distinct from God but always God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he is revealed to us whom we could otherwise not see." This is why when believers got together early on and formed creeds which expressed what they believed, this is essentially what they said. If you're going to memorize a creed, memorize this one.
"We believe in one God…" We are what is called a monotheistic faith. One God. "We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. And we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally brought forth from the Father." Not at some point in history was he created, but always with the Father. "God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten [brought forth], not created; of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made."
Does that sound familiar? Yes. A little bit earlier, we said that we believe in one God, maker of heaven and earth. "Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation…" This is the Nicene Creed. You can't find this in your Bible, but every sentence I've read you find revealed in your Bible, so it is a systemized theology of what we believe. Who was sacrificed? The only begotten of God. Why? It needed to be the perfect sacrifice, because a perfect God requires a perfect provision given to satisfy him.
I told you that God defines love but love does not define God, because God doesn't just wink so that those who are needy can come into relationship with him, because he is also a God who defines justice, but because he is good and is not provoked, because he doesn't act in his own best interests, he does what only an unspeakable lover would do; a love you can't get your arms around because it's not natural, and God says, "Exactly! It is supranatural."
It's a love that is grander than you can imagine. It's divine love. It is covenant love. It's a love that gives himself for you, that you might have what otherwise you could not give. "For God [the greatest good] so loved [the greatest action] …that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [the greatest invitation] …" Now what do I mean by this? I'll tell you.
Love is not convenient. It is not defined like it's defined right now in the Dr Pepper ads, that "I'll do anything for love, but not that," which, by the way, is another Meat Loaf song. It's a love that is covenantal. It is not a love that is coercive. This is very important. God is not a flirt. He's not teasing you. He is not a seducer. Meaning, he's not there to deceive you, to get from you something he wants or needs.
God is not a smother lover. In other words, he doesn't just smother you in a controlling way so he can get what he wants from you, and he is not a rapist. He doesn't force you to love him. Do you know the only thing you can do for God that he chooses not to do for himself, the only thing you can give God that God chooses not to take for himself is your love? Why? Because he is a lover, not a rapist.
He reveals true love, which is, "I'm going to give everything I have to you, show you patience and kindness, not be provoked, not act unbecomingly. I'm not going to ever rejoice when unrighteousness befalls you. I will sometimes allow that unrighteousness which befalls you to bring you to the end of yourself that you might choose to love me, but at the end of the day, I'm going to love you, and if you would choose to love me back, it would be the delight of my heart."
"I will take no delight in the death of the wicked," he says. "But I will love you, that whoever…" Do you get that? It's the greatest invitation. There's no one he doesn't want to come. Those of you all who get hung up on election… It's in the Scripture. Let me just say this. One man said a long time ago, those who say they will not come to heaven until they can understand predestination are like the foolish man who says he wants to go to London but will not go there unless on his first step he can put his foot on the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
It is a journey to get your arms around some of the deep, complex truth of Scripture, but know this: God says no one comes unless the Father chooses to reveal himself to him, but God says, "I've revealed enough that every man should come." The truth is that no man should come, so God in his great love, grace upon grace, continues to strive in such a way that finally some of us see, and the eyes that have been darkened are enlightened.
The point is there's nobody you can't meet today that you can't with integrity say, "God loves you; Jesus died for you," because he died for the needy world. Now, the whole needy world will not come, and even hell is a picture of God's love. "Wait a minute. How can you say that?" Because hell is a place where he will give people what they have chosen.
"You want nothing to do with me? Then I'm not going to rape you. I've shown you enough that any fool could see that I am good, any fool could see that this is love, but you don't want anything to do with me? You don't want to give your heart to me? Then you go, and I'll put you in a place that will never remind you of me again."
What you need to know today is God doesn't want you there. He's jealous, and that's why you're here today: that you might hear me tell you that the greatest good has loved you in all your need with his perfect Son so that you…anybody, anywhere, anytime, everywhere, all the time…can respond the way he wants you to respond. Believe in him. It's the greatest response.
Believe is not just saying, "I get the story." It's not just saying, "I agree with the story." It means to trust in him. It means to surrender to him. It means you give yourself to him in love. It's a love relationship. God is not looking for you to vote for him; he's looking for you to wed yourself to him. Just like when a man gives himself in love to a woman, he says, "I am leaving every relationship or activity that will interfere with my commitment to her, and I'm going to cleave… In other words, I'm not going to let anything come into my life that will potentially threaten this relationship so that we might become one."
That's what you do, because God wants to marry himself to you. He loves you. Will you respond? It's the greatest response. To believe in him means you're going to trust in him and lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways acknowledge him, so that he can make your paths straight. Are you ready to believe in that way? That's what it means. One day, I'm going to take a whole Sunday and do a sermon called "What It Means to Give it to God."
I heard a guy say to me recently, "Give it to God? I might as well give it to the Easter Bunny. What does that mean?" Well, I'll tell you what it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean, "I'm just going to get here and sit on my lazy rear end and just give it to God. He'll work it out." This is what it means. To give it to God means I'm no longer going to act on my own understanding, but I'm going to believe in him. I'm going to believe that he has given me what I otherwise could not have. I will let him teach me, reprove me, correct me, and train me.
So I am going to be active. He tells me when I love him I should love with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. I'm going to let him direct my heart. I'm going to let him give my soul hope. I'm going to let him inform my mind, and I'm going to use the strength I have in surrender to him to live in such a way that he says is the right way to live, no matter how it looks to me. That's what it means to believe. Do you believe that way this morning? God is not looking for people who just say, "I believe Jesus died for me." He wants to see you surrender and act as if that's what you believe.
