I remember learning in high school that we could find the message of the whole Bible in just one verse, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Maybe you learned that verse too. In fact, people know it so well that often you see it on billboards or on a makeshift poster held up at a football game. Not the words, just the reference: John 3:16.
You could do a lot worse. If you’re looking for a quick summary of the very heart of our faith, it’s hard to find one that says so much in so few words. In the eyes of John’s first readers, to give your only son is to put all your hopes and dreams for the future into the hands of somebody else. John 3:16 tells us that God loves us enough to put all God’s hopes and dreams for the future into our hands, knowing full well how much grief that’s going to cause. God doesn’t just love us; God loves us extravagantly, outrageously. That’s incredibly good news.
And do note: it really is all about love. To hear some Christians talk, you’d think that the reason God sent Jesus was because God was so angry that “he” needed to punish somebody before “he” could get over it.
But John 3:16 says the opposite: God sent Jesus because God loves us. Period. God doesn’t need to punish anybody. God loves us already, in advance of whatever we do. Sure, it causes God immeasurable grief to keep loving us when we keep hating. That’s why God’s love really is a kind of sacrifice. But make no mistake, God doesn’t need to punish anybody. It’s all about love.