John 3:16 was said to one man, at night
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

In the Gospel of John Jesus said this. The depth of this phrase cannot be exhausted, though its words can be incorrectly expanded (meaning that through repetition it can lose its strength). And this is exactly what has happened. This truth has been ruined to many from two things: 1) repetition and 2) speaking of it and not the physical surroundings that accompanied it. I am going to show what is seen to many, when this verse is read, and then I will explain a precious truth that has been forgotten.

For some, the first time that this verse is seen by them is at a football game. A man behind a goalpost will open up a sign reading, "John 3:16" after a kicker has kicked the ball through the uprights. Or it will be seen on the back of a man who runs into a street and tackles a marathon runner, or it will be seen on a giant sign on the side of a broken bus in someone's field. In some way or another this verse has been slapped onto people's chests, onto billboards, and into the minds of a vast number of people. Since the verse is brought to the individual as an individual verse then one is likely to assume either a vacant idea of where it was said, or they will conjure a stock image of Jesus: on the sea, on a hill in the sunshine, in the temple. But the verse was not said on a sunny day to thousands of people, and it was not said on the shore.

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.
This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher of God; for no one can do these signs unless God is with him."
(John 3:1-2)

There is a truth here that the man in the football stands has not been able to carry with him, and there is a truth here that the field owner could not write with spray paint on the side of his broken bus. That truth is where this (the greatest truth) was said. It was said, at night, to a single person! Now this is not an attempt at saying anything about taking verses out of context or about how Christianity can only exist in certain ways. This is about pulling a great truth of God out of the darkness. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jewish people, he was known as a wise and good man. But he came, at night, alone, to the Christ.

Let us pretend that when he said this to him it was cold outside and that the animal that he rode on was there too, being pat on the head by its owner. One can guess that Nicodemus was eager to learn from Jesus, otherwise he would have gone to see him with the other multitudes during the day. Let us pretend that when they were speaking, Jesus had a spiritual control of the situation, that no insect stirred and that no person interrupted them. There, at night, Jesus formed words that expelled out of his mouth and the heaviness of those words could have broken the backs of elephants. But they were carried on the light breeze and they entered the ears of Nicodemus. What kind of concentration must His eyes have held!? And what weight must entered his ears! This abyssal phrase was said, at night, between two people. That truth is one that cannot be overlooked.

Most of what Christ said was in private. The Lord's Prayer for example, at night in the Garden of Gethsemene with two disciples present (I imagine He was just giving them an example of how to talk to the Father, but we've turned it into a liturgy complete with full musical score). All we have of the truly public events are short quotes that modern preachers can tear apart and analyze in one 20 minute sermon - like Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. Certainly Christ said more than the beatitudes while he had the ear of thousands, but we just hear of the critical bits.

Christ was here to live a life - to be an example of a life well lived. I don't hear the full musical score, the concentration in His eyes, the constant gravity of his presence. I see smiles, laughter, friendship. Certainly people affected by his life may have felt a gravity or at least a misplaced excitement as they became more and more certain that he was the new King of the Jews, but Jesus was just doing what he knew - as the Son of God, show these little people how to live without tearing each other apart. Sadly we never learned what he was trying to say. No nation has the political strength to put what he said into practice. Few people are willing to follow Christ to the cross if necessary.

What was said to Nicodemus by Jesus was the cornerstone of His message. I imagine he used that line several times. However even his close disciples didn't realize what he meant until after He rose from the grave.

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