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The One and Only Son - John 3:16

As a small child, the first Bible verse that I memorized was John 3:16, "God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him will be saved, and have eternal life."  It remains precious to me, and indeed is the most important verse in the Bible for unbelievers, plainly explaining God's plan of salvation for us, by grace through faith.  Such an important verse always deserves further study. 

God

In our modern English translations, the word "God" is at the front of this verse, just as God is at the front of the entire universe, and the purpose of everything is to bring glory to Him.  1 Corinthians 8:6 says, "Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live." 

Contrary to worldly ideas, "It's not about us."  Our existence here is not to see how far ahead we can push our selfish existence into the earthly world.  Everything is about God.  Even this precious verse, John 3:16, is all about God.  From our selfish perspective, we tend to believe that it's about us and our salvation.  However, it's really about God and his glory, and how our salvation can further glorify God. 

Ephesians 1:3-5 says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he[c] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will." 

It's all about what brings glory and pleasure to God in His perfect will.  Our salvation from sin and hell, which is so vitally important to us, is just a small piece of bringing ultimate glory to God. 

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." 

Love

In the ancient Greek language, it was customary to put the main idea of a sentence at the front of the sentence, in order to bring focus to it.  In the Greek Bible, the word "love" is at the front of this verse:  "For so loved God the world...," although we would say, "God loved the world so much..."  In other words, the main idea of this precious verse is how much God loved us.  It's not about how critical it is for us to believe, in order to receive the free gift of salvation by grace through faith.  Again, that's the part that seems most important to us, because it affects us so personally and so deeply.  However, the strength of this verse, and of the salvation offered by God, is in His love for us.  The verse will go on to say that God loved us so much that his gave his one and only Son...  That's how much God loved us, and it's through the strength of that love that He made such a great sacrifice for us.  He didn't have to do that.  God was not compelled to save any of us from our sin.  He didn't have to make any sacrifice for us.  He could have just said, "Live a sinless life, or else..."  However, He devised a plan through His love, where, by His grace, He would make that great sacrifice for us, whom he loved so deeply. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-8,13 tells us that God's love is a perfect love.  His love is "... patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails... And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love

Love is a mental attitude.  When we love someone, we are concerned for their well-being.  We want good things to happen to them, and we're even willing to make sacrifices ourselves, in order for those good things to come to the ones we love.  I help my wife with cooking and housework because I love her.  I don't want those tasks to fall only on her shoulders.  I want good things to happen to her, and I'm willing to make some sacrifices of my own in order to make sure that they do.  C.S. Lewis said that when we love someone, we want to take their suffering upon ourselves.  This is exactly what God did for us, with an ultimate sacrifice. 

Grace

OK, so far we know that "God loved the world so much..."  So just how much did God love the world.  Well, he loved the world so much that he "gave..."  He gave something in his grace.  We know by 1 Corinthians 8-9 that grace can be defined as giving.  1 Corinthians 8:1 says, "And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given..."  He goes on to describe that grace, and the story in these two chapters is one of giving.   It speaks of somehow giving generously even out of poverty--beyond one's ability.  Grace is a personal decision, based on one's intense desire to give.  Grace causes one to first give himself, and that's what God did for us when He gave us His perfect son.  1 Corinthians 8:9 says, "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich."  1 Corinthians 9:14-15 speaks of the surpassing grace that God has given us.  "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" 

His One and Only Son

So, "God loved us so much that He gave..."  What did He give?  He gave the ultimate sacrifice, His one and only Son.  God the Father somehow actually gave the second member of the Trinity.  Knowing that all men would sin, and that none would be able to provide the required perfect sacrifice for their sin, God devised a plan where Christ would empty Himself of His deity, be born of a virgin, live a sinless life, and offer Himself as our worthy perfect sacrifice.  There is no way for us to understand the extent of this sacrifice, because we don't know what it's like to be a perfect God.  However, let's bring it down a few notches, and try to understand it to the best of our ability. 

Some thirty years ago, God blessed us with one son and one daughter.  In the past few years, both children have married, so now, since we consider our daughter-in-law to be our daughter, and our son-in-law to be our son, we now have two sons and two daughters.  However, there was a point in time when we had only one son.  In this small way, I believe that I can identify with God in having a one and only son.  Consider with me an analogy that will seem somewhat dark--but then, it was a dark day when God gave up his only Son on the cross. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, terrorism has become a part of our daily lives.  Suppose that I was preaching a sermon in front of a large congregation.  Suddenly, the auditorium is invaded by armed terrorists.  As they approach me, they hold the entire congregation at gunpoint.  They tell me that they are going to murder someone, and that I have a decision to make that will determine just who it is that is going to die.  They say that they are either going to murder me, or they are going to open fire on the entire congregation, and it's my choice. 

