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How to Get Extra-Mileage Out of John 3:16

One author said preaching is very much like parachuting. When you step into the pulpit, opening your mouth is like pulling the ripcord and, regardless of what happens next, you are along for the ride until it ends; regardless of how. 

A few years ago I stepped into the pulpit after a long week and with little sleep from the night before. When it came time to deliver the sermon, I looked at the bulletin where my sermon title and Scripture were listed, then at my sermon notes only to realize they didn’t match. What is worse is in my near delirious sleep deprived state I went into a near panic.

I am usually rather calm in front of crowds of any size. This was not at all familiar or comfortable for me. As leaders will do, I made a quick decision, ditch the text, read John 3:16-17 and pull the ripcord. What followed was, by all accounts, a biblical, coherent, worthwhile, profitable sermon. By all accounts except for a dutifully keen observer in the back pew, that is. My wife’s response after the sermon: “John 3:16. Really? Really?”

Of course she was alluding to the fact that these days John 3:16 is the most cited, most used and, of course, most often painted on the hairy chests of fans at football games, passage of the Bible. Some preachers run to familiar passages all of the time. If you’re like me, you tend to avoid them either in an effort to teach the while counsel of God or to discover new things and to challenge yourself in study and your people in discipleship.

My tension-filled experience that day reminded me if we dust off John 3:16, we can get some extra mileage out of it. Here are some old-fresh insights for a few extra miles of preaching from a passage that encapsulates the entire Gospel:

1. In this verse Jesus shows Nicodemus yet another “heavenly thing.” Jesus makes it clear God’s love is for the entire world. This is so obvious it’s easy to overlook its profundity. Earlier in John 3 Jesus is telling Nicodemus, the Pharisee, he must be born again to enter the kingdom of Heaven. His reply? “How can a man enter again into his mother’s womb when he is old?” Jesus has the old Pharisee really confused and then, to make it worse, He tells him God’s love is not merely reserved for Israel. God’s love extends to all of His creation.

This may be obvious, but it has remarkable implications that spill over to personal evangelism, global Church missions and our relationship with the persecuted Church around the world—just to name a few.

If Jesus died for the whole world, shouldn’t we care to witness to our coworkers, our neighbor, our friends and family, and even our own kids? If He died for me and the unevangelized and Christians suffering around the world under various kinds of persecution, then don’t I have some kind of responsibility to them or should I not be in some kind of relationship with them?

The world doesn’t just mean over there somewhere, it means the person seated on the couch next to me and the person in the remote jungle of Myanmar; even if I’ve never heard of Myanmar or couldn’t possibly find it on a map.