(55) God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life – John 3:16

The first three gospels have a fair bit of overlap in the events they describe but the fourth one, John, which was written some years later, contains mostly unique material. John records no parables and only a few miracles, most of which are not in the other gospels, but includes distinct teaching and conversations. He sets out his purpose in writing at the end of his gospel where he states that he selected his material from all the material that was available to him, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

John opens his gospel with an eternal perspective on Jesus. Echoing the opening of the Hebrew Old Testament and using the Greek word ‘logos’ – meaning ‘the Word’ or concept in Greek culture – for Jesus, he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3). He makes no reference to the details of Jesus’ birth but simply states that “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). This man that John had lived alongside for three years was the eternal Son of God, God himself come to earth.

John records a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee called Nicodemus who was more open to what Jesus had to say than most of the others. He came to Jesus by night, presumably in order to keep the meeting secret, and starts by making a statement that has an implied question. He states that they – presumably a number of the Pharisees – knew that Jesus came from God because of the miracles he was doing, and he is wondering how they can reconcile this with their concerns about his teaching.

Jesus didn’t engage with the conversation about himself but told Nicodemus that he needed to be “born again” (John 3:3) as, without that, a man cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus does not understand the expression “born again” but Jesus tells him that “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). Today people use the term ‘born again Christian’ to refer to Christians who are more enthusiastic about their faith than ‘normal Christians’ but it is clear from what Jesus said that no one can become a Christian without being born again of the Spirit.

Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that he will be “lifted up” (John 3:14) – a reference to the crucifixion – in order that people may be able to believe in him and have eternal life. He states the good news for the world in one of the most famous verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Jesus goes on to say that his mission is not to condemn people but to save those who choose to believe in him. John records some teaching from John the Baptist which helps us to understand the choice we each face. He said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (John 3:36).

We do not start from a neutral position from which we choose eternal life or to perish but, due to our sinful nature, we start out as enemies of God as he is implacably opposed to sin. If we choose not to believe in God’s Son, who was sent to be ‘lifted up’ and take the punishment that was due to us, then we will remain in that state with God’s wrath – or anger – directed at us. The love of God is displayed in him sending Jesus to die for us so that, through believing in him, we can have eternal life, not only life that will never end but also life of an infinitely greater quality due to our relationship to God. It is only when we fully realise the position that we start out in that we can fully appreciate the depth of God’s love in saving us from it.

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