I believe that I would do the right thing.  I would look out at the congregation and truthfully tell them that I love them.  I would then look at the terrorist and tell him that I choose for him to take my own life.  As he holds the gun to my head, I would say a prayer and tell God that I would be seeing Him in a couple of seconds, and that would be the end of the ordeal.  Although this choice is sad, it's not difficult.  There's no real heroism here.  Almost every person with a sense of decency would understand the principal of the good of the many over the good of the few (or the one). 

Now consider the same situation with a twist.  When the terrorists come in, they bring a hostage with them--my one and only son.  They again tell me that my decision will determine who dies, but this time they say that my choices are that either they will open fire on the entire congregation, or they will murder my son. 

Now my mind starts churning.  I look at the congregation and tell them that I love them.  However, then I look at my son and tell him that I love him.  The same principal comes to mind--the good of the many of the good of the one.  However, I have to hesitate.  I turn back to the congregation and repeat how I do indeed love each of them, and how I would gladly give my life for any one of theirs.  However, I also begin explaining my awful predicament. 

I tell them that I remember my son since before he was born, and how I used to lay my head on my pregnant wife's stomach, and talk to my unborn son.  I would recount the joy that I had on the day he was born.  I would recall how, when he was growing up, we would play sports and video games together; how we would go to church together, and to movies and concerts; and, just how much we loved each other and enjoyed each other's company.  When he was in Kindergarten, I was his Sunday School teacher.  I would read to him and his sister every night.  When he was in high school, I realized the awesome talents that God had given him for academics, as well as playing the piano, singing, and leading worship in the youth band.  He would win competitions in singing and dancing in his school's ensemble group.  He would win the lead parts in all of the school musicals--The Sound of Music, Meet Me in St. Louis, and David and the Technicolor Dream Coat.  When he was in college, he was part of a worship team that would travel, and lead Bible Study and worship for youth groups.  He earned his undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies, and double Masters degrees in Biblical Studies and Theology.  He found a wonderful Christian wife, and now they have an awesome daughter--our first grandchild. 

I look at my son again, and then I look back at the congregation and say, "Yes, this is my son--my one and only son, and I love Him deeply.  But I am torn because I truly love you as well.  However, my love is limited.  I simply cannot do this thing for you.  I'm not strong enough.  I can't do the right thing."  Although ashamed, my final words to them would be, "Please forgive me, but the awful truth is that I simply don't love you that much--so much__ that I can give my one and only son for you." 

The congregation would probably be stunned, not understanding how I could proclaim my love for them, while being unable to do the right thing for them. 

God's Unlimited Love For Us

The bad news is that I'm just a small weak man, and the love that I have is limited and weak.  However, the good news is that there is One who is large and strong, and whose love knows no bounds.  To say that God is a god of love is no trite acclamation.  God's love is huge and perfect.  God proved His unlimited love by indeed offering up His one and only Son, so that we need only to accept Him by grace through faith, enabling us to live with Him in eternity forever. 

Faith

So, what do we have so far?  God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son,... 
What was the result, for us, of this ultimate sacrifice by God?  "...that whoever believes in Him..."  Our job in this process is simply to believe the message of the gospel that I've presented here.  We don't have to demonstrate good works; we don't have to pray; we simply have to have the faith to believe that Christ died for our sins, even though we didn't see it with our own eyes.  We just accept Jesus Christ by grace through faith. 

Salvation

Now we have:  God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him..."  Now, what is the reward for those who believe that God did sacrifice His son for our sins?  The next phase indicates that person (believer) "...will be saved..."  What will he be saved from?  He will be saved from the wrath of God and from eternal separation from God in the afterlife.  I believe in a literal hell, but even if you don't, we would both agree that the ultimate bad destination would be a state of eternal life without God. 

Eternal Life

Finally, we now have this:  God loved the world so much that he gave His one and only son, that whoever believes in Him will be saved...  Plus, there's one final phrase to add:  "and have eternal life."  In eternity, we will be in God's presence, with the ability to personally bring the glory to God that He deserves.  John 17:3 defines eternal life like this:  "Now this is eternal life:  that they may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."  This eternal life is not limited to the eternity that will come after this life.  As soon as we believe, we have eternal life--in this life.  Jesus Christ is the second member of the Trinity, and he lives within us, He will never leave us, and in this way we will live eternally with Him forever, and starting at the moment we believe.  Furthermore, at salvation, we are indwelt with the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, who is the third member of the Trinity, and He likewise will never leave us.  Then, in eternity, we will finally be in the presence of God the Father, and we will then have the privilege of bringing glory to the first member of the Trinity.