Last time we considered John 3:1-15, in which we find a dialogue between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus.
Nicodemus is one of those who has seen the signs that Jesus was doing (2:23). He has seen something in Jesus, but not enough to make him believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Word of God, the Creator of all things (John 3:1-3). To Nicodemus, Jesus simply is ‘a teacher come from God’ (3:2), and isn’t that the way many people have looked and are looking at Jesus Christ? The gospel of John challenges us to look further than just an enlightened teacher or a miracle worker. In this conversation Jesus essentially challenges Nicodemus to look further, but not with human eyes. In order to see and enter the kingdom of God (3:3,5), to understand who Jesus is, one needs to be born again. This will enable one to see and enter the kingdom of God (3:3,5). Jesus invites Nicodemus to look to Him and believe in Him, who in due course was going to lifted on a cross (3:12-15).
We have every reason to believe that in due time Nicodemus was born again. We have two more encouraging references to Nicodemus in the gospel of John. In John 7:50-51, we find Nicodemus defending Jesus against a group of Pharisees who wanted to arrest Him unlawfully. Later in John 19:39, after Jesus had been crucified, Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea in giving Jesus a traditional Jewish burial. Nicodemus “brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds” (John 19:39). All this suggests that this encounter which Jesus had with Nicodemus in this 3rd chapter was indeed a life changing encounter.
Our text follows from where we last finished. Jesus invites Nicodemus to believe in Him, the Son of Man, one of Jesus’ favourite self -designations.
John 3:16 is the most famous and most quoted verse in the Bible.
There is some debate as to whether vv.16-21 is the continuing conversation of Jesus, or whether this is the commentary of John. It seems most likely that vv. 16-21 are John’s added comments. The reason why we say this is that in 3:16, the phrase ‘God gave his only Son’ (a reference to the cross) is stated in the past tense. Whatever the case may be, these are the words inspired by the Holy Spirit. This is what the Holy Spirit caused John to write down. And here we learn about
(i) the amazing reason as to why God sent Jesus into this world
(ii) the amazing disbelief of the world.
We close with a summary of the gospel – what it means to believe in Jesus and the consequences thereof , and what happens if we do not believe.
1. God’s love for this sinful world
a. An extensive, inclusive love: John 3:16 is a radical statement from every point of view. From a Jewish perspective this would have been radical. If John had written, “For God so loved the Jews”, this would have been entirely acceptable. The Jews prided themselves in being God’s chosen, specially loved people. In the course of the Exodus from Egypt and through the desert, His special love for them is evident. Even when they were sinning, God remained faithful to them. The reference in 3:14 is a point in case. God sent a plague of biting vipers among them. He made a way for them- a bronze serpent- to which they only needed to look and be healed. But when John writes, “God so loved the world“, this statement comes with a new force. God loves the whole world. The love of God now also includes the gentiles. The thought that Yahweh, the God of their covenant, could love the whole world would have disturbed the average Jew.
b. A surprising love: John’s usage of the word ‘world’ is usually a negative one (see the ‘world’ mentioned 3 times in our text). He sees the world as being sinful and hostile. This is what we read in 1:9-11. The doctrine of the surprising love of God for the world (Jew and gentile) comes against the background that the whole world is actually hostile to the God, and yet the Gospel of John teaches us that the Gospel (the Good News) is for the whole world. This raises the age old question, “If God loves the world, then why does He not save everyone?” In order to answer this, we need to understand the various ways in which God loves this world.
Baptist theologian Don Carson wrote a book on this subject entitled,”The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God” . Here he explains that the Bible speaks of the love of God in at least five ways:
i. The unique love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father (Jn. 3:35; 5:20; 14:31).
ii. God’s providential love for all that He has made. He cares and provides for all His creation.
iii. God’s free offer of salvation for all in this fallen world (Jn. 3:16; Ezek. 33:11).
iv. God’s particular love toward His elect (Deut. 7:7-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 1:4-5; 5:25).
v. There is God’s conditional love toward His own people, based on their obedience (Jn. 14:21; 15:10; Jude 21; Ex. 20:6; Ps. 103:9-11, 13, 17-18).
So, when we read the Bible with respect to the doctrine of the love of God we need to determine what the text actually says. When we think of the love of God in John 3:16 we need to think in terms of point 3 and point 4. Christ is offered to the whole world, and in that sense that Christ’s death was sufficient for all. God invites, commands and desires all men to come to Him, and yet it is clear that no one will come out of their own free will. The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14:12-24 illustrates this point. Every man makes excuses, because every man’s will is bent on evil (wait for 3:19 which refers back to 1:9-11).
