John3v14to21: FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD
(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)
John continues his commentary on the interview between Nicodemus and Jesus by telling us in verses 14 to 21 how a man or woman is born again to eternal life. We are, therefore, in a much better position than Nicodemus to understand the terms upon which spiritual regeneration is possible.
(B) A desperate state.
(1) John draws a parallel between man's condition and that of the wandering Israelites described in Numbers21v4to9. The Israelites were rebellious and discontented for not the first time! But the people grew impatient on the way, they spoke against God and against Moses and said, "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" The Israelites' predictable and understandable reaction to their never-ending, aimless wandering and the monotonous diet of manna would be laughable but for its tragic implications. It was a symptom of an imperfect relationship with the LORD.
God was displeased with the Israelites and sent venomous snakes into the camp. Many of the people were bitten and died. Others with venom coursing through their veins were under sentence of death.
(2) This is a graphic picture of man's condition. We are in a failed relationship with God. My friend Tom once joked, "How could I become a Christian?" I said, "First of all you need to repent." Quick as a flash he retorted, "What have I to repent of?" Well, Tom, a decent man and a good friend, has much to repent of. Sometimes he denies God exists and at other times it is clear that if God did exist Tom would not like him very much. Sadly, he does not have a high regard for Jesus Christ. We are all by nature fallen creatures and as a consequence estranged from God.
There are various manifestations that something is wrong with our relationship with God - ignorance of his wishes, denial of his existence, indifference to his word, resentment at his interference and dissatisfaction with his efforts. Adam and Eve, placed in a perfect environment, became discontented because there was just one tree in the centre of the garden from which they could not eat. I wonder what comments we would write if asked to assess God. Would we like to write: 'He could do better. God must pay more attention to what is going on. He seems insensitive to the needs of others. God should make more effort in the future.' Last night I watched a TV program called Room 101 in which the comedian Paul Merton interviews guests about their pet hates. If the guest makes out a good enough case Paul Merton consigns their pet hate to Room 101 (oblivion). The weird English comic, Harry Hill, was the interviewee and he wanted to consign God to Room 101 for not really trying!
The outcome of our dissatisfaction with God is tragic. We are as surely bitten by the poisonous snake as the Israelites in the desert. The venom is spreading through our system. Our death is inevitable. All of us will experience the curse of sin unless Jesus returns first. Indeed John3v16 indicates a fate worse than death - we will perish without Christ. Many people perished in the Asian tsunamis of 2004. They vanished without a trace. They were altogether lost, irretrievably and unrecoverably lost.
If we harden our hearts and persist in rejecting God and his Son then we shall be totally, utterly destroyed. John writes: He who has the Son of God has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1John5v12.
(C) A wonderful provision.
(1) God made it.
The more we love the more we give. My friend KB told me not long ago that he was having a new kitchen installed. I said to him, "If you make do with your old one you could retire a year earlier." KB is very keen to retire! He replied, "Anne wants it." KB loves his wife and he was glad for her to have a new kitchen. Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to help a sick child even to the extent of donating a kidney.
God so loved that he gave his Son - the Father's other self. What more could he give? He gave him to be born in a manger, to live as a refugee, to toil as a carpenter, to be despised and rejected of men and to die as a felon on a cross of wood.
(2) The antidote.
Jesus was like that brazen serpent. Jesus took our fallen nature at Calvary - the snake within that poisons our system. The Son of Man became sin for us. As he hung upon the cruel tree he accepted sin's bane and his life was forfeit.
(3) Lifted high.
Christ's saving work must be announced. What good news it is! For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.
How it tells of love to all!
How the Saviour in compassion
Died to save us from the Fall;
How He came to seek the lost ones,
And to bring them to His fold:
Let us hasten to proclaim it,
For the story must be told.
The story must be told,
The uplifted serpent was a glorious opportunity for dying men. They looked and lived. God extends a like glorious opportunity to sinners. His remedy is:
The antidote to the poison that killed was very simple. All one had to do was look to the gleaming bronze snake on its pole. All the sinner needs to do is look to Jesus. Anyone can look. It's not hard to look. You do not need any special knowledge to look. It is within the ability of every lost soul to look.
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then, look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
Look! look! look and live!
Every time I get a repeat prescription for inhalers from my doctor I get a note telling me to make an appointment with the asthma nurse. On each and every occasion I ignore the request! My medication works and I see no necessity to change anything. If it works why change it?
The cure for sin recommended by John is both necessary and effective. If that is the case why look elsewhere and why try something different?
On Jewish altars slain,
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain.
But Christ, the heavenly lamb,
No Israelite who looked to the brazen serpent on its pole was left unhealed. That must have been an enormous relief for some of those who instigated the trouble!
Thank God that the gospel is inclusive. It does not exclude anyone. Christianity knows nothing about hopeless cases. No-one is incurable and terminally ill. Why not? Because of the word: 'Whoever'. WHOEVER believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. v16. WHOEVER believes in him is not condemned ... v18. EVERYONE who believes in him may have eternal life. v15.
