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What's the Big Deal with "John 3:16"?

John 3:16 is the best known Bible reference in the Western world. What's the big deal?

The story behind the sermon (Craig Brian Larson)

The background of my approach to this sermon: As I began work on this sermon, I realized that it has been many years since I preached on this great verse, and so the process of writing this sermon was as delightful as running into a wonderful friend you haven't seen in years.

My one disappointment in the process was the frequent one expositors face of wishing we had the time to bring in more insights from the context. I could have employed the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus to good effect, as well as the story so strange to moderns of the snake on the pole, which immediately precedes 3:16, but the sermon had to end somewhere, and those elements would have needed major blocks of time to develop properly.

For the matrix, one point of decision that I went back and forth on was about the complement. Is the complement simply "He gave his one and only Son" or is there a second complement: "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." I decided that the purpose clause, "that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life," develops the complement by application, and thus should not be a second complement to the subject.

A second point of decision was about the length of the conclusion that is the consequence of using four illustrations. I decided on the unusual move of using four brief illustrations in the conclusion because I felt that it was extremely important that this message not just speak to the head with the theology of the gospel, but that it make a strong appeal to the will and the heart as well. The body of the sermon demands that a person think, and so I felt that I needed to counterbalance that with an extended appeal to ...

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Craig Brian Larson is the pastor of Lake Shore Church in Chicago and author and editor of numerous books, including The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan). He blogs on Knowing God and His Ways at craigbrianlarson.com.

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Sermon Outline:

The story behind the sermon


I. God loves the people of the world.

II. God expressed his love to the world by giving his one and only Son.

III. You must believe in Jesus Christ.