Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Light of Truth, John 3:17-36

The other night as I was driving to pick up my daughter from a swim practice, I was able to witness a particularly beautiful sunset.  There were these clouds that had reflections of all these colors in them and the sun’s rays shining through.  It was really amazing.  It’s almost sad though because it changes right before your eyes and soon it’s gone.  I can’t help but think that sunsets are kind of like life.  They are so beautiful, and yet so fleeting.  By the time you think it’s really going great it’s basically starting to dim.

But as tragic as that thought is, imagine what life would be like if you were only able to see in black and white. Sunrises and sunsets in particular would be a great loss.  You would miss so much of the beauty of nature.  I would like to suggest that life without Christ is kind of like looking at the world in black and white and not realizing that there is so much more to it.  To live life without Christ is tragic because you are blind to the full life that God has designed for us. 2Cor. 4:4 says, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  I was talking to someone the other day who was coming out of addiction and had returned to the Lord, and they were saying how their emotions were now almost overwhelming, because they were able to see so much that they had been missing in life.  It’s like God says in Ezekiel 36:26, "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” 

The fact is, Christianity is not just a religion.  It’s life as God meant it to be lived. Prior to coming to Christ we are dead to all that God has designed us to be.  We think we are really living, but we don’t recognize that we are living in black and white, instead of living color.

Last time we looked almost exclusively at the most famous verse in the Bible, John3:16, showing the universal predicament that all men are without hope, the universal love of God in reaching down to all sinners, the universal invitation that whosoever will may come, and the individual application of whosoever believes may have everlasting life.  It is somewhat dangerous to focus on just one verse of scripture though and not consider the context in which it is found.  Today I would like us to consider the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to like to say.  But in doing so, I propose that we will not find new truth, but we will find expanded truth.  In other words, verses 17-21 are just expansions on the thoughts found in the verses prior, especially vs.16.

But before I get started, let me say something as to why this doctrine is so important.  On the one hand we need to know the doctrine of salvation so that we might have assurance of our salvation.  Secondly, we need to know more completely the doctrine of salvation so that we might know God more intimately.  And third, we need to know the doctrine of salvation so that we might be able to share it with others. 

I am afraid that though most of us know the doctrines of salvation well enough, we do not put it to practice nearly enough in personal evangelism.  For instance, I think there is a tendency to kind of push away the idea that our unsaved loved ones might die without Christ and suffer the consequences of eternal judgment. I think that we have a tendency to push such thoughts to the back recesses of our minds.  We just try not to think of them in that way.  We are glad we are saved, but somehow perhaps we either don’t really believe that God will judge the unrighteous, or we just don’t let ourselves think about it.  Otherwise, I don’t think that compassionate, loving people like most of you are could really sleep at night knowing that your loved ones stand on the precipice of eternity without Christ.  That at any moment they might pass away from some tragic circumstance and consequently would spend eternity in torment, separated from you and from God forever.  I can’t help but think that most of us don’t really believe that.  Somehow we have deluded ourselves into thinking that some way or another, they will escape judgment. 

I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but there are no exceptions offered in scripture.  There is no consolation offered in scripture for those that reject the offer of salvation.  Today this text is going to underline that truth.  And I would hope that it would compel you to witness more to those that are lost.  That it would move this reality of judgment from the back burner  to the forefront of your focus.

Let’s go back to the illustration that Jesus gave in vs. 14 for a minute.  Everyone in the camp of Israel had been bitten by the poisonous vipers.  They were dying. Unless they looked upon the serpent on the standard they would die.   There was no other remedy for their predicament.  There was no other prescription for their sickness. And that is the illustration Jesus uses to set the stage for Him being offered up on the cross.  All men are bitten by the serpent’s sting of sin, and as such are doomed to die. The wages of sin is death.  And all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  There is none righteous, no not one.  There is no other consolation, no other comfort, than to know Jesus as your personal Savior.  Otherwise you remain in your sins, and as such will stand before God a sinner, condemned to judgment.

So for those of us that know the Lord as our Savior, I hope that you will not push the thought of unsaved loved ones to the back of your mind.  But I hope this message inspires you to speak again to your loved ones about the urgency of their salvation.  Satan always tells us that there will be plenty of time.  But the devil is a liar and the father of lies.  Time is not your friend, but your enemy.

Now let’s look at the remainder of the passage, starting in vs.17.  Verse 17 is basically an explanation of the love of God.  It is expanding on the concept of God’s love.  And to do that, he says God did not send the Son, or give the Son to the world to judge the world but to save it.  Here is the picture;  the world was already judged.  God made His judgment concerning sin way back in the beginning of Genesis when He said whoever eats of the tree will surely die.  The sentence of death was already given before Adam and Eve ate of the tree.  But they rejected the truth and chose to believe the devil’s lie and as such they entered into judgment.  And that same judgment passed on to all men, all descendents of Adam are under the penalty of death, because all have inherited the same sin nature resulting in their sinful acts.  But more on the judgment in a moment.   John is saying that God loved the world so He sent Jesus to save us from our sins.  He didn’t come to bring us what we deserved, which was death.  He came to bring us what we didn’t deserve, that is grace, because He loved us.  He came to provide salvation from death.

We were already dead.  We had the penalty of death upon ourselves.  It’s like the man on death row.  Though he may be alive today, yet he is under the sentence of death.  God sent His Son not to be our executioner, but to save us from death by offering Himself as our substitute.  So verse 17 basically extrapolates on the love of God.  The motive of God sending Jesus to the world is love, not judgment.

