Last time I preached we looked at three passages in the book of John in order to see what true evangelism looks like. However, I skipped over a section of passage in-between the story of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. This passage is probably the most familiar passage in the entire world. If I had to guess all of you in here have at least three verses memorized, God is Love, Jesus Wept, and “For God so loved the World that He gave his only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
I skipped this passage last time because it is such a deep passage that it deserves its own time and to try to fit it into my sermon last time would not have done it justice. However, our challenge tonight as we study this passage is not to go straight to the familiar verse 16, since it is such a familiar verse it is easy to assume that we know all that we need to know about this passage. This verse is so simple that a six year old child can grasp the meaning of this text, but it is also so deep that theologians can get lost in its depths.
Another challenge of this text is that because some of you are like me and have probably grown up Southern Baptist you have probably heard some very bad sermons on this text. Sermons that make you wonder if your pastor is a Universalist or questioning just how loving is a God that sends people to Hell.
Therefore, my goal tonight with this very familiar passage is to put it in context with what we have already studied from last time and to give you a bigger picture of this glorious verse in a way that you probably have not seen it in a while. My prayer for you tonight is that you fall back in love with a passage, that to some, has lost its luster because of its frequent misuse.
So let us start by putting this text in context of the story line that the author John is putting together. In our passage today, we see that for third straight section John points out ways that Jesus fulfills and surpasses Judaism:
In chapter 2:1-11 we see that Jesus turns the water into wine at the wedding feast. Jesus provides new wine that vastly surpasses anything that contemporary Judaism could afford, and renders obsolete the stone jars of purification; in other words, Jesus’ blood is vastly superior to the purification rituals of Judaism.
In chapter 2:12-25, Jesus cleanses the temple and thereby suggests that the temple’s proper roles is best seen as an anticipation of the ultimate point of mediation between God and man; So in other words, when God walked with Adam and & Eve it was perfect. However, they sinned and we have now become separated from God. Therefore, when God reveals Himself to Abraham he is opening back up communication, when God was on the Mountain with Moses that was good, when God was in the Tabernacle that was better, when God was in the Temple it was even better, when God walked the earth in a fleshly body it vastly greater than the temple, and when God sent His Spirit to dwell in the hearts of the believers we are almost back to where we started in the Garden of Eden, However, we long for the day when Jesus returns and we can have a perfect relationship with God once again.
And last time, we saw that Jesus fulfills prophecies of a water and spirit regeneration, and proves in his death to be the ultimate symbol of the snake lifted up in the desert in the story of Nicodemus. And this brings us to our passage today.
Today our passage holds one of the most familiar verses of the Bible, but it is important to not go straight to that verse and assume that we know everything that we need to know about the context of this passage. Therefore, starting in verses 14 and 15 God’s Word says: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
In verses 14 and 15 John is setting up what he is about to say in verse 16 by reminding us of an Old Testament story. So let us look at this Old Testament story so that we can fully understand what is going on in verse 16 and following. This Old Testament story comes to us in book of Numbers chapter 21 verses 4-9.
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
When we read about the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, it is easy for us to feel pretty self-righteous and be amazed at how stupid they are. However, there are three things that you have to remember about the nation of Israel, 1.) They are not blessed with the Holy Spirit like we are. 2.) In almost every story, God wants us to realize that we are the nation of Israel. 3.) We have a tendency to relate to the heroes of the Bible, but that is not who God wants us to relate to, God is showing us that we are just as stupid as the nation Israel and are in just as much need of a Savior. Therefore, the heroes in the Old Testament are not there for us to relate to, but to point us to Jesus.
Here in our passage today we are reminded that we are like the Israelites, we too become impatient, we too grow spoiled of God’s provision for us. We too are sinners that deserve to be punished just like the Israelites here where punished with fiery snakes. But because God loved them, God provided a way for them to escape his wrath. We too need to rescued from the wrath of God, and just like the bronze serpent that was raised on a pole, so was Jesus Christ. The bronze serpent was to be a sign for what will come to be later on. Just like how they looked up at the fiery serpent and were saved, now all those that look unto the Cross, repent, and believe will be saved from their affliction.
The Israelites were bitten and were bound for death by a literal snake, and it took one to be raised on a pole to save all those that have been bitten. We all have been bit by a fiery snake called sin and are bound for death, but by the raising up of one that did not sin we all will be saved who look unto Him for salvation.
Now let us return to our passage in John Chapter 3. Verses 16 and 17 tells us: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
There is often confusion on what the word love in John 3:16 means. And it stems from the fact that many of us do not have a good understanding of what love is supposed to be. Many of us grow up thinking that love is making much of me. You fall in love with people that make much of you. You fall in love with activities that make much of you. However, that is not what a Biblical love is.
