John 3.16 is perhaps the most popular verse on the planet. So, why has it lost its wonder? Our plan is simple: to recover the wonder of John 3.16.
First, we need to recover the wonder of what God loves: “For God so loved the world…”John’s Jewish readers are freaking out right now, “How can God love the world?” No ancient Jewish writing says God loves the world. Why? The answer is because the “world” is never just a big place filled with a lot of people in the Bible. Rather, it is a bad place, a dark place, a perishing place (verse 16).
We might not understand this comprehensive disintegration, but the movies do. In the blockbuster hit, “The Avengers: Infinity War,” the mega-villain Thanos (Greek for “Death”), ruthlessly captures all the infinity stones, imbuing him with unprecedented power. He “snaps” his fingers and half the world’s population perishes on-the-spot. Beloved characters for ten plus movies simply disintegrate, fall to pieces, piece by painful piece. The world is perishing. And God loves the perishing place.
Second, we need to recover the wonder of why the world is a perishing place. The answer is we love the darkness. We prefer perishing – “And this is the judgement: people loved the darkness rather than the light…(verse 19).” Some of us find this hard to believe. The most common image of hell in the Bible is fire. Fire depicts disintegration. Tim Keller explains that “even in this life we can see the kind of soul disintegration that self-centeredness creates…piercing bitterness, nauseating envy, paralyzing anxiety, paranoid thoughts, and the mental denials and distortions that accompany them.
Now ask the question: ‘What if when we die we don’t end, but spiritually our life extends on into eternity?’ Hell, then, is the trajectory of a soul, living a self-absorbed, self-centered life, going on and on forever.” And God loves those who prefer perishing.
Third, we need to recover the wonder of why the world does not ask God for help or come to the light. The answer is we must think of our self as a good person. It would be too traumatic to discover we are not good - “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his or her works should be exposed (verse 20).” We will do anything to maintain the illusion of being a good person. This is why it is so hard to admit we are wrong, deeply flawed, weak, sinful, or a spiritual mess. This is why it is so easy to blame others, feel superior to others, and with-hold forgiveness. And God loves people addicted to self-justification.
Fourth, we need to recover the wonder of God’s love – “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son…” God loves the world, the perishing place, the place that loves darkness, the place that refuses come to him for help because it would mean admitting Sin. God loves this kind of world by giving his only unique Son to perish in our place. God tears out his own heart, spends everything he has, for this kind of world. Recover the wonder of John 3.16.