I preached at the assisted living facility this past Sunday, and here is the message. Scripture passages read before were: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 98:1-4; John 3:14-21.
** I preached this again at a church and got an audio recording. LINK HERE. It is best to DOWNLOAD it to listen (otherwise, directly from google drive, it will stop playing every couple minutes).
John 3:16 is probably the most well-known Bible verse in the world. Sometimes in a sports stadium with a big crowd present, you may see someone in the crowd holding a John 3:16 sign. – SHOW SIGN (I had a sign with John 3:16 on it.)
John 3:16, all by itself, is a great verse because it is a summary of the gospel – the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ – and a sermon could be preached on only that verse. But this morning I want to look at John 3:16 and also consider the verses that come before and after it. We will put it in context.
John chapter 3 begins with the story of Nicodemus the Pharisee – a Pharisee was a Jewish religious leader. He came to see Jesus at night. Nicodemus had questions, and Jesus answered the questions, telling Nicodemus that in order to see the kingdom of God he needed to be born again or have a new birth.
But Nicodemus was baffled by this, and his words to Jesus are well-known: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Nicodemus should have had better understanding than this, but Jesus was patient and continued to try to help him understand that this was about a spiritual birth. And we get to John 3:14 where I began reading a few moments ago.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” (Son of Man is Jesus)
Jesus is to trying to help him understand this teaching about the new birth by mentioning an event in the Old Testament that Nicodemus would have been familiar with, particularly because he was Jewish and a Pharisee who studied the Scripture. We heard Numbers 21:4-9 read a few minutes ago. The children of Israel were grumbling and complaining, and the Lord sent snakes that began to bite them.The people realized they had sinned, and asked Moses to pray for the Lord to take away the snakes. And…
The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” – The theme of my message this morning is: Look and Live.
If you find that story in Numbers strange, remember it is Jesus who brings it up here in John. Jesus wants us to learn something, and He makes a comparison here. Verses 14-15 in John state: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This is the answer to Nicodemus’ question. How can a man (or woman) be born when they are old? The new birth is experienced, through the saving work of Christ, accepted by faith.
Every time “lifted up” occurs in John there is a reference to the death of Jesus on the cross. When Moses lifted up the snake, those who looked at it lived. That is all they did – they looked and lived. Jesus used this example to illustrate the wonderful truth of redemption. We look to Christ in his sacrificial work on the cross for us.
And the next verse is the famous John 3:16. There is a shift here in John chapter 3. So far this has been the answer of Jesus to Nicodemus, but with verse 16 it becomes clear that this is a message for all of us. It begins “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
For God. The message of salvation begins with God. We can be tempted to look at ourselves and think “What can I do?” But God wants to draw our attention to what he has done for us. Verse 14 said: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Notice the word MUST.
If something must happen, it is a necessity. This is “the must” of divine purpose foretold in the Old Testament. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God already had a plan to bring a Savior into the world to save and redeem humanity from sin. This was the mission and divine purpose of God the Son – our Lord Jesus Christ.
For God so loved. God’s motivation was love. First John 4:8 says that God is love. John Stott, the British theologian, said: “If we are looking for a definition of love, we should look not in a dictionary, but at Calvary.”
E. Stanley Jones, an American Methodist missionary to India in the early 20th century said: “The Christian faith is primarily an act…an act of Love invading history to redeem us.”
If you know John 3:16, why don’t you say it with me? “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” [Just about everyone said it!]
Notice the two words: world and whosoever. You are a whosoever, and I am a whosoever. The mission and purpose of Jesus is for everyone in this world – no one is excluded. – Show the globe. (I had a globe with me.)
Salvation is not limited to a certain nation, culture, people, or place. When God called Abraham in Genesis 12, God told Abraham “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” and this was fulfilled through the Jewish people bringing us the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world – our Lord Jesus Christ.
