August 3, 2008
We’re finally at John 3:16 in our ongoing study of the book of John. This one verse contains the essence of the whole gospel. This precious and well-known verse speaks of the divine love which moved God to provide salvation for the world through His Son. Whole books have been written on this one verse. Max Lucados’ book, “3:16”, is published as a 26 word parade of hope, beginning with God, ending with life. If you know nothing of the Bible start here. If you know everything in the Bible, return here. John 3:16 is an essential part of Jesus night-time conversation with Nicodemus, the Judean Torah scholar who has credentials – a dedicated religious leader. He has clout – he occupies one of the 71 supreme court seats of the auspicious Sanhedrin. But even he has questions. So, as Max Lucado says in his book, “he comes at night so his colleagues won’t know. They wouldn’t understand. But Nicodemus can’t wait until they do. So he knocks and the noisy room of wharf workers and tax collectors, unaccustomed to the highbrow world of a school, becomes silent… Jesus motions for this guest to sit … He makes no mention of Nicodemus’ VIP status, good intentions, or academic credentials….. because they don’t matter. Nicodemus begins with what he knows, “Rabbi, we know You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs you do unless God is with him. (Jn 3:2). We listen for a kindred salutation from Jesus. We expect what Nicodemus expected, some hospitable chitchat. None comes. Jesus response? Your best won’t do! Your works don’t work! Your finest efforts don’t mean squat. For, unless you are born again, you can’t see what God is up to. Newborn hearts are born of heaven. You can’t wish, earn, or create one. Nicodemus is into self-fix (and aren’t we all?) Jesus, on the other hand, introduces God-fix: not works of man, but a work born of God. A work of divine love.” I’ve prepared four messages on John 3:16, so I feel like I’ve fallen short. But before we get into John 3:16, I want to begin with the April 22nd reading from Henry Blackaby’s “Experiencing God Day-by-Day”.
Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.”—1 Kings 18:41
Success can distract you as you seek to follow God's will. Elijah's primary assignment was to announce when a drought would begin and end (1 Kings 17:1). God had told him to proclaim to king Ahab that the drought was an act of judgment upon a people who worshiped idols rather than God. In the middle of Elijah's assignment, a spectacular thing happened. Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and called fire down from heaven, putting hundreds of priests of Baal to death. This was one of the most awesome displays of God's power recorded in Scripture. Elijah could easily have focused strictly on that event. Fire falling from heaven is much more spectacular than a rainstorm!
When something spectacular happens, we can easily be sidetracked. If Elijah lived today, he might have begun a “Calling Down Fire from Heaven” ministry! The dramatic is far more appealing to us than obedience to the mundane. Let me repeat that because it says a lot about the human condition, The dramatic is far more appealing to us than obedience to the mundane. Destroying hundreds of Baal's prophets would appear to be a climactic victory for any prophet of God. Yet Elijah persisted in his assignment. He announced the coming rain. This had been his primary message, and he delivered it.
If you aren't careful, you may become so distracted by the successes you experience that you never complete what God originally assigned you to do. Will your success today cause you to disobey tomorrow? Do you dwell on past miracles? God asks us to dwell on His Son, Jesus; the one we read about in John 3:16.
If you have your Bible with you, please turn to John 3:16 and we’ll read today’s key passage.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
I want us to focus on the words of Jesus in John 3:16. I invite you to turn there with me. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." How many of you, at one time or another, learned John 3:16 by heart? When our youngest daughter began AWANA at age 4, she had to memorize this Scripture, but said it a little differently: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only forgotten Son.” I imagine many of you have had similar experiences with your children. I challenge you to memorize John 3:16 in the next month. If you can only memorize one verse of Scripture, make it John 3:16. One of the reasons this verse is so widely memorized and so deeply loved is that it is such a remarkably full summary of the gospel.
I am dividing it into four parts that make a natural presentation of the gospel. Four "D's."
- The first "D" is for DANGER. The verse talks about the danger that we are in without Christ—" . . . that we might not perish." All human beings are in danger of perishing, which is not merely dying, but is the opposite of eternal life. Eternal perishing.
- The second "D" talks about the design of God to rescue us from perishing, namely, the design of love. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." It's the love of God giving his Son in incarnation and death that rescues us from perishing. There is no other way to heaven. Acts 4:12 says, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
- The third "D", the duty that we must fulfill if we are going to be a part of the love of God in rescuing sinners from perishing. Our duty is to be faithful, trusting, or believing in the Son that God sent. " . . . that whoever believes on him might not perish."
