16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God. ~ John 3:16-21
Question: Why should we celebrate Christmas? And by that, I don’t mean why should we set apart one particular day and call it the birthday of Jesus, nor do I mean why should we gather and give and receive presents with friends and families. Those things can be good reminders of the gospel story. But, why should we celebrate the fact that Jesus was born into this world?—something we should dwell on every day.
Answer: Because we are desperately hopeless sinners who are loved by an amazingly loving God.
In John 3:16-21, the apostle explained why God sent his Son into the world. And it starts with the fact that on our own, we stand condemned. Each of us was born into the world with the stain of sin and a heart that desires sin more than it desires God. We run from this truth, reject this truth, and we attempt to twist this truth. Instead of turning to the light of Jesus who says: “You must change but I will change you;” we create our own god who says: “You are fine just the way you are, nothing needs to change.”
Yet, hiding in the darkness and rejecting this truth does not alter the fact that we stand condemned. This is why John could say on the one hand that Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but on the other hand that if we don’t believe (i.e. we reject the truth of Jesus and all he offers and hold on to the deceptiveness of sin) then we are condemned already.
Being born into this world, we all start on a path towards hell, towards judgment for our sin and rebellion, and nothing we can do will result in our salvation. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus shortly before this passage: “You must be born again or you will not make it into the Kingdom of God.”
In life, a child does not conceiver herself, it is the work of the parents. Nor does a baby bring himself into the world, it is the labor of his mother. So it is, we cannot work our way or earn our way into the Kingdom—it is all God’s work, and we receive only through faith.
We are desperately hopeless sinners in need of rescue.
So, John wrote, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Here in this verse we find three glorious truths:
First, salvation is available. God did not leave us stranded in our desperate hopelessness. Yes he is a God of justice, but he is also a God of mercy. Yes he is a God of righteousness and wrath, but he is also a God of love and grace. He will wipe away the stain of sin in judgment, but he provides us the opportunity to avoid his wrath by giving us the life of Jesus.
Second, salvation is available for all. Here is the inclusiveness of Jesus and the gospel. There are no barriers of age, gender, ethnicity, orientation, race, or social class that can keep us away from the love of God. There is no laundry list of things we have done that create an insurmountable debt that God cannot overcome. Salvation is available for all. But…
Third, salvation is available for all who believe. Here is the exclusivity of Jesus and the gospel. To receive this gift of love, there must be faith. To receive salvation there must be a letting go of ourselves and a clinging to Jesus. In 3:14-15, Jesus reminded Nicodemus of the story from Numbers 21:4-9. The people sinned by rejecting God and wanting to go their own way in their own means. God sent judgment, condemning the guilty to death through the bite of a fiery serpent. Yet, God also provided salvation, instructing Moses to place a bronze serpent upon a pole and lift it up before the people, so that all who would look to it would live.
Jesus said, “That is about me. I will be lifted up (the cross), and whoever will turn to me will live.”
All of us are snake-bitten in our sin. Death is coming. Yet if we will take our eyes off our sin, our lust, our greed, our pride, and our selfishness; and if we will look upon the One sent to us, the one Son of God born into this world for us, then we will live.
Oh, the depths of the riches of his grace! Oh, the cause for joy and celebration, that God has sent his Son to us!