We come to our text for today. A very familiar text of John 3:16. We do well to remind ourselves. The text is so familiar, at times, I tend to forget the context of the text, which is always important. That is Jesus is speaking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who has come to Him and has asked, "What must I do? What is the key to make sure I have entrance into the kingdom? What law must I be sure to keep? Which way do I need to walk?"
With a great deal of respect he comes to whom he perceived as the rabbi, Jesus. Jesus perceiving the needs of his heart told him, you remember, "You must be born again." You must be born from above. There has to be a new birth.
Jesus expands on that as we come to our text today to describe this undying life that really doesn't just begin at physical death but begins at spiritual birth. One of the nice things is we have an overlapping eternity to our living. We have a physical life that ends at physical death, but we also have a spiritual life that is eternal and begins at our spiritual birth, and the two overlap.
So the joy and abundant living the spiritual life provides is something we have access to in our remaining physical lives as well. Jesus says there's a serpent problem. It's because of the serpent problem that Jesus said you have to be born from above. If it wasn't for the serpent problem, maybe the answers of Nicodemus or his thoughts on how to obtain eternal life, live a good life, walk properly, keep the Sabbath and the festivals…maybe those would be good things, but the problem is there's a serpent problem.
Now we first see the serpent problem back in Numbers. God was judging the nation of Israel, because its sinfulness was so great that God decided on this occasion He would punish them. He would destroy them by sending snakes into the camp; some serpents to come in and kill off the nation of Israel…serpents executing the judgment and wrath of God upon sin.
The people of Israel had a serpent problem. They needed to get rid of the serpents. In John 3:14, Jesus said God offered an answer to the problem. He said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."
The problem is solved by looking upon a bronze serpent lifted up high on a pole, so high that all the inhabitants of the camp of Israel could see. If they would look at that serpent and would trust in God and have faith in God, they would find that the serpent problem… the effect of it, the judgment of it…would not affect them. See they had a serpent problem.
We have a serpent problem. I think sometimes today, we try to address our sin problem, our serpent problem in many crazy ways. Imagine if Israel had approached their serpent problem the way sometimes we approach our sin problem. What if they had said, "Well, you know what we need to do? We need to make some medicine. We need to make some anti-serpent venom. We need to get busy about inoculating ourselves against the serpent problem."
So many people today have decided,…You know what I'm going to do? I am going to straighten up my life. I'm going to put the TV in the trashcan. I'm going to do this. I'm going to do that. I'm going to inoculate myself from the problem. But there are just too many serpents. There are just too many snakes. There are just too many opportunities to get bitten. Making medicine for it does not work. Doing work and trying to overcome the effects of the venom by trying to be better than a venomous bite is never going to work.
Another thing they could have tried that we often try is just to pretend the snakes are not there. We just pretend we really don't sin. We just pretend our addictions, our habits, our movie preferences, our tongue, and our temper is really not sin. You see we just pretend like we're not snake bit. We just pretend like it never really happened. We get latched onto by a viper, and we just say, "You know that's really not going to bother me." Imagine Israel trying to just pretend it never happened.
I tell you another thing they could have done. They could have gathered the elders together and passed anti-serpent laws. Now that would have done it. Right? Just make serpents illegal. You know just change the morality. Just enforce a code that makes it illegal to do that. That does away with sin. Doesn't it?
Whenever we pass laws that makes sin illegal like murder. That stops murder. We make DWI's illegal. That stops drinking. Doesn't it? I mean that's what we think. We just want to get our government involved. We have a bad moral problem. So we need to elect people who will just enforce morality, and life will be so much better. God won't be made at us anymore.
Anti-serpent laws wouldn't work. I guess they could have climbed the pole. You know we try to do that. Don’t we? We try to come into the church, and we try to get really involved. We basically…rather than trusting and looking at the serpent at the top of the pole...just want to climb the pole ourselves. Just get away from it as far as we can. Get to a far away mountain as we can. Try to isolate ourselves from the world as much as we can. But that's not the solution.
