Why did God give his only son?

Good morning. Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we know that we can only really grow in our understanding of your living word with the help of your Holy Spirit. So please help us now to hear your voice, and to believe it, so that we can get to know you better, and learn to love as you have loved us through your Son. In his name we pray, Amen.

I have a question for us to think about this morning, and the answer is there in that next section of the Gospel of John that we just heard (John 3.16-21) which is our passage today. You can find it on page 888 in the Bibles in the pews. The question is this: Why did God give his only Son? It’s a question that assumes that God has a Son – and that’s what John has already taught us, right from the start of the Gospel. (John 1.1):

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1.14:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…

And when John the Baptist sees Jesus he says (John 1.34):

…I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.

So God the Father has a Son who is God, and Jesus is that Son, come to earth. Why? The first verse of our passage (John 3.16) was described by the great German Reformer Martin Luther as “the Bible in miniature”, and it must be one of the most famous verses in the Bible:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

It’s a verse that can stand alone, but it helps us to grasp its awesome significance more fully if we look at it in its context (that is, when we look at what comes before and after it), just as you can see the dazzle of a diamond better when it’s set in the gold of a piece of jewellery. The For at the beginning of the verse points us back to three lessons from the first part of John 3, and Jesus’ blunt conversation with the Pharisee Nicodemus:
(i) we need to be born again through the work of God’s Holy Spirit, so we can have eternal life.
(ii) Believing in Christ is the means by which are born again by the Spirit’s power. And:
(iii) That’s like when the rebellious Israelites were in the wilderness. They suffered from the judgement of a plague of deadly snakes, and they were commanded to look for healing to the bronze serpent raised high on a pole by Moses. The Lord said (Numbers 21.8):

…everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.

And that’s how it is when we look to the crucified and risen Jesus. To speak personally for a moment, I was in my early teens when the Holy Spirit blew like a strong wind through my life, and I began to look to Jesus. What about you? Are you looking to Jesus? When we put our trust in him alone, we will live. For, as John 3.16 says:

…God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The world there doesn’t mean the planet. Don’t think of the natural world, think humanity in rebellion against God. That’s the world in John’s Gospel. God so loved humanity, even though we were in rebellion against him, like those grumbling Israelites in the desert, that he sent his Son to us, to die for our sins. Maybe we need to be reminded how completely counter to normal fatherly and motherly behaviour such a gift is. Contrast, for instance, the fatherly behaviour we’ve been seeing in Ukraine during this brutal war. Fathers have been sending their sons (and daughters) away from danger to safety. Mothers have been going with their children, never leaving them. I saw a report of one Ukrainian father who bid his tearful young son goodbye, telling the child, "Be brave for your mother." The man's goal was to get his beloved family away from the danger and chaos of war. The father, Ruslan, gave his nine-year-old son, Hordeiy, a big bear hug as he put him, his daughter and his wife on a train in Lviv. Young Hordeiy was overtaken with emotion. The father said "I did not want to say goodbye to my family”. He stayed behind, to fight.

Ruslan sent his son away to safety, to keep him alive. That’s what fathers do. God the Father sent his Son (his beloved only Son) towards danger and certain death. Why? Well, in John 3.16-21 there’s an answer to that in three parts, with a NOT, a BUT, and a BECAUSE. Why did God give his only Son? Part One: NOT to condemn the world. Part Two: BUT to save the world. Part Three: BECAUSE he loved the world. Let’s take a look at each part in turn. So:

1. Why did God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world.

The reason God did give his Son and send him to us comes into sharper focus when we’re clear why he didn’t give his Son. He did not give send his Son to the world to condemn it – that is, to condemn us. He could have done. Jesus is not only the Saviour of the world. He is also the Judge of the world. God has appointed him as the judge of all. So two chapters further on, in John 5.22, Jesus makes that clear, when he says:

The Father judges no one, but has given all judgement to the Son...

So the Day of Judgement is coming, and Jesus will be the Judge. He has that authority, but that’s not why God gave him to the world (John 3.17):

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world…

Now, many in our culture would wholeheartedly approve of that, on the grounds that we don’t deserve condemnation, rather, we deserve affirmation and approval. But that’s not it at all. It’s not that the world doesn’t deserve condemnation, but that it’s already condemned, by its idolatry and immorality. The world (humanity in rebellion against God) is perishing. And that’s because the world chooses darkness rather than light. It prefers the darkness of sin to the light of Christ. Look at John 3.18-20:

…whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

That so many don’t put their faith in Jesus, now that he has come into the world, exposes the fact that our sinful natures hide from him and don’t want him, even though he has come to save us.