If you believe in him, then there's something else here. It says that you should not perish, which is the greatest horror. You don't have to do anything to perish; you're already perishing. One of my favorite tracts (and I'm not a big tract fan) is a little white piece of paper folded over. On the front it says "What You Must Do to Go to Hell." You open it up, and there's nothing inside of it. We're all dying. We're already all dying. Why? Because we have separated ourselves from God.
God is life. He's the author of life. You want to unplug yourself from him? You're on your own. The fan may spin for a little bit, but eventually, it's going to show that it's no longer plugged into the socket, and it's going to cease and desist. All of us are winding down. It is an illustration of our spiritual condition. God says if you come back into relationship with him through his only begotten Son, who he gave for you because he loves you in his great goodness, he will then give you eternal life, which is the greatest gift.
Now, there are two parts to this: eternal and life. We put the two together, but you shouldn't, because one speaks of quantity and the other speaks of quality. Here's God in all his goodness reaching out to you. He doesn't want you to have a life that is empty. He is calling you to a life that is full, a life that can be marked, first, by that which does not belong to time. That's the eternal, an age and ageless, one that is not terminated; in other words, one that death isn't a part of, because you will be connected back to God who himself is outside of time.
When you are reconnected to that God, you will not just have endless life, because all men, it says, will be resurrected, some to life and some to judgment, but you will be resurrected not just to eternal but to eternal zoe (eternal life). Not eternal bios. Biology: study of physical life. Zoology: study of life that we all want. Here's what I want you to hear: God is offering to you not just that you would never physically die but that you would begin to spiritually live.
Even in a world right now that is broken, you can live with hope. Even in a world that is loveless, you can start to love. Even in a world where the presence of God is not known the way he wants it to be, he says you can be a citizen of heaven, and you can be fearless even in the face of physical death, because God can deal with physical death, but even better than that, he can deal with the depression, the corruption, the brokenness of your soul. "Come to me," he says. "Come to me, and I will give you life."
Are you out there today and wish your life was more full? Well, believe in him. Give it to God. Trust his Son as a means through which you can be restored in all your brokenness. Get connected to the greatest good who is zealous for you, because he wants you to have life. I don't care where you've been. He wants you to come to him, and he cares for you, and he can begin to restore to you what your brokenness and rebellion have lost.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever should believe in him should not perish but have life that cannot be experienced any other way except in the presence of the one who himself is glorious, good, and defines life." That's John 3:16.
Father, I pray that this verse, which is often written on placards, would be written on our hearts like never before and this most quoted verse would be the most [audio cuts off] and that others would see us as individuals who are experiencing a life and go, "Man, tell me about what you know that I don't know, because you're living in a hopeless place with hope that I don't get. You're loving in a loveless place in a way that I don't recognize."
And, Lord, we could tell them that we have become your children who you have created; in fact, born again from death to life because of the one who wasn't created but was brought forth from you who died for us. Lord, let us not get too lost in the majesty of what you have done, but let us get lost in your love for us, and may we never forget it's not about who we are; it's about what you've done. It's not about what we do; it's about who you are, amen.
That's the most quoted verse in all of Scripture. Our hope is that you wouldn't just now be more familiar with it in terms of definition but that you would experience the truth of it in your heart. If you're here today and you aren't really sure that you're loved that way, can we tell you it personally?
Can we labor with you to know that the greatest good is seeking you and that judgment hasn't ultimately befallen you; you haven't perished completely yet, because he wants you to come to him that you might live, you might be delivered from judgment, but even right now you would start to experience zoe…not just bios but life, fullness, freedom. If that's not your experience, you're not living with Christ, so we invite you to come, just as he did.
But there's more. On the back of that little sheet I gave you, if you'll turn it over, you'll see there are 40 different places. That should be your beginning this week. We, as people who have been reconciled to God through the wonders that are revealed in this verse, are called by God to be ministers of reconciliation for others. I have two deals for you today. First of all, if you don't know Jesus Christ, come. Secondly, if you do, go.
Let's make this the most quoted verse in all of Dallas, Texas, and around the country and on every plane that we go this week…in schools. What I want you to do is quote it and just say, "Can I take a second? I need six seconds of your life to tell you something." Now you know what it means, but just tell somebody. "For God so loved the world [you, me] , that He gave His only begotten Son…" You can tell what begotten means now."…that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Then have them sign that little deal. Let's see how many signatures we can get this week, because I know the more we tell this story, the more people are going to want to know about the God who is good, who does not delight in the death of the wicked, doesn't enjoy when people live without life, so he has called them into relationship with him.
You know what it means. Will you tell others what it says, and will you live a life that shows that you believe? Have a great week of worship. We will honor and reward the one who gets the most signatures, and then next week… I mean that. You have a week to get them in, and then next week, we'll talk about the most awful verse in the Bible. We'll see you.
Who was Jesus Christ? A mythical man created to give a false sense of comfort after we die? Some sort of character that enables us to justify our own choices while simultaneously giving us the power to judge others? Or was He something much bigger? God, in the flesh, walking and living among His creation. A sinless man who became the sacrifice for our sins. The Gospel of John is more than Christology 101. It is an invitation to a living and active faith in Jesus Christ. Come join us on this life-changing journey through the book of John: the story of Jesus Christ.