The Evening Services
Tim Temple

Introduction

Turn in your Bibles to John, chapter 3. Subconsciously, we probably feel that we know all there is to know about this chapter, for it is one of the most well known chapters in the Bible. It may be that you won't hear anything that you haven't heard before, but God can use this in our lives even if it is a matter of review for most, if not all, of us.

As I mentioned in our last lesson, I believe that the chapter division should be after verse 22 of chapter 2. Chapter 3 should begin with verse 23, so we will begin our reading with chapter 2, verse 23:

John 2

23Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did.
24But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men,
25And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man.

As chapter 2 concludes, it tells about these people who were following Jesus primarily for what He was doing. Because of the miracles that He had performed, they were fascinated with Him. It was a problem that Jesus had all through His ministry, and I reverently say that, in a sense, it is a problem that God still has today. There are people who follow the Lord simply for what they can get out of it.

Jesus did not commit Himself to those people in that chapter. This doesn't mean that they were not saved nor that they never could be saved. In this part of the Gospel that deals with the life of Christ, it is hard to know at what point people trust Him as their Savior. There is very little indication with the people who are mentioned, and it is not specified exactly when and where they trusted Him. It was a growing kind of conviction for most of them, but today since we have the completed canon of Scripture and we have these things in written form, it is much easier to pin down the time and place when people come to know the Lord.

Let me remind you that God's attitude toward people who are in it for what they can get out of it is that He does not commit Himself to them, according to verse 24. That means that God knows the heart. A person might talk a good game, and a person may be involved in religious—even Christian—activities, but the Lord knows why we are involved.

Our aim as believers should always be to put Jesus Christ first and to seek to know Him, not for what we can get out of it, not for what He will continue to do for us, although He does so graciously do things for us, but simply so we can take advantage of the opportunities to know personally the God of the universe and be a part of His family and to enjoy Him for what He is, not just for what He does. Jesus didn't commit Himself to these people in terms of teaching and discipling them because He knew they were only interested in the surface thrill of what He was doing.

Those verses really serve as an introduction to the man upon whom chapter 3 focuses for most of the chapter. In contrast to those people who are just in it for the thrill of it, John, chapter 3, tells of Nicodemus. The contrast is evident in the original language because the word but appears as the first word of verse 1. We don't have it that way in our English text. It just begins, “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus…” In the Greek it says, “But there was a man of the Pharisees…” Since there were no chapter divisions when the New Testament was written, the reader would see this contrast better, because the text, immediately after telling about these people who were just interested in what Jesus was doing and the thrill of watching Him do miracles, went on to tell about Nicodemus by contrast.

While some of the people were only following Jesus for what they could get out of it, Nicodemus seemed to be in a different catagory. At this point he was not a believer, but we believe that he became a believer at some point later on. His belief is not recorded here in chapter 3 or anywhere else, but we know that later on he stood up for Jesus in a meeting of the Sanhedrin. Even though he wasn't a believer—at this time he was a member of a group that was very critical of Jesus—he had honest questions concerning the Lord Jesus Christ to which he needed solid answers.

Introduction of Nicodemus

In contrast to those who had a lack of commitment, in chapter 3, verses 1-21, we see this one who was looking for commitment. He wanted to look into commitment to Jesus Christ. First, we see the introduction of Nicodemus in verses 1-2. Look at the title John gives this visitor in verse 1:

John 3

1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

He was a man of the Pharisees and a ruler of the Jews. The Pharisees were a very conservative sect of the Jews. The Pharisees had come into existence between the Old and the New Testaments. This is another of the things that we need to think carefully about because so often we hear about the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and we do not really stop to think about who they were or where they came from. Both of those groups were kind of combination political-spiritual groups. Interestingly enough, the Pharisees were supremely conservative; the Sadducees were extremely liberal.

We hear about the Sadducees and the Pharisees all of the time, and we do not give that much thought because we hear of them together so much, but it truly would have been an amazing thing to somebody who lived in that day to read about the Pharisees and the Sadducees working together on anything. This would be like right-wing Christians and some moderate left-wing group working together. This would be like the most liberal Democrat that you know and the most conservative Republican you know working together on something.

