Summer Daily Devotional - John 3
The Most Famous Verse
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
This is the most famous verse in the entire Bible. Even if you've never opened a Bible for yourself, there's still a good chance that you've heard John 3:16 at some point in your life. What is far less known, however, is the context in which this verse appears in the Bible. It has been widely observed that Jesus interacted with both sinful people who knew they were messed up (tax collectors, prostitutes, etc) and with religious people who were full of pride (Pharisees). The tone that Jesus uses changes, sometimes dramatically, depending on who he is speaking with. We have a stark example of this in John 8. In this one chapter, Jesus speaks with tremendous compassion to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:10-11) and then gives a scathing rebuke to the religious people (John 8:44). This tends to be the pattern of how Jesus talks to people who know they're messed up versus people who are full of pride.
In light of this simple observation, it is fascinating that when Jesus speaks the words of John 3:16 - this well-known, well-loved verse, which has been so often quoted (and rightly so) by Evangelists, preaching to sinners who know they're messed up - that when Jesus speaks these famous words, he is actually talking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus...one of the self-righteous, religious guys. Since these guys were big on keeping up appearances, Nicodemus went to talk to Jesus at night, when it's dark. Never one to miss a moment, Jesus ends this covert conversation with a little sermon about the LIGHT (John 3:19-21). One thing is clear from the dialogue between Nicodemus and Jesus: Nicodemus just can't seem to understand Jesus. And in his failure to understand, he embodies exactly the confrontation of LIGHT and DARKNESS that we have already been clued into from John chapter 1.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome (or... "understood"!) it." John 1:5
It is in this context, Nicodemus' inability to understand Jesus, or to put it another way, the inability of the darkness to understand the light, that we get the good news of John 3:16. In the second half of the chapter, we see the perspective of John the Baptist. And in contrast to Nicodemus, John does understand Jesus. He understands that Jesus is the Light, that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus is the Messiah, and his understanding inspires his response:
"He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:30
In the end, there is redemption for Nicodemus. A good indication of his eventual repentance is the fact that he helped bury Jesus (John 19:39). And that is the takeaway for all who encounter Jesus, the LIGHT...we who are in darkness, we who have been the darkness have been so loved by the God of Light that he sent his Son for us. What is the right response? To be overcome by the Light.