How many times have you been at a sporting event, or watching one, and you see someone holding up a sign reading, ‘John 3:16’? Well, I seem to notice at least one at almost every baseball or football game I get a chance to see. And that’s not a bad thing, since it refers to the following biblical verse, and which happens to be a part of today’s assigned Gospel reading: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This should be a very familiar part of the Bible for us Orthodox Christians, because we hear it prayed by the Priest at every Divine Liturgy, just prior to the consecration of the Holy Gifts:
Together with these blessed angelic powers, merciful Master, Who loves mankind, we also proclaim and say: Holy are You and most holy, You and Your only-begotten Son and Your Holy Spirit. Holy are You and most holy, and sublime is Your glory. You so loved Your world that You gave Your only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. When He had come and fulfilled for our sake the entire plan of salvation, on the night in which He was delivered up, or rather when He gave Himself up for the life of the world, He took bread in His holy, pure, and blameless hands, and, giving thanks and blessing, He sanctified and broke it, and gave it to His holy disciples and apostles, saying…
Let us also consider, however, the verses that follow the famous John 3:16 passage, through verse 21:
“For God sent the Son into the world, not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe is judged already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only-begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the Light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.”
Beloved, we cannot read John 3:16 in isolation. It is imperative to always place holy scripture in context.
Yes, everyone who believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, is baptized into the Name of the Holy Trinity (see the preceding verses in John 3:1-15), and does the works of Light (that is, obeys God’s commandments), will not suffer the second death (see Revelation 20:14), but will have everlasting life.
However, there is a very sad part of this most inspiring part of holy scripture. There are some, possibly very many, who do not love the Light of God, that is, Jesus Christ and His holy teachings, and so His coming does not turn out to be saving, but condemning, even though the express purpose of His coming in the flesh was to save the world, which is His utmost desire. Alas, “this is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
May we always love the Light, draw near to the Light, and do the works of Light, brothers and sisters, because in so doing, we will show in very truth that we believe in Jesus as our Lord and our God, and so we will “not perish but have eternal life.”