The reason for this is that Satan had both sides united in opposition to the truth, and I am afraid that may be the case many times even today. We need to learn from that and be careful that we don't get too dependent on any one political or any kind of human action group as the solution to our problems because, as in so many things, the truth is often right in the middle. I don't mean by that that the Scripture is middle-of-the-road politically; I mean that if we depend on human interest groups, we are very likely to miss what the truth is.

Here in verse 3, we are talking about the Pharisees. They were an extremely conservative group who had started during the 400 years between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Those years are referred to as the silent years , because during that time there was no voice from God. There was no prophet on the scene. There was none of the things that had been going on in the Old Testament. There was none of the apostolic work that was going on in the New Testament. It was just a silent time as far as communication from God was concerned.

During those years, Israel was caught up in the nationalism of the Greeks and the Romans, and so the Pharisees formed with the hope of bringing Israel back to the Old Testament—not necessarily bringing Israel back to God. They were a religious group, but they were a political group also. They were very much like the Islamic groups we have seen in recent years in Iran. The Pharisees wanted to have a government that was run entirely on the Bible.

On one hand, that was a good thing, because that is what God had intended for Israel in the first place. But these men were more interested in the government aspect than they were in the godly aspect of it. They wanted to have a government that was ruled strictly according to the Bible. They attempted to call people back to the Mosaic law, but in the process of doing that, they got all bound up in the traditions that grew up around them in the 300 years or so before Jesus came.

They were trying to call people back to the Old Testament, but they got caught up in the traditions that had developed in their group over the years, so that by the time Jesus came on the scene, they had about 300 years of their way of doing things, and Jesus just flew right in the face of that with His teaching of the truth. It was a very powerful group and a very dogmatic group. It was out of that group that Nicodemus came to the Lord Jesus. He was also a ruler of the Jews. That probably meant that he was a member of the Sanhedrin.

We have talked about the Sanhedrin before. You will remember that it was the ruling body of the Jewish nation. It was a group of seventy men who shared ruling with the High Priest. There were Jews who were members of that ruling body of the Sanhedrin from different sociological groups within Israel at that time. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, so very probably he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which would have made him a very powerful man. Of course, the Romans had the ultimate say in Israel, but they had left the Sanhedrin in power as they did with most of the nations they conquered.

Being a member of the Pharisees and being a member of the Sanhedrin, you would think that Nicodemus would be thoroughly familiar with both the secular and religious aspects of the Old Testmant law, but we will see that he was missing a whole lot of that.

Nicodemus Came to Jesus At Night

The time of the visit is significant. Notice in verse 2:

John 3

2The same came to Jesus by night…

This was important enough for John to include this for a specification. Nicodemus is to be commended because he was not like so many others of the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin. He didn't rely on hearsay for his information of the Lord Jesus. He heard about Jesus and he personally checked him out. He went directly to the source. Notice that he did come at night. He probably did this because he was afraid of what his fellow Pharisees might think. He was smart enough and wise enough to come to Jesus, but he wasn't bold enough to come to Him out in public where He could be seen.

At the same time, it should be remembered that in the Middle East, during Jesus' day, a lot of socializing was done at night because they had no air conditioning. The climate in Israel is much like West Texas in the summer, so many times they would come and sit outside on the flat roofs of the houses and visit. It might not have been any more than that, but the fact that John specifies that he came at night, I think, is significant. He was a wise man, but not necessarily a bold man at this point.

The Theme of Nicodemus' Visit

The theme of his visit is in verse 2:

John 3

2The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

On the surface this would seem to be just a complimentary conversation starter, just something to get the conversation going. Jesus' reply is going to show that what he really had in mind was the Kingdom of Heaven.

This greeting does show that Nicodemus held Christ in high regard. Notice he calls Him Rabbi . The term Rabbi was not a title really; it was just a term of respect. There were men who served as Rabbis, and that is still true today. They did have to have a certain level of knowledge before they could earn that term. It wasn't a Ph.D. or something like that. It was just a term that they used when they considered a man to be a great teacher. Here was this Pharisee who was at the highest level of Judaism, a member of the Sanhedrin, probably, and he addressed this carpenter from Nazareth as Rabbi . That is an amazing thing, particularly among professionals as Nicodemus would have been.

