The Scandal and Sweetness of John 3:16
John 3:16 has become so familiar that we no longer find its words astonishing. But this remarkable verse reveals amazing truth that should delight us every time we hear it.
A Remarkable Claim
Jesus boldly asserts that God loves the world. God, the maker of heaven and earth, is self-sufficient and needs nothing outside of Himself. He is the Holy One whose pure eyes cannot look upon sin (Hab. 1:13). His desires are always upright, His love completely pure, and His affection never misplaced. How can such a God love the broken, sin-marred world?
In the broadest sense, the world represents the universe that God created. God loves the creation that He spoke into being. His love for the sin-corrupted world is bound up in His plan to totally restore heaven and earth (Acts 3:21).
More specifically, the world represents the human inhabitants of the earth, a race of rebels, traitors, and idolaters–objects far from deserving God’s love. Because man sinned, God would have done no injustice by letting everyone perish (Rom. 3:19). Instead, God chose to love.
The Reach of God’s Love
Christ uses the word world to show the mystery and fullness of God’s love, which is not limited to any race, region, or time. Jesus is not suggesting a universal atonement. He died for those whom God chose to believe in Him (John 6:37) and in whom He works saving faith as a gift of grace (Eph. 2:8). Still, God loves sinners and has provided a way of salvation for a vast host of fallen people (Gen. 15:5).
The Reality of God’s Love
God’s love for the world seems incongruous and far-fetched–even impossible. To believe in this love, we need irrefutable evidence. Jesus’ coming to the world is the irrefutable evidence of the Father’s love for it. People can talk about their love for others, but the proof of love is action, not words (1 John 3:18). “God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The Riches of God’s Love
God’s love is not sentimental but sacrificial. It is agape, a committed and costly affection proved through action. According to John, only one event in the history of the world is capable of demonstrating true love. He writes, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
God’s love for His people can only be understood in relation to His love for His Son. The only begotten Son is the eternal object of the Father’s affection. Twice during Christ’s public ministry, the Father shattered heaven’s silence to affirm His absolute love for His Son (Matt. 3:17; 17:5). Our love for our children is diminished by both our sin and theirs. But the love between God the Father and God the Son is perfect, personal, intimate, deep, eternal, and committed.
Christ came to earth to show us the riches of God’s love. This is the good news of Christ’s advent. In Jesus Christ, God loves His believing children with this same incomprehensible, infinite, and unchangeable love. Having sacrificed His Son for our salvation is it possible that He will now withhold from us any good thing (Rom. 8:32)? No, for Christ’s incarnation confirms that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
Adapted from Joel Beeke and William Boekestein’s Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on Christ’s Incarnation.