A Biblical love is a love that makes much of others by helping them make much of God. It has nothing to do with how they respond to you, because they may kill you for your love as the disciples and many missionaries have discovered. Jesus Christ loved us so much that He died on the cross for our sins in order to eliminate the barrier that keeps us from making much of our loving God.
Now a practical example is in marriage. Will my marriage be loving if I am always saying to Kaley make much of me. Or will our marriage display the Gospel more clearly if I set the standard of helping Kaley make much of God? So if I am sacrificially loving my wife in a way that will lead her to being able to know and worship God more clearly, guess what, that in turns frees her up to love me as well. Because if I am constantly putting demands on her to love me she will resent me, but if I help her worship the one that is worthy of her love then she is better able to love all those around her.
Therefore, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes 7 billion people, but because the world is so bad. A Holy and just God sent His one and only perfect son into the world to be crushed for a sinful world. God so loves the world that it looks like He hates his Son in comparison of His love to the world.
Verse 18 says, Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
This verse shows us that denial of Christ is not what is sending these people to Hell, for they were condemned already. We all were condemned to Hell and were dead to our sins, and it took the action of someone that was perfect to be sacrificed for us.
Now to make sure we get this verse let me ask you this question. What about the man in India that has never heard of the name of Jesus, will he go to Hell if he never had the chance of hearing the Gospel?
Yes, because Jesus did not come into the world to condemn, we were already condemned. That is exactly why we have to find a way to reach all 1.6 billion people, all 6,611 people groups that have no access to the Gospel.
If this is not true then why would we evangelize? If the denial of Christ is what sends you to Hell, then it would be better to never to tell them. We would have to start our evangelism off by saying, have you ever heard of a man named Jesus, and if they said no we would be better off telling them that if any tries to tell them to run away covering their ears.
However, it because this is true is the reason we have to go tell everyone on the planet about Jesus because if we do not tell them then they will perish in Hell forever, without ever having a chance to accept Christ. We have to tell the world about Jesus. There are 1.6 billion men and women in this world that are just like the man in India that will die and never had a chance to accept Jesus Christ as their savior. These 1.6 billion people make up 6,611 different people groups spread throughout this globe, some represented in our very own country.
Every week 50,000 out of this 1.6 billion will die and their knowledge of God is only good enough to send them to Hell. To put it in perspective, every week enough people that could fill up Common Wealth stadium will plunge into Hell without ever having a chance, because no one told them. Every week enough people that could fill up two Rupp Arenas, most thinking that they are going to see Allah, will meet eternal torture instead.
And this is not counting the millions in this country that have access to the Gospel, the millions in this state, the thousands in this community that are waiting for us to take them the Gospel.
So what is at stake? What is at stake if we continue to come to our comfortable church with our easy devotion, doing our religious ritual for the week and go home and never talk about Jesus Christ again.
God will probably forgive this church if we never wake up and start changing this community, this state, and this planet. God is gracious and it is not our salvation that is at risk, although I feel like our assurance of salvation is on shaky ground if we do not desire to tell others about the one that has changed our life.
However, let us assume that this church is made up of true believers, we know that God will forgive us if we continue to be ineffective in the community, however, our fear should not be punishment from God, but that we will be like the nation of Israel and wonder around in the wilderness for 40 years until this church finally dies.
And that is a real threat. Not only to our church, who has only seen 1 baptism in the past year, but all across this state. 75% of churches in Kentucky are in decline and some will be forced to shut their doors.
So what are we going to do? Are we going to wait until we have a pastor to change? Are we going to die in our religious traditions or will we die in our devotion in Christ? Can the man in India that is going to Hell because he has never heard the Gospel wait until we get a pastor? What about the 1.6 billion just like him? What about your neighbors, your co-workers, your class-mates, your family? If we do not take them the Gospel, then who will?
So You might be asking how? How do we reach our family, our neighbors, and our communities? You can find a lot of excuses to grow stagnant as a church and in your personal devotions when you are without a pastor. It is true that the #1 reason why people choose a church is because of a pastor, however, most of us cannot change that. But we need to be praying for those that can change that, and you need to be praying for the men that get in the pulpit each Sunday because those roles are important and they need your prayers.
However, did God leave us here by ourselves? No! We still have God’s Word, right? What else do we need? The Holy Spirit that works in a pastor is the same Holy Spirit that works in you. Pastors do not get an extra dose of the Holy Spirit, the God that works inside them wants to work inside of you as well. So maybe the church will not grow for a season, but what is stopping your Sunday School class from growing? Or your influence in the community? Many of us need to quit sucking on the bottle of spiritual milk and step up to the battle lines of spiritual warfare. Passivity in the Christian life is not an option. How evil would we be if we held the cure to cancer and told no one? Well we hold the cure to eternity. What are we going to do with that?