Then verse 18 expands on the second half of verse 16, where it says, “that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  So verse 18 expanding on that says, ““He who believes in Him is not judged.”  Believing in Him delivers us from the judgment of death which we had already received.  Therefore, if you don’t believe in Him, you remain in the same condition which you were in previously.  You remain under judgment of death.  18b, “he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Going back to Jesus’ illustration, whoever looks upon the serpent on the standard would live, be delivered from death, but whoever does not look remains in the throes of death.  They did not believe or want to accept the fact that looking at the standard would save them.  It’s hard to believe that people would choose to remain under the curse of sin, but they do.  And they do because they don’t want to accept who Jesus is and what He came to do.  They would rather die first than believe in Jesus.

Why would anyone in their right mind reject salvation?  Well, to explain that, John changes his analogy.  He moves from the analogy of the serpent on a standard to a light in the darkness.  Remember back in chapter 1, Jesus was called the Light. Vs. 4-5  “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”

So in vs.19 of chapter 3 John goes back to that analogy of Christ is the Light in order to explain more completely the judgment due to those who reject salvation, and says,  "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”  Jesus is the Light, the Father sent Him into the world to save sinners, and yet when men saw the Light, they rejected it because they loved evil. 

I’ve said it before, men don’t reject God because there isn’t enough evidence of God, or even because they can’t understand Him.  Men reject God because they want to do what they want to do.  They don’t want God to rule over them.  Given the choice between good and evil we choose evil.  That is the nature of man.  That’s why Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” 

This is the judgment; that all men like sheep have gone astray.  They have turned away from God’s rule and turned to self rule.  Every man is like those in the days of the judges when there was no king in Israel, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes.  Men are like those who lived in the days of Noah, when every intent of the thought of their heart was only evil continually.  This is our nature.  This is the nature of man to love the darkness, because their deeds are evil.

You could make the argument that man is duped into thinking that such deeds do not produce death.  You could argue that men think that what they are doing is enhancing life, embracing life, but that is even more reason for the compassion of God to offer them the truth that leads to real life.

The key to life is seeing the truth, accepting the truth, and then practicing the truth. The truth is the light that shows us how to live, that distinguishes good from evil.  That is why it’s so important that the church proclaims the truth.  And truth is only found in one place – that is God’s word.  Only God’s word is the standard for truth.  And only the truth can set you free from death.  Jesus said in John 8:32, “you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."

Jesus goes on to say in chapter 8 that the devil is the father of lies and there is no truth in him.  Remember back in the beginning when Eve was tempted by the devil, he said to her, “you shall not surely die?”  He appealed to her fleshly desires, her appetite and her pride, and offered an alternative suggestion which changed the truth of God into a lie.  In spite of what God had told them, Eve chose to believe a lie, and then acted on her desires.  And what resulted was the penalty of death.  Adam then chose Eve over God, acting on his desire.  And what happened after that?  They tried to hide from the presence of God. Why?  Because their deeds were evil, and their conscience was awakened.

Coming back to our text we see that same scenario expressed in vs.20,21. "For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God."

Here is what he means.  Those that reject Christ love their evil deeds and so they rightly bring judgment upon themselves.  They hate Christ because He is the Light that enlightens every man.  In other words, His Light exposes the truth about themselves.  For the unsaved, their evil deeds are exposed when the light of God’s truth is shone upon them.  And so to protect their evil deeds and to keep on doing them, they reject Christ.  They hate the Light.  They love the darkness.

But those that practice the truth love the Light, come into the Light, which proves that their good deeds are the works of God wrought through them.  See, the Spirit of God in them has changed their hearts to desire the things of God, to desire good, to desire the truth.  I like how it says, he who practices the truth.  It’s not our nature to do good.  By nature we aren’t righteous.  As we already declared, our nature is to go our own way, do our own thing, and love the works of darkness.  But knowing the truth, we now practice the truth, following in the example of Jesus Christ we walk in His footsteps.  And as we do this, it illustrates to the watching world that we know Jesus, that He has indeed made us into His children, and so we do the works of our Father in heaven.

Now the rest of the passage is really just using the discourse of John the Baptist and his disciples to illustrate the principle we just looked at.  That God sent Jesus to be the light of truth, which is given to every man that they may know the truth of God and be saved.  There are a number of sub points in there which could be stand alone truths in and of themselves, but the main thrust of the text is to show that Jesus is the source of truth, and therefore is the source of life.

Verse 25 provides a key to understanding how this text relates.  Notice they have a question about purification.  Now many commentators go off on tangents at this point trying to show that baptism is somehow the point of all of this.  But purification taken at it’s simplest meaning speaks of how a man might be made righteous before God.  How can man overturn the natural fallen state of sinfulness and become pure in God’s sight. 

Baptism never was given as a means to achieve that.  It only symbolizes death to the old man and new birth of the new man.  That’s what baptism symbolizes, admitting you are dead in your sins, and that they only way to be made right with God is by being born again in the spirit.  Now that is exactly what Jesus was teaching Nicodemus.

So John the author picks up on that idea by going back to John the Baptist who introduced the baptism of repentance as a precursor to the gospel.  John the Baptist preached a gospel of repentance which was symbolized by being baptized.  But now his disciples hear that Jesus and his disciples are baptizing, and they are unsure what this signifies.

John the Baptist’s answer is to defer his ministry to Christ.  There is no spirit of jealousy there.  He knows first of all that Christ’s ministry is from heaven.  That is what is under discussion here.  His disciples were comparing their ministry with Christ’s ministry.  So first of all John the Baptist says that Christ’s ministry is from heaven.  Only God can ordain a minister or a ministry.  There are a lot of ministers running around, and a lot of ministries on every other street corner, but not all are of God, and we know that because they do not practice the truth.  That is the plumb line; they teach and practice the truth of God’s word.  Jesus manifested the truth of God. John 14:10  "Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”  So He speaks the words of the Father and does the works of the Father.  So then John says he knows He is from heaven.