This beloved gospel verse also mentions a troubling possibility – perishing. To perish is to be eternally separated from God. It is the opposite of having eternal or everlasting life with God. Verses 15 and 16 both clearly present these two options: you perish or you have eternal life.
Eternal life is life in Christ; it is a new quality of life that begins immediately when we believe, and we possess it forever. It is like being born again, as Jesus told Nicodemus. When we place our trust in Christ, we receive eternal and spiritual life. Remember that the message of salvation begins with God. God gave us His Son. It is a divine gift, and a gift must be received through faith or belief.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” – The focus is on Christ. Christ is the object of our faith. We look to Jesus and we live.
Our focus should not be on our faith. Yes, we need faith. We need to believe. That is imperative. Faith is important. But sometimes we can get fixated on our faith. Maybe we worry that our faith is weak, or we can have doubts about our salvation. But more than the strength or weakness of our faith, the object of our faith is critical. We could have strong faith in something or someone false, wrong, or incorrect. That’s no good. It could even prove dangerous or deadly to believe something false.
But weak faith in TRUTH has potency – it is effective.
There is no virtue in faith, in and of itself. The virtue is in Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. We can get so focused on our faith – is it strong enough? – that we can neglect the object of our faith: the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes we need to stop looking to our faith, and start looking to Christ. Look and live.
But to keep moving in John chapter 3…The very fact of salvation or eternal life for all who believe implies judgment on all who do not believe. Verses 17 and 18 state: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Just like the earlier verses (verses 14-16) presented the two options of perishing or having eternal life, John (and Jesus) bring it up again in verses 17-18. It is a solemn reality and they do not want us to evade it. If this makes you uncomfortable, this is the teaching of Jesus.
Judgment or condemnation was NOT the object of Christ’s mission in the Incarnation – Jesus being born in Bethlehem to die on the cross for the sin of the world. There is no need to perish or be condemned, a way has been provided by which all may be saved. “For God so loved the world that He gave.”
But though judgment was NOT the object of Christ’s mission, judgment is the result of it. It follows from the revealed presence of Christ. The appearance of Jesus constitutes a crisis in the world and we either come to the light or abide in darkness. Verse 19 continues and states:
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
John likes to use contrasting terms in his books of the Bible: good and evil, love and hate, life and death, salvation and judgment, light and dark, truth and falsehood. When it comes to salvation, when it comes to Christ, there are only two options and two associated eternal destinies. We believe or we do not believe.
There is no third way. There is no neutral way. It is impossible to be neutral when it comes to Christ. We either believe, or we don’t believe. We can’t sit on the fence. We must get off the fence. To not decide — is to decide. The result of not believing is condemnation.
Verse 18 said: “He who believes in Him is not condemned [that is good news!] but he who does not believe is condemned already.”
Note that word already. The default position is condemnation. If we do nothing, we are condemned. We are all sinful and in need of a Savior. Romans 3:23 says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” If we refuse to believe, we pass judgment on our self. It is self-incurred. We can’t really blame God. Christ died for all, but that doesn’t automatically bring salvation to every person. No one is saved unless he or she believes, unless they look and live.
Isaiah 45:22 says: “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
For the person who believes, judgment is not to be feared. Those who believe are not condemned. If you need some assurance about your salvation, Romans 8 is great chapter to read. If we have believed, our sin was dealt with at the cross of Calvary. We can rest in God’s great love and salvation. Romans 8 begins:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
And Romans 8 ends with the well-known verses about nothing being able to separate the believer from God’s love. It asks: who or what shall separate us from the love of Christ? And the answer is that nothing can! The apostle Paul says he is convinced that nothing will be able to separate the believer from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I assume we are all believers this morning. But in case there is someone here who is unsure about their salvation, it is never too late to look and live. Make sure you’re trusting in the right thing – the work of Christ for you on the cross of Calvary and His resurrection from the dead. Please just talk to me after the service if you’d like me to help you place you faith in Christ.
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