So what is stopping you from picking up this book and starting a Bible study in your home for friends, family, and neighbors? Some of you, who God has given the gift of hospitality need to be teaming up with those who God is equipped to teach God’s Word. Our influence and our ministry is not constrained to the church building and to Sundays.
You can have Bible Studies at your home, you can have Bible studies before, after, or even during your lunch break, you can have a Bible study at before or after work or school. You can meet for breakfast to do a Bible study or you can even have it with your family right before you put the children to bed. You have all kinds of options, but the main point is to keep the Bible central. Let us allow God to talk into people’s lives.
Let us as a church get serious about God’s Word and serious about taking it to the 85% of unbelievers in our own community. You do not have to be a trained theologian to teach the Bible, however, since you have one in your church, I would love to be able to serve you in that way. However, remember that all of you are theologians because all of you have thoughts about God. Even atheists are theologians because their thoughts are that He does not exist. So the question is not are you a theologian, but are you a good one. And allow God to shape you by using his Word and by taking available of resources that God has provided this church with.
Now how you answer this next question will reveal a lot about how you view God. Is it “fair” that men and women in India and billions all across the globe are going to Hell because they have never heard the Gospel? Well, let me ask you this, if you were watching a high profile case on TV in which a powerful leader was on trial because he abused his power to commit adultery with a married woman and had her husband murdered so that he could have her all to himself.
Well, now how would you feel if the judged ruled him innocent even though all doubt had been erased if he was guilty or not? You would be outraged, right? However, this is exactly what we see with King David, a man that God calls, a man after his own heart. It is his line that Jesus will come out of. Is this fair, that a guilty man go free? Well, if you are Uriah’s father then you are probably screaming NO!
What if you are watching another high profile case and in this case the man is innocent, even the judge says that he can find no guilt in this man, yet instead of setting him free they give him the death penalty. You would be outraged with this case as well. However, that is exactly what we see with Jesus Christ. He came and lived a perfect life so that we would not have to. So the question now is: Is it fair for an innocent man to get the death penalty?
No, but we do not want fair.
It is fair for the man in remote India to go to Hell because he has never heard the gospel because it would be fair for all of us to go to Hell because of all our sins. You might say well I have never committed adultery nor have I had someone murdered. However, we are worse than David is because Jesus’ standard is much higher than man’s law. Jesus tells us that if we have ever lusted then we have already committed adultery, and if we have ever hated our brother then we have already committed murder in our hearts. Therefore, it is not fair for any of us to go to heaven and to have relationship with the almighty God. We do not want fair! It is because of His mercy and grace that allows us despite our fallen nature to be able to have a relationship with him.
Remember that Grace is the receiving of a Gift that we do not deserve, and mercy is the withholding of something that we do deserve. By Grace, an innocent man gets the death penalty so that others like David, and you, and me might receive mercy and be set free from the bondage of sin and brought into a right relationship with God. Therefore, by grace alone we are saved for those that have repented and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord, Savior, and Treasure.
Now as we close this section of scripture, let us look at verses 19-21.
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
Now God knows how easily we misunderstand things so He uses the author John to write this section of scripture in order to help keep us from becoming like the Israelites that take the bronze serpent and make an idol out of it. So we see that in 2 Kings chapter 18 in verse 4 that the nation of Israel took the bronze serpent and turned it into an idol. So what God created for good, they had corrupted into an instrument of idolatry.
Therefore, God gives us verses 19-21 to help keep us from doing the same thing with John 3:16. So John the author anticipates the question, “If God loves the world, then why do most of us not act like we have been adopted into the family of God. For 1 John tells us that we can know Christians by if they keep His commandments and love one another. In these verses John is giving an explanation of how God can love the world, but the world can still reject him.
Therefore, the purpose of verses 19-21 is not to encourage readers to think they fall into a deterministic category bound up like robots, but to make them see the nearness of their danger, and the fundamentally moral reasons why people hate the light. John stresses these points in the hope that his readers will beg God that all they do may be done through him – in short, that they will turn to the lifted up Son of Man with the same simple, desperate, unqualified faith as the Israelites displayed who turned to the bronze snake in the dessert. By such faith and such faith alone, can anyone experience the new birth and thereby gain eternal life.
Therefore, let us take this familiar verse and let it feed our fury for the Gospel. Let it remind us how much God loves the world despite how evil we are and that we are commanded to share that love with others. Since God first loved us, we are able to love others. As we leave here tonight, let us be as one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.