In verse 2, he goes on to admit that he realizes Jesus would not be able to do the things that He was doing without the power of God. Nicodemus was very impressed with Jesus even though Jesus was completely outside the scope of what you would think Nicodemus would be impressed with.

Incidentally, this also shows John's method of picking and choosing incidents in the ministry of Jesus. When we were previewing the book, we said that this one of the four Gospels can't be counted on particularly as a history book in terms of what happened next because John chose things from here and there in Jesus' life to prove the points that he is making about Who Jesus was. In verse 2, he says:

John 3

2…for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.

He talks about signs (plural). We have seen that John uses the word signs to describe the miracles that Jesus did because that is what they were. All of the miracles were signs or proofs of Who Jesus was. The only miracle that we have specific details about at this point is the changing the water into wine, but it is obvious that by the time Nicodemus comes to Him, he talks of plural signs or miracles. The same thing is true back in chapter 2, verse 23, where those people were following Him because of the signs that He did. Apparently this visit of Nicodemus came some time after the changing of the water into wine that we read about in the first part of chapter 2. He speaks in terms of a number of signs. This is the introduction of Nicodemus. He tells us who the man was, when he came, and the theme of his visit.

Jesus Instructs Nicodemus

In verses 3-21, we find the instruction to Nicodemus that Jesus gives. The first part of that instruction is about the entrance into Heaven, in verses 3-8. Even though Nicodemus made those polite remarks, Jesus knew what he really wanted to talk about, so Jesus plunges right into an announcement about the new birth. Here is another one of those places where the Bible teaches us just by illustration. I think an important thing to keep in mind about the way that Jesus handled Nicodemus is that it is always a good idea to go ahead and tell God what is on our minds and not to try to ease our way into it. Nicodemus was being very polite and saying these complimentary and probably sincere things, but Jesus knew what he really wanted, so He didn't waste any time.

When we come to the Lord and we have a particular thing in mind when we pray, we don't need to make ourselves look good in God's eyes. Sometimes I think we come to the Lord and we think that we are being selfish or we think that we are asking something that is too much bother for the Lord, so we build it up. We sort of work our way up to whatever we really want. You have to do that with humans, but you don't have to do that with God. Jesus cut right to the chase, and He says in verse 3:

John 3

3…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Jesus knew that that was what Nicodemus was really interested in. He was an Old Testament scholar. He had advanced enough in his commitment to Israel that he was a leader of the Jews, and he was really interested in this thing that the Old Testament talked about so much. He was interested in the kingdom of God. Jesus knew that, but he said something to Nicodemus that probably just blew Nicodemus' mind. He said: “Unless you are born again, you cannot see the kingdom of God.”

In other words, “Nicodemus, I know that you don't understand the kingdom of God, but let Me tell you something. You can't even see the kingdom of God, you can't even get the concept of the kingdom of God unless you are born again.”

In verse 4, Nicodemus said to Him:

John 3

4…How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?

Here is one of the major places in this chapter that we have to carefully divorce ourselves from the familiarity of the text. If we are not careful, we will miss a very important point here. Remember that Nicodemus had never heard this story in Sunday School before. He was the first person, as far as the Bible records, to ever hear this term born again . It was totally new terminology to him, so his reaction was a perfectly natural one: “What in the world do you mean, Jesus? You are talking in riddles. Being born again? How can you be born again? Can a man enter into his mother's womb when he is old?”

He was absolutely floored at what Jesus said. Now, think about this. If you had never heard the term born again , what would you think? “What do you mean? How can you do that? Birth is a one-time thing, isn't it?” Jesus begins to answer that very important question.

I trust that all of you know what it is to be born again, but I want you to think very carefully about this with me, because it is something that we need to be able to tell others about even if we understand it ourselves. This is the classic passage in the Word of God about what salvation is really all about. There are other passages that make it clear, but this is certainly one of the places that makes it crystal clear what salvation really is and is not. I want you to think carefully with me as we move along.

Jesus' Analysis of the New Birth

In answer to Nicodemus' question about the new birth, Jesus makes an analysis of the new birth. First, He announces it; then He analyzes it for Nicodemus and for us. In verse 5, He says that spiritual birth is similar to natural birth:

John 3

5…Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

What is Jesus saying here? Through the years Bible scholars have suggested several possibilities. There are those who say that this proves that you have to be baptized to be saved. They say, “See, even Jesus said that you have to be born of water and the spirit.”

