Fourth Sunday in Lent (10 March)

For God so loved the world…

John 3: 16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ John 3: 16 has become a shorthand for the Christian faith. If you have ever watched big sporting events from the US, people carry signs that read “John 3:16”. This verse is so famous that most know what it says. But do they know what it means? There is agreement about what it says – but not what it means!

There are some people who use John 3: 16 to condemn those who don’t believe in Jesus in the ‘right’ way. John 3:16 needs John 3:17. These verses need to be read together and read in context. “God loves the world—so much that God sent the Son, not to condemn but to bring salvation to the whole world.”

God so loved the whole world: he loved the Pharisee who questioned Jesus and the Samaritan woman who questioned Jesus; he loved the man who was paralysed for his entire life and the man born blind; he loved Peter who denied and Judas who betrayed him.

God loves you, me, our family, friends and neighbours. He loves the people who used to come to church but don’t anymore. He loves those who were hurt by the church and lost their faith. He loves those who are hungry, and those who feed the hungry, and those who don’t care about the hungry as much as they should. God loves our brothers and sisters of other faiths. God loves us all.

This isn’t some abstract theological concept. This is personal, real, concrete. Jesus Christ lived and died because God so loved the world. When you quote John 3: 16, quote verse 17 too; when you recite the words ‘God so loved the world’ remember that it’s personal and inclusive. ‘God so loved the world’ belongs with ‘God sent his Son … not to judge the world but to save the world through him.’