Then John says, you are my witnesses that I told you I am not the Christ but merely His forerunner. (vs.28) I’m just the friend of the bridegroom.  I’m not the bridegroom, Christ is the bridegroom.  And so because I am His friend, I rejoice to see Him come for His bride, that is the church of course.  So according to what has been ordained from heaven, Christ must increase, but I must decrease.  My ministry was to announce His coming.  Once the bridegroom comes, there is no longer a need for an announcer.

Now that’s my paraphrase of what John said.  But notice that he alludes to the very well known metaphor of a middle eastern wedding in which the bridegroom makes every thing ready, and when he comes to take his bride, his best man runs before him announcing to the whole town that the bride is coming.  That was their custom and everyone would have recognized that.  So John is saying that the bridegroom has now come, his bride is coming out to him, everyone has been told the news, and so his job is coming to an end.

But in vs.31 John changes gears a bit, and returns to our primary subject, and that is the origin of the truth which Christ manifested.  He says He, that is Christ, is above all.  That is Christ is one with God and from God and is God.  That’s what was declared in the opening words of chapter one.  Now John the Baptist is validating it again.  His testimony and other men’s former testimony is earthly because they come from the earth,  but Christ is heavenly, because He came from heaven.

Vs. 32, Since Christ is from heaven, He speaks the truth of heaven.  He testifies the things of God, and yet no one receives His testimony.  Generally speaking, though the Jews came to Jesus to see the signs that He was doing, they did not accept Him as the Son of God.  His testimony was that He was the Son of God.  He called God His Father. John 8:18-19, 28 "I am He who testifies about Myself, and the Father who sent Me testifies about Me."  So they were saying to Him, "Where is Your Father?" Jesus answered, "You know neither Me nor My Father; if you knew Me, you would know My Father also." ... 28 So Jesus said, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”

Now notice vs.33 in our text:  "He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.”  So John says that whoever receives Christ’s testimony is agreeing that God is truth, therefore Jesus is the manifestation of the truth. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” 

This is the distinguishing principle of Christianity.  You can make all kinds of arguments concerning the similarity of religions.  You can make the claim that all roads lead to God.  Calling God “Allah” or Krishna or the Great Spirit, or any other name used for God may seem from a human standpoint to be so similar as to become indistinguishable.  But the truth of Christianity that sets it apart is that we confess and believe that Jesus is God in the flesh, and that no one can come to know God except through Him.  That is the claim of Christ Himself.  So Christianity is incompatible with any other religion in the world.  God manifested Himself in One person, that is Jesus Christ, and only by faith in Him and His redeeming work on the cross are we able to be saved and receive eternal life.

Vs.34, "For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.”  What John is saying is that Christ is from God, He speaks the words of God, and God has given Him the full measure of His Spirit.  In times past, prophets were given a measure of the Holy Spirit.  Elisha, if you will remember, asked for a double portion of the Spirit that was given to his mentor Elijah.  But in Christ’s case, He is filled with the Spirit of God to the fullest, so that as Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature.”

Vs. 35, "The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.”  That the Father God loves the Son of God being both God and yet separate and equal is a mystery that we must accept even if we cannot fathom.  But what we can know is that all rule and authority on earth and in heaven is given to Christ.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  He is the Sovereign King of Glory, He is the Bridegroom coming for His bride.  He is the creator of all life, and the source of eternal life.  All things are from Him and to Him and by Him all things exist and have their being.

So then, knowing these things, knowing who Christ is and His authority, John says in the closing verse of this chapter; “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” How can you resist Him?  To resist the source of life is to stay in the throes of death and under the penalty of death.  To accept Him and receive Him is to be united with the source of life, even to receive eternal life. 

Now that’s the summation of a lot of theology and doctrine.  And hopefully, it has produced salvation resulting in abundant life in all of you here today.  But now what?  What is the purpose of knowing all of this if we don’t share it with whoever we meet?  You know, I have an old high school friend who went on to be a state senator for Georgia.  And though he recently retired he is still actively involved in politics.  He recently posted on facebook that he is committing to personally knocking on 15000 doors in his area to get the word out about his favorite presidential candidate.  He adamantly believes that the next presidential election is critical for the future of this country. 

And when I read that, I could not help but think of this passage.  If we truly believe that the truth of Christ is essential to being saved from the wrath of God and receiving everlasting life, wouldn’t we be as adamant in proclaiming it as my friend is in campaigning for his candidate?  I can assure you that the question of what will you do with Christ is of much greater importance than which candidate you are going to vote for.  Christ is the only hope for  blind and lost people living in a colorless, dying world.  Our hope is not in a political system, but only in the One who is over all things, all powers, all dominions, the glory of God and the light of the world.  I pray that we might start campaigning in earnest for the kingdom of God.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

A universal solution to a universal predicament, John 3:16

In this chapter, the author John the apostle has presented a universal predicament.  A universal problem.  And that is, that no man can ascend to God.  That no man can be right with God through his own merits.  The very best of mankind, the most religious, the most zealous person is still light years away from God.  There is nothing we can do to leap across this great chasm that exists between God and man. 

Last week John introduced to us Nicodemus, the teacher of the Jews, a leader of the ruling religious body of the Jews.  He was a Pharisee, a person who prided himself on keeping the law to the nth degree, who knew the scriptures backwards and forwards, who worshipped in the temple every day and kept all the religious holidays.  He was an exceptional man.  He was the quintessential man.  If anyone could have appealed to God on the basis of their goodness, Nicodemus was the guy. 

And yet Jesus basically said that Nicodemus wasn’t even of the right species to get into heaven.  The Jews thought that of all the people on the earth they were the chosen people of God, they had the temple, the scriptures, the holy of holies, the prophets and the law.   They believed God dwelled in the temple in Jerusalem.  And this guy was the supreme teacher of the Jews and he was the leader of the temple priests.  If anybody should have been a shoe in for the kingdom of God it should have been Nicodemus.  But Jesus said, no, you would actually have to be born all over again to enter the kingdom of God.  Nothing he had done would count.  He had to be born as an entirely new person.

