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.