Caleb was baptised a couple of weeks ago. Whenever we baptise a new believer we always ask them to share their testimony, and while each of our baptism candidates on the day Caleb was baptised gave inspirational testimonies, many people considered Caleb’s testimony one of the best they had ever heard.
Caleb is 11-years-old. He shared his story of being raised by a mum and dad who taught him the truth of God’s Word and to love God. He then shared that his testimony could be summed up by his favourite bible verse, John 3:16 — which is probably also the most favourite verse of most Christians today. In the years ahead, Caleb will come to increasingly understand more about the depth of his favourite verse—in deeper and richer ways. Of course, the beauty of John 3:16 is that it is plain and simple enough for even a young person to have their life changed by it. A child can well understand that in John 3:16 God is inviting all people to turn to His Son as their Saviour by simply trusting in Him and that this qualifies a person to avoid hell and to enjoy heaven for eternity.
What Caleb will one day come to appreciate about John 3:16, is that when it refers to eternal life it is not just speaking about where a person goes after they die, or even for how long they will be there. Caleb will come to appreciate that eternal life is a part of the dimension where God dwells; it is where Christ ultimately dealt with all human sin, and that eternal life reflects each of God’s attributes.
The opening four words of this verse tell us something profound about God. It does not say, For the gods so loved. At the time John 3:16 was written, the Greco-Romans had already developed many mythical gods (some of which we find referred to in Acts 14:12-13). These man-made gods were selfish, capricious, vengeful, sexually immoral, and indifferent to the plight of humans. But the One and True God so loved. A few years after John had written John 3:16, he wrote to the Ephesian churches an echo of John 3:16 when he described this love of God and what it involved:
In this the love of God was made manifest among us,
that God sent His only Son into the world,
so that we might live through Him. In this is love,
not that we have loved God but that He loved us
and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
First John 4:9-10
While God is the subject of John 3:16, the world is the object of it. The pagan gods of the Greco-Roman world were largely territorial. But the God of John 3:16 is the God of the whole world. He alone is worthy and glory and the credit for creating everything. Unlike the territorial gods of the Apostle John’s gentile world, the True God actually cared for people—but just with mere sympathy—but with an unconditional practical love for all people: the world. While the pagan gods could be cajoled into assisting a human if the right sacrifice or ceremony was offered, the love that the True God has for everyone around the world (including those not yet born) even extends to those who despise Him and wilfully disobey Him!
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person
—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—
but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The false gods of the Greco-Roman world were not givers. They were takers. They demanded things of people. But the True God is a giver. The God of John 3:16 is not a minimalist giver. He is a generous, lavish, giver. All that anyone could rightly give Him is their thanks.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
It was claimed that the Greco-Roman gods sired earthly children after having sex with human women. Allegedly, Caesar Augustus was sired by Zeus. This is why, just above Caesarea-Philippi, near the beginning of the assent up Mount Hermon, there was a temple to Caesar Augustus where he was worshiped as the son of Zeus. But the True Son of God was not sired as the result of fornication or lustful misadventure by a wayward deity. He took on the form of a physical human (“a zygote”) with the genetic material of Mary’s ovum. She was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Him, and importantly, she was also a descendant of King David.
¶ Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Significantly, it was not this event which made God a father. John 3:16 states that God sent His Son – that is, God the Father was eternally the Father and therefore must have always had an eternal Son. He was sending His Son, not someone who would become His Son. Early in the fourth century there was a monk, by the name of Arius, who taught that Jesus was a created being and was formally Michael the Archangel. The Church called its second ecumenical council to discuss whether this was a heresy (a false and dangerous teaching). Eventually, it a young north African bishop’s assistant, Athanasius, who convinced the council meeting at Nicaea that Arius was wrong and this doctrine (which “Jehovah’s Witnesses” today perpetuate) was heresy. His arguments for demonstrating this included pointing out that if God is the Eternal Father, He must have had an Eternal (uncreated, always existed, self-sufficient) Son. The result of the council’s decision was the Nicene Creed. The fact that God the Father had always been in relationship with His Son, and that together they had also share am eternal relationship with the Holy Spirit
Do you say of Him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world,
‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?
John 3:16 announces a remarkable offer. Whosoever may approach the throne of God and seek mercy, pardon, and forgiveness for their sins! It doesn’t matter what anyone has done, how many times they have done it, who knows what they’ve done, or how many they have hurt, they can still come humbly before God and accept that the punishment they deserve has been paid for by Christ. As a result, they will live beyond the grave when Christ raises from dead all those who have turned to Him for pardon.
For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son
and believes in Him should have eternal life,
and I will raise Him up on the last day.”
To believe in is to put trust in. For a Hebrew trust resulted in action. All anyone has to do to become a follower of Christ is believe in Him. The action this produces is confession of guilt and a request for pardon. This was assurance that Jesus gave the penitent thief on the cross beside Him. This thief clearly did not have any opportunity to do anything particularly religious to deserve God’s pardon in his final hours of life.
The consequence of rejecting God’s offer of eternal pardon is to eternally perish. C.S. Lewis described this rejection of God’s offer of salvation as being eternally confined to perpetual loneliness surrounded by others who were also eternally isolated from others in the doom of eternal loneliness and abandonment. But this need not be the case. But it is the risk that anyone takes in rejecting God’s offer of eternal pardon which can only be accepted in this life.
And these will go away into eternal punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.”
The kind of new life that a forgiven, pardoned, adopted, newly-identified, follower of Christ receives is described as eternal life. It is the kind of life that God enjoys. It is a life of perfect contentment, perfect fulfilment, perfect happiness, perfect peace, and perfect bliss. It brings a child of God into the full expression of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) for eternity. It is not about time or place – but relationship with God. It is a dimension that only God and those He authorises can move into and out of (which explains how some heavenly creatures can be sent from God’s presence into this dimension of time and space). It also explains how Christ’s death on the Cross meant that He could eternally atone for the sins of mankind (even those yet to be committed) because He could present His life as an atonement for sin in the eternal dimension and then return into His lifeless-body on Resurrection Sunday in this dimension all those years ago. Yes Caleb, there will be much more that you will come to appreciate about your favourite bible verse over the coming years.
The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)!
But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him”
First Corinthians 2:9
Let me know what you think below in the comment section and feel free to share this someone who might benefit from this Pastor’s Desk.
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