John 3:16 seems like a strange verse to meditate on for Christmas Eve. It is not that the verse is not a wonderful reminder of God’s love, it just does not mention words like manger, Bethlehem or shepherd. This is all true, but in fact this verse is very appropriate for tonight because of the context and the clauses (different clauses than you usually think of on Christmas). The first 15 verses of John 3 are a conversation between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus who came at night to hear why Jesus had come. That night, Jesus revealed that he was born because God so love the world.
Nicodemus was not sure what to believe about Jesus. He was a member of the Jewish ruling council and a Pharisee, so he was very familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew the prophecies from Genesis 3, Isaiah 9 and Micah 5 that we read tonight, among others that pointed to the coming of the Savior. Nicodemus knew that Jesus was a powerful teacher having performed miracles, but Jesus was a mystery and misunderstood by many, so Nicodemus came at night to speak with him.
That night, Jesus was ready to answer Nicodemus’ questions. Jesus told Nicodemus that a person had to be born again in order to enter the kingdom of God. Nicodemus responded that it is impossible for someone to enter again into their mother’s womb. Then, 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Jesus was talking about entrance to the kingdom of God, not entrance into this world. Nicodemus needed his eyes opened to understand Jesus. In other words, he needed faith.
Jesus was revealing to Nicodemus that through baptism, a person is born again. He revealed that baptism is the way a person is reborn by the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, baptism gives you a rebirth and a new life, gives you faith, washes away your sins, saves you from death and allows you entrance into the kingdom of God. This was a lot for Nicodemus to take in. So, Jesus went on to connect who he was with something Nicodemus was familiar with by referencing a miraculous and life-giving event from the Old Testament recorded in the book of Exodus. Jesus said, 14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” When the people of Israel were wandering through the wilderness after being freed from slavery in Egypt and before entering the promised land of Israel, they lost faith in God’s ability to take care of them. So, God sent poisonous snakes among the people as punishment, and as many were dying, they cried out to God to save them. God heard their cries and told Moses to make a bronze snake attaching it to a wooden pole, and, God gave the promise that whoever looked at the snake would be healed. Now, we know it was not the bronze snake that saved the people, but their trust in God’s promise that looking at the snake would heal them. Jesus was now the fulfillment of God’s promise to save all people and give them eternal life.
You and I need to hear what Jesus told Nicodemus. We need to hear how we are saved through Jesus. John 3:16 reveals Jesus saved us using two clauses. The first clause reveals what saved us, 16 … “that he gave his one and only Son.” We heard from Genesis 3 that the world became sinful because Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and listened to the devil. Their sin broke this world and we all suffer for it. You and I, disobey God every day and that is sin, it is jealousy, selfishness, greed and being ungrateful for all the blessings God has put in your life (and all that just happens on Christmas Eve). The final punishment for our sin is death and we deserve it, but God gave his one and only Son, Jesus, to die for us. Jesus took the punishment for our sin, that is what saved us from our sins, death and hell. Now, we no longer have to fear death because we have peace with God.
It is important to understand why this clause exists. In the Greek language, this is a result clause. In other words, the 16 … “He gave his one and only Son,” happens as a result of something. Notice, it was not our leading our best life that resulted in God sending his Son. It was not that we did more good than bad that resulted in God sending his Son. It was not that we were better than someone else that resulted in God sending his Son. It was not that we wanted it so bad that resulted in God sending his Son. It was not that we chose this to happen that resulted in God sending his Son. It was not that we did anything meaning we cannot change what resulted. This is good news because we change all the time and we are still sinful, disobedient people. This is good news because God gave his one and only Son as the result of God’s love for us.
God’s love also means we have eternal life. The first clause reveals that the result of God’s love saved us from our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross to pay for our sins. The second clause shows the purpose. The purpose of all of this was to give us eternal life. God loves us and wants us to live with him in heaven. He does not want us to be separated from him by our sins and death. The second clause reveals how we are connected to Jesus and eternal life, 16 … “that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Faith is only as good as what it believes in. If you believe that Cowboys are going to the Super Bowl, then you might be disappointed this year. On the other hand, if you believe that a honey baked ham is a good choice for Christmas dinner, then you will very likely have a house filled with satisfied friends and family…at least according to the commercials. Faith is only as good as what it believes in. Belief in Jesus as your Savior means you have eternal life. It not something to wonder about or worry about, it is yours because God loves you and he has come to live, die and rise for you.
At first glance, John 3:16 seems like a strange verse to use on Christmas Eve since it does not mention words like manger, Bethlehem or shepherd. Yet, it is a wonderful verse to meditate on Christmas Eve. The context is a man who came at night to hear why Jesus had come, and tonight you and I get to hear Jesus was born to save the world. It is also a verse with very important Christmas clauses, again not the usual ones. These words reveal the result of God’s love for us was the sending of his one and only Son to sacrifice his life for the world to save us from our sins giving us peace with God. And for the purpose that by believing God so love the world, you shall not perish, but have eternal life. Amen.