Monday, March 25, 2019

John 3:16-21 THE AMAZING LOVE OF GOD FOR A SINFUL WORLD


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.

John 3:16-21

Our text follows from where we last finished. Jesus invites Nicodemus to believe in Him, the Son of Man[1], 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[2]. 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[3]. 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[4]. 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” [5]. 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 Fran├žois Gravelet, 28 February 1824 – 22 February 1897)[6]. 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!


[1] 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,
[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 228
[3] Deut. 7:6-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3
[4] 1:9,10; 7:7; 14:17; 15:18-19; 16:8, 20, 33; 17:6, 9, 14, 25; 1 John 5:19
[5] Published by Crossway

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