Michael Youssef - Who is Going to Heaven?
There is no subject that is more confusing and people are confused about than the question of who goes to heaven. It really is. There are so many conflicting views and opinions on the subject, and everyone who holds a view forcefully and strongly holds onto that view. Hollywood has its view and it's forcefully communicated in every movie that you see, and it's simply this: everyone, when they die, they go to heaven. Everyone, when they die, they become an angel. And of course, they have a megaphone, the movie industry, and they push that view on people in general. The atheists and the agnostics, they have their strong views. They believe that heaven and hell are basically a myth. Heaven and hell are a figment of one's imagination.
When you die, you die and that's it. They too, emphasize their view very strongly. But, the vast majority of people, the average American, the average person in the street, whenever they're asked the question, "When you die, will you go to heaven?" they answer things like this, in a variety of ways. "Well, I sure hope so," or, "Certainly, my good deeds will outweigh all my bad deeds and that should get me to heaven. I'm not perfect, but I lived a good life," or, "Sure, I am what you would not call a religious person, but I live by the Golden Rule". To quote Bill Clinton, "I have a good heart".
Whatever your view, whatever opinion you have, I want you to listen very carefully this morning, because in the final analysis, it doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what others think. It doesn't matter what Hollywood says. It doesn't matter what you think. What matters is what God said, and God said, in John chapter 3, verse 3, that you will not go to heaven unless you become born again. Now, I want to read the verse to you in case you think I'm making this stuff up. John 3:3, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God," that is another word for heaven, where God is gonna rule supreme, where he is the King of kings, "unless he is born again". The term "born again" was popularized by Jimmy Carter when he was running for president.
And the anti-Christian media, of course, seized on that term that Jimmy Carter was using talking about born again, and they turned it into something that is a term of scorn, of mockery, or a term of insult. So much so that from that time on, many Christians, because they felt intimidated by this redefinition of the term by the anti-Christian media, they became intimidated and embarrassed. They don't want to be using the term "born again". If Jesus said, "Only those who are born again shall see heaven, shall enter into heaven, shall get to heaven," then every human being who ever lives need to find out what that term means. So, in John chapter 3, we meet a man by the name of Nicodemus. Listen, this is not an ordinary man. This is a significant man. This is a powerful man.
This is a very prominent man in society. This is a member of the Supreme Court equivalent of our day. He's a learned man, he is a leading man, he is a religious man. He kept the ceremonial law of the Old Testament meticulously. Not only that, but he even kept the interpretations of the ceremonial law. Through the years, the rabbis have added all kinds of interpretations, the Mishna and the Talmud, and they added those books, and this man was faithful to even the interpretations of the rabbis of the ceremonial law. He was a religious man of a religious man if there ever was one.
And when you know all of that, you have to wonder why did he come to Jesus at all. Why? He's a religious man. I mean, this group of Pharisees, they saw themselves to be cut above, morally above everybody else, they're superior to everybody else, and yet he comes to Jesus. Why? Because all of the outward religiosity failed to give him real satisfaction in life. All of this outward religious observance failed to get him the answer to the most desperate question that his heart was seeking, that his mind was seeking. And so he watched Jesus, and he saw someone who healed the sick without a charge, who raised the dead by the power of his word, someone who fed the hungry and touched the leper, someone who forgave the sins of others, someone who spoke with authority. He didn't say, "Rabbi So-and-So said," he said, "I say to you". He was somebody who was in control of the weather, and the wind, and the storms.
And he saw what he knew is not your run of the mill rabbi. At that point, Nicodemus became convinced that Jesus is not just another teacher, but he still was trying to protect his reputation as morally superior and religious man, and he comes to Jesus under the cover of dark. He comes to him that night. He doesn't come in the daytime so everybody can see him and say, "Oh, he's a Jesus freak". Oh my goodness, he don't want to be called one of those Jesus people, so he comes to him at night. Still, he wanted to know, longing to know. His heart is asking the question, "If I die, will I go to heaven? What's gonna happen to me? All of my religion is not helping me. All of the rituals is not helping me. All of the traditions are not helping me. I want to know"!
So, he comes to him at night and he says to him, "We know". Who's that "we"? That's not the royal "we". What's "we"? Nicodemus was not alone among the members of the Sanhedrin, that is the Supreme Court of Israel at the time. He was not the only one who can see the power of Jesus, the Messiahship of Jesus. He was afraid of the peer pressure. They were afraid of the peer pressure, and let me tell you something. One of the great things that keep people from coming to Christ is the peer pressure. Your eternal life is far more important than all of the peers in the world. Don't be intimidated by them, don't be afraid of... and so he comes to Jesus, and Jesus said to him, "I tell you the truth, until you are born again you cannot see heaven, you will not see heaven".
