Skip Heitzig - John 2:23-3:19
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Father, we now just want to take everything from our minds and give you an open hearted attitude, an open mind to receive. Lord, we want to push away any prejudices of interpretation or of ideas. We are firmly anchored in the cross, even as this new church will be named Cross and Anchor Fellowship. Lord, we are anchored and we're a part of your kingdom and your work because of what has been done for us and provided to us through Jesus. So Father, we just would pray that as we open your word and we open our minds and hearts that you would fill them, Lord, and cause us to grow spiritually. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
I do not remember my birth. That is, I don't remember my physical birth. I do, however, remember very clearly my second birth, my spiritual birth. When I was born I can only remember the stories that my mom and others told me about how it went down. So I have to take their word for it. But when it comes to my second birth, my spiritual birth, it's very vivid in my mind. Where I was, how old I was, what time of the afternoon it was, what I said to the Lord, what I felt like immediately afterwards.
That is the second birth. And that is really one of the main topics, subjects we enter into in John chapter three. It's one of the most famous passages where Jesus tells Nicodemus, you must be born again.
Now in Jerusalem, and that is where Jesus was. Before he even meets with Nicodemus he has been in the temple area. He has "cleansed" the temple, we call it. He took a cord of a ropes and he overturned tables and he called the temple His Father's house.
And it astonished some of the leaders. Most all of the leaders were a bit shocked at Jesus' behavior. But there were some who were very interested in what he had to say and what he was even doing. Because they wondered, are these authenticating signs that he is the Messiah, the one that God sent?
And among that interested group was a man named Nick, Nicodemus. And since Nicodemus came to Jesus at night I think it's safe to say we can call this Nick at night. Because Nicodemus comes to seek after Jesus in a night time one on one.
But certainly not everyone was of that same ilk or desire as Nicodemus. There were other people who were interested in Jesus, but not for the same reasons. And we read about them at the end of chapter two.
You know, when you go to Israel, one of the highlights is the town of Capernaum, where Jesus spent three years of His life. It was His headquarters. And as you walk into Capernaum, there's a fence around the whole archaeological site, the church, et cetera. And it says, "Capernaum, the town of Jesus." It's a blue sign with white letters. I can see it in my mind.
Years ago the sign was a little bit different. It used to say "Capernaum, the town of Jesus, opened from 8 AM to 4:30 PM." And I remember when I first saw that sign that was my reaction. I chuckled at it. I said, you know when I read that sign it almost looks like Jesus' office hours. Come and see Jesus from 8:00 to 4:30 PM. And of course, we know from the gospel records Jesus never worked on that kind of a schedule. He worked on His Father's schedule, His Father's timetable. Even as we saw last week, he said to His mother, "My hour is not yet come." This isn't the time. He's working on His Father's timetable.
But that sign was as absurd to me as signs that I have seen on churches for years. Signs like this, "Revival this week, Monday through Friday from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM." As if you can schedule when God is going to show up and work and He's going to revive. We've got it all planned, we've got it all mapped out. God is going to revive us this week from Monday through Friday beginning at 7:00 and then, of course, at 9:00 we'll taper off, we'll mellow out and we'll go home.
And then often the signs will say "Revival Monday through Friday, Wednesday night special miracle service." Again, as if you can decide when God will perform a miracle. Yet that is done because people know people, and people know that an underlying motivation to seek the Lord is the spectacular, the awesome. I want the ground to shake, I want the earth to move, I want the heavens to part, and Wednesday night may be my night for that miracle to happen. After all, it's on the sign. They've scheduled it. They must have checked with God and He's going to be there.
There were in Jerusalem at the time of the feast, because Jesus did perform signs and wonders, many signs, we are told that there were people in Jerusalem that saw them and believed in Jesus for the reason of the miracle. They were seeking Him superficially. They were seeking Him for the movement, for the miraculous, not for the mission of Christ, but for the miracles of Christ.
And John, and this is sort of particular to John's writing, at the end of chapter two and also he does it at the end of chapter three, he gives some editorial comments. He tells you what he sees, what has happened, but then he gives His comments. And notice, it says in verse 23 of John chapter two, that's where I want to begin. "Now when he, Jesus, was in Jerusalem at the Passover during the feast many believed in His name."
Now stop right there. Now admit it, when you read those words you get excited. Wow, many are starting to believe in Jesus. This is awesome. Get their names, put them on the mailing list. Make them a deacon. Given them a responsibility. There's people that are believing in Him. You want to strike while the iron's hot.
