Some call it "the gospel in a nutshell." Others credit it as the very verse that made them a believer. And many see it as a message the world desperately needs to embrace.
"There it is in black and white. As simple and gentle as 1+1=2. For God so loved the world that He gave His only son and whoever believes in Him shall NOT perish, but shall have everlasting life. That's it. Admission is free," said nationally syndicated radio host Delilah.
John 3:16 is believed to be the most popular and arguably the most recited verse in the Bible. It's a verse that compelled one famous preacher to write a book entirely on the short passage and to launch a major initiative around it.
Max Lucado, author of 3:16: The Numbers of Hope, calls the well-known verse "a 26-word parade of hope: beginning with God, ending with life, and urging us to do the same."
"John 3:16 has always been that one verse that I thought summarizes, encapsulates, [and] carries the heart of the Gospel like no other verse," Lucado said Monday on Christian Broadcasting Network's "The 700 Club."
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life," John 3:16 states.
"[It] is such a great verse because it gives us an itemization of the key doctrine to the Christian faith," he added.
The key doctrine, Lucado indicated, is that the invitation to receive eternal life is for "whoever" and the belief has to be in "him" – Jesus Christ.
The best-selling author has planned a "3:16 Live" event for Feb. 8 in celebration of the powerful verse. The event was originally scheduled for March 16, which is Palm Sunday this year, but has been moved up to take place during Women of Faith's 2008 National Conference at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. There, Lucado will launch an initiative to reach 316 million people across the globe with the John 3:16 message.
As part of the outreach initiative, Lucado has started a 3:16 movement, inviting individuals to join and add their names to the "I Believe in 3:16" list and post video clips on YouTube answering the question: "What does 3:16 mean to me?" Churches are also being encouraged to join the 3:16 Church Experience and to capitalize on the fact that Palm Sunday falls on March 16.
"If we could only share one verse with the world, wouldn't it be John 3:16?" Lucado challenges.
In 3:16, Lucado tackles issues of life and death as he leads readers through a word-by-word study of the passage. He addresses such questions as "Don't all roads lead to heaven and God?" and "What must we do to gain everlasting life?" and also devotes chapters on heaven and hell.
"This life is so brief. We are here to make a decision about where we spend eternity – either with God or apart from God. That is assignment No. 1," Lucado said on CBN. "It's really just a warm-up for the world that is to come."
Challenging both nonbelievers and veteran Christians to explore the "Hope diamond of the Bible," Lucado says, "If you know nothing of the Bible, start here (John 3:16). If you know everything in the Bible, return here."
Lucado was dubbed "America's Pastor" by Christianity Today magazine in 2004 and has written more than 60 titles published in more than 28 languages. Last year, he stepped down as senior pastor of his San Antonio megachurch, Oak Hills Church, where he remains on staff.