John 3:16 - Sermon Notes
Yesterday, for the first time ever in any of my sermons, I focused exclusively on the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16. Here are my sermon notes:
John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
GOD SO LOVED - The word “so” often denotes intensity. For instance, a man may say to his wife, “I love you sooooo much,” as he wishes to express the measure and depth of his love. Though this is a popular understanding of this verse, that is NOT how the word “so” is being used in John 3:16.
There is another way of using the word “so” in English, which describes the way in which something occurs. When a mother is seeking to train her children how to place cutlery on the dining room table, she might well place the knife and fork in position and say, "now when you put the knife and fork down on the table, place them just so" (or in this way).
In John 3:16 it is this “just so” concept that is in view. We could rightly read the text as “God’s love for the world is seen in this way…” A note in the margin of the ESV states this concerning “For God so loved the world” as it reads, "Or For this is how God loved the world."
THE WORLD – There are at least ten different uses of the word “world” (Greek kosmos) in John’s gospel. Context is a most vital component in determining the meaning of words. Here, the word kosmos is being used in a general way to speak of humanity, of Jews and Gentiles.
GOD GAVE HIS SON - God’s love for the world is seen in tangible terms - the giving of His Son…
PURPOSE - God gave His Son with a particular goal in mind.
Notice there is a strong element of particularity (rather than universality) here. The purpose was not to save everybody on the planet (past, present and future) but to save those who believe in Christ.
WHOEVER BELIEVES - Literally, the text reads “in order that every the one believing in Him…” It says “every” or “all the ones believing…” That’s hard to express in English but in essence, it is saying “all the believing ones.” That’s what is being communicated. It is saying that there is no such thing as a believing one who does not receive eternal life, but who perishes. Though our English translation says “whoever believes,” the literal rendering is accurately translated as “every believing one” and the emphasis is NOT AT ALL on the “whosoever,” but on the belief.
The ones BELIEVING will not have one consequence, but will have another. They will not perish but will have everlasting life.
Because of the main verb – God GAVE His Son. God gave His Son for the purpose (Greek: hina) that every believing one should not perish, but that every believing one should have everlasting life.
As mentioned earlier, John 3:16 actually speaks of a limitation -- of a particular, rather than a universal, redemption. Clearly, not everyone will be saved. Only those who believe in Christ will be saved. The Father loved the world in this way: He gave His Son for the purpose of saving those who believe. The Son is given so that the believing ones will not perish, but by contrast, have eternal life. That is the purpose of the giving.
So, what John 3:16 teaches is:
ALL who do A (believe in Him) will not B (perish) but will have C (everlasting life)
PERISH - The word does not mean merely the end of physical existence or annihilation. We know this from the context. Verse 17 indicates that the perishing involves divine condemnation, complete and everlasting so that a person is banished from the presence of the God of love and dwells forever under His wrath.
Here's a lengthy quote from John Piper:
“The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.
When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).
The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.
But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.
So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.
When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”
What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.
Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).
The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.
When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.
We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).
These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.
Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone— should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description—weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).
I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.”
We should all tremble before such realities.
“It is not the purpose of the shining of the sun to cast shadow. But… shadows are inevitable. The shadows are, so to speak, the other side of the sunshine. So it is with condemnation and the coming of the Son of God. He did not come in order that people be condemned. But there are great moral issues involved, and those who refuse salvation condemn themselves. The condemnation is as real as the salvation.” Leon Morris
EVERLASTING LIFE - Quality and Quantity: Different in quality from the life characterized by this present age. Different in quantity – everlasting – never ending life.