Shelby G. Floyd
A well-known preacher was asked one time what was the greatest biblical statement that he had ever heard. He thought for a minute and then said, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” I think we can all agree that God loves us and that Christ loved us so much that he took our place on the cross and died for us.
THE GOLDEN TEXT
Our lesson today is based on a verse that is familiar to all of us – it is the Golden text of the Bible:
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
God loves us just like a father and mother love their children. God loves us to the greatest extent possible. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah compared the love that God has for his people to the love of a mother for her child: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15 NKJV). Most mothers would never forget the child they brought into this world. Sometimes a mother will forget and maybe even abandon her child, but God will never forget us, because he loves us and has our interest at heart.
MOSES AND THE SERPENT
I have been preaching for 55 years and have never spoken specifically on this text that exalts the love of God, until just a few years ago. But I have spoken often on the love of God for lost humanity. That has ever been my theme and will be until the day that I die. The Golden text of the Bible is found in a paragraph that reads like this:
13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[a] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but[b] have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
The first point is that the conjunction “for” in John 3:16 points back to the previous statement in John 3: 13-15. The preposition “for” also assigns the reason for what has been previously stated. Jesus had just said that the Son of Man would be lifted up in a way comparable to Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. This would be for the salvation of lost humanity. The Golden text then assigns the reason why Christ would be lifted up – it would be because of God’s great love for all of us.
Moses Lifted Up the Brazen Serpent
What was Jesus referring to when he predicted that the Son of Man would be lifted up like Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness? This is a reference to an event that took place in the history of Israel:
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up
Having noticed the incident when Moses lifted up the snake, we now inquire as to what Jesus meant when he said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up….” What is Christ talking about? He is talking about Christ being raised up on the cross! Jesus was lifted up on the cross and we must look to him and trust him and obey him so we will be saved from our sin.
There are two other references about Jesus being lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness:
28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me.
Many people did not realize who Jesus Christ was and what his claims were, until they actually lifted him up on the cross during the Passover week. Christ was our Paschal Lamb and he died a cruel death on Calvary:
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 (Now he said this to indicate clearly what kind of death he was going to die.)
This statement explicitly says that Jesus spoke of the kind of death he would die. Jesus Christ was “lifted up” on the cross, he was “lifted up” from the grave, and finally, he was “lifted up” into heaven where he is now seated at the right hand of God. He has been crowned King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and he reigns over his kingdom and will reign until he comes again.
THE GOD OF LOVE
Let us look back at our text yet again: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The second topic suggested by this statement is the love of God. God is a loving God, he is a just God, and he is a merciful God. But his greatest attribute is his love for his people. He is a loving God because he is a giving God. He gave his only begotten son.
This text also affirms the existence of God. Do you believe that God is? Theism is the belief that God exists. Atheism is the teaching that God does not exist. And agnosticism is the neutral idea that one cannot know whether God does or does not exist. I know for certain that God exists because of the overwhelming amount of evidence that argues for the God revealed in the Bible.
What Does God Look Like?
A little boy asked his mother, “What does God look like?” “Well, God is a spirit and we cannot see him the same way that we see people,” his mother replied. “But if we cannot see him, how do we know what he’s like?” “Well, suppose you were blind. Would you be able to see Daddy? But you would know what Danny is like.” He shook his head in agreement. “You would know what Daddy is like by the things he says, wouldn’t you?” He nodded yes again. “And you would know what God is like, too, by the things he says in his word. And you would know that Daddy loves you, because he would tell you so and do everything he could for you.” “That’s how we know God loves us, too. He tells us so, and he has given us so much to help us have a wonderful life. But most of all, he gave us Jesus to take away our sins and to show us what God is really like.” “And even though you couldn’t see Daddy — if you were blind — you could hear his voice and feel when he is near. And in the same way, through Jesus we can hear God’s voice and feel him near to us. That’s why, even though we cannot see God we can be very certain what he is like.”-M. Newland
That is a good explanation to a child who would ask you what God is like. What is God like? He is a God of love. To the Corinthians Paul spoke of God as “the God of love and peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11).
And in the book of first John we have several statements revealing that the fundamental nature of God is love:
1 John 4:8– “The person who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
1 John 4:16– “And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.”
1 John 4:19– “We love because he loved us first.”
1 John 3:16– We have come to know love by this: that Jesus laid down his life for us; thus we ought to lay down our lives for our fellow Christians.”
The term “love” translates a word that means to have good will toward a person because you have their interest at heart. In this sense we can even obey the command to love our enemies—because we have their welfare at heart.
GOD LOVES “THE WORLD”
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16). The “world” translates a word from which we have the word “cosmonauts.” Usually the “cosmos” refers to “the orderly universe.” But here the term “world” stands for the people on the earth. This is a figure of speech where the container stands for the contents. God loved the world (container), which means he loved the people (contents) on the earth.
God loves everyone on the earth, the good, bad and ugly. That’s the reason Jesus tasted death for every man. A psychologist questioned a mother at one time, and asked her, “You have five children and which one do you love the most?” The mother gave this answer: “I love all my children the same.” The psychologist asked again, “no, all your children are different from each other and you surely must love one of them more than the others.”