Now that was bad news for Nicodemus.  Earth shattering news.  But it’s bad news for us as well.  Because Nicodemus was representative of the best of men.  Jesus said later in Matt. 5:20,  “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  So that is a universal predicament.  No one is going to be able to ascend into heaven.

Jesus went on to say that unless you are born again of the Spirit you cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  God is a Spirit, and His kingdom is spiritual. 1Cor. 15:50 says “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”  That’s what Jesus meant when He said that which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Man must be born again of the Spirit if he is to be spiritual.  And if not, if he is but flesh, then he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  Pretty simple, but a catastrophic situation for mankind.  A hopeless condition, because man cannot make himself born of the Spirit of God, that has to be an act of God.  So that is the universal predicament.  All men are lost.  All men are condemned to death.  All men are descendents of Adam, and as such all have inherited the sin nature of Adam. Rom. 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

God is holy.  We fail to fathom the breadth of the holiness of God.  For God to be holy He must be just.  He must enact justice.  And God’s judgment of sin is His justice carried out upon all men, for all have sinned.  But God if God is holy, then He is not only just, but good.  And the goodness of God is expressed in His mercy.  James 2:13 says mercy triumphs over judgment.  So though the just God required punishment for sin, the goodness of God provided mercy.

So the penalty of death is a universal predicament, but the Lord is God of the universe.  And so He had a universal solution.  A universal solution starts with a universal love.  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….” Let’s stop there.  We could spend an entire message on just that phrase.  For God so loved the world.  The word world is from the Greek kosmos. That should sound familiar, it’s the word we get cosmos from.  But though cosmos speaks to us of the universe,  kosmos in the Greek speaks of the universal human race.   So poor old Nicodemus is probably blinking his eyes right about now.  God loves everybody?  Not just Jews, not just Pharisees, not just Americans, not just Republicans?  Nicodemus was undoubtedly stunned that a Jew would say that God loved anyone but Jews.  But here is Jesus saying God loved the world.  The entire spectrum of the human race.

And Jesus is going to make that even more specific later on. Luke 5:32  "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance." Luke 19:10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."  And Paul would later make that even more clear in Romans 5:8 saying, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  So let’s put this in a modern translation;  “For God so loved sinners….”  That is what is meant by the world.  Not all the good people in the world, that’s not who God loved.  But all the bad people in the world, all the sinners, even His enemies, even those who rebelled against Him, even those who spit upon Him, even those who nailed Him to the cross.   God loves sinners.  He loves humans of every race, every creed, every nation, every gender, every size and every color.  God so loved the world.

Much has been made of that little word “so.” So loved.  Why is there a “so” there?  Well, this little word indicates the size of God’s love.  It makes us ask how much?  And the size of God’s love is universal.  This time let’s use universal to indicate size, as in the size of the universe.  It’s infinite.  It has no beginning and no end.  It keeps on going from galaxy to galaxy.  That’s the so in God’s love.  He so loved the world that He gave a universal sized gift.  It’s really a universal sized remedy.  He gave His only begotten Son. 

Remember chapter one, the Word was with God and the Word was God?  That Word is the Son of God.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God gave the infinite, eternal, second person of the triune God, the One who chapter one said “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” And “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him.”  So the expression of God’s universal love is through giving the creator of the universe Himself.

Spurgeon said it like this: : "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son. It was his only-begotten Son—his beloved Son, in whom he was well pleased. None of us had ever such a son to give. Ours are the sons of men; his was the Son of God. The Father gave his other self, one with himself. When the great God gave his Son he gave God himself, for Jesus is not in his eternal nature less than God. When God gave God for us he gave himself. What more could he give? God gave his all: he gave himself. Who can measure this love?”

That is what defines the love of God.  It is a sacrificial love.  The Greek word for love used there is agape love, the highest, most noble expression of love that can be made.  Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  So then by extension, God gave the greatest gift of love that ever could be given, in that He laid down His life for His enemies.  The Creator laid down His life for His creatures. Christ died in the place of sinners. What kind of love is this?

And then let’s look at the universal invitation of God’s love.  “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him…” Let’s stop there.  The universal invitation is to whosoever.  Whosoever includes everyone.  No matter how sinful you are.  No matter how religious you might be.  No matter what horrible crimes against God or humanity you might have committed, whosoever includes you.

If you are familiar with the doctrines of Calvinism then you might know that irresistible grace and limited atonement are two Calvinistic doctrines that are often given in regards to salvation.  That the call of God only comes to some people, and that Christ only died for those people, so that they who are called will be saved, but salvation is only available to those who are called.  I would like to say that while I believe that the Bible teaches predestination, such a doctrine is beyond our pay grade to comprehend.  It is the purview of God to know how He knows what He knows.  But let me tell you what I do know.  And what I do know is what Jesus has to say about who may come to salvation.  He says “whosoever”. In fact, just in case you missed it the first time, He says it twice.  Whosoever in vs. 15  and whosoever in vs.16.  Who does whosoever refer to?  Who so ever believes in Him.  There is no other way to define it.

But just in case you are the type to explain away the obvious, Jesus gives us an illustration of whosoever might be saved.  And that is found in vs.14 and 15.  The Israelites have sinned against God in the wilderness.  They have rebelled against the plan of God and are pining away for the delicacies they enjoyed in Egypt when they were in slavery.  They are complaining and murmuring against God and Moses.  And so God sends poisonous vipers into the camp.  You can read about it in Numbers 21.  And when they bit the people they began to be sick and die.  And the people came to Moses and repented of their sin against God.  So God told Moses what to do to provide an antidote for the viper’s sting. God said, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. 