But keep reading. "Many believed in His name when they saw the signs which he did." So now we have a motivation. Now we have a reason. They are believing, but they are believing because of the miracles he did. Well you say, so what? But notice Jesus' response. According to John, his editorial comments "but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because he knew all men. He had no need that anyone should testify of man for he knew what was in man."
In part, John, the author, wants you to know that his summary of these events in Jerusalem is that we are dealing with, we are looking at, we are observing a man who is more than a man, a man who exhibits the very characteristics and qualities of God, somebody who has well, x-ray vision into one's thoughts and motivations. One of whom you can call, you can say, and you can't say it of anyone else, for he knows what people are thinking. He knows what's in the heart and the very mind of a person.
Those are John's comments. He exhibits the character trait of omniscience. He knows everything. And you will see this quite a bit through the book. But what's interesting is John's choice of grammar, his language use. It's really a play on words.
It's say many believed in Him. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them. That's a play on words. Because the word "believe" and the word "commit" are essentially the same exact word. So if you'll permit me to re-translate that for the effect of the play on words. Many believed in Him but he did not believe in them. That's sort of the intended impact and the force of these words.
There is a faith short of saving faith. And so how many people do you talk to, oh, I believe in God. I believe in Jesus. And especially we love that if somebody famous like our favorite musical rock star or something has any lyric at all that's spiritual. Oh wow, he must be a born again Christian. Why? Because he said "spirit in the sky where I'm gonna go when I die?" Or even if he mentions Jesus. We go oh, we get all excited. But there is a faith that is short of saving faith. There is superficial faith.
How do we know that? While James describes it. He says you say you believe in God, you do well. But I want you to know even the demons believe and they tremble. They believe in God so much that they have an emotional response. They tremble.
Warren Wiersbe calls these people in Jerusalem by a special interesting little title. He calls them "unsaved believers." it's an interesting phrase. They are unsaved believers. He knows what's in their heart, He knows they want a free meal, He knows they want a miracle. He knows that they're not really fully committed to Him with saving faith. They just like what they see, they love the entertainment value, they're going along for the ride. Unsaved believers. "But he did not commit Himself to them, because he knew all men. And he had no need that anyone should testify of man for he knew what was in man."
In Hebrews chapter four it's a sobering verse. It says, "neither is there any creature hidden from His sight, for all things are naked and open before the eyes with whom we must give an account." We will and we must give an account. And everything we say, everything we think, everything we do He has full appraisal of. He knows everything about us.
Here's what's amazing about the gospel. He knows everything about you, but he loves you anyway. When you hear the first part you go, oh, He knows everything about me. What about, uh huh, that too. Even, uh huh, yep. Yeah, he heard it. He saw it. But he loves you. And the whole reason for the cross proves that point.
I wanted you to see that because I believe the last part of chapter two and the first part of chapter three go together. Sometimes the chapter divisions, by the way, they're not inspired. They were added many years later, are in my view unfortunate. Because I believe the thought carries here. He is talking about them, the men, the people of Jerusalem believing in Jesus, but Jesus didn't commit Himself to them because they had a superficial interest in Him. But in contrast to them, there was a man who had a sincere interest in Him.
I want you to see how it's worded. Verse 25, "and had no need that anyone should testify of man for he knew what was in man." Look at the very next phrase. "There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Verse one is set in contrast to the previous paragraph. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. "This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with Him. Jesus answered and said unto him, most assuredly I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
If you were to just read verse one you actually pick up quite a bit of information about Nicodemus. We're given a description of him physically. He was a man, a Jewish man. Were given a description of him ethnically, he was Jewish. We know that is his background. We're given a description of him spiritually, he was a Pharisee.
Now let me tell you about the Pharisees. Because most all of you have heard of Pharisees, some of you know who they. They were one of two major leadership groups during the time of the New Testament in Judaism. The other ones, the liberal wing, were the Sadducees.
According to Josephus, there were only about 6,000 Pharisees living at the time of Christ. Where did they come from? You don't read about Pharisees in the Old Testament. It is believed that it was in between the testaments that it really developed. Now we believe, I believe that the seed of the Pharisees began in the Babylonian captivity.
After the Babylonian captivity the Jews in captivity felt that they were sufficiently spanked by God, that they were learning their lesson. They wanted nothing to do with idolatry. They were cured of idolatry. They wanted to just go back to the land and in simplicity serve the Lord.
