1. The Way to a New Birth John 3:16
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
We know this verse well, but can you remember the day you first took in its significance? How did you feel when you realised it was written for you? Imagine someone reading these words for the first time.
What does it tell us about God's love? A great deal. At least five things.
1. The Height of this love "For God so loved" It is unlimited.
2. The Breadth of this love "so loved the world" It is universal.
3. The Depth of this love "that he gave his only son" It is unbelievable.
4. The Length of this love "that whoever believes" It is unconditional.
5. The Duration of this love "but have everlasting life" It is unending.
An unending present possession. Jesus did not say "hope to have everlasting life" but "has eternal life." What does this mean? You cannot be too sinful, too far gone in life, too far away from God for his love not to reach you. The height, the breadth, the depth, the length and the duration of God's love. It is unlimited, universal, unbelievable, unconditional, unending to those who will believe. The way to new life.
The Joy of New Birth 3:17
John 3:17 "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."
To reinforce his point Jesus restates verse 16 from the opposite perspective. Can you remember as a child in your class at school the feeling of panic as you heard the warning, "teacher is coming". You knew what that meant as the paper aeroplane you had just thrown was in full flight and was never going to land in time before she turned the corner. Condemnation. That's what the ancients thought must be the reason for God to have to come to earth. To punish his unruly children. But Jesus says, "God did not send his son to condemn the world." Just the reverse.
John Calvin put it this way, "The Son of God became the Son of man that the sinful sons of men might be made the sons of God." Have you ever wondered why we sing so much in Church? Because at the heart of the Gospel message there is joy. Praise either flows from joy in our hearts, or exposes its absence.
I took a wedding recently. We sung "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me..." and "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder..." Out of the congregation of may be 150 people I might not have been able to say which were Christians, but I could certainly tell you who were not. How? They had their mouths shut when we sung, "And when I think that God his son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, that on the cross my burden gladly bearing he bled and died to take away my sin...then sings my soul, my saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art..." That is when you can tell the difference. If its true for you how can you not feel like singing. There is deep seated eternal joy in our hearts once we come to realize that Jesus came to die in our place, to give us a new life, forgiveness for the past, certainty about the future. Jesus said once "there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 who don't think they need to."
When I hear people moan in church they remind me of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son - we don't want to join the party celebrating the joy of their brother's return to the. They have forgotten what church is for. That's why we have balloons in church today. We are having a party. A party in anticipation of those who will come back to God through the Alpha Course which starts on Wednesday. Why wait? Our praise is but an echo of that deafening heavenly choir.
Jesus says "there is no condemnation for those who
believe." There can be no greater treasure, no greater reason for praise
than knowing that the Father loves us and accepts us. The Way to New Birth and
the Joy of New Birth.
3. The Necessity of New Birth 3:18
John 3:18 "Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."
Let me ask you, "Have you been born again?" Do you know for sure that you are forgiven because Jesus died for you? Do you know you have eternal life because Jesus rose again for you? If you are not sure, make sure today because there may not be another.
The curator of a certain famous art gallery not a million miles from the Tate was immensely proud of his collection of fine paintings, but he was rather intolerant of the cultural philistines who sometimes came to view them. One day he was walking through the gallery and overheard a tourist comment "what a dreadful picture. I can't understand why they should hang such a monstrosity in public." Incensed, the curator stepped forward, barely restraining his anger, and said to the visitor, "Sir, the merit of these paintings is not in question. It is those who view them that are on trial."
Its a good point. Sometimes our verdicts judge us more than they judge others. And that, according to Jesus, is certainly true of our verdict upon him. "Human destiny", he says, "is ultimately sealed by how people respond to me." With a single exception, God will forgive a person absolutely everything. What ever is on your conscience today, God will forgive it.
You may have a harder time believing you're forgiven but that's another issue. The bottom line is this. God loves the world and does not wish to see a single individual perish. The gospel is as unlimited and as personal as that. But there is one thing he cannot forgive. And that is the arrogance, the ingratitude that refuses to receive this gift. John 3:19-21.
"This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
You may not yet be a Christian. You will certainly have non-Christians in your family or circle of friends. Have you ever been asked why? Have you ever asked them why they are not a Christian? Have they intellectual questions unanswered? Are they waiting for a spiritual experience that will zap them? Just too busy or can't see the relevance? I would not wish to question the sincerity of anyone's reasons for remaining an unbeliever. I would not be so rude. But Jesus would. He is rude enough to question our excuses, sift out motives. And he does so right here. In these closing sentences of this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, just as the credits are about to roll and the studio lights to fade, Jesus says that all such popular excuses for avoiding Him are really just a smoke screen, a tissue of self deception.
Jesus insists that the real reason people do not believe in him is not intellectual problems, not lack of religious experience, not busyness, not indifference. The real reason is sin. People do not want to become Christians for one reason, and one reason only. That is because they know it will mean moral change. And they do not want to change.
Deep down at the deepest level of our personal honesty we know who he is and we know Jesus is telling the truth. Our problem is that so often we are not willing to live by the truth. We would rather sacrifice our integrity than lose our pride. We would rather stay in the dark, says Jesus, than move into the light and admit what we are really like. Jesus insists gently but firmly that our excuses will not hold water. Spiritual blindness is culpable. It is not that we cannot see the light. It is that we will not see it.
This is the verdict on our world today. The light has come into the world but people love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil. We don't know how long Nicodemus stayed to chat with Jesus after John put away his tape recorder. I expect it went on much longer. Could it be that they talked all night? It would not surprise me if they did. Nicodemus arrived in the dark in more ways than one. Could it be that as they parted the first glimmerings of dawn were hovering over the eastern horizon? And did he smile, I wonder, at the rising sun - as the light dawned on him. Or did he turn his back on it, gluing his eyes to his own shadow? The shining of the sun inevitably casts shadows. To turn our