14 April 2010

John 3:16-21

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life." (v.16)


In a few weeks time our television screens will be filled with football matches as the World Cup takes place in South Africa. At various times in previous tournaments a goal scorer has celebrated their achievement by removing their team shirt to reveal an under shirt emblazoned with "John 3:16" - a reference to the verse above and an acknowledgement of their own Christian faith.

Of course, the person in the crowd or watching on the screen needs already to be aware of the text of the verse for this action to be effective in evangelism - but it is a reminder that this verse is seen by many as an iconic summary of the message of the Christian faith. However, like many iconic summaries, this verse raises questions as well as offering answers.

We might for instance want to consider the phrase "believes in him" and ponder what exactly that means. Is it sufficient to accept the moral teaching of the charismatic rabbi from Galilee - or is more than this required? This verse follows on from the use of an Old Testament image which points ahead to the moment of Jesus' death on the Cross while the following verses with their focus on the 'battle' between light and darkness also seem to point to a more decisive and divisive moment of decision. Perhaps "believing in him" does actually involve our response to that act of crucifixion.

The tension between light and darkness is a recurring theme in John's Gospel (eg John 1:4-9John 8:12) and is clearly linked to the choice between perishing and receiving eternal life in verse 16. The question of how we choose between light and darkness is one which is before us all every day.

However the key issue in this significant verse comes not at its end but at its beginning, where we are told that the saving work of Jesus originates in God who "so loved the world that he gave..." As the Methodist New Testament scholar C K Barrett says in his commentary on this verse, "The mission of the Son was the consequence of the Father's love; hence also the revelation of it."

To Ponder

Have you ever had to choose between light and darkness? What happened?

Reflect on the God who "so loved the world". Remember that you are included in that initiative of love - and thank God in your prayers.

Bible notes author

The Revd Chris Blake

Chris Blake is a Methodist minister and principal of Cliff College in Derbyshire. His background is as a biochemist, and he has previously served in Barking and Dagenham as an industrial chaplain, in Dorset in the Wimborne Circuit and as chair of the Cornwall Methodist District.