Guarding and proclaiming the unchanging truth in a changing world

The great love story - God loves the world, John 3:16-21

26th November 2021

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By reading Ruth we have not only received a beautiful story, we have also learned how we can be rescued from our desperate condition. In this gospel reading we will see how our rescue takes place. Our rescuer will die for us. It will be good to read John to understand how we can apply to our own lives what we have read in Ruth.
Read John 3:16-21

- In the previous verses, Jesus has just identified himself as the Son of Man, the rescuer who comes from heaven. What do we learn about God by knowing that Christ came from heaven? (v. 16)
- If we look carefully at the main verb of v. 16, ‘loved’, is in the past tense. What do you think is the event the evangelist has in mind as he writes this that helps us understand how God loved (and rescued) the world in Jesus?
- Who is the object of this love and what does this love seek in those who receive it? 

- How else does John draw the contrast between death and eternal life? vv. 19, 20.
- What should be noted in those who believe in the Son and now have eternal life (that is, those who have already been rescued)? (v. 21)

This passage gives us what for many is the most famous verse in the entire Bible. John understands that the coming of Jesus to this world is motivated by the merciful character of God that is demonstrated in that he loved ("rescued") a world that had rejected him.

In Spanish we have a saying: ‘love our actions and not only our good intentions’, we recognize that love is not a concept, but that it finds its true fulfillment in its actions. We can understand how great God's love is when we contemplate his wonderful act of sending his Son to this world to die on the cross. That is where we really experience the greatness of God's love, that is where he gave his Son. God's love is, in its nature, sacrificial. All this is contained in the word ‘gave’ of this verse: because he loves us, God ‘gives’. Do you realize the powerful signal that is given to us here? Love is giving, a very different message from the one our popular culture delivers to us. Only a love like this is capable of rescuing those in need.

Who are the ones who receive this wonderful gesture of love? 'The world'. Christ helps us understand that God's love is not limited to an ethnic or particular group. In Christ the universal character of God's love stands out. Not only that, but John has not presented a positive picture of the world. In chapter 1 he tells us that the world did not receive Christ, that is, he came to a world that did not recognize him as Lord (a world that did not accept his rescue). This is surprising, because it means that God sent his Son, the greatest gift ever given, to a world that did not want him but needed him: if Christ had not come, death would have been our only reality. No one would have rescued us.

God's purpose in sending his Son into the world is very specific: eternal life. And this is expressed in a very special way: it is a gift that can be enjoyed now, since the verb used here (‘have’) is in the present tense. The changes that God's love brings begin here and now. Now, those who receive this gift must be very aware that they were "saved." In other words, their destiny was different, but thanks to the love of God they were rescued from that.

This eternal life, this rescue, is received by 'believing' (see John 1:12). Somehow there is an active element on our part, just as we saw in Ruth. Later in the gospel it will become clear that to believe is to trust our life in the hands of Jesus. Whoever does not accept this rescue has only one destiny before him: death.

There is also a challenge for those who 'believe': they must come to the light (that is, to Christ) so the change that has occurred in them can be seen. With this we are informed that eternal life has practical consequences that must be noted from now on. The rescue that God does must be evident in the rescued.

John has given us his own reflection so that we can cling to the rescue that the Son of God gives us. His exhortation is to trust in the Son sent to us by the God of love to enjoy this rescue that is available to us in Christ.
What is the only way we can thank such great love?


Chilean Common Prayer Book. Order of administration of the Holy Communion, declaration of forgiveness, p. 51

Repentant brothers and sisters, hear the divine promises and rejoice in eternal salvation.
John 3.16 "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him may no longer perish but have eternal life."

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