Another theory about what He meant was that it takes the Word of God to be born again. Ephesians, chapter 5, verse 26, says that salvation is accomplished by the washing of water by the Word. So, a more widely accepted explanation of what Jesus meant is that salvation is accomplished by hearing what the Word of God has to say about salvation, believing it and being washed by the truth of the Word of God.

Even though it is true that it is the Word of God through which we get information about salvation and therefore there is that sense in which we are born again by means of the Word of God, that doesn't fit the primary meaning of what Jesus had in mind in this particular statement. Obviously, the Scripture tells us in many places that we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ plus nothing, including water baptism.

Those are the two major ideas. The one we just discount immediately is that it is not talking about water baptism. I believe that even though Jesus may have had the Word of God in mind as a part of the matrix of everything that He was talking about, the primary thing that He was talking about when He said that you have to be born of water and of the Spirit is natural human birth. Every person who is born into the world is born of water, and based on the context of Nicodemus' question, I think that Jesus is talking about the amniotic fluid that even today we refer to as the water . As a part of the birth process the water breaks, and the baby then is ready to be born. I believe that is the primary thing that Jesus had in mind when He said that you have to be born of water. In other words, you have to be born physically, but then He goes on to say, “You also have to be born of the Spirit.” He is saying that spiritual birth is similar to human birth and it is a definite once-and-for-all event which happens at a specific time and place.

Most human beings in our world today can tell you when and where they were born. There were much older generations than we who might not have been able to tell you exactly when they were born. People did not keep as careful track of their birthdays as they have since we started giving birthday parties and presents and all of that, but human birth is a specific thing. It happens at a particular time. It happens at a particular place and there is a record of that. Spiritual birth is similar to physical birth. It is not one of those things where we just go along and we know more and more about God and we feel better and better about Him, and finally we decide that we are a child of God.

There are Christians who cannot tell you exactly the day that they trusted Christ, or maybe they don't remember where, in the process of hearing the Gospel, they really finally put their faith and trust in Christ; but whether a person remembers exactly where it was, there is a time and place when a person puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. It may be so much a process of thinking it through and hearing about it and wrestling about it that they don't remember exactly where in that process they trusted Christ, but spiritual birth is as definite as physical birth. That is what Jesus is saying here. He is saying, “Nicodemus, you were born once physically, and you have to be born again spiritually.”

It is very important to make that distinction, because it is not as the liberals have the idea that you just move along and get closer and closer to God and eventually you can consider yourself a child of God. No, no. It is a definite time and place experience.

It is similar to physical birth in that it is this definite once-and-for-all event which happens at a specific time and place, but verses 6-7 go on to say that although it is similar to human birth, it is also separate from human birth. Notice:

John 3

6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

This doesn't have to be a hard concept. There are two kinds of birth and though they are similar, they are distinct from each other. He says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh.” When you are born the first time, you are born in a fleshly birth. That human birth process brings a human life, a life in the flesh. But, to be born spiritually is a life in the Spirit. Even though they are similar, they are different. We are not talking about reincarnation. We are not talking about a different level of human life. We are talking about a different life. It is similar to human life, but it is different from human life at the same time. Look again at verse 7, where He said:

John 3

7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

In other words, this is not something that we have to marvel at. It is not some mysterious mumbo-jumbo. It is a simple matter of the fact that it is like human birth, but it is not human birth. This is a birth in the Spirit.

In verse 8, He clarifies that, and we see that it is a Spirit directed birth. Notice:

John 3

8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

To help Nicodemus understand, Jesus gives this illustration from nature of the blowing of the wind. In our day and time with our radar and such, we have a better concept of where the wind is coming from and where it is going than they did in Jesus' day; but Jesus is saying, “You can feel the effects of the wind, but you can't really see the wind.” You can see the stuff that the wind might be carrying. In West Texas you can see it pretty well sometimes, but He means that you can't really see the wind itself. You can see the effects of it and you can feel the effects of it, but you don't really know where it started. It didn't start three blocks from here or three miles from here. You don't really know that.