Now that is the illustration that Jesus gives as an example of salvation.  And listen how Jesus presents it in vs.14: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whosoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”  The analogy is clear.  We have all been bitten by the sting of death brought about by the great serpent who deceived Adam and Eve, that is the devil. God said whoever shall eat of the tree shall surely die.  And in Adam, all have died spiritually because we have all inherited the same sinful nature as Adam. Rom 5:12 “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.”

So all of the world lies under the penalty of death.  We have all been stung by the viper of sin.  But when Moses lifted up the serpent on the standard, all who turned and looked upon it were saved from death and lived.  So it is with Christ, all who turn and look to Him as remedy for death shall not die but live.  It is available for all.  It is not limited to just some people, or to just good people, but it is limited only to those who are dying.  And we already have established that all of the world is dying.  The scriptures say that it is appointed unto man once to die and after that the judgment.

So just as death is universal in it’s predicament, so is salvation universal in it’s invitation. Because all have sinned, salvation is offered to all without reservation.  This is the scope of God’s grace.  The grace of God is not limited.  2Peter 3:9 says the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

So then, God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Let’s look finally then at the individual application of God’s love. It’s a universal predicament, a universal solution, a universal invitation, but an individual application.  Whosoever believes brings it down to that individual who believes the gospel and applies it to themselves.  It is not a universal salvation, that everyone is automatically saved.  But it’s an individual application as one believes and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior.

Now then what does this great gift of God’s love produce? Individual salvation. Salvation from the penalty of death.  And  in explaining it Jesus says it both negatively and positively.  It has a negative application and a positive application.  But the gospel is such good news that even the negative is positive.  So first the negative.  Whosoever believes on Him, that is Jesus, the Son of God, the propitiation for the sins of the world, whoever believes on Him shall not perish.  That’s the negative.  Which is actually a positive.  You will not die.

Jesus said to Martha in John 11:25, ““I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”

How is that possible?  How can Jesus say that by believing in Him we will never die, and yet all of his disciples died, all of our forefathers in the faith have died and passed from this life.  Well the answer is of course is that which is flesh is of sin, and Romans 6:23 says that the wages of sin is death.  Romans 5:12 said that death is passed upon all men.  So that which is of the flesh  shall pass away, but that which is spiritual shall live. So though we are dead in the flesh, we are made alive in the spirit, and as such we shall not die but live.

Jesus gave additional assurance in John 5:24 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”  And again in John 10:28 “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” 

Then the positive side of that equation is as Jesus said, “eternal life”, or “everlasting life.”  It’s the same thing.  But it’s not just the length of life that Jesus is referring to.  Eternal life certainly incorporates the infinite, no doubt about that.  But there is also more to eternal life than simply an infinite life span.  It also refers to the quality of life.  It is the life of God.  Christ as the source of light and life as it said in chapter one.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 

Jesus said it like this in John 10:10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   Abundant life starts now.  Eternal life starts at the new birth, being born again.  Abundant life is found in knowing the source of life and light.  It’s found in fellowship and communion with the God of the universe, the Creator of all life.  Abundant life is found in doing the deeds of God.  It’s found in having the righteousness of Christ, it’s found in having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us to lead us and guide us and comfort us and help us. It’s found in intimacy and relationship and peace with God.  Yes, eternal life is everlasting, infinite life.  But it’s also full life, the zest of true life, a fulfilled life, a life lived for it’s true purpose.

I’m going to give you one other verse, which is really like a teaser for the next message.  But it’s hard to look at these verses without considering the context around them.  Because verse 17 reminds us really of the grand design of John 3:16 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” 

The world was already lying under the judgment of sin and death.  Humanity was hopeless, helpless to bridge the chasm between mankind and God.  So since man could not ascend to God, God descended to man, sending the exact representation of God in human flesh to dwell among us, to be rejected by man, to be sacrificed in our place on the cross as an offering for the sins of the world, so that the world might be saved through Him and receive eternal life. 

You know, it would be easy to think of the holy God as viewing humanity in the condition of it’s sin, rebellion, disobedience,  and hating God and exacting vengeance on the world. It would be easy to imagine if Scripture said, “God looked at the world and He said, ‘I’ll destroy them, I’ll punish them. I’ll put the pressure on them of divine judgment until they come to Me.’” But it wasn’t God’s anger that sent Christ. Christ didn’t come into the world to judge the world. He came into the world to save the world because what motivated the Father was not His anger, but His love.  So we notice in verse 17, “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  Saved through Jesus. God loved the world so God sent Jesus to save the world. Jesus came to save sinners. That is sinners from all over the world. He sent His Son because of His infinite love of sinners. He sent His Son to display His grace and mercy, to save them from judgment.

Some time ago I read a story about a young man who had rebelled against his father which resulted in an argument, and consequently he ended up running away from home. He continued to keep in touch with his mother over the coming months, and by Christmas time he wanted very much to come home, but he was afraid his father would not allow him. His mother wrote to him and urged him to come home, but he did not feel he could until he knew his father had forgiven him. Finally, there was no time for any more letters. His mother wrote and said she would talk with the father, and if he had forgiven him, she would tie a white rag on the tree which grew right alongside the railroad tracks near their home, which he could see before the train reached the station. If there was no rag, it would be better if he went on.

So the young man caught a train and started the journey home. As the train drew near his home he was so nervous he said to his friend who was traveling with him, "I can't bear to look. Sit in my place and look out the window. I'll tell you what the tree looks like and you tell me whether there is a rag on it or not." So his friend changed places with him and looked out the window. After a bit the friend said, "Oh yes, I see the tree." The son asked, "Is there a white rag tied to it?" For a moment the friend did not say anything. Then he turned, and in a kind of awed voice said, "There is a white rag tied to every limb of that tree!" That, in a sense, is what God is saving in John 3:16 and 17. God has removed the condemnation and made it possible to be forgiven and come home to him.

