“For God so loved the world, that he 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but 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 judgment: 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. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
John 3:16 is one of the most widely quoted verses from the Bible. It has also been called the “Gospel in a nutshell”, because it is considered a summary of the central theme of traditional Christianity. It is a central message in the Bible, but it’s not the verse that I believe is central to the Bible. Christianity cannot be summed up with one verse. However, the verses around it does encapsulate the major message of Christ. It’s the context that makes the difference.
The story around the text is about Nicodemus who visits Jesus in the night. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. According to John, he showed favor to Jesus. He appears three times in the Gospel of John. In the context of John 3:16, Nicodemus visits Jesus one night to discuss his teachings with him. The second time Nicodemus is mentioned is when he states the law concerning the arrest of Jesus, and the third is when he assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the corpse of Jesus for burial.
In the first fifteen verses of John Chapter 3, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that you must be born again in the waters of baptism in order to see the kingdom of heaven. After speaking of the necessity of a man being born again before he could “see the kingdom of God”, Jesus spoke also of “heavenly things” and of salvation and the condemnation of those that do not believe in Jesus.
It is the later part of this exchange that I want to discuss today. Jesus did not come to the world to condemn us but to save us, and by us, Jesus means all of humanity. This includes LGBT people, though some Christians want to pick and choose, Jesus never turned anyone away from God. If we believe and are born again, we will enter into the kingdom of Heaven. We must follow Christ’s example and be a light for the world. If we do what is true and go to the light, then it will be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in God’s name.
In a world broken by prejudice and hatred, Christians are called to embody the unconditional love of God for all. Jesus proclaimed this message to the world in his new commandment:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35
Jesus was not bound by the expectations of society, and through his ministry, he extended the love of God to many who had been deemed “unworthy.” Through Jesus’ own example and teachings, we are called into action.
But for those who ask, “What does God require of us?” We can look to the Book of Acts for the answer. Peter was given a vision to accept gentiles who were deemed unfit for the kingdom of God. But, God told him, “Do not call unclean what God has declared clean.” Paul talked to the leaders of Jerusalem to convince them that ministry amongst the gentiles was where God was leading him. We are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, and visit the imprisoned. Some may call them the unclean, but God does not discriminate because we are all His children. Jesus didn’t say, for God so loved some of the world, He said for God so loved the world. We are called to love our neighbor—not discriminate.