Out of that grew a group called Perushim, Perushim Pharisees means the separated ones. Oh, they wanted to be separate from the rest of the world, the rest of people doing what everybody else in culture and civilization does. They want to be called out and separated from that. They don't want to go anywhere near the kind of activity that caused the children of Israel to go into captivity. So they want to be separate. They want to be holy. And it started out beautiful.
During the 407 years between the Old and the New Testament that movement grew larger and larger and became quite renown. But what started as a wonderful movement eventually disintegrated into just some kind of legalist traditional group by the time of Jesus. What began as a wonderful movement had now degenerated and disintegrated into pure legalism. Because though they wanted to keep the law of God, they were also committed to keeping the Mishnah, the oral law, not just the first five books of Moses, but what all of the sages had commented on about the laws of Moses, the oral law, all of the pages of copious laws regarding the Sabbath et cetera. And if you didn't keep it you'd hear from them.
At the same time, they were very influential. They were the conservative wing of Judaism. Nicodemus was one of them. So spiritually we know that he was a Pharisee of this group, wholeheartedly wanting to keep the laws of God, wanting to be separated from the rest of the world.
But keep going in verse one. We're told about him politically. It says he was a ruler of the Jews. What does that mean? The Jews had a supreme Court called the Sanhedrin. And if you can picture our Supreme Court and the Senate all rolled up into one body you sort of have the Sanhedrin. Very influential religiously and politically in the nation.
71 members of the Sanhedrin. He was one of them. So he was very, very prominent. But we're also told about him professionally, not in verse one but in verse 10. Jesus said, are you not the teacher in Israel? Not "a" teacher, "the" teacher. Meaning, you must be a renowned figure in Judaism.
So he was well known, he was influential, and then there's another little peace of the Nicodemus puzzle that we don't get to til later on. And that is at the burial of Jesus Christ he brings 100 pounds of burial spices, myrrh and aloes, which is quite costly. And that amount was quite costly. So we can safely surmise that he was a man of means. He was wealthy.
So it is this influential member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Nicodemus who must have been watching, must have been listening in the crowd. He was there the day Jesus overturned the tables. He was there when he took that cord and drove people out and said what he said. And I believe when Nicodemus saw and what Nicodemus heard, it was like fresh water on a parched soul. He was drawn to Jesus. He wanted to know more.
So verse two, "this man came to Jesus by night." Now why did he come at night? There really is no answer, because we're not told. You can guess all you want, but we're not told. So let's make a few guesses.
Number one, he was afraid. That's what a lot of people will say, well, he was afraid. And perhaps rightfully so. He didn't really know who Jesus was. He doesn't want to attach himself his star to that wagon until he knows a little bit about it. He didn't want to be seen publicly with him until he vets him a little bit. So yeah, he could have been a little bit afraid to be seen with Jesus, number one.
Number two, he was busy. As a member of the Sanhedrin, as a ruling Pharisee he had stuff to do. His schedule didn't permit it. You just can't take time off in the middle of your Pharisee work day and do whatever you want. You have certain duties to perform. That's a possibility.
Another possibility is he just wanted quality, unrestricted time. It's interesting, the rabbis used to say that the best time for studying Torah, for studying the law, for studying the scripture is at night, when you are undisturbed. The rest of the world is turned in, gone to bed. You light a candle, you light a lamp and you open up the scroll and you read and you spend time with God. At night you get quality time, they used to say in those days.
So during the day there were always crowds around Jesus. But if I could get Him at night, undisturbed, have a one on one private conversation with Him it may be better. So it could be all of those reasons, it could be one of those reasons. We're just not told.
But Nicodemus wanted a private meeting with Jesus. Can I suggest that you become like Nicodemus? That you don't get satisfied with just meeting with God with the crowd. I mean you need the crowd, I need the crowd, we need fellowship with each other. I believe greatly in the importance of being together like this and being on the same page and going through great chunks of scripture together. But there are things you can't get from Jesus in the crowd.
You need a private meeting with Him. Seek out a private meeting with Him. And lay those things, those concerns, those burdens of your life before Him in private. You need both. You need private time, you need public time.
Nicodemus came to Him and he said, "rabbi." Now that's a term of respect. He was a rabbi himself, Nicodemus, and he looks at Jesus and calls Him with a term of respect, you are a Jewish rabbi. However, that's an assumption. The assumption in giving Him the title that was his title is saying you and I are on the same level. We know, we being we the Sanhedrin, we who are interested in these things, we know that you are a teacher come from God. That's again an assumption. And he's wrong, he's more than a teacher come from God. He is God who has come to teach.