I mean, this was like a sharp knife slicing all of his preconceived notion of who God is and how to come to God. "I tell you the truth," said Jesus. Another translation probably in some of the Bibles says, "Truly, truly, I say to you". The Old English translation says, "Verily, verily, I say to you". All of that means one thing, that Jesus is using an emphatic language to emphasize the importance of what he's saying. This is the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Please don't let it go in one ear and come out the other. The word "again" can mean a second time, or radical, a new thing that has to happen to you, or from above, or something has to happen from God. What is he saying? He is saying that to go to heaven, God has to do something to you. That's what it means. It is not what you do for God, it's what God does to you.
You see, it's not what you do, it's what he does in you, and what he does in me, and what he did in the lives of so many people. When you understand it was not religious activities that are gonna save that person, not his efforts are going to make him acceptable to God. "I tried my best. I lived a good life". And so, the question is, "Who's going to heaven"? Those who have been radically transformed by Jesus. Who are going to heaven? Those whose lives have been invaded by the power of the Holy Spirit who comes indwell in us. Those who do not live the same way they've always lived and the way they were born. Who's going to heaven? All of those who have start moving in an opposite direction from the way they have been going since they were born.
You may be sitting here today, and you're wearing that mask, and you're trying to let everything I'm saying go off on a deaf ear, but you know deep down you have a void, but only Jesus can fill that void. Only when you come to him, confessing, will he fill that void. You feel restless in your life. You're not sure. You have deep hunger that religious activities, and things you've tried to do, the good things, the charitable works is not filling it. And that's why Jesus told Nicodemus that the answer to all of that is that you must be born again. Nicodemus became puzzled. "Well, how can an old man"? Well, really, I mean, how can anybody, even a 3rd grader? I mean, it doesn't matter... have to be old or young.
How can anyone go into his mother's womb and be born again? Which gave Jesus an opening to explain to him the reality that he should have understood from his Old Testament book. I'm gonna explain that to you. It gave him the opening to explain why this is do or die, being born again thing. It is the absolutely necessity thing. It's the most important decision in life thing. There is nothing you can do in life that can be more important than this. And Jesus was saying, in a sense, "Trying harder is not the answer. Trying to do your level best is not the answer. Trying to do better the next time is not the answer".
The reason you fail, and you fail again, and again, and again, is because there is something wrong, not with what you do, but there's something wrong with who you are. There's something wrong with what you are, and with all of us. With all of us. Only Jesus can change your life. Only Jesus can fill your life. Only Jesus can assure you of eternal life. Only him. Until you come to the realization, until you come to that realization, until you come face-to-face with this truth, until you realize that we're all born with a DNA of sin in us, every one of us, every human being that's ever lived, until then, you're gonna keep on trying and failing, and trying and failing, and frustrated with life. This radical DNA called sin is precisely what brought Jesus from heaven to earth.
This radical DNA called sin is what held Jesus on that cross until he died and satisfied the Father's justice. And then he was buried, and on the 3rd day, he rose again victoriously. Until you come to that moment of realization, and I'll pray to God, lots of people praying to God that it'll be today. Until you come to that realization, until you stop fooling yourself, you'll never begin the process of being born again. Verse 5, Jesus repeats it again. "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God, no one can go to heaven unless he is born of the Spirit and water". I can tell you, I have been nearly 40 years in the ministry now and I've seen it all, and I can testify to you the one thing that keeps people from becoming born again, the one thing that keeps them is their unwillingness to admit that they're sinners.
"Oh, call me sinner"? It's their unwillingness to admit that they can never save themselves in a million years and only Jesus can forgive their sins. Their pride. "What do you mean somebody else has got... I do it myself". Their unwillingness to admit that they are helpless to transform their own lives. Now, the ancient Egyptians believed that basically, life is like these scales. The good things you do is gonna be on one side, and the bad things, as long as the good things will tip the scales in your favor, off to heaven you go. But Jesus said you must be born again. Only God can produce that spiritual rebirth in you. Only God can recreate you. He created Adam from dust. And the new creation, he can take you and recreate you as a new creature. Only he can do that. As a matter of fact, Jesus used a play on words here to make a point.
