2019-12-22 For God So Loved the World

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          December 22, 2019

“For God So Loved the World”
John 3:16-17

(An earlier version of this was preached at Cornerstone EPC on Sunday, December 24, 2017.)

We come today to the fourth Sunday in Advent—the Sunday immediately prior to Christmas, which occurs on Wednesday this year.  Let’s review the ground covered so far.  Three weeks ago, we recalled that Jesus is our hope; let us, therefore, hope in Him.  Two weeks ago, we noted again that Jesus is our peace; may He indeed give us His peace—in these troubled times to our troubled souls.  Last week we saw again that Jesus is our joy; may His joy be our strength (cf. Nehemiah 8:10).  Today, on this fourth Sunday in Advent, we look at love—and we do so by looking at the verse that Martin Luther called the Gospel in miniature.  Let us now hear these most familiar verses once again in this place.


The Apostle John, as led by the Holy Spirit, is fond of words and phrases capable of double, if not multiple, meaning.  Notice the first clause of our text, “For God so loved the world…,” as in the English Standard Version body text.  The clause also can be translated, “For this is how God loved the world…,” as in the ESV footnote.  Both are defensible on lexical grounds; it appears that the Lord wants to know both how He loves the world and how much He loves it.  Of the words available in Greek for love, the Holy Spirit here leads John to use the verb agapao (agapaw).[1]  This love is characteristically high and self-sacrificial.  It is the love has God has for Himself in the Godhead.  It is also the love that God has for us here and now.  It is also the love that those who belong to Christ are to exhibit and feel toward each other.  By this, Jesus says, all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another (John 13:35).

Now we must note what the Lord means in His Word when He leads John to use the word world (Greek kosmos [kosmoV]).  He means generally, as here, a world system generally estranged from and hostile toward God—and the people deceived and enslaved by that system.  God, in Christ Jesus, loves such a world—and He redeems such as should be saved from such a system by faith in Him.  He rescues His redeemed from out of this world system for something far better.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.  God gave to the world His Son.  He gave, with no payment of any sort from us, and He gave without consideration of merit or demerit on our part.  God’s gift to us: His only-begotten Son, the Babe of Bethlehem, the dying Man of Sorrow, the risen Lord of the ages, truly is free to us.  We are sons and daughters of the King by adoption—supernaturally born from above and co-heirs with Jesus, the only-begotten: of Mary, by the Holy Spirit.

Now comes the instrumental means by which God unites us to Himself, namely, faith.  Whosoever believes on Jesus as Lord and Savior shall not perish, but shall have eternal life.  Whosoever implies that people from every tribe, language, people, and demographic group will stand in eternal glory and victory before the Lord of hosts.  None is excluded from God’s glorious fellowship and redemption except for unbelief.  Belief involves both cognitive assent to Gospel facts and volitional (i.e., with one’s will) trust.  That is, we both assert that Gospel declaration are true and stake our lives and eternities upon them.

Those who believe thus on Jesus as Lord and Savior shall not perish.  Though our physical bodies die and decay, at the return of our Lord they shall rise—selfsame, yet glorious.  In the interim, between physical death and Christ’s second Advent, our souls live in Heaven with Him.  Throughout all of this, we have what Scripture declares we have: eternal life—both life without end and life with abundant dimension because of Christ (cf. John 10:10).

Now note God’s further rationale for this gift and promise, in addition to His great love—not to condemn the world, but to save the world through His Son.  He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11), and he desires that none should perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).  On the contrary, God aims to save the world through His Son.  He is infinitely powerful to save His elect ones, and His sacrifice is infinitely meritorious sacrifice to atone for sin.  More than this, Christ as His glorious return will redeem creation itself and vanquish every foe.  Then all will be set to rights—and the only system running, so to speak, is His infinitely righteous reign.

Dionne Warwick, from late in 1966, sang, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”[2]  Actually, the world is beloved of God, though not reciprocating that love.  It is true that we see too little of God’s love in daily life.  We see too little of it in the world at large, though we shouldn’t expect to find it there.  Alas, we see too little love in the Church—and our foes glory in this state even as they ridicule our infirmity and reject our Christ.  Even between some Christians in the nearest and dearest relations there is too little love.

We are, you are, and I am loved by God in Christ Jesus, His Son.  Hence, God’s love poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).  God commends His love toward us in this staggering way: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).  Let us then, in accord with Scripture, love Him well Who first loved us (1 John 4:19)—and, in loving Him well, we shall love one another well.


[1] This verb occurs for the first time in John’s Gospel in today’s text.  See Leon Morris, John.  The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1971), 229n71.

[2] “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” words by Hal David, music by Burt Bacharach, 1965.