Jesus said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up." Really, lifting up is taken two ways. One of course, Jesus would be lifted up on the cross (literally lifted up). As much as that bronze serpent was on that pole, Christ was on that pole. But also He's lifted up in that He is proclaimed. He is lifted up in the proclamation of the disciples, of the apostles, of the church, of all of those who would come down through history.
When people hear the lifted up words of the gospel…When they hear the message of the Savior…If you look to Him and you trust that His sacrifice, that that Savior on that cross will pay the penalty for the serpent bite of sin that has its venom in you and that you will not die, then you have eternal life. That's what Jesus said in verse 15, "That whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Jesus gives us an undying answer here.
We looked to verse 16. It says, "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. 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 on Him is not condemned: but he who does not believe is condemned already..." Why? Because he already has the serpents venom in him. That's why. Because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
You know one of the best examples of the love God has for us is in the Old Testament. It's the book of Hosea. Hosea is given to us. The challenge God gives to the prophet Hosea is so we might get a human eye view of the kind of love God has for us.
Hosea was a man of God. God tells Hosea to go and marry a prostitute named Gomer, go find her and make her his wife. Now, I don't know what you'd think about that. But I doubt Hosea was excited to do that. Here's a woman who lived her life in prostitution. Yet he obeyed the command of God. He made her his wife, but she knew nothing of faithfulness.
Soon she's back out in the prostitution ring. She's back out sleeping with man after man. She's back living in the cities and allies of the culture of that time. Eventually, she becomes penniless. When she becomes penniless, there's only one thing left. That is to be sold as a slave. So she's put up on the auction block. You'll never believe who comes to this faithless, prostituting woman Gomer and buys her from the auction block. Yeah…Hosea, her husband.
He never took off the wedding band. He never forsook his love for her. Before you think that's too seedy…you're a Gomer. I'm Gomer. We're faithless people. We have committed spiritual adultery, time and time again, in the very face of God. But God so loves us that He didn't take off his promise to us. He bought us, and He brought us home.
Gomer was brought home to Hosea. He treated her as though he was the only man she had ever loved. Her sins were removed from him, in his thinking, as far as the east from the west. So despite your background, idolatry, spiritual adultery, addictions, sins, the way you’ve lived your life, when you come to Christ, God so loves you that He puts that away. He the omnipotent God, the omniscient God…who knows everything…no longer knows about that. He puts them away. He sees you as the pure, chaste virgin bride. He loves you that much.
I think to reach out and to get serious about living out John 3:16 and living out this entire passage, we need to have the right approach. You know, there are three ways to reach out with the gospel. You can be a native, you can be a conquistador, or you can be an immigrant.
Now a native…you know, that's people who of course are very comfortable with their own culture. They like where they live. They tell the church you target my taste, and I'll stay and serve. They tell others, "Welcome into our church community, but don't touch anything. We like it the way it is."
Then there's the conquistador. Now the conquistadors possess a since of mission. They take the gospel to the world, but they also take their culture with them. So when they go out into the world they have this problem that they insist on changing the world to meet their culture. So they tell others, "Well, we'll know when you've arrived because you're going to look like us. You're going to dress like us, and you're going to sound like us." Then, we know you're truly one of us. Both the native and conquistador place a high value on doing church the way we like things to be done.
But then there's the immigrant. The immigrant is different. The immigrant doesn't bring his culture along with him. The immigrant assimilates into the culture he goes to. He assimilates into that culture in order to reach others more effectively.
Now I know that's not a perfect analogy, but think about this for a minute. Jesus acted more like an immigrant than He did a native or conquistador. Consider this…the Omniscient One had to learn to read, write, and do arithmetic. The Omnipresent One downsized to the confines of Mary's womb. The Omnipotent became a helpless baby who had to be nourished, birthed, and changed just like all of us. But by assimilating into our culture, the end result was a High Priest who understands our weaknesses. One who we can go to, who understands what goes through our heads and hearts because He's lived in our skin.