But his assumption is we have a new rabbi. He does things nobody else does. He has an authority nobody else has. And he uniquely refers to the temple not as "the house" but as "my Father's house." My father, not "our," my Father's house. He claims a unique relationship with our God. I need more information.
So he opens up with a nice introduction. We know that you are a teacher come from God, because nobody can do these signs unless God is with Him. Jesus answered and said to him, oh, thank you Nicodemus, thank you for that. I appreciate hearing that.
It's interesting. Jesus doesn't even respond to this compliment. He just sort of ignores it and gets right to the very heart of the matter. I kind of like that about Jesus. He wasn't really interested in small talk. You know, it's like, OK. Unless you're born again you won't even see the kingdom of God.
"Nicodemus said to Him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" OK, I'm betting that Nicodemus never had anybody talk to him this way. And it's quite a statement. Nicodemus believed that his qualification for entering heaven was his birth, his first birth, his physical birth. He was born a Jew. He was under the covenant of Israel. He knew that there was a special covenant that God made with His people and he was part of that covenant. He was born into it. One of the tribes of Israel, he had the bloodline. All he needed for the Kingdom was birth.
And then Jesus throws this curve ball and says, unless you are born again you won't even see the Kingdom. And you know it's like, not only will you not enter, you won't even get close to the Kingdom. You won't even see it unless you're born again.
Now that term has become a cliche. We have robbed it of its majesty and its meaning and then given it back. I've even heard people talk about "born again" like it's a separate religion, a sect of Christianity. Oh you're one of those born again types. One person said, you're a born againer. I didn't correct his grammar even though I am want to on many occasions. But anyway, I knew what he was saying. You're one of those born again Christians as if there is any other kind. Unless a man is born again he won't even see the Kingdom of God.
How can a man be born again? He's scratching his head. I don't get it. What do you, what is this talk? OK, I'm going to reel it back a little bit. According to the Jews, they had a very interesting term. If you left Judaism, I'm sorry, if you left paganism or any other religious system which they would call paganism and converted to Judaism, they would give you the title "reborn." It was in some of their writings, reborn. He who proselytizes into Judaism, the sages used to say, is like a newborn child.
But Jesus isn't saying this to a pagan. He's saying this to a Jew, a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee, a member of the Sanhedrin. Unless you are born again you can't see the Kingdom. Now he thought, my first birth was enough. I'm a son of Abraham. But you can be a son of Abraham, you can be a devout Jew, you can be a Methodist, you can be a Baptist, you can be a Calvary Chapelite, but you may not be a child of God. Just because well, I was raised going here, I was raised in the faith. What is your relationship with God like?
Born again? What does born again mean? The word "born again," the words "born again" in the Greek language gennatha anothen means literally to be born from above, that is the spiritual birth, or it can mean to be born a second time. That's what Nicodemus thought it meant. How can a man be born when he is old? How does this work? I've been born once in Judaism. What do you mean born all over again? But the word "anothen" means "from above." And that's the sense in which Jesus is speaking about. New birth is what leads to new life.
"Jesus answered, most assuredly I say to you. Unless one is born of water and spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again. The wind blows where it wishes. And you hear the sound of it but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who was born of the spirit."
Now what does it mean when Jesus said you have to be born of water and of the spirit? Some will actually interpret this to mean baptism, baptismal regeneration. There is a teaching in some segments of Christendom that believes that you get saved when you get wet. You are not saved until you are wet. When you get put under the water, that's when salvation, it's baptismal regeneration. So to be born of water, they say, means to be baptized.
I absolutely doubt that. I doubt it because number one, Jesus is speaking to a Jew who knew nothing about Christian baptism cause that won't come for a while. And number two, I don't believe it means baptismal regeneration because if it did, Jesus, that's all he would be doing. He'd be gone everywhere he could trying to dunk as many people as he could, and all the apostles they would be all about like get a hose or something. We just got to get a lot of water, because that's how people get saved. Just fire hose them.
I don't think it means baptismal regeneration. Because imagine if it did, there's that thief on the cross who at the last minute says Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom. Jesus would have to say oh, I'm so sorry. I wish I could, but obviously you're in a position sir, where you're just going to have to rot in hell forever. There's just no hope for you at this point because you can't come down off that cross and get baptized. If you could, then you would be saved.