- Finally, the fourth "D", the destiny of those who believe. Our destiny is eternal life with God. " . . . that whoever believes on him might not perish, but have eternal life."
Not everything important to our faith is mentioned in this verse (the glorifying of God; our election, our calling, our regeneration, our justification, our sanctification, the atoning death of Christ, etc.), but what is here, in John 3:16, is so basic and so precious and so powerful in its straightforwardness that not many verses are more important as summaries of the gospel.
- The danger: perishing.
- The design: love.
- The duty: faith.
- The destiny: eternal life.
We will spend a week with each one of these D’s, and we will barely scratch the surface. Each of these four D’s is inexhaustible in greatness and importance for your life. They are ten thousand thousand thousand times more important than the Roughriders beating the Bombers. And I plead with you to pray with me that God would awaken in all of us, and many who do not have eternal life—that He awaken us to the immensity and the glory and the importance and the seriousness and the fearful and wonderful supremacy of what is revealed in John 3:16. That it would be real to us—more real than what we see and hear and touch and taste.
All great men have had their favorite texts; but this has been called "Everybody's text." Herein for every simple heart is the very essence of the gospel.
This text tells us certain great things.
(i) It tells us that the initiative in all salvation lies with God. Sometimes Christianity is presented in such a way that it sounds as if God had to be pacified, as if he had to be persuaded to forgive. Sometimes men speak as if they would draw a picture of a stern, angry, unforgiving God and a gentle, loving, forgiving Jesus. Sometimes men present the Christian message in such a way that it sounds as if Jesus did something which changed the attitude of God to men from condemnation to forgiveness. But this text tells us that it was with God that it all started. It was God who sent his Son, and he sent him because he loved men. At the back of everything is the love of God.
(ii) It tells us that the mainspring of God's being is love. It is easy to think of God as looking at men in their heedlessness and their disobedience and their rebellion and saying: "I'll break them: I'll discipline them and punish them and scourge them until they come back." It is easy to think of God as seeking the allegiance of men in order to satisfy his own desire for power and for what we might call a completely subject universe. The tremendous thing about this text is that it shows us God acting not for his own sake, but for ours, not to satisfy his desire for power, not to bring a universe to heel, but to satisfy his love. God is not like an absolute monarch who treats each man as a subject to be reduced to abject obedience. God is the Father who cannot be happy until his wandering children have come home. God does not smash men into submission; he yearns over them and woos them into love.
(iii) It tells us of the width of the love of God. It was the world that God so loved. It was not a nation; it was not the good people; it was not only the people who loved him; it was the world. The unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely who have no one else to love them, the man who loves God and the man who never thinks of him, the man who rests in the love of God and the man who spurns it--all are included in this vast inclusive love of God. As Augustine had it: "God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love."
O that God would give us a spiritual taste for the things of John 3:16! They are like spiritual honey. How do you describe honey to someone who has no taste buds? How do you even describe taste? The way to be persuaded that the sweetness of honey is real is simply to taste and see. That is what we mean by spiritual awakening, or revival. When God moves in power by his Spirit to give spiritual taste buds to lots of people at the same time. That is what we call revival or renewal. It is a work of God. I can preach. You can tell the gospel, but only God can create spiritual taste buds, so that what we say is recognized as precious beyond all the joys of summer. Pray. O please, pray with me that these messages not be preached in vain. So, let’s get started on “D” #1
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish
The truth from this phrase “should not perish” for us today is simple; and is one of the most important thing anybody could tell you in all your life. Namely: you and I and everyone will perish if we don't trust Christ. We are all perishing—apart from Christ.
I have three questions:
- What is perishing?
- Why are we all perishing if we do not believe in Christ?
- Is it helpful to hear this threatening news?
What Is Perishing?
Of all the things that the Bible teaches about what happens when unbelievers die, let me mention four.
1. Perishing Means Being Under the Wrath of God
Verse 18, "He who believes in Him is not judged or condemned; he who does not believe has been judged or condemned already." The issue is not merely dying, but being judged by God. Verse 36 is the most sobering of all in this gospel: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
If we are rescued from perishing, it is because the love of God has rescued us from the wrath of God. To perish means that we remain under the wrath of God because we will not trust Christ. And that is a terrifying place to be.