C.H. Spurgeon said: Whosoever has a finger for babes and an arm for old men; it has an eye for the quick, and a smile for the dull. John does not say: the useful or the able or those with potential or the talented or the young and active who believe, but whoever believes will be given eternal life. John does not tell us that it is the elect or those given faith or those moved by the Spirit who believe, but whoever believes that will escape condemnation. I am so happy for that. If eternal life was reserved for the elect then I would worry that I was not among that number. If salvation is only given to those who are given faith I might still be waiting to receive it. The Puritan Richard Baxter said that he was very relieved that the John3v16 didn't say that if Richard Baxter believed he would be given eternal life because if it did he would suspect that it was some other Richard Baxter.
We are all included in the offer of salvation and eternal life because God's word says, WHOEVER, and that means you, me and EVERYONE else.
There is nothing to pay for God's salvation. Eternal life is a gift from a loving God. However, there is a cost involved.
Last week I read an amusing story in the Daily Telegraph about five-year-old Aaron Taylor. After having his lunch he still felt hungry and so he left school and took a bus to Tescos. He got himself a basket and collected £26 of cakes. Sadly he only had 2p to pay for them! Now if Aaron had been with his mother and told her that he was hungry he would not even have needed 2p for food. She would give her five-year-old something to eat free of charge. But there would have been a cost to little Aaron. It is highly doubtful whether his mum would have given Aaron £26 worth of cakes from Tescos. Aaron would have to accept his mother's authority and eat what he was given!
Salvation is like that. God gives it freely. We cannot buy, earn or merit it. However, in believing in Jesus we put ourselves under his authority. This is not a hidden cost! John makes it clear over and over again that the gift of eternal life is not given unconditionally. It is dependent upon belief in Jesus.
The camp cynic lies dying in his tent muttering to himself, "A snake on a stick! What good can that do? A snake on a stick! Now I've heard it all." His wife does her best to persuade her sceptical husband. She tells him that hundreds are looking to the gleaming bronze serpent and living, but he is not to be persuaded. No good can come from looking to a snake up a pole.
Many just can't believe that a bleeding, suffering Jew on a cross is God's remedy for sin and his prescription for eternal life. They are unable to sing with conviction the words of the old Sankey hymn:
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh, precious is the flow,
An old granny, desperately sick, lies covered with skins and surrounded by her family. They are trying to get her up and outside to look at the uplifted serpent. Granny has always been stoical and optimistic. There is no need to put anyone to any trouble. She doesn't feel so bad. In fact she is feeling better. All she needs is a little sleep and she will be as right as rain. There is no need for her children to worry about her. But the old granny is dying just the same.
Countless vaguely optimistic folk have died unsaved because they have put off doing anything about their dying condition. They know that something is wrong but cling to the mistaken belief that somehow everything will work out all right. They are like my elderly friend who asked me to take her to the dentist. Ivy knows that a couple of teeth need to come out. Every Sunday she says, "I'll phone up the dentist next week." John does not write in his gospel, 'everyone may have eternal life', but everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. The time to believe is NOW.
(c) The pigheaded.
There are sinners without number like Rachel. They have a better way to heaven than the Christian way. Their old dad knew best - attend church once a week and live decent. What more could God ask than that? He does ask more! He demands wholehearted commitment and unswerving allegiance to his Son.
(d) The despairing.
Nicodemus was like this despairing youth. Nicodemus thought it was too late for him to change. I have heard people say, whether honestly or not, "I'm too bad to be a Christian." How can anyone be too bad? Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. The Great Physician came to heal the sick, the terminally ill, dying men. None need despair. Remember the thief crucified along side Jesus. All he said was, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." It was enough. It was enough. Jesus assured him that: "Today, you will be with me in paradise." Lk23v43.
(e) The angry.
Far more folk than we realise are angry with God. They reckon he has treated them badly! They turn their backs upon him. Nothing will persuade them to submit to his will. They would rather die. Die they do!
My stubborn heart has won,
For God so loved the world,
He gave His only Son
That: Whosover will believe
Shall everlasting life receive.
(1) Condemned already.
(b) It is unfit for use. It cannot fulfil the purpose for which it was built and for which it was intended. The building cannot be trusted.
(c) It will eventually cease to be a building at all. Eventually the building will be demolished - utterly destroyed.
(2) The scrutiny of Christ.
(b) Do we consciously do things for Christ's sake? In order to inject a little realism to the exercise imagine that you attend a small country chapel overshadowed by a giant beech tree. One Saturday night an autumn gale blows leaves, twigs and small branches down on to the path leading up to the chapel. As you arrive for church on Sunday morning what will your reaction be? I have assessed seven possible responses and marked them on a three point scale:
The person who sweeps up the twigs and branches to spare the hard-pressed church secretary another job is implementing Christ's golden rule of doing unto others, as you would have them do to you. The individual who sees a job, and does it because it needs doing without telling anyone, or in anyway seeking credit, is genuinely poor in spirit. It is an act of a truly humble person. There are just a few Christians who do mundane tasks for Jesus without hesitation or thought because they are in the habit of acting in this way. If you are in that category score +5!
The people who will be happiest to come to the light are going to be those with plus scores. John writes: But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. v21.
(c) Do we act at the urging of God's Spirit? Many times the Holy Spirit prompts us to make a gift, volunteer help, pay a visit, write a letter of thanks, show appreciation or pray more earnestly - and we resist.