He is saying that the same thing is true of spiritual birth. When a person receives Jesus Christ as Savior, other people can't really see any physical change. We don't take on a different kind of appearance. We don't get a halo over our heads, but people can see the effects of it in our lives. Even though God doesn't give us a new body, we can see the effects of what God does in the life of someone who has trusted Christ. Probably all of us know illustrations of people of whom that's true. Maybe even in our own lives we know it is true because of the change that was so apparent in our own hearts when we trusted Christ.

The Source of Eternal Principles

Even after Jesus' illustration, Nicodemus still didn't understand. In verse 9, he said:

John 3

9…How can these things be?

The ministry of Jesus is a great comfort to me, and it should be to pastors. Here He is, the Son of God Himself, giving an illustration that anyone ought to understand, and this guy says, “How can this be?” I am glad to see that even Jesus sometimes didn't get His point across. Because of that, Jesus begins to talk to him about these eternal principles. He talked about eternal life and now He is going to talk about eternal principles. The first thing that He talks about is the source of these principles. I Corinthians, chapter 2, verse 14, says, “The natural man [unsaved man] does not see the Spirit of God. They are foolishness to him, and neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned.” Now notice Jesus' answer, in verse 10:

John 3

10…Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

Nicodemus didn't understand this spiritual concept because he was not a spiritual man. He had not trusted Christ. He did not have the insight of the Holy Spirit. He should have been expected to know these things because he was a member of the Sanhedrin; he was a Pharisee. We could have expected that Nicodemus would have understood these things, but he didn't. He said, “How can these things be?”

In fact, if he was as familiar with the Old Testament as he should have been, he would have known that God had promised that someday He would write His laws in the hearts of men. In Jeremiah, chapter 31, He talks about a heart relationship with God that He was someday going to be giving to people. The Pharisees were supposed to be experts in the Old Testament, so Nicodemus should have had some concept of what this meant. It should have rung some bells with Nicodemus, but apparently it didn't. He seemed to only understand physical birth. He couldn't understand spiritual birth.

In verses 11-13, Jesus takes him a step further. He says:

John 3

11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness.

Let's think about this for just a minute. Jesus said, “What I am telling you about is what I know about and what I have seen. I am giving you an eyewitness account of the truth, but you are not willing to receive what I am saying.”

You know, this is really true of each of us in one way or another. Each of us has our own area of expertise. There are many things that all of us have to speak about theoretically, but with all of us there is at least one thing that we can speak about authoritatively because that is what we have seen. That is what we work with. We have been there. Every human being has some area—maybe several areas—that they really know what they are talking about. Jesus said, “Listen to Me, Nicodemus. I know what I am talking about. I am telling you what I have seen, and I am telling you what I can testify about.” Then He goes on in verse 12:

John 3

12If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

He says, “Nicodemus, you came here wanting to know about the kingdom of Heaven, and I have tried to explain it to you in human terms, and if you cannot even understand about human birth and about the wind blowing and apply that spiritual truth, then how do you think you are going to understand if I get into the spiritual aspect of it?”

There is an application of this which is if we are not willing to accept what the Word of God tells us by faith, whether we can understand it or not, or if we are not willing to be obedient to what the Scripture points out to us, then how can we expect God to reveal more to us? If we don't do the things that He tells us to do, how can we expect Him to show us things that He hasn't taken the trouble to write down? That is the kind of thing that Jesus is telling Nicodemus. Notice verse 13:

John 3

13And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

“Son of man.” Here Jesus uses that term that He has applied to Himself all through the Gospel of John. John uses that term to describe Jesus and quotes Jesus when He used that term. Among other things, what Jesus is saying is that He is God and that He came down from Heaven. The liberals try to tell us that Jesus didn't really ever claim to be God. They say that it was just something His disciples added to Him after He was gone.

That is a ridiculous assertion to make, because in many places He demonstrated that He believed He was God, and He made that statement in many ways. Here is one of those places. He says:

John 3

13And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

He has referred to Himself publicly as the Son of Man . He is saying, “I am telling you these heavenly principles. I am telling you about the kingdom of Heaven. That is what you are interested in, and I am telling it to you from My own experience.” Jesus was, by His very nature, God.

