It is perhaps the most well-known Scripture verse in many languages worldwide, and it is a pivotal verse when sharing the gospel with others. It is the central verse of Scripture that embodies the Old Testament promises and serves as the anchoring for the New Testament believer’s faith. The verse I refer to is John 3:16 that was spoken by Jesus when He conversed with a Pharisee named Nicodemus one evening long ago. Interestingly, Jesus spoke in past-tense instead of present or future tense when he shared this verse with Nicodemus. Why did Jesus speak in terms of past-tense well before the day of His crucifixion and resurrection?
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:16
The two terms that point back are “loved” and “gave.” If Jesus were to speak in present or future-tense, He might have said, “For God so loves the world, He is giving, or He will give His only Son.” Instead, Jesus spoke in terms of what God had already done, i.e., because God so loved the world, He gave His only Son. One answer to why Jesus spoke in this way is that God is omnipresent, meaning He is always everywhere and not limited to linear time. In other words, perhaps Jesus spoke in past-tense because from His perspective, as God, He looked back from beyond the cross, the resurrection, and the millennial reign. Maybe He was looking back from His throne in the days of the new heaven and the new earth.
No matter the tense used, the verse encapsulates the love that God holds for every person created in His image. His passion is so great, God chose to step from heaven and become an embryo to enter the world and walk among us, to serve those of us in need, and most of all to die for us all so those among us who believe would not perish, but have everlasting life in His presence. The verse offers a conditional statement whereby one can obtain eternal life if he or she believes in Jesus, a belief that is driven solely by faith. While there is no shortage of stories in the Bible where people demonstrated tremendous faith, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is no exception.
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement and was pondering what kind of greeting this was. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; for that reason also the holy Child will be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth herself has conceived a son in her old age, and she who was called infertile is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.Luke 1:28-39
As a young woman, presumably in her early teens, Mary showed great faith when she met the angel Gabriel. First, she did not run away at Gabriel’s appearance, which could be seen as her having faith in God to watch over her. Second, she was engaged to Joseph and likely knew that her pregnancy would be scandalous, threaten her engagement, and shame her for life. However, she does not recoil from the idea, saying, “But wait, I have plans and dreams of my own, and this will ruin all of it.” Instead, she asked a question to clarify her confusion on how she could become pregnant since she was a virgin.
Mary’s question was genuine to understand, unlike Zachariah, who doubted Gabriel’s words when told he and Elizabeth would have a son. But the most substantial evidence of Mary’s faith is seen in the last words she shares in this passage: “Behold, the Lord’s bond-servant; may it be done to me according to your word.” If she had any concerns about what people would think, what Joseph, her fiance, would do, and so on, she put it all in God’s hands – “let it be done to me according to your word.” Mary’s faith shows us today that we should never be skittish or hesitant to place our unknown future into the hands of our known God.
We often hear the phrase, “Jesus is the reason for the season” during the Christmas season. However, John 3:16 asserts that it was God’s love for you and me that is the reason for the season because it was that perfect agape love that brought Jesus to us, to save us, and take away the world’s sins. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that a person will lay down his life for his friends” (John15:13). In time, the precious baby Jesus grew into a man who allowed Himself to be crucified, to lay down his life for his friends, for you and me, that we may have eternal life with Him in heaven.
Therefore, as the days of 2020 draw to a close, let us renew our efforts to get out and share the good news of Jesus Christ. Let us tell the story of his miraculous birth, why He came into the world, and what it means for each of us who believe.