Then the mother responded, “Well, that depends. When one child is sick, I love that one the most. When one of them is hurt, I love that one the most. When one of them is alone, I love that one the most. And when one my children has been really bad, then I love that one the most.” That is a good illustration of how God loves each one of us. He loves us like a father and mother would love their children, except his love is perfect and ours is not.
I read the story of a father and mother who had four sons. There was a severe famine in the land where they lived. They were about starved to death. They pondered whether they should sell one of their sons into slavery in order to buy enough food for the rest of the family to stay alive. Which son shall we part with? They considered their oldest son, but the father and mother said they would rather die themselves as to part with their first born son. What about the second born son? He was the “spitting image” of his father and he said that he would never part with him, because he was just like him. The third son was mentioned that he looked like and had some ways that were just like his mother. She could not bear to let him go. And finally they wondered if they could let the youngest go into slavery and both the father and mother said that would never happen because he was there “Benjamin”–the son born in their old age. They were so fond of him that they concluded that it would be better for all of them to die together than to give up any one of their sons.
The words of the poet sum up God’s love for all of lost humanity:
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the oceans dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky the sky!
THE GIFT OF GOD’S LOVE: THE ONLY BEGOTTEN SON
The Golden Text reveals how much God loved us, because he did give up his only begotten and unique son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV). Jesus Christ, the gift of God’s love is unique. He is only one of a kind. He is the best heaven had to offer for our salvation. The Hallmark greeting card company has for their motto: “when you care to send the very best…” This has been a very good sales gimmick, for everyone wants to send the very best in their greeting cards. When God cared for us and loved us so much that he wanted to send the very best he sent Jesus Christ–the best, the most lavish gift heaven could send down to the earth.
How many of you would willingly send your only son or daughter to Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq to die in order to defeat those who hate us and want to see us destroyed? Many parents are giving up sons and daughters not because they choose to, but because their sons and daughters have chosen to save their country. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit chose the second member of the Godhead to die for the sins of the world. Rather he chose to die himself:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.
What was there about this “world” that would cause God to send his only begotten son down here to the earth? It was like a desert, no flowers were blooming and everything was wretched, then God looked down in mercy and said, I love the people so much; I am going to send my one and only unique son as a sacrifice for their sins.
ABRAHAM WAS WILLING TO GIVE UP HIS UNIQUE SON OF PROMISE
Isaac, the son of promise born to Abraham and Sarah when they were nearly 100 years old, yet when Isaac was a teenager God commanded Abraham to take Isaac and offer him up for a sacrifice. Can you imagine a father being required to do such a thing? But Abraham’s faith was so strong that he saw in a figure God raising him up from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). When he was ready to plunge the knife into his heart, God stayed his hand and provided a ram as a substitute.
This is typical of what God did for us. Christ was substituted for us. He took our place on the cross. Jesus Christ is therefore God’s one and only son, His unique son, sent as the substitute sacrifice, the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.
Isaiah prophesied that God would have a son like Christ:
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
In the next chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy he describes how this son would be brought into the world:
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
Later the inspired biographer of Jesus Christ, Matthew Levi, quoted Isaiah and applied the virgin birth prophecy to the birth of Jesus Christ:
21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Jesus Christ, God’s unique son also loved us so much that he offered himself up that by his sacrifice we might be made alive: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6). These verses illustrate how much God loved each one of us by sending Jesus to die in our place.
The following story also illustrates what somebody will do when they love to the point that they sacrifice themselves. In January 1978, Florida newspapers cared the story of James Michael Harper of Tampa. Michael was playing with his puppy on a train trestle over the Hillsboro River. The puppy got loose and Michael saw a train coming. He was determined to save his dog, and he did, but the train ran over Michael and he lost both his legs. How tragic that a boy should lose both legs to save a mere animal. But the difference between man and animal is no greater than that between God and man — yet Jesus gave his life for us and that’s how much God loved us.
THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF SALVATION BY FAITH
What did Jesus mean when he said, “that whosoever believes in him might not perish, but have everlasting life?” (John 3:16). The common answer is that faith alone is the only condition of salvation. This is false and a misunderstanding of the doctrine of salvation by faith. I read a statement one time that claimed that salvation is “by grace alone, through faith alone, to God alone is the glory.” If salvation is by grace alone then that would exclude faith. And if salvation is by faith alone that would in exclude grace. James says that salvation is “not by faith alone” (James 2:24).
Salvation is not by any one thing alone. We are saved by the love of God, but not by the love of God alone. We are saved by the grace of God, but not by the grace of God alone. We are saved by faith, but not by faith alone. We are saved by repentance, but not by repentance alone. We are saved by confession of our faith, but not by a confession alone (Romans 10:9-10). And my friends, the word of God declares we are saved by baptism, but not by baptism alone. Peter affirmed: “There is also an antitype which now saves us—baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21).
We are saved by all of these conditions working together. They are not human works, but the works of faith, and therefore they are God’s works and we are his workmanship created unto good works (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Copyright © 2002, 2016 Shelby G. Floyd, All Rights Reserved
Shelby G Floyd delivered this sermon March 31, 2002, and January 31, 2016, at the Heartland Church of Christ, 1693 W. Main Street, Greenwood, IN, 46142.
Shelby G. Floyd
Heartland Church of Christ
1693 West Main Street
Greenwood, IN 46142