The incarnation of Jesus took the Omniscient, Omnipresent, and Omnipotent and made Him Omni-relevant to all of us. I think the immigrant, of course, is what we need to be. We assimilate ourselves into the culture that is around us. That we don’t hide and dare someone to find us, but we go out into the world, and we change it.
I want you to be an immigrant with good news to tell because John 3:16 really is good news. It's the news the world needs to here. I don't know if you want to call it a motto, but I would almost like to have one that says, "The church has left the building." We have quit just being a group who comes into a room, but one who lives out, one who brings our truth and the gospel to our workplace, family gatherings, vacation spots, and school classrooms.
We've gone into our community not to do church, but to be Christ, not to alienate ourselves, but to assimilate ourselves into the culture, not to build barriers but to build bridges for people, not to enjoy the service, but to engage the culture that is around us. Not to just occupy a seat, but to offer yourself to those who around you, not to please men, but to persuade men, not to retreat back inside these doors, but to rescue the perishing, to rescue the dying, to reach out to a lost and dying world. That's loving people like Jesus does. I think that's John 3:16 lived out.
Look with me through the last few verses. John 3:19 says, "And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Now I want to just stop right there. I want to bring us back to the context because Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. What time of day is it? When did Nicodemus come to Jesus? He came to Jesus at night.
Jesus is out there in darkness. You know they don't have street lights. They don't have a lot of lights glowing from the windows. People tend to go to bed at sunset. So there may be a fire, but it's dark. It is in that darkness this man comes to Jesus.
I want you to see this now. When Jesus is saying what He's saying, He's not just pulling a metaphor out of the air. He's very contextually relevant to what's going on. Now Nicodemus you've come to Me, and you've come to Me in the darkness. Now here's something you can do. You can turn right around, and you can walk back out into that darkness. But you've come to the light. Now are you going to come into the light all the way or are you going to go back out in the darkness?
Listen to it again. "And this is the condemnation [Nicodemus], that light is come into the world [that's Jesus], and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." Now you're a Pharisee. You're part of the pharisaical group, a member of the Sanhedrin. Yet, I'm telling you you're living in darkness. I'm telling you that you prefer the darkness. You know what Nicodemus didn't prefer the darkness because he's an evil man. He preferred it because he is a man period.
You prefer the darkness. And you prefer the darkness. And I prefer the darkness. Why? Because the light exposes the evil of our activities. In the natural, we don't want anything to do with church. That's why your friends at first notice…don't want to come to church with you, don’t want to talk about God with you, don't want to believe anything about the Bible that you would bring up to them because we all prefer darkness. We all prefer things in our skin. We like the way we view things.
Here comes Nicodemus in the metaphorical sense of being in the darkness of his life. In John 3:20, Jesus goes on to say, "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed." You ought to come to me, Nicodemus, but it's going to cost you. Maybe we've forgotten that. That's where we have shallow confessions. That's why we get a lot of people wet and not a lot of people saved. That's why a lot of people come back onto the church service, and they have the same temper. They have the same anger. They have the same jealousy. The same possessiveness they always had because we forget to tell them it's going to cost you something.
Listen Nicodemus, you're practicing evil. You're going to hate the light. You don't want to come to the light because you don't want what it’s going to do. It's going to expose you. It's going to show who you really are.
In John 3:21, "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." Oh, but Nicodemus if you'll take one more step. Nicodemus if you'll look on that serpent on the pole. If you'll quit thinking you can legislate away the serpent. If you'll quit thinking you can just isolate yourself away from all the serpents of the Gentiles, all the serpents of the Samaritans, and all the serpents of all the other religions but yours.
If you would realize you are snake bit already, and you're dying, and it's just your own darkness that doesn't let you see the snake bite, but if you'll come into the light, if you'll trust Me, your deeds will be exposed. They're going to be exposed in truth.
Listen, they have been done in God. "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." No longer the works that religion gave him to do, no longer the works that the world gave him to do, but it becomes clearly evident that you're doing the works of God.
Transcribed by Digital Sermon Transcription