And so the love of God goes further, and He freely chooses from among those who resist Him and reject Him. And so we may say, according to point 4, that Jesus died effectively for the elect alone. The doctrine of God’s particular love for the sheep will be expounded in John 10. So, in summary John teaches that Christ’s death is sufficient for this world and many worlds over, but efficient only to the elect.
c. A gracious, generous love (3:17). We are told that Jesus, in His first coming, came to seek and to save the lost (Lk. 19:10). His primary work right now is not to condemn (judge) the world. This will happen at his second coming and this is what Jesus refers to in John 9:39, Jesus says, “For judgment I came into this world ….”
d. A reassuring love (3:18a) Whoever believes in him is not condemned cf. Rom 8:1 “ There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. If you have embraced the Lord Jesus, if you love Him and if your hope is in Him then stand assured in the love of God.
2. God’s wrath on those who will not believe.
John not only exposes us to the wonderful love of God. He also tells us of the awful consequences of rejecting the gospel offer.
a. Those who reject the free gospel offer will “perish” (3:16) This is an everlasting state –Perishing does not mean that they will be annihilated or cease to exist. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus says that some “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” If eternal life lasts forever, then so does eternal punishment. Jesus referred to it as the place where “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). If you ask whether the fire is literal or figurative, my reply is that it doesn’t matter—you don’t want to find out personally! Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus makes it clear that hell is a place of awful torment (Lk 16:23-24).
b. Not believing the free gospel offer means ‘continuing in the state we are already in 3:18b-20. No-one is neutral before God. By nature we are ‘condemned already’. By nature we all love darkness rather than the light. Our evil nature is drawn to darkness. We instinctively hate the light. We will not come to the light lest the darkness of our hearts be exposed.
THE GOSPEL – WHAT THIS TEXT TEACHES US
In practical terms, this means that we can tell unbelievers that God loves them so much that He sent His only Son to die for their sins, if only they will repent and believe in Christ- with eternal consequences (eternal life). At the same time we should warn them that if they do not believe in Christ, they are under God’s righteous judgment and wrath (Jn. 3:18, 36), with eternal consequences (they will perish). And, since we know that none are willing to repent and believe in Christ, unless God grants it (John 6:44, 65; Acts 11:18), we should be praying as we proclaim the gospel, that God would have mercy in opening blind eyes, deaf ears, converting hearts of stone.
We must offer the gospel freely to everyone, but at the same time that we must tell everyone also the bad news. The Good news becomes more meaningful and powerful as we hold before our listeners the facts of the bad news.
Both, verses 16 and 18 make it clear that the crucial issue on our part is to believe in Jesus. Those who believe have eternal life; those who do not believe are currently under God’s condemnation and ultimately will perish.
What does it mean to believe in Jesus?
Believing in “the name of the only Son of God” (3:18) means
· believing in all that He is and all that He came to do.
· believing in Jesus requires understanding who He is: Son of Man ( promised Messiah) and Son of God (God the Son). He came from heaven as the Lamb of God, the One to whom all the sacrifices point. Through His death and resurrection He offers eternal life to all who will come. Based on that knowledge (which we get from the Bible), believing in Jesus means to entrust your eternal destiny to all that He did in dying for your sins on the cross. It means that you must cease trusting in your own goodness or self-effort as the means to get to heaven.
A helpful illustration of believing, of exercising a saving faith in Jesus is the story of the famous French tightrope walker, Charles Blondin (born Jean François Gravelet, 28 February 1824 – 22 February 1897). He became famous for crossing 340 meters of the Niagara Gorge, 50 metres high, on a tightrope. This he did on 30 June 1859, and a number of times thereafter, often with different theatrical variations: blindfolded, trundling a wheelbarrow, carrying a man (his manager, Harry Colcord) on his back, … The point is this. If Harry Colcord did not believe and trust Blondin, he would never have gotten onto his back and walked across the Niagara fall. Many saw and believed what Blondin could do, but the fewest would dare to get on his back. In the same way, many say that they believe in Jesus, but they have not entirely trusted Him, believed in Him for the journey that lies ahead. Remember that we all have to cross that final river some time. Dear unconverted friend, will you not take another look at Jesus, and ask the Holy Spirit to have mercy on you? Ask Him in these words –Lord I believe, help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
God will surely hear you!
 The term ‘ Son of Man’ occurs 88 times in the NT ; Son of Man is as a reference to the prophecy of Daniel 7:13-14,
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 228
 Deut. 7:6-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3
 1:9,10; 7:7; 14:17; 15:18-19; 16:8, 20, 33; 17:6, 9, 14, 25; 1 John 5:19
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