You see, Paul said this, "for Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel." That's verbatim. If you are saved by baptism, if baptismal regeneration were indeed the truth, Paul never would have said, for Christ did not send me to baptize. He would have said, for Christ sent me to baptize which is tantamount to preaching the gospel. But he didn't say that. For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel. Not with the wisdom of words but in the power of God.
So what does it mean to be born of the water? Well, and by the way, there are about six views, I will not go through them all. There are about six main views as to what this means. Born of the water, born of the spirit.
Others will say, look, he's speaking about a spiritual cleansing. And listen to perhaps what Jesus was referring to. I'll just read it to you. This is out of the prophet Ezekiel, a promise that God made through that prophet in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel chapter 36, "For I will take you from among the nations." And then he said, "I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean. I will cleanse you from all your filth and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you. And I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes."
Now the reason I bring this up as a possibility that he was maybe referring to Ezekiel because he's speaking to a ruler of the Jews, a Pharisee, and in verse 10 he says, are you not the teacher of Israel, and you don't know these things? Holding him accountable to at least have some kind of biblical reference for the whole idea of being born again. And indeed, the weight of verse 10 lends me to believe that he is referring to that spiritual cleansing like Ezekiel spoke about, like Ezekiel promised.
Also, we know in the Bible that to be washed in water is a metaphor of the word of God. Husbands, Ephesians chapter five, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for herself. That he might sanctify her and wash her or purify her with the washing of water through the word.
Jesus said, now you are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. First Peter, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, which is the word of God. So there is merit to speak about the word of the gospel being the spiritual Clorox bleach soap that cleans you.
Now my interpretation of John chapter three and the born again passage is a combination. I certainly believe it means spiritual cleansing. But notice the way it's constructed. Notice he says, "unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God." Why didn't he just say spirit, a spiritual cleansing? He says water and the spirit. And then look at the very next verse. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the spirit is spirit."
Let me suggest to you a possibility. To be physically born in ancient times was sometimes called to be born of the water. When a person is born physically a person is born of the water and we know why. Because something breaks in a woman when she's about to deliver. What do we call that? Her water broke. When the amniotic fluid of the womb bursts open and that water drains out, that baby's coming.
So it makes sense it could mean this. Unless you were born of the water, physically, which leads to physical life, so too you must be born spiritually which leads to spiritual life. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, that which is born of the spirit is spirit. You must be born of the water and of the spirit. You have to be born the first time.
Obviously, you have to be a person who has a spiritual birth, a spiritual cleansing. So to be born of the water could simply be an ancient metaphor for physical birth followed by being born of the spirit which is born again. So it's sort of a combination on those various interpretations.
OK, then he says something interesting in verse eight, something that we here in New Mexico know all about. "The wind blows where it wishes. And you hear the sound of it, but you can't tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit." Now again, there's a play on words. Because do you know that the word "wind" and the word "spirit" is the same word, pneuma.
The wind blows where it wishes. You can't control the wind. You can't guess the direction of the wind. I wish I could. If I could control the wind I would say stop, stop that, enough. You can't see the wind. You can't see it. You can see its effect. You can hear it, you can feel it, you can see its effect. So is everyone who is born of the spirit.
You can see the definite effect of the spirit in a person's life. Wind can change a place, right? It can change a place. If a hurricane blows through or a tornado blows through, those are strong winds. You can see the effect of that, especially in the aftermath. It changes that place.
The spirit of God changes people. Even as physical wind changes places, the spirit changes people. And you can see the unmistakable effect when somebody has been touched by the Holy Spirit and born again.
And Nicodemus answered, he still didn't get it. Nicodemus answers it, "how can these things be?" I don't get it. I can't figure it out. Jesus answered and said to him are you "the," not "a", the definite article indicates that Nicodemus was considered sort of like the Billy Graham of Jerusalem. You are the teacher. You are a renowned, respected, instructor of the law.
"Are you the teacher of Israel and you don't know these things? Most assuredly I say to you, we speak what we know and testify what we have seen. And you do not receive our witness." Jesus using the plural personal pronoun "our/we." He is speaking not of me and my disciples, they're still learning it themselves. He's speaking of the Father and the Holy Spirit and Himself. This is inner-trinitarian we/our.
"We know and we testify what we have seen and you do not receive our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended to heaven but he who came down from heaven." Who came down from heaven? Jesus. "That is the Son of man who is in heaven. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up."