This is the greatest love, that God gave Jesus  to save sinners, even His enemies by offering Himself as a substitute for our death, so that we might be with God.  I hope that if you are here today and have not trusted in Christ as your personal Savior, that today will be the appointed day of your salvation.  Whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

You must be born again, John 3:1-15

The phrase “born again” is one that is not unfamiliar to most people today.  However, I’m afraid it is not understood by the majority of people.  Unfortunately, in a lot of circles it has taken on a denigrating characterization  which is attached to someone that is considered to be sort of a religious right wing fanatic.  However, in this passage, we find it’s origin in the words of Jesus Christ Himself, which He uses to describe those that will enter the kingdom of God.  In fact, He said it is a requirement of the kingdom of God that you must be born again.  So it behooves us to investigate this phrase thoroughly this morning, that we might be confident that we have eternal life.

John said in chapter 20:31 that he wrote this gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”  Now up to this point, John has clearly declared who Jesus is; that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, God made flesh, and he has presented multiple witnesses to those facts.

Last week, you will remember, John presented Jesus cleansing the temple.  That taught the essential theological principle that Jesus is Lord.  And if we are the temple of God, then Jesus is the Lord of our temple, and thus has all rights to it’s use, and the right to cleanse it for His use.  Today we will see another essential principle of who Jesus is, and that is Savior.  Not only Lord but Savior.  In fact, as I said last week, the two characteristics are inseparable.  One cannot exist without the other.  You cannot be saved, and yet not allow Jesus to reign in your life as Lord.  I think there is even something to be learned from the order found here in John, who presents Jesus as first Lord, then Savior.

So in this passage, John is going to use the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself to explain the way of salvation and the author of salvation.  And of all the teaching of Jesus, this passage sets out the distinctions of our salvation in the most vivid, clear terms.  Most times when Jesus taught, He illustrated a certain perspective of faith, or a certain characteristic of the Christian life, but rarely do we find a teaching more comprehensive on the subject of salvation than this one. In fact, it’s so packed with important doctrines that we do not want to rush through this passage, so we will likely continue it next week.

But let’s start as John does, with the man Nicodemus.  In some ways, he is the representative man.  He is the best of men.  He is extremely religious, zealous for the law and a religious leader of the Jews.  This cannot be over emphasized.  Church teaching has demonized the Pharisees to the point that we have failed to realize the truth about them.  This man was a leader of the Sanhedrin, the body of 70 elders which came about as a result of Moses finding 70 men of good repute to act as judges for the people.  So he was an esteemed civic leader as well as religious leader in a public office. And as a leading member of the party of the Pharisees he would have been extremely well versed in the scriptures, much of which he had subjected to memory, as well as an expert in the Mishna and the Talmud which were commentaries written about the law.  Furthermore, he would have been someone that was considered to be above reproach and who kept the law down to the smallest details. This guy exceeded the most rigorous demands put upon priests or bishops or pastors today in every way possible; in education, in conduct, and in piety.  And to top it all off, according to historians, he was very rich.  Extremely wealthy.  In all respects, if we were to choose a man to represent mankind before God this would be the guy that we would elect for the job.

Verse two tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night.  John doesn’t tell us why.  It could have been that he had to work days and nights were the only time he had free.  But I rather doubt that.  The implication agreed upon by most commentators is that due to his position in the Sanhedrin and the party of the Pharisees, he came at night to have a private meeting with Jesus without fear of being noticed by the public or even perhaps by his peers.  It would have been considered unseemly for such an exalted person, himself an esteeemed teacher, to come before a humble Galilean who had no formal training or official recognition.  And I would also point out that when Nicodemus comes, he seems to indicate that he is coming on behalf of others, not simply for his own personal benefit.  Note the use of the pronoun “we” when he addresses Jesus.  It’s quite possible in my opinion that he was sent privately by the Pharisees to try to figure out who Jesus was.  They had already asked him when he cleansed the temple a few days previously by what authority did He do these things.  So they were watching Jesus, hearing about His miracles, and wanted to delve further into who He was, but without attracting attention.

And then notice that Nicodemus not only comes under the cover of night, but under the pretence of solidarity.  He starts out by affecting a kinship with Jesus, a solidarity that they are somehow of the same ilk, or after the  same things. Basically, he is using a form of flattery to gain an advantage in the conversation.  And this is a common ploy of people who come to church today.  They rarely come on their knees in humility, seeking repentance and forgiveness.  But they come under false pretences, professing knowledge of  the things of God and claiming pure motives in their worship of God.  At the base of that attitude is a sense of self righteousness, of entitlement.  After all, they aren’t the really bad people.  Really sinful people don’t often come to church; they are too ashamed.  But religion attracts the self righteous, the ones who feel that they are basically good, moral people.  And that attitude is illustrated by Nicodemus.

He says to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”  Notice the flattery, the fawning use of the title “Rabbi”, or Teacher, and the acknowledgment that God is with Jesus.  It’s interesting that some of my harshest critics have started out with the same approach, by first flattering me and saying how much they appreciate my sermons, or saying how it’s obvious that I am being used by God to preach the truth.  When they say such things now I instinctively find myself getting ready to duck.  I have learned the hard way that such flattery usually precedes an attack.