Vivienne’s grandmother used to work as a scullery maid up at Cragside before the First World War. She used to tell of how she would be first down to the kitchen very early in the morning, and as she put the light on, she would hear all the cockroaches scuttling away into the nooks and crannies of the kitchen, out of the light and into the darkness. That’s what we’re like – cockroaches that hide in the darkness when the light comes. Not very flattering, but it’s not meant to be.

One of the first things that happened to me after I had looked to Christ by faith as a teenager was that I began to be aware of my great guilt and deep sin. When the light comes on, what it exposes is not pretty. What about you? Has the light of Christ exposed the darkness in your soul?

Why did God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world. We’re already under condemnation. That’s Part One of our answer:

2. Why did God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world, BUT to save the world.

John 3.16-17:

God…gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

God does not want to destroy us as we deserve, but to rescue us and give us life. People talk about the instincts of fight or flight when we see a threat coming. When Jesus came to us, the reaction of our sinful natures was both fight and flight, we scuttled away from him into the darkness to hide from his light. And collectively we killed him, by nailing him to a cross but he knew that would happen and he didn’t flinch from it. God gloriously caught up that worst of all our wicked works into his plan to rescue us, and on the cross Jesus put paid to our sin and defeated Satan and the darkness of death.

We used to have an allotment, and on it we had raspberries that we protected with a cage of netting. One day we found that a bird which had wanted to take our berries had got itself caught inside the net. When I opened the net, and took hold of it, it struggled and its little heart beat fit to burst as if it thought I had come to condemn it and I was about to wring its neck. But that wasn’t my purpose at all. I gently trapped it in my two hands, against its will, took it out from under the net, and freed it to fly away. My intent was not destruction but liberation. Not death but life. So it is with God and us. What about you? Are you fearful of the living God bearing down on you to take hold of you? Are you afraid of what he’ll do with your life? Do you think he means to harm you? No. His intent is not condemnation but redemption, not death but life eternal. Why does God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world, BUT to save the world. And there’s one more part of the answer to our question:

3. Why does God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world, BUT to save the world, BECAUSE he loved the world.

John 3.16:

God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…

Again, don’t miss the contrast between God and us. John 3.19 says:

…people loved [that’s the same word] the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.

The world loved the darkness. God loved the world. And he loved it (us) so much that he gave his beloved only Son to come and die for our sins, so that we might go free.

Every now and again the news throws up an example of love in action. One such was the story of Richard Ratcliffe and his wife Nazanin, during her long Iranian imprisonment, which finally came to an end on 16 March. On that day, one journalist who had got to know him wrote:

For Richard, the focus – in spite of every nonsensical twist and turn – has always been passionately clear: how to get his wife home…During one of our early interviews, Richard quoted his favourite…lyric: “love is a verb, it’s a doing word”. Over the last six years, it’s a lyric that has come to succinctly encapsulate Richard and Nazanin’s enduring bond – an indestructible love story… In the early hours of this morning, Richard tweeted a joyous photograph of his reunited family…“No place like home,” it read.

Nazanin loved Richard back, and was desperate to be with him and their daughter. Not so with the world and God. We preferred the darkness. We were God’s enemies. We killed his beloved only Son, and yet God loved us.

He wanted not to curse us but to bless us. He didn’t want us to be cut off from him for ever. He wanted to be with us for eternity. He was prepared to pay the highest price and do whatever it took. And that’s what he did, like that bronze snake lifted high on a stick in the desert by Moses, so the Son of God was lifted high on the cross, so that we might be able to look at him and live. Why did God give his only Son? NOT to condemn the world, BUT to save the world, BECAUSE he loved the world. SO – let’s do two things in response.

(i) Believe in Jesus. (John 3.16):

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Look to Jesus, as to that bronze serpent on a stick. Come to the light. John 3.21:

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

If you haven’t done so, come to the light, and put your faith and trust in Jesus today. Tell him that’s what you’re doing. Ask him for his Holy Spirit. That’s a prayer he loves to answer. When I was a teenager, the wind of the Holy Spirit blew through my life. My eyes were turned to Jesus. My unbearable burden of guilt fell away and was replaced with an unquenchable hope of eternal life. What about you? Believe in Jesus. Then once you’ve begun to do that (and maybe you did that years, even decades, ago) then:

(ii) Love the world, as God loved the world. What will that mean for you? God calls each one of us to love the world in different ways. For me, it was giving up engineering to help build the church, which is the hope of the world. What about you? Believe in Jesus, and love the world, as God so loved the world. Let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we praise you for your love. Thank you that you gave your Son to save us. Keep our eyes firmly fixed on him always. And teach us to love the world as you have loved us, that through our witness and service many others might learn to look to Jesus and live. In his name we pray. Amen.

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