No one can ascend into heaven except the one who came down from heaven. Now here is the core, the essence, the bottom line, the irreducible minimum of Christianity. There is no way that a person on earth can reach up and apprehend God. No way. You cannot escape the prison you and I are in. We are confined in walls of time and space. We live in a time space continuum. You can't transcend that. You are a creature of time and space. There is no way you can reach up. You can't go up into heaven and find God.
The essence of Christianity is that spiritual life has to come down from heaven. And Jesus, who is a life, creator of life and has life in Himself, John says at the beginning of chapter one, came down from heaven. So since we can't escape our confinement, our box of time and space, the only possible way to be saved, to know God, to transcend this time space continuum, is for God to step into our box.
We can't get out of our box. We can't ascended into heaven. But God, through Jesus, became a man and stepped into time and space. And we beheld Him, John said, as of the only begotten of the father full of grace and truth.
There is God in a human body. When he weeps, that's God weeping. When he heals, that's God's compassion. When he teaches, that's God wanting to give instruction. He is Emmanuel, God with us. So the essence of Christianity is that God, life, salvation, must come from heaven into our world. And it did.
But you know, when we try to reverse it and millions do. In fact, most of the world does. All over the world people say I'm going to reach up and find God. And every time somebody says that a new religion is born, a new book is written, a new set of law a new set of pilgrimages that you have to take, a new set of restrictions that you have to follow. If you follow these things you can apprehend God.
That's religion. Religion is man reaching up and trying to grab hold of God. Christianity is God coming down into our box, at our level, in the person of Jesus.
So that really is fundamental. That is foundational. "No one has ascended to heaven, but He who came down from heaven that is the Son of man who is in heaven." Now watch this. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness", you remember the story in Numbers 21, I trust, "even so must the Son of man be lifted up." OK, so life must come down from heaven for us to know God and to enjoy salvation, spiritual life, et cetera.
How is that done? On what principle? On the principle of death, on the principle of death and the principle of faith. You remember back in Numbers 21. In Numbers 21 the children of Israel were complaining. God was giving them manna. We've described manna before as Krispy Kreme donuts. I won't go into why, but I'll just let that hang for you.
And Krispy Kreme donuts are mighty fine, but every single day? After a while you know what they said? And they said it out loud, our soul hates this bread. It loathes this bread from heaven, manna. So the Lord caused fiery serpents to come into the camp of Israel. And thousands of the children of Israel were dying off. They hated God's provision, they hated God's deliverance, they were complaining all the time. So they hate being in the wilderness, God is going to deliver them out of the wilderness. Let them die.
The only way to stop the curse that brings death is God says Moses, if you want to stop this curse go get a brass serpent, put it on a stick. If you can picture a cross with a brass serpent on it. Lift it up and tell the people to look at it. And whoever looks at that brass serpent and sees it when you tell them to look at it will be saved, they'll be safe, they'll be healed. They won't die.
Now to do that requires two things. You have to know that you're a sinner. I need help, I'm going to die if I don't do that. So you have to admit that something's wrong with you, that you're going to have a consequence. So you've got to admit that you've got a problem. And number two, you have to believe that if you look at that object in the distance you'll be cured. Which seems silly.
Imagine Moses saying, I know you're all dying but if you just look over here at the serpent you'll be healed. That's so counterintuitive. How is that meritorious? How is that helpful? How does that cure anything, looking at something?
To be saved from your sin you have to believe that you are a sinner. And you have to, by faith, look to Jesus to save you. That's counterintuitive. Most people don't want to believe in Jesus. They want to say no, no, no, no, I'll look to myself, I'll look to my merit, I'll look to my religion. I can pull myself up out of my own problems with my own bootstraps. I'm a self-made person. Famous last words. Bye, dead. Unfortunately, we're talking about eternal.
But if you just look by faith to Jesus, just place your trust in Him on the principle of faith it will save you from death and know that He was on that stick, on that cross who took your punishment for you. You'll be saved. So now Jesus is talking about the means of salvation. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, the Son of man must be lifted up, speaking of his crucifixion. It's predictive of what would happen at the end of his three year ministry. He will be on a cross. That's what lifted up means.
Later on He will say, if I be lifted up from the earth I will draw all men to myself. And I've heard that verse butchered by worship leaders around the country. Let's just lift Jesus higher. Let's lift Him up. It doesn't mean lift Him up in praise. When Jesus said that it means lift Him up on a cross and impale Him in crucifixion. As Moses lifted up the serpent, the Son of man must be lifted up, speaking of His own death on the cross.