So Nicodemus says that they knew Jesus was of God because He did signs or miracles. By the way, we know that signs do not necessarily mean that someone is of God.  One only needs to remember the magicians of Pharaoh who were able to duplicate the signs of Moses to know that all signs are not necessarily from God.  That is one of the great dangers of false prophets who will arise in the last days.  They will be given power by the devil to do signs which will lead people astray.  Jesus warned about that in Matt. 24:24, "For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” And please don’t be deceived by the fact that signs and wonders done in a church building or performed on television supposedly in the name of Jesus automatically sanctifies such things.  No, the devil is in church as well.  Again Jesus warned in Matt. 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. "Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.'”  So Nicodemus was wrong on that account.  Signs and wonders do not necessarily confirm that a person is of God neither does it necessarily produce saving faith in God.  At the end of chapter 2 it says many people were believing on Jesus because of the signs that He was doing, but it concludes that Jesus did not commit Himself to them because He knew their hearts. 

And that is the indictment against the Pharisees, and particularly against Nicodemus.  They practiced what was for the most part correct doctrine, but their religion was external.  But God looks at the heart.  And salvation is a change of heart as we will soon see.

But back to our text,  I love Jesus’ response.  He isn’t fooled by Nicodemus’ flattery for one minute.  He knows the heart of man, the motives of man.  So instead of falling into the trap of flattery, of feeling special that such a great man seeks to have a private interview with Him, Jesus interrupts him and cuts to the chase.  He exposes first of all that there is no solidarity between them.  He says you are not even in the kingdom of God, how can you judge the kingdom of God then? You come in the dark because you are in the dark.  So Jesus rebukes him and at the same time offers an answer to the question that the man should have been asking. What Nicodemus should have asked Jesus is what must I do to be saved?  But instead, he offers up some form of flattery in hopes of getting an advantage, and tries to establish solidarity with God, equanimity with God because, after all, he is a great leader of the Jewish religion.  And as such he is a representative of all men who presumptuously come to God based on their own merits and their own understanding of who God is, and who offer to God a so called worship which is little more than unadulterated flattery for the sake of gaining a “blessing.” They attempt to manipulate God for their advantage through lip service but their hearts are far from it.

So Jesus’ response is found in vs. 3, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Basically, Jesus just cuts him off at the knees.  He says you can’t even see the kingdom of God.  You are so far away from the kingdom of God you can’t even see it.  All of your heritage is worthless.  All of your law keeping is worthless.  All of your worship is worthless.  Your nationality is worthless.  Anything you might try to do in your own strength is worthless before God.  In fact, you actually have to be born all over again in order to see the kingdom of God.  Now that’s kind of rough, wouldn’t you say?  Someone has a desire to become a better person, to turn over a new leaf, to start going to church, to do right, and instead of welcoming them to come as they are and God will just love you the way you are, we tell them no, nothing about you is acceptable, you have to be born all over again.  Nothing you do is going to work.  You’re hopeless, helpless, and lost.  You’re a sinner, condemned, unclean.  Wow, that’s a tough thing to say to people. It could even be thought of as offensive. That’s not exactly seeker friendly, is it?

But that’s what Jesus does.  He doesn’t mince words.  He doesn’t play church.  He doesn’t play the game called religion with anyone.  And ultimately, that’s what is in their best interest.  Because only the truth will set you free.  Now the key to truly understanding what Jesus means is found in the word “unless” or it may say “except” in some versions.  In other words, man in his natural state is spiritually dead.  He has a sinful nature, and in fact, he is exceedingly sinful.  And God is holy and can not tolerate, or even look upon sin.  The first key to salvation is understanding your need of salvation.  That you are sinful and lost and separated from God to such an extent that you can never bridge the gap to the righteousness that God requires for fellowship.  Except you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God because in your present condition you are dead spiritually.  That is the result of the fall – God said if you eat of the tree you will surely die.  And we are all Adam’s children, and as such we have inherited Adam’s fallen nature, the same nature that got Adam kicked out of the Garden, separated from fellowship with God.  So you must be born once again.  Born anew.  To be born again does not mean reformation, that is education, nor does it mean renovation, as in making new year’s resolutions or turn over a new leaf, but it means regeneration.  It means something that was gone, dead, torn off, grows back again.  It requires a supernatural event, a divine intercession from God to make what is dead come to life again. To bring the spirit of man back to life through the gift of righteousness so that he can have fellowship with God once more.

Now Nicodemus doesn’t understand what Jesus is talking about.  I guess this is the first time he has ever heard the phrase born again.  That’s a phrase that has fallen out of fashion today in religious circles.  I have found that Roman Catholics in particular are put off by that word.  People in general make fun of it.  It’s used as a put down, as in “you must be one of those born again religious fanatics.”  Nicodemus probably was sincere though when he asked how it was possible to be born again.  Vs. 4, Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”  He was obviously thinking only in the physical realm. 

Jesus’ answer is to distinguish physical birth from spiritual birth.  He says in vs.6 “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  So there are two births then.  One is of the flesh, that is the result of coming from the seed of your father and the womb of your mother.  The second birth is that which is of the Spirit.  And we know that God is Spirit.  So the Spirit of God gives new birth to our spirit, so that we might be the children of God.  That is what John declared in his opening treatise, remember? John 1:12-13 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

So Jesus says that both births are necessary.  Vs. 5-6 “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” 

There is a lot of differences in the way commentators interpret that statement in vs. 5.  What does born of water signify?  Well, I would suggest that it means two things at the minimum, and these two things are what most Bible scholars would camp out on one or the other.  I happen to think that both interpretations are true.  The most obvious interpretation is that water is speaking of natural birth, when the water breaks a woman gives birth.  And that thought is paralleled in vs.6 because Jesus uses a parallel statement; “that which is born of flesh is flesh.” Vs. 6 is obviously expanding on vs. 5, so that you would have to say that 6 is just an explanation of 5.  But some people think that water  speaks of baptism.  And while I do not find that as likely, yet it is possible in that baptism is a symbol of repentance.  That was the baptism that John the Baptist had just finished doing all over Judea, baptizing with a baptism of repentance in preparation for the kingdom of God to be manifested in Jesus Christ.  So if you take that view, then you might say that one cannot be born of the Spirit without first repentance and then faith in Jesus Christ.  And that would be true doctrinally.  But I believe that the most obvious explanation is that it refers to physical birth, that which is born of the flesh is flesh.  Baptism as we know cannot save you, but repentance is necessary as a precursor to saving faith because of the reason I previously made, that is man’s inherent sinful condition estranges him from God.  But baptism does refer to a cleansing by repentance which precedes the infilling of the Holy Spirit as evidenced by Ezekiel 36:25-28 which says "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.” 