Jesus Discusses the Aspect of Sacrifice

In verses 14-16, Jesus moves another step further, and He talks about something else that Nicodemus seems to have never understood and that is this aspect of sacrifice. He says in verse 14:

John 3

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

Jesus is using an Old Testament passage to illustrate something that you would think Nicodemus already understood. He would have remembered this passage, I am sure. Verse 14 is a summary of the story in Numbers, chapter 21, of the time when the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings were being bitten by poisonous snakes. God told Moses to make a brass serpent and put it up on a pole. Anyone who was willing to look at that snake would be healed. All they had to do was look at the snake. They didn't have to say anything; they didn't have to go touch the pole; they didn't have to do anything except look at the snake.

That was done, among other reasons, so Jesus could use that as an illustration when He came to Nicodemus. God does things many times that seem totally out of whack for us, because He plans to use it later on. Moses and the people involved in that incident may have gone to their graves wondering why in the world God did it that way. Why couldn't He have just given Moses some pills for them to take? Why did they have to do something so silly as to look at a snake? How ridiculous that seems to be. God was doing that so Jesus could reach Nicodemus more than a thousand years later. So, don't be too concerned about why God does things the way He is doing them in your life. He may have something in mind that He can use even after you are gone or much later in your life.

Of course, Jesus compares Himself to that brass snake in verse 14:

John 3

14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

He is saying that people have to look at Him by faith just as they looked at that snake by faith. It took faith to look at that snake. Can't you just imagine someone wreathing in agony of a snake bite and saying, “How ridiculous is that. Here I am dying of a snake bite and you tell me to look at that snake.” They might have looked at it just in derision, but unless they did look at it, they were going to die.

One Requirement for Salvation

It took faith to believe that something as simple as looking at a snake could save them, and there are still people like that today. They say, “Surely you can't tell me that just believing in Jesus Christ is all I need to be saved. Surely I have got to do something.” That is what Jesus was saying here. It does seem too simple. It is as simple as looking at that snake in the wilderness, but that is the method that God has chosen to save people. The one requirement for salvation is in verse 15:

John 3

15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

All you have to do is look by faith at the Lord Jesus Christ hanging on the Cross. Whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. Just like the Old Testament Israelites, all a person has to do today is to look with the eye of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ lifted up on the Cross. The person who is willing to do that has already realized that he is a sinner and can't help himself. He has no reason to look with the eye of faith if he hasn't come to that place already.

Salvation is Due to God's Love

That brings us to verse 16, which is probably the best known verse in the entire Bible. Really though, it is an explanation of what Jesus said in verse 15. Notice it begins with the word for , which ties it in immediately with the verse before:

John 3

16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

The word for at the beginning of the verse has the sense of because . Try to think of this as if you had never heard it before. Having read that whoever believes in Christ will not perish but have everlasting life, a person would wonder why God would do that. Why would God save a sinner and make it as simple as just believing in Him? Why would God do that? Well, verse 16 answers that question: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” The answer to our salvation is because He loved us. That is all there is to it. It is not because we deserved it; it is not because we came to a place where we finally understood His concepts, so He awarded us with salvation; it is not any of those things. Salvation is all of God. Why are we saved? Because God loved us. The most famous verse in the Bible tells us that. That is the only reason He saved us. He loved us and gave His only begotten Son.

The words only begotten Son do not mean that Christ was actually born to God the Father. This is what the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses and other cults use to say that Jesus was just a son of God. “He was the only begotten Son of God.” The words that are translated only begotten are words that mean “one of a kind” or “unique.”

Scripture tells us that God is bringing many sons into glory. You and I are sons of God, and there are several places in the Scripture that tell us that, but Jesus Christ was the Son of God in a unique sense—His position in the Trinity. It is not that He was born into the Godhead. He always was God; His position was the Son of God; but He was a unique Son of God, not in the sense that we are sons of God. That unique Son of God Who was God Himself was willing to die to pay for our sins. Why did He do that? Because He loved us. It comes back to that.

The Order of Condemnation

In verses 17-21, Jesus takes Nicodemus a step further and He tells him something that I think is widely misunderstood today, even by some Christians, and that is this concept of condemnation. In verses 17-18, He talks about something that I am going to call the order of condemnation . Look at verse 17:

John 3

17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Many people have the idea, whether they would say it this way or not, that God sends people to Hell because He gets mad at them because they wouldn't trust Christ. That is not at all the picture of the Word of God, and here is the place, in my opinion, that says it the most clearly. God does not send people to Hell because He is upset with them because they didn't go to church or they didn't believe in Jesus. Just the opposite is true. It says, in verse 17, that God sent his Son into the world to save the world. He didn't send Jesus into the world to condemn people. He sent Jesus into the world to save people.