That, verse 15, "that whoever believes", by the way, 98 times in this book the word "believe" is found. That's the theme that you might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and by believing have life in His name. Six times in these verses, believe, believe, believe, that if you believe, whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, eternal life. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
This is the gospel in a nutshell, right? This is what Martin Luther called the Bible in the miniature. It is the most famous verse in the Bible. The Gideon society, which puts Bibles in hotel rooms, the very front of their Bibles has John 3:16 in 27 different languages, because they want to make sure no matter who you are, where you're from, the first thing you read when you open this book is, "for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." It's a famous verse. It's the gospel in a nutshell.
It has also showed up in other places. If you've ever been to an In-N-Out Burger, I don't know if you know the history of In-N-Out Burger, but it was started by Rich, a believer, a Christian. His name is Rich, Richard. And he died in a plane crash. He's in heaven now. But at the bottom rim inside of all the cops is John 3:16. On the clothing store Forever 21, the bottom of their bag, shopping bags, John 3:16.
Some of you even remember that character at sporting events in the '70s and '80s called the Rainbow Man who would show up. And they called him the Rainbow Man because he wore a bright rainbow colored crazy wig to get everybody's attention. He had the big placard. He would station himself in front of very strategic camera angles and hold up a sign during all the games, John 3:16. And I applaud his zeal. I don't know if it was very effective or not. He made a lot of news.
For God, verse 17, "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. And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Please hear the heart of Jesus. He's telling you the heart of His Father. God doesn't want to condemn people, He wants to save people.
The whole reason for this elaborate rescue operation of sending the second member of the Trinity to the earth as the fulfillment of Jewish scripture, Revelation, was as an atoning sacrifice so that anyone who believes in Him, verse 16, would be saved. "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." he wants to save a person. That's His intent. That's His heart. He wants to save you. He loves you.
But then there's the two sided coin. "He who believes is not condemned, he who does not believe is condemned already." Salvation is like a coin that you have in your pocket, same coin two different sides. A face on one side, typically an eagle or some other motif on the other side, same coin two different sides. The salvation coin on one side has salvation, on the other side condemnation.
And it's not just a matter of flipping the coin and whatever happens happens. You make the choice of what side of that coin you base your life on. You say, I don't believe, I'll be condemned. No, according to Jesus you're condemned already.
Why are you condemned already? Because all man is born into this world in sin. We're born, the first time, in a state of condemnation. That's why we need to be born again. We need a second birth because we are born naturally estranged from God. The Bible says the wicked are estranged from the womb. I came forth, David said, from my mother's womb speaking lies. That's the state were born in. Ephesians chapter two, and you He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins. You were born dead. You were DOA, Dead On Arrival. And because you are born dead you need a rebirth, a spiritual rebirth.
If you don't believe you are condemned already, you're in that state now. Eventually the condemnation sentencing will occur at the Great White Throne judgment. Now I'm speaking at the end of ages, end of days, the eschatological sentencing will take place at the Great White Throne judgment as described in the Book of Revelation. And even though that is yet future, Jesus says, he doesn't believe he's condemned already. Why? Because though the sentencing for it is in the future, you're on trial now.
A man walked into the Louvre in Paris. Louvre is one of the most magnificent museums in the world. Love going to that place. And of course, the Mona Lisa is in it and some other great paintings. And just, it's art history on steroids. Well there was a man in the Louvre and there's the Mona Lisa and there's all these other famous pictures. And he blurts out loud, I don't really care for these pictures. I don't think it's really all that great. She's not all that great.
The curator turned around and said sir, these pictures are not on trial, you are. You, by your statement just condemned yourself. We're not putting the Mona Lisa on trial just because some numbskull from the Ozarks came over and didn't like it. These pictures are not on trial, you are.
God so loved the world, God so loved you. Put your name, take out the phrase "the world." For God so loved Skip that He gave His only begotten Son. That if Skip believes in Him Skip won't perish. But Skip will have everlasting life, eternal life. That's God's heart for you.
You say, oh, but it's so hard. Hard? Not hard for you. He did all the hard work. He did all the heavy lifting. He took the pain. He's the one who bled. He's the one that took a crown of thorns and the beating and the nails in his hands and feet. All you have to do is to look to Him and believe. No, I'd rather look to myself and my works and I'm a educated person and I'm, famous last words. Look to Him. Trust in Him. Be saved. Admit that you have a need, and by faith look to Him.