You see, in the Hebrew language, the word "ruach," you can see it even coming out. Ruach, ruach, it means breath. It also means spirit. It also means wind. One word and you have to understand it from the context of what it means. And so, Jesus takes this use of the language that this great scholar understood and says, "The wind blows what it wishes". See, the wind is sovereign. You see it on television every time we're gonna hit by a hurricane. The people, you know, the weather forecasters, they're helpless. They look at this hurricane, show you the map, and they said, "Well, you know, if it blows out to sea, we'll be all right. If it blows inland, we're in trouble".
Nobody can tell the wind where to go. Nobody can tell that hurricane where to go. And Jesus is making the point here, just as you cannot predict that wind, the Holy Spirit can blow on you. He is sovereign. He is sovereign Spirit of God. Nicodemus, being a religious scholar, Jesus said, "You should have understood this. You really should have understood this". He said how come there are so many references to the coming of the Messiah in the Old Testament that this man had studied and memorized in the book of Isaiah, in the book of Ezekiel, in the book of Jeremiah? It's repeated over and over again that when the Messiah comes, he is the one who is going to bring a new heart.
When the Messiah comes, he is the one who's gonna take the heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh. He is the one who brings rebirth. He is the one who's gonna bring spiritual birth. He is the one who can bring a new heart. He is the one... and it's right there, but Nicodemus missed it because the Spirit had not opened his eyes yet. But then Jesus zooms in on one specific reference in the Old Testament that Nicodemus should have understood instinctively, and that's found in the book of Numbers 21.
Now, they should have understood it. I have to explain it to the 21st century. Many of you know or remember that when the people of Israel, when the people of God came out of the slavery of Egypt, and before they got into the Promised Land, they're stuck in the wilderness for 40 years. And you know why? Because they hardened their heart toward God. And my goodness, even in the wilderness, they moaned, they complained, the murmured against God. I mean, they fussed, and they fumed, and they were angry at God, they were angry at Moses, they were angry at everybody. Finally, God had enough. How many of you believe that one day, God is gonna say, "I've had enough," and the judgment is gonna come? It's in the book. And so he sent them a fiery serpents that were biting them, and from that bite of that fiery serpent, they were dying.
Now, for those bites, there were no vaccine, no antidotes, no medication. Only God could deliver them from that deadly bite, just like only God can deliver us from sin. It's like one God can take us to heaven. Only God can deliver us from that DNA of sin with which we are born. Remember the DNA I told you about? Only God can do that. So, God said to Moses, he said, "Moses, here's what you need to do". He said, "Get a bronze serpent," and I'm gonna explain that to you 'cause it's very important. He said, "Get a bronze serpent and hold it real high so that everyone in obedience looks at that bronze serpent, be healed, and live, and not die".
Well, Moses did exactly what God told him. Was there power in that bronze serpent? No. You know where the power was? The power was taking place in the life of the person who, in obedience, looked up to that bronze serpent. It is the power of the authority of the very God whom they insulted, whom they denigrated, whom they complained against, whom they denounced and denied. It is the very authority and power of that same God, it is the power of that very God could heal them from what caused them death. I know, I know, I know, I know, I know.
Some of you have probably heard this story for the first time and saying to yourself, "But doesn't that sound foolish? What is this, saying a bronze serpent, a person looks at it and can live instead of die"? A lot of people think it's foolishness to say that somebody died on a cross 2,000 years ago can be the only one who can assure you of heaven. He's the only one who can take you to heaven. A lot of people call that foolishness. I understand. Why is this serpent lifted up? Why is a serpent not something else? Listen carefully, this is important.
You see, in the Bible, serpent has always been associated with sin. Remember when Satan came, and tempted Adam and Eve, and he said, "Did God really say that?" and brought doubt to their mind, and they fell in disobedience? The devil used a serpent. He spoke through a serpent. And when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, he carried all of the sin of everyone who would come and believe in him. He became sin for us, and the only one who can be sin for us is a sinless person. And because he's sinless, and perfect, and holy in every way, we look at that cross, we receive eternal healing.
Hear me right, please. No doubt, back then, there were some people who did not look at that bronze serpent. "What is this foolish thing? You look up there and you get healed? I'm not gonna do that," and they died. Some ridiculed it probably, and they died. Oh, but everyone who looked in obedience was healed.
In the same way, Jesus said to this man Nicodemus, he said, "When you look to the Son of God who lifted up on that cross, when you look up to him as your substitute, when you look to him in repentance to him, when you look to him in belief in him, when you look at him for forgiveness of all your sins, when you look to him for salvation, when you look up to him in obedience, you'll be assured of heaven". Who's going to heaven? According to Jesus, everyone who comes to him and sees that on the cross, that his blood was shed was shed for you. Those are the only ones who are gonna make it to heaven. It has nothing to do with how good you are.