2. Perishing Means Fiery Torment
In one of John's other books, the Revelation (14:10), he describes the one who is perishing like this:
He will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.
Perishing is not, as some say, going out of existence. It is staying in existence and suffering in the fiery torments of hell.
One celebrity joked that he did not want to go to heaven because he couldn't improve anything there. It's too perfect. He preferred hell because he could make a contribution. Let's pray that God wake him up before that kind of levity will become unredeemable hardness. It's hard to make improvements when you are in agony.
3. Perishing Means Separation from the Glory of God
Paul describes the perishing in 2 Thessalonians 1:9,
These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Here in this world God reveals himself in a thousand ways every day, if we would see. In hell the perishing will be cut off from all his work—except the work of wrath.
4. Perishing Is Everlasting and Irreversible
Here in John 3:16 it's the opposite of eternal life. Jesus calls it "eternal punishment" in Matthew 25:46 where He says "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
In Luke 16:26 he says there is a great chasm fixed between heaven and hell, so that no one goes from one to the other. Perishing is eternal and irreversible.
Perishing means wrath; it means fiery torment; it means separation from God; and it lasts forever. Now I tell you this plainly as a warning to flee from the wrath of God to the love of God through the door of Jesus Christ. This is an awesome moment for us in this service. Because what this moment means is that any of us who stands before the throne of judgment unbelieving will not be able to say to the Lord, "Nobody ever told me what was at stake." The Lord will say, "On August 3, 2008, at Good Shepherd Community Church in Cut Knife, I appointed you to be there and I appointed my servant Dave Holden to warn you. You were there and he did warn you."
Now is the acceptable time, today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). We just looked at what perishing means - Perishing means wrath; it means fiery torment; it means separation from God; and it lasts forever. Now, let’s look at the second question about the danger we’re in.
Why Are We All Perishing If We Don't Trust in Christ?
The simplest way to answer this is to quote the apostle Paul in Romans 3:23, We will all perish because "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And Romans 6:23, "The wages of sin is death," that is, perishing. We have all sinned. And sin deserves punishment and the punishment is perishing.
But there is a less simple, but utterly crucial and biblical way to go a step deeper. Why is sin so serious as to deserve perishing? The answer is that God is the most worthy person in the universe. His greatness and his value are infinite. All things are measured by him. He is the beginning and the ending of all things. Every person depends on him for everything. We owe him perfect trust and allegiance and love and worship and honor and respect and obedience, because he made us and owns us and sustains us.
Therefore rejecting him, and distrusting him, and disobeying him, and neglecting him, and enjoying other things more than him—all these are infinite insults because he is our infinite treasure. And an infinite insult—or a life of infinite insults—deserves infinite punishment.
The more you dwell on that the more precious John 3:16 becomes: God loved us enough to give his own Son to rescue us from this perishing.
Is It Helpful to Hear This Threatening News?
Many of us could testify of how the wrath of God drove us to the gospel where the love of God relieved our fear.
John Newton, who was born in 1725 and became a sea captain and slave trader and generally perverse rebel against God, was brought to faith in Christ through a series of fearful dangers that shocked him into spiritual seriousness, and made him take heaven and hell seriously. He almost shipwrecked. And while God was dealing with him after that, he was in Londonderry, Ireland, hunting: He said,
As I climbed up a steep bank, pulling my shotgun after me, in a perpendicular direction, it went off so near my face as to burn away the corner of my hat. (Out of the Depths: Autobiography, p. 70)
Newton came to see these experiences as God's way of getting his attention and teaching him to fear so that he would look for relief in the only place it can be found: Christ.
So he finally wrote the great hymn:
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
The Lord has promised good to me,
His Word my hope secures;
He will my Shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures.
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, Who called me here below,
Shall be forever mine.
When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we'd first begun
May God do that for you this morning.
So I answer our last question, yes, it is helpful to warn people about what is at stake. I pray that your experience may be the same as John Newton's. There is no reason to delay.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.
As I said at the beginning of my message – a 26 word parade of hope: beginning with God, ending with life, and urging us to do the same. As Max Lucado says, it is brief enough to write on a napkin or memorize in a moment, yet solid enough to weather two thousand years of storms and questions ….the heart of the human problem is the heart of the human. God’s treatment is prescribed in John 3:16. He loved. He gave. WE BELIEVE. WE LIVE.
God loved. God gave. WHY? So that “whoever believes in Him should not perish.” So, we do not perish.