Now the point being is that you must be born again, you must be born of the Spirit.  And so Jesus reiterates that by saying, “Do not be amazed that I said to you, you must be born again.”  By the way, that word again in the Greek can also be translated as “from above.”  So there was implicit in that phrase born again the need to be born from above, that is born of the Spirit of God.  That is what it means to be born again. And so Jesus says, don’t be amazed by that. We don’t understand how it happens, but we believe it does happen upon repentance and faith in Christ.  Upon recognizing your sinfulness and need of a Savior, confessing and repenting of your sins, and believing and receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior, you are born again by the Spirit of God to new life in Christ.

Now to explain that further He says, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."  And what I think Jesus is referring to here is the sovereign call of the Holy Spirit upon the soul of man which brings about the spirit of repentance and the gift of faith resulting in salvation.  We don’t understand how that works, but we should not be dismayed by it.  But the fact is that the effectual call of God is active is undeniable in salvation, just as the effect of wind is undeniable, even though we may not see it or know how it comes about. And we know this by many verses in the Bible, but perhaps my favorite is Rom. 8:28-30 “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”

The fact that God is the author of our salvation is irrefutable.  How He does that I cannot understand.  But I believe it.  However, I also believe in the responsibility of man.  Not just the sovereignty of God, but the responsibility of man.  And I approach those two seemingly opposing arguments this way:  when I pray, I pray according to the sovereign will of God to interpose His will in the events of life through supernatural means.  But when I preach, I urge men to respond according to their responsibility to act in accordance to the truth.  I do not know how to reconcile both opposing arguments in my mind, but I know that the Bible teaches both, that God predestines and calls men to Him, but at the same time He tells man to receive Jesus Christ, to believe on Him, and repent and turn from his sins.  So both are not only  possible but necessary and are not exclusive of one another but somehow interdependent upon one another.  It is a mystery,  as is the mystery of the wind blowing where it wills and coming from places unknown, yet working effects that can be seen and felt here on earth.

Are you  confused by this?  Well, so was Nicodemus.  He said, “How can these things be?”  I think it’s a cry of desperation, not necessarily frustration.  I think it’s a desire to know the unknowable.  And that’s why I think Jesus gives him a further illustration.  To help him understand by a more simple example. But first Jesus gives him another rebuke.  I don’t think Jesus was being vindictive here by the way. Nor was Jesus being mean by rubbing his nose in his ignorance.  But what I think Jesus is impressing on Nicodemus is his need of being reborn.  He wanted him to realize that his ignorance concerning spiritual truths was part of his fallen nature, and  that he wasn’t righteous, he wasn’t sufficient because of his position or title or pedigree or even by his works, but he was a man in need of a Savior, just as everyman is in need of a Savior.  So Jesus gives him a mild rebuke: “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”  In other words, if you can’t understand fleshly things, how can you understand spiritual things?

So Jesus gives him another illustration in order to help him understand.  And to do that He draws from the Old Testament story of the exodus, when the Israelites had sinned against God yet again in the wilderness, and God sent poisonous snakes into the midst of the camp to bite the Israelites which caused them to get sick and die. And God told Moses to make a bronze serpent and hang it on a pole that whoever might turn and look upon it would be saved from death.  So Jesus uses that illustration to explain the process by which man is saved from death and given new life. 

And so Jesus says in vs. 13 "No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”  Now remember He is explaining the process of salvation, the process of new birth which is as unknowable to us as the wind.  And so Jesus starts by affirming that mortal man cannot achieve heaven.  He cannot ascend to God, and so God had to descend to man. Even the Son of Man who came down from God to man, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. 

And even as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness upon a pole, so must the Son of Man take on sin, symbolized as the serpent, and die upon a cross, so that whoever believes on Him, whoever looks to Him might be saved.   Now this illustration is taken from Numbers 21.  And in that account, when the people were bitten and started to die, they came to Moses and repented of their sins. They said we have sinned against God. Num. 21:7-8 “So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live."  So in that illustration we see that repentance and faith are the twin pillars of salvation.  By repentance and faith our sins are forgiven, and we are made children of God.  We are made children of God because we are born again of the Spirit of God.  As I said last week we are the temple of God because the Spirit of God dwells in us. 1Cor. 6:19 says  that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you.  So having been made righteous through faith in Jesus’ righteousness and propitiation for us, the Holy Spirit then lives in us, producing new birth and eternal life, so that we are a new creation. 

So what Nicodemus needed to understand was that Jesus was the remedy for his sinful, deadly condition.  He needed to look up at Jesus taking his sin upon Himself on the cross, dying in His place to satisfy the justice of God, and in so doing Jesus would be his Savior.  That is the only way Nicodemus could enter the kingdom of God.  That is the means by which all men can enter into eternal life.  Not just everlasting life, but the life of an eternal quality, spiritual quality that enables us to live as God designed us to live.  To have life and have it more abundantly.  That we might have fellowship with God again.  To be restored again to communion with God.  That is what it means to be born again.  And it is only possible through faith in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross. 

Today I will close with just asking you the simple question, have you been born again?  Have you turned and received what Jesus did for you on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?  If you will just receive Him. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”