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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever 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. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Even the most shocking things become normal when we get used to them. That’s true, for instance, of the human tolerance of sin: things that once shocked us stop shocking us once we see them enough times. Think, for instance, of the things you now watch on TV that you would not have tolerated just a few short years ago. You can see this when you turn to your kids and say, “Let’s not watch that show tonight, Grandmamma’s coming over!” All that means is you have come to tolerate things you once found shocking.
But it’s also true for the human understanding of God and His grace. For instance, we in the church sometimes do not seem to be shocked anymore by the gospel. This is a tragedy, for the gospel is the most shocking news the world has ever heard. The Greeks were shocked by what they perceived as the gospel’s foolishness. The Jews were shocked by what they perceived as the gospel’s blasphemy. And believers were originally shocked by the amazing good news of the gospel.
Admit it: there was a time when you were shocked by the gospel. You used to sit in church or read your Bible with tears running down your face. You used to read of the cross and marvel that Christ did such a thing for you. You were in awe of amazing grace, of His amazing love.
But somewhere along the way, many of us have ceased to be shocked by the gospel.
Our familiarity with John 3:16 is a perfect example. This verse (and the verses following it) is immeasurably astounding in its central assertion and implications, yet we seem almost not to hear it anymore. Don’t get me wrong: almost everybody can quote John 3:16, but I sometimes wonder how many of us really listen to John 3:16?
This passage is one of the greatest passages in all of the Bible. Its message is certainly the greatest message the world has ever heard!
James Montgomery Boice recalls coming across a little card with John 3:16 written on it. Beneath the verse was this summary:
God (the greatest Lover)
So loved (the greatest degree)
The world (the greatest company)
That he gave (the greatest act)
His only begotten Son (the greatest gift)
That whosoever (the greatest opportunity)
Believeth (the greatest simplicity)
In him (the greatest attraction)
Should not perish (the greatest promise)
But (the greatest difference)
Have (the greatest certainty)
Everlasting life (the greatest possession)
That’s well said! This is, indeed, a great and beautiful verse, as are the verses before and after it. Its greatness comes in its amazing revelation of the nature of God’s love for humanity.
God’s Love Is a Crucified Love
In verses 16 and 17, John writes:
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. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Listen again: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…”
It’s the very famous beginning of the most famous verse in the world. We teach our children to say these words. If we are not careful, we can say them without even really thinking about them. But when is the last time you were shocked at these words? When is the last time you reeled at these words?
Honestly, some of you are thinking, “Why should I be shocked at them?” The answer lies in the words “gave his only Son” and our over-familiarity with them.
“Gave his only Son” is an amazing thought, but it is made even more amazing when we remember what this giving meant. It meant that he gave His Son to be crucified, killed by His own creation.
What if we flesh this out a bit when we quote John 3:16:
For God so loved the world, that He let us murder His boy.
For God so loved the world, that He handed His Son over to us and we stripped Him naked and nailed nails through His hands and feet.
For God so loved the world, that He allowed us to mock and beat and strike and curse and spit upon His boy.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His Son to us so that we might make Him the object of our petty, ego-driven, and murderous desires.
For God so loved the world, that He let His own rebellious, ingrate creation mock, taunt, and torture His Son.
For God so love the world, that He gave His only Son, and we hated His Son, and we nailed Him up in front of His mother, and we yelled out, “Kill Him! Kill Him! Crucify God’s Son! Away with Him! Destroy Him!”
Ah, it is no small thing, this giving of God’s Son! It is no small thing because of who God’s Son Jesus was. Do you remember when Jesus told His murderers, “Let us be clear: you don’t take my life. I give my life. And if I wanted, I could snap my fingers and 10,000 angels could come and kill you all in a second. But I will not do that, for I love you even as you kill me. I am praying God’s forgiveness over you. I will let this happen so that you can have life. I will let this happen so that you may be forgiven!”
It is no small thing that God “gave His only begotten Son!”
Let us not reduce the cross through over-familiarity! Let us not defang it. It is a startling, shocking, scandalous, and amazing thing that “God so loved the world” and “gave His only begotten Son.”
Shane Clairbone once alluded to a CBS miniseries on Jesus that aired some years ago. He recalled a scene in the miniseries “in which the Tempter meets Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane just before he is about to be crucified. The devil tells him, ‘They do not understand your cross, Jesus. They will never understand your cross.’”
Indeed, sometimes it seems that we have failed to understand His cross. This is, of course, understandable with lost people who have rejected Christ, but it must never be the case with the church, the people of God, who claim to have bowed heart and knee before the cross of Christ!
May we never forget that God’s love is a crucified love!
God’s Love Is a Rescuing Love
This crucified love is for our salvation. It is a rescuing love. It rescues us from sin, death, and hell.