Father, as we conclude this portion of John three, even though I thought we would easily make it through an entire chapter, maybe more, Your providence has dictated that we zero in on this very important interview that a curious religious man had with the Savior himself. He saw something in Jesus that drove his curiosity. Lord, maybe we are having that same sense here tonight. I believe some are here and they're attracted to Jesus. There's something about Jesus. They haven't committed to Him yet, they haven't fully committed. Oh, they're interested like that first group, but they want to go further, deeper, all the way to saving faith, to place their life, to look to Jesus as the savior of their sin to grant them everlasting life on the principle that Jesus would be lifted up on a cross and take the death penalty that we, by faith, would look to Jesus, look to the cross. Believe.
As we're closing this service, if you're here tonight, you've been invited by a friend, you've come out of curiosity, or maybe you've come for many weeks or even months. But as you look at your life and you evaluate yourself honestly, you have to admit, I can't really say I'm a disciple. I can't really say I am following Jesus. I can't say that He occupies the throne as Lord of my life. He hasn't saved me from my sin because I haven't asked Him to do that personally yet.
Or some of you maybe have just walked away from Him. You remember there was a time that something special was happening, you were at a camp, you were at an event, you were at a service, you were at a concert and you felt really good after that. But then I don't know how many steps or what went wrong, but you're just not walking with Him now. And you need to come back home and get right with God and let Him love on you. And open your heart to His heart and His Father's heart.
We all need forgiveness. And we all need, we all yearn for, we all cry after a do over, a mulligan, a second chance, or a third or a fourth. Look, bottom line is, if you're not sure that if you were to die you would go to heaven, you need to make sure. Would you say yes to Jesus, would you invite Him into your heart or would you come back and put your faith in Him and trust in Him commit to Him?
If so, would you raise your hand up in the air right now? Our heads are bowed, our eyes are closed. Mine will be open to acknowledge you. Raise your hand up and say yes to Jesus, Invite Him into your heart. Anybody, just raise your hand up in the air so I can see it. God bless you in the middle, in the back, a couple of you, few of you to my left, over here on the side toward the back. Raise your hand up long enough for me to see it on the far left. God bless you. And over here up front on my left. I see your hands. Anyone else. God sees you. He knows you. He loves you. He loves you the way you are. Right over up front to my right.
Father thank you and we pray for these precious ones whom you love. They may feel unloved right now. They may feel not too special right now. They may even feel very dirty. Shower your love, your cleansing love on them, Lord as they find that they are accepted in this place, and more than that, accepted before God on the merits of what Jesus did for them. Give them confidence and fill them with joy as they come to give their lives to Jesus. It's in His name we pray. Amen.
Would you stand to your feet. As we close this service I invite those of you who have raised your hands now, I'm going to ask you to do something else. I'm going to ask you to not stay where you're standing. I'm going to ask you to find the nearest aisle and come stand right up here. And I'm going to lead you in prayer publicly to receive Jesus.
You know, Jesus called people publicly. He called them publicly. And in a similar manner as I'm bringing you out and I'm bringing you up before Him. And we're going to say a prayer together, because this marks a monument in your life. That things are different now, the past is the past and this is a new start. So if you raised your hand, and I saw hands go up all around here. I'm going to wait for you. Find the nearest aisle as we sing and you come stand right up here and maybe a couple of the counselors can show them how it's done.
Come right now, right up here. Stand up here. I'm going to lead you in prayer to receive Christ as you come in just a moment. God bless you. I saw people back there on the left in the corner and on the right and up front over here. And over here, get up, get up and come. Get up and come. That's right. We're excited about this. You don't to be embarrassed. This is happy time. This is happy hour.
Even if you didn't raise your hand but you're just tired of living in the shadows, you're just tired of being tired and life is going the way it's been going and you want a fresh start, a fresh life, new life, a new beginning, come to Jesus. Taste and see that the Lord is good. Anyone else as we are about to close this service, you come. Hey those of you who have come forward, I'm going to lead you now in a prayer. I'm going to ask you to say this prayer out loud after me. Say these words from your heart. Say them to the Lord. Let's pray. Say:
Lord, I give you my life. I know that I'm a sinner. Please forgive me. I believe in Jesus Christ, that he died on a cross, that He shed His blood for my sin and that He rose from the grave. I turn from my past. I turn from my sin. And I turn to Jesus as my Savior. I want to follow him as my Lord. In Jesus' name, amen.