Three Sixteen

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3:16

These numbers are so famous that even for many people with scant knowledge of the Bible they would instantly be recognisable as perhaps the most famous verse in the whole bible. John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. But let me ask how many could quote from memory the preceding context of this verse, if someone had asked me that very question a number of years ago I couldn’t have told them. It is often described as the gospel in a nutshell yet it has aspects of the gospel missing from it! The reason the context is important is due to that little word ‘so.’ Most of us read that little word as meaning the depth of His love (we say into ourselves as we read it ‘God soooooo loved the world’) but this is not true, the little word ‘so’ here means ‘in a similar way’ or ‘also’ or ‘in a like manner.’ We might paraphrase the opening of this verse as follows In a similar way God loved the world … Raising the question in a similar way to what, well in a similar way to the context or the preceding few verses. The previous verses describe an incident that happened back in Numbers 21, that of the brazen serpent being raised up on a pole. In this story the Israelites were suffering under Gods judgment (in the form of venomous snakes) for speaking against God and His servant Moses. After many people had died from serpent bites the people repented of their evil speaking and came to Moses seeking relief. Moses was instructed by God to make a brazen serpent and place it on a pole and to tell the people that whoever looked at it could be saved from death. This is why the context is all-important, it is only in the context that we can have any understanding of sin against God and our fellow man, the source of that sin, an understanding that we are under the judgment of God, an understanding that sin leads to death, the great mercy of God, and most importantly any concept of repentance or being sorry for what we have done is only to be found in an understanding of the story of Numbers 21. John 3:16 speaks into the same world as that described in microcosm in this Old Testament story; a world of sin, judgment, pain, death, sorrow but then in 3:16 the glorious remedy mercifully provided by God is presented in this most famous verse. In understanding our dire situation we as the Israelites of old need to turn in repentance to the only hope we have of our sins being dealt with and the only one who can impart eternal life; the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the Israelites had to look in order to live so do we! If you feel the burden of sin then let the words of this hymn help guide you…

Look to the Saviour on Calvary’s tree
See how He suffered for you and me:
Hark, while He lovingly calls to thee
“Look, and thou shalt live!”