John 3:16 does not stand in a vacuum. The Word of God goes on to explain the radical implications of this Son-giving love of the Father:
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Christians, followers of Jesus, believe in two advents, two comings, of Christ. The first advent was when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. In His first advent, Jesus came meekly and mildly, born a baby in a manger to a young, virgin, Jewish girl. In His first advent, Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom and to offer grace. In His second coming, Jesus will come for His own and will mete out justice on the earth. It will be a coming of judgment. His second advent will be the conclusion of the entire production. The curtain will fall then, and all will be assigned to their eternal homes.
But John reminds us here that, in the first advent of Christ, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” He came to save you!
The rejection of His saving work is also clear to see:
18 Whoever 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.
Do you see how this works? Notice that Jesus does not step into a spiritually neutral world. The world is already condemned. The world is currently in a state of condemnation. We are born condemned. We are born sinners. This is the upshot of verses 19 and 20, where we read:
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
We are condemned by our love of the darkness, but when we trust in Christ, we are saved. When we reject Christ, it is less that Christ actively condemns you as a punishment for your rejection than that He leaves you in the condition of condemnation into which you were born and in which you have chosen to stay if you have rejected Christ.
So God’s love is a crucified love, but it is also a rescuing love. Christ comes to rescue you. He comes to seek and to save those who are lost. He has not come to condemn or destroy you. In Romans 8, Paul writes:
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
In the crucified Christ, God offers us His rescuing love.
God’s Love Is An Offered Love
This crucified and rescuing love is offered to the world, but not forced upon it. Notice the phrases calling for us to accept this gift:
“whoever believes in Him” (v.17)
“whoever believes in Him” (v.18)
“whoever…comes to the light” (v.21)
Christ is a gift and gifts are offered. Something happens to the whole dynamic of gift giving when it is forced. One does not normally kick in a friend’s door, pin the poor victim to the ground, and violently duct tape a gift to his face with a, “There! Take that!”
I suppose that is one way to give a gift, but it sure makes for a weird party afterward!
No, gifts work best when offered and, tragically, offered gifts can be rejected. So it is with Christ. You may reject Him, but, if you do, you will not only be rejecting God’s offered grace, you will be embracing your own condemnation.
Let me tell you about Edmond Safra.
Edmon Safra was a Lebanese-born billionaire banker who founded the Republic National Bank of New York. In 1999, Mr. Safra was 67 years old and sealed a multi-billion-dollar deal to sell his banking empire in preparation for his retirement. He was going to receive almost three billion dollars from the British bank HSBC.
Safra had homes in Paris, Geneva and New York, but in December of 1999 he was in the penthouse of his favorite residence overlooking Monaco’s yacht-filled harbor in the Mediterranean.
Safra felt safe in this home and even sent his bodyguards home at night. On one particular night in early December, 1999, however, something happened that frightened Safra. There might have been a couple of burglars somewhere in the house, nobody knows. Regardless, Safra fled with a nurse into the bathroom where he locked the door. Also, somewhere along the line, the penthouse was set on fire.
When the police and the firefighters arrived, the floor was on fire and Safra was locked in the bathroom. The firefighters were making a great noise trying to put out the flames. In a state of fear, he heard the noise and took it to be the burglars trying to get in to kill him. The bathroom was slowly filling up with smoke. Safra refused to open the door. He made some cell phone calls to his wife, who begged him to come out, but he refused. She told him that there were no burglars. She told him that it was the police and the firefighters. She told him that the ones he feared were the ones who were there to save him. Still, in fear, he refused to come out.
And there, in a smoke-filled bathroom, as the blaze spread through the ceiling and reached the bathroom, billionaire Edmond Safra and his nurse, Vivienne Torrent, died a horrible death.
All he had to do was open the door and come out. The sound that frightened him so badly was only his salvation: firefighters fighting the blaze that threatened his life. He refused to open the door, and so he died. The article from which this story came was entitled, “Banker Hid Too Long, Paid With His Life.” 
How often have we feared the sound of the One who wants to save us? How often have we too refused to open the door for fear of what we might lose? This was the mistake of Edmond Safra. This, too, is oftentimes our mistake.
Edward Safra died inches from his own salvation. He feared his saviors, refusing to believe that they were who they said they were.
This morning the Lord Jesus is calling out to you. Some of you know Him and others of you do not. Some of you are afraid of what you might lose if you open the door, but, in refusing to do so, you risk losing everything.
Please hear me this morning: He loves you. He does not want to harm you. He wants to save you. Will you come to Him today?
 James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of John. Vol.1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 234-235.
 Shane Clairborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p.250, fn.3.
 Suzanne Daley, “Banker hid too long, paid with his life,” The Atlanta Journal- Constitution (Sunday, Dec. 5, 1999), A6.