“God So Loved the World That He Gave”
(John 3:16 – December 20, 2020)
John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Dear Redeemed in Jesus Christ:
As Christmas approaches, to whom do you plan to give gifts? Do you have a list of people in mind? Did you perhaps need to narrow down the list of names so that you could realistically afford to give everyone something – and give them something truly meaningful? Usually, our Christmas list includes those who fit in the category of our “loved ones” – especially the people closest to us.
This is why the message in our text is so remarkable. That first Christmas, God gave the greatest gift of all – the gift of His own Son and eternal life. Yet, He did not go through a list of possible recipients, scratching off names and narrowing it down to only a certain set of people. No, as our text tells us: “God So Loved the World That He Gave…” He made sure to include in His list of “loved ones” everyone – every single human who ever has or ever will live in the world. God’s list of loved ones includes you and me!
1) He loved the world of sinners
What this means is not that He found everyone lovable in themselves; but it means that He loved the world of sinners, every one of us, in spite of our unlovable qualities.
For ever since the fall of Adam and Eve into sin, we all are by nature born of sinful flesh and blood, fallen with our first parents. We enter this world in a state of enmity and rebellion against God, our Maker. Our sins truly deserve His wrath and punishment, and eternal damnation – and not His gift of love.
So as we prepare for Christmas, let there be no mistake. It is not about our gift exchanges. It is not about sentimental music and jingling bells. It is not about man-made peace and goodwill among men. Of course, all of those things are nice; but none of them save us from our sin. Not our best gifts of love to one another, not even our best gifts of love that we attempt to give to God, could ever save us from our sin and damnation.
2) He gave His only Son to save
There is only one gift of love that could save us. As it says in our text: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” God’s gift of love to us was not some impersonal object. He sent His own eternal Son in our flesh and blood, to dwell among us and to save us (John 1:14).
God sent His angel Gabriel to announce to Mary how this greatest miracle of His Son’s Incarnation would take place. We hear the announcement in Luke 1:35: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.” In Matthew 1:21, the angel Gabriel also announced to Joseph concerning the baby to be born to Mary: “She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”
There we have it – the reason God gave His Son in our flesh that first Christmas, and the reason we can truly celebrate again this Christmas. It is that God loves us sinners so much that He gave His Son to save us from our sins. 1 John 4:9-10 says: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
What amazing love this is! God gave His Son to us when we had no love for Him. And in giving us His Son, He literally loved us to death, as it says in Romans 5:8: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” One day on the cross, the Holy Son who was born at Christmas would become the propitiation – the blood sacrifice that atones for all our sins and appeases God’s wrath.
Now, having sent His Son to win our salvation from sin, God sees us in a new way. He looks at us as those whom He has cleansed of all sin by the blood of His Son. He looks at us as those He has covered in the righteous life of His Son. God looks at us as those whom He has reconciled to Himself in peace, through the finished work of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:19, 21)
3) He gives us faith to receive Him
Not only did God so love the world, that He gave His Son to win our salvation long ago. But today also, God so loves us that He gives us the faith to receive His Son as our Savior, with all the benefits of His salvation. For as it says in our text, God’s loving will is “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Again, when it comes to His gift of saving faith, God has not narrowed down His recipient list. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” That is why He sends the Gospel to the ends of the earth. He earnestly desires for all to believe in the finished work of His Son and be saved.
Truly, faith is not a gift we can give ourselves; it is a gift of God’s grace alone. Just as a dead man could never lift himself up from the grave to new life, so we who were born spiritually dead in sin could not work faith and new spiritual life in ourselves. As flesh born of sinful flesh, neither our parents nor we could give ourselves a new birth as God’s children (John 1:12-13). Only God’s Spirit could work that miracle in us. As Jesus said before our text, in John 3:5-6: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” In the waters of Baptism, God has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit, faith to receive Jesus’ forgiveness, and new spiritual life. By His Gospel in Word and Sacrament, God continues to work in us the faith that receives all the gifts of His salvation as His children in Christ.
4) He gives us everlasting life
And this gift from God just keeps on giving. For the God who so loved us sinners that He gave His only Son to save us, and who now gives us faith to receive Him, declares that we shall “not perish but have everlasting life.”
The gifts we give to those on our recipient list, Christmas after Christmas, will not last forever. They may have a lifetime guarantee attached to them; yet ultimately, they must perish. It is not so with God’s gift to us in Christ, which comes with His guarantee of everlasting life. As we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we can do so with unfading joy, as we say with 1 Peter 1:3-4: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”
You and I will live forever – all because God so loved us that He gave His only begotten Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our salvation and eternal life!
Just think of what a great gift we have to share this Christmas, and every day! There is no need to narrow down our recipient list so we can realistically afford to give everyone something, and give them something truly meaningful. When it comes to sharing the gift of God’s Son, freely we have received, and freely we can give (Matthew 10:8). And it is just the gift everyone needs the most. We can join the angels in proclaiming the “good tidings of great joy which will be to all people” (Luke 2:10). Yes, we can proclaim the Gospel: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.