All. Everyone. The World.
This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, March 16, 2014.
Reading: John 3:1-17
Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to speak and live your Word in the world starting today. Amen.
If you watched a professional football game this season, you’ve most likely seen a reference to what is, perhaps, the most quoted verse in the New Testament. And, if you’re not a football fan and you’ve been around the church for any reason—either as a participant or as a spectator—I would imagine you have heard, if not memorized yourself, this verse: John 3:16.
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16, Revised Standard Version
It is a verse that many lean upon as a summary of the Christian faith. The unfortunate reality is that this verse is, more often than not, has been used as a tool for “getting people saved,” instead of a reassuring statement that God’s love is for all, everyone, the world. Note that it does not say God so loved this or that church or this or that denomination or this or that group of people… It does not say that God loves only those who believe. The Gospel is clear: “God so loved the world” that God came to be with us in order that we might know and experience God’s love, that we might live an abundant and eternal life with God.
While so many of us can quote John 3:16, we all too often fail to remember the next verse: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17, Common English Bible). No matter what certain people might say, Jesus did not come to judge the world. We find out in verses 18-21 that those who fail to respond to the love God is offering them have condemned themselves. So let’s be clear: these verses are not about God’s judgment. They are, instead, good news! Reminding us that no one is beyond God’s love. God’s love is extended to all, everyone, the world.
I would also like to point out again that if you read this verse carefully, you’ll notice that belief is not a prerequisite for God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave” in the hopes that people would come to see and experience God’s love.
9 This is how the love of God is revealed to us: God has sent his only Son into the world so that we can live through him.10 This is love: it is not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as the sacrifice that deals with our sins.
1 John 4:9-10, Common English Bible
John 3:16 and 17 are a powerful reminder of the scope of God’s love. It’s not just about the few who gather on Sunday mornings for one hour of worship. God’s love, writes Wesley in his commentary on these verses, is for all persons under heaven, even those who despise God’s love. God’s love is for all, everyone, the world.
This was a radical idea in the first century. That means that God’s love isn’t just for Israel—God’s “chosen people”—it’s also for those who do not know God. It means that God’s love isn’t just for the religious leaders or the super devout people, who perform certain rituals, wear certain clothes, eat certain foods. God’s love isn’t just for the righteous. It’s for the unrighteous, too. It’s not just for those who are ritually clean; it’s for those who are dirty, broken, despised and forgotten. It’s for the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper, the demon-possessed. God’s love is for the poor and the wealthy, the sick and the healthy, the young and the old. God’s love is for those who have power, those who lust after power, and for those who have no power. God’s love is for the Jew and the Gentile, slave and free, male and female. God’s love is for those who will follow Jesus to the end, for those who never figure it out; it’s for those who will publicly renounce him, for those who will run away scared when the demands of faith get personal; God’s love is even for those who will eventually betray Christ.
God’s love is for all, everyone, the world. It was a radical idea in the first century that, when put into practice, challenged the religious and political authorities, leading them to arrest, torture, and execute Jesus. But not even death could keep God’s love from reaching out. On the third day after Jesus had died, he was resurrected—brought back to life so that we might know that God’s love would go to hell and back to reach out in Love to all people, even to those who are farthest from God in hell.
God’s love is for all, everyone, the world. It was a radical and challenging idea in the first century, and it’s just as challenging today in the twenty-first century. God’s love is for the murderer, the thief, the liar, the tax-evader. God’s love is for the employer and the employee, for the CEO and the line cook who makes minimum wage. God’s love is for the employed and unemployed. It’s for the dis-abled and the abled. God’s love is for those who need welfare and for those who abuse the system. God’s love is for the violent and for those who denounce it. God’s love is for the political right and the left and for all that falls in between and on the edges. God’s love is for all.
God’s love for is the hypocrite, the racist, the bigot, the ageist. God’s love is for every race, nation, gender, sex, and for any other identifier we would use to separate people. It’s for those who think they’ve got it all figured out and for those who struggle. It’s for those who society accepts and for those society neglects. God’s love is for the lesbian, the gay, the transgendered, the bisexual, the questioning, and the straight. God’s love is for all.
God’s love is for those we love and for those we’d rather not. God’s love is for us and for our enemies. God’s love is for everybody here and everybody out there! God’s love is for all, everyone, the world. For this is how much God loves the world and everything in it:
He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
John 3:16-17, The Message
16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
John 3:16-17, King James Version
16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. 17 God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.
John 3:16-17, Common English Bible
No one is beyond God’s love. The love of God given to us in Jesus Christ is for all, everyone, the world. So let’s start living like it! In his first epistle, John (or one of his disciples), put it this way:
11 Dear friends, if God love[s] us this way, we also ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love each other, God remains in us and his love is made perfect in us.
19 We love because God first loved us. 20 If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21 This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also.
1 John 4:9-10, 19-21, Common English Bible
Friends, we are called to love the world God so loves. We’re called to be light in darkness to demonstrate that God didn’t just come for a select group of people. No, God came to redeem and restore the whole world to an abundant and eternal life with God.
Therefore, dear friends, “let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth” (1 John 3:18, Common English Bible).
Do this—be complete in showing God’s love to all! Live as if God really does love all, everyone, the whole world—and you will be born anew: something Nicodemus, a person who allowed the rules to separate people, couldn’t quite figure out.
God’s love is for all, everyone, the world. As we recognize God’s love around us, and allow God’s love to work through us, we’ll find ourselves born again, transformed. We’ll begin to see and enter into God’s Kingdom (see John 3:3).
God, you loved this world so much
that you sent your own son, Jesus Christ
to live and die among us,
in order that we might know your love and have life.
Forgive us for keeping that love and abundant life to ourselves,
for jealously hoarding your generous gifts,
for choosing self-interest over compassion and justice.
Teach us what it means to live as children of the light,
generously sharing your love and abundance
with all, everyone, the world.
Help us, O God, to love like Jesus in order that all, everyone, the world, might come to know of your great love. We pray in the name of the one who taught us to pray, a prayer we offer to you now…
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
 It is intriguing to consider why this verse has become the cornerstone of so many people’s lives. Personally, I think other verses might do a better job of conveying what Jesus was trying to accomplish. Consider Matthew 4:17(b, Common English Bible): “Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven!”
 See Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament, John 3:16 <http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/wesleys-explanatory-notes/john/john-3.html>
 See Matthew 5:48.
 Adapted from “Prayer: Abundant Life” by Christine Longhurst, found at re-worship.blogspot.com <http://re-worship.blogspot.com/2012/02/prayer-abundant-life-john-3-16-17.html> Accessed March 16, 2014.