We continue to look at Jesus' words to Nicodemus in the gospel of John. After telling this teacher of Israel that to see the kingdom of God, he had to be born again, Jesus now tells him of the love of God for humanity:
16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:16-17).
The Lord speaks about the self-sacrificial love of God. The English word "love" translates to the Greek word Agapaō. It means to love, cherish, and esteem; charity, devotion, respect, loyalty, and concern. This Greek word is rarely used outside religious literature and is most commonly used to translate the Hebrew word chesed, which means loving-kindness or mercy. Agape is a word to describe self-sacrificial love, i.e., voluntary love or a choice or decision made by a person's will. God so loved (past tense) that, even while we were still in our sin and rebellious enemies of His, He sent His Son into the world to heal us of our sin against Him.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that God so loved that He gave. The kind of love we are discussing gives again and again, even to His hurt and to all men and nations. The motive for His giving is His desire that no one may perish and that all would come to repentance. If you are ever tempted to doubt God's love, look at Christ's cross and see God's judgment upon sin, but also see the love of God toward guilty sinners.
God has made the greatest gift to be received with the greatest simplicity, and He made this gift available to ALL who will believe. The Lord made it so simple that children with limited knowledge on the subject can receive the free gift of salvation. God loved you and me so much that He gave His one and only Son. If there was another way for man to be reconciled to God, don't you think He would have taken it? If keeping laws and regulations and being good could have accomplished reconciliation, God certainly would not have put His Son through such a painful death. God so loved that He gave. The word so is added for emphasis. God didn't just love; He so loved you and me that He endured watching His Son brutalized and murdered at the hands of evil men.
Whose hands did this to Christ? Those who wielded the whips and shouted, "Crucify Him," will undoubtedly be judged when the curtains close on this age unless they, too, receive His forgiveness, but my sin and your sin brought Christ to the cross. The situation is such that, without a Savior, you and I would "perish" (v. 16). We had already been condemned. The judgment had already been made against us, and those who are not yet born-again by the Spirit are prisoners held captive by Satan. There was only one way out: the Son of God must step in and pay the ransom price for those who will look to the Savior. The barrier of sin is taken out of the way by the death of a substitute on your behalf.
There is a story that I think will illustrate the kind of substitutionary love about which we are talking:
In his book Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of Prisoners of War working on the Burma Railway during World War II. At the end of each day, the work party collected the tools. On one occasion, a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a fury, and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. All die! All die! He shrieked, cocking, and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment, one man stepped forward, and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently at attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again, and no shovel was missing. The Japanese soldier had miscounted. That one man had gone forward as a substitute to save the others.
God was in Christ, substituting Himself for us. He so loved you and me that He gave Himself for us. Keith Thomas
This meditation is a shortened version of the in-depth study: God So Loved.