It is true in verse 18 that he who believes in Him is not condemned. God removes the condemnation from us when we believe in Jesus Christ, but the reason that He does that is that everybody in the world was already condemned before Jesus came. You see, God does not condemn people when they refuse to accept Christ. People are already condemned. Christ came into that world of condemned people and offered Himself as a sacrifice and those people who believe Him then become not condemned.

That may seem like a technicality, but it is an extremely important thing to keep in mind. Everybody is condemned already. The whole world is condemned before God. Christ didn't come to condemn people. They were already condemned. Christ came to take people out of that mass of condemned people, and so he who believes in Him is now not condemned. He who believes in Him is no longer condemned.

That is where we get our terminology of salvation. If we were not condemned, there would be no need for salvation. Many people get the cart before the horse and say, “Because people wouldn't believe in Christ, God condemned them to Hell.” Oh, no. We were already on our way to Hell before Jesus ever came. Christ came to take us out of that condition of being on our way to Hell.

The Operation of Condemnation

In verses 19-21, He talks about the operation of that condemnation. He talks about the way it works. Notice verse 19:

John 3

19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

These verses seem rather confusing at first. How can the coming of light into the world be considered a condemnation? It says in verse 19, “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world…” We might think surely that would not be a condemnation, but here is the sense in which it means this: Before there was light, people couldn't see what they were doing wrong, because everyone was doing the same things. When Christ came, He brought the light of truth into the world. The Ten Commandments had done the same thing, but we are talking about Jesus' coming here. Christ brought light into the world; He brought truth into the world. Before that time, people couldn't see that what they were doing was wrong because everyone was doing the same thing. They were all in the darkness together.

I've heard people say that during the Depression, they didn't realize they were poor because everybody was poor. They look back now and see that they were poor. You get up at night and stumble over a piece of furniture and you don't know if it's the footstool or the chair. Everything looks the same in the dark. You can't really see what's what. That is the idea here. But when the light came in the Person of Jesus Christ, evil could be seen for what it was. That was a condemnation of evil. Then people could see what their sin really was.

In a situation like that, he says, “Men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.” Well, who would come to the light, then? Verse 21 answers, “He who does the truth.” In other words, out of that darkness anyone who does come to the light of Jesus Christ is doing the truth, to use John's terminology, and is saved out of that darkness.

Of course, we know there were many people who refused to come out of that darkness. They refused to admit that what they were doing was wrong. The Pharisees criticized Jesus for hobnobbing with sinners and eating with sinners and keeping company with sinners. Jesus said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Those people knew they were sinners; they were willing to recognize they were sinners. Nicodemus and his cronies were not willing to admit they were sinners. They were doing deeds of darkness, and they would not come to the light. I believe that later Nicodemus did, but at that point, he was still finding out the truth about Him.

Conclusion

It is possible to be saved out of the darkness, and God sent the light into the world to expose sin for what it is and to show us how to come to the truth and where the truth is.

The truth of salvation is one of the simplest, clearest truths in all of creation. Because of Satan's opposition, it has become muddled to an extent almost like no other doctrine. The only other doctrines that I can think of which are more misunderstood than the doctrine of salvation are the doctrine of inspiration of Scripture and the doctrine of creation. I think Satan attacks those doctrines even more carefully than he does the doctrine of salvation, because he knows that if we can get mixed up about creation, if we can think that we just somehow evolved into being where we are, we don't need a Savior; we don't need God. So Satan puts heavy emphasis on the doctrine of creation. He also puts heavy emphasis on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, because he knows that if we discount the Bible, we're not going to pay attention to what the Bible says about salvation or anything else.

As Jesus told Nicodemus, “This is not something that we need to marvel at.” It is a very simple doctrine and as easy to accept by faith as lifting our eyes to a brass snake on a pole, lifting our eyes by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is the truth that Jesus gave to Nicodemus, a man who should have known these things, but who had the good sense to come to Jesus and get it straightened out.


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