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 perhaps the best-known and best-loved verse in the Bible. It comes in the context of a conversation between Jesus and a devout Jew, Nicodemus. It is then put into action in the following chapter of John, when Jesus converses with a woman on the opposite end of the social, moral, and religious spectrum. This teaches us something important: that the good news of Christ’s coming is not limited to pious people, like Nicodemus, but breaks boundaries to extend even to the dejected and rejected, like the woman at the well.
The contrast between these two individuals is stark. Nicodemus was learned, powerful, respected, and theologically trained. The woman was uneducated, without influence, despised, and immoral. Jesus’ interactions with both, however, display that all humans need a Savior. Nicodemus’s meeting with Christ makes it clear that we can never do enough good to save ourselves. Conversely, the Samaritan woman’s experience makes clear that no one can ever do enough bad to be beyond Christ’s reach. We all live under God’s wrath and judgment until we welcome the light of Christ’s salvation—whether you’re a Nicodemus, a Samaritan woman, or somewhere in between. The whole world needs God’s Son; and God has given the whole world His Son.
Because the gospel of Jesus does not discriminate, neither should we in proclaiming it. While both Nicodemus and the woman at the well needed to hear the same good news, Jesus masterfully shared it with each of them in a personalized way. He did not engage them with the same formulaic conversation; He met them where they were. He simply asked questions that revealed their sinful hearts and God’s loving heart for them.
Just as God invites all to hear His gospel, so He invites all who are changed by this gospel to be the agents of change for others. After her conversation with Jesus, the Samaritan woman ran back to her town, telling everyone of how He knew everything she had ever done (John 4:39). The people then responded to her words and sought Jesus out. This should encourage all of us, and especially those of us who lack confidence in extending the gospel invitation to others. When God is at work, we’ll be amazed at what happens!
“For God so loved the world…” Such love has come to live in any who believe. It empowers you to do what is necessary to live as God commands. It saves you from the chains that tie you to your past—be it a past of piety and pride, like Nicodemus’s, or a past of sordid decisions and shame, like the Samaritan woman’s. It spurs you to share this gospel of Son-giving, life-bringing love with those around you. Whoever believes will have eternal life.