Today’s Reading: John 3
There are a few chapters in our 260 Journey where you just pause, exhale, and know you are seeing beauty and majesty. John 3 is one of those chapters.
Plato said, “Whoever tells the stories shapes society.” Do we have a story to tell or what? We have the story—the gospel story. God’s story.
John 3:16 is God’s story stuffed into one verse. And Jesus tells it in twenty-five words—because that’s all He needed.
If we could choose one verse of the 31,102 verses of the Bible, this one verse sums up the gospel. The word gospel means Good News.
So here’s God’s story: “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.”
This is the most wonderful sentence ever written. It begins with God, who has no beginning, and concludes with life that has no ending.
Let’s break down the verse:
God . . . the greatest lover
so loved . . . the greatest degree
the world . . . the greatest number
that He gave . . . the greatest act
His only begotten Son . . . the greatest gift
that whoever . . . the greatest invitation
believes . . . the greatest simplicity
in Him . . . the greatest person
shall not perish . . . the greatest deliverance
but . . . the greatest difference
have . . . the greatest certainty
everlasting life . . . the greatest possession
How did John 3:16 come to be? It was spoken to one man, Nicodemus, one night. (The original Nick at Night.)
Nicodemus was a religious man, and it seemed something was bothering him. Religion wasn’t enough.
What’s interesting is that some of the greatest verses in the Bible from Jesus’ lips happen through one-on-one conversations, not in sermons.
While Nicodemus did not ask a question to be answered, Jesus answered the question he meant to ask. He did not realize the conversation would be turned from religion to regeneration. To make sure we understand what Jesus was emphasizing that night to Nicodemus, let’s read a few verses surrounding this one so we can get a sense of the context:
So that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. 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 did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:15-18)
If I were to say to my children: “Dinner is great, but now it’s time to clean up. When you clean up, Mom and Dad are happy, because cleaning up means you respect our words, and when you clean up you do your part.” What is the key phrase? Clean up.
Jesus did the same thing. You have to pay attention to see it in these verses. Jesus’ key word: believe.
Belief is crucial, because it is the hinge upon which the door to heaven turns. Jesus used variations of belief five times. If you were to speak three sentences, and you included one verb five times, I would get the feeling you were stressing a highly critical point. And indeed, He was.
John 3:16 begins with God and His love, and it ends in heaven. But the one variable in the equation is this word, believes.
Believe is at the fork in the road of perish and eternal life.
God’s love gave us Christ, who died, giving us our only access to heaven. Therefore, salvation is not in question. It is there for the taking. The only thing in question is our response. Will we believe?
Pastor J. C. Ryle put it succinctly: “Salvation . . . does not turn on the point, ‘Did Christ die for me?’ but on the point, ‘Do I believe in Christ?’”
Think about it in this way. When the word finally came over the telegraph in New York City in 1912 that Titanic had sunk, despite all the rich and famous on the ship, the list had only two columns—lost and saved.
Don’t miss the important word, believe.
Not baptize. Believe.
Not communion. Believe.
Not join a group. Not pick one of nine thousand denominations to attend. Believe, believe, believe.
The story goes that a man had a dream. He stood at the gate of heaven and confronted Peter. “What does it take to get into heaven?”
“One thousand points,” Peter said.
“Okay,” the man said. “I have been faithful in church attendance all my life.”
“That’s one point,” said Peter.
The man could not believe it. “I was a deacon in my church for more than twenty years.”
“That’s another point.”
Getting very anxious, the man said, “I did many good things to help people.”
“That’s another point.”
In great despair the man said, “If all I can get is three points for a long life in the church and doing good works, I guess I’m just going to have to throw myself on the mercy of God and the love of Christ displayed on the cross, and believe that Jesus paid for my sins on the cross.”
Peter smiled. “That’s a thousand points. Come on in.”
Today I want you to get your thousand points. Throw yourself on the mercy of God and stop trying to pay for something that’s impossible to accomplish. Simply believe that Jesus did what you could not do for yourself.
Here is the obvious: Jesus said eternal life comes through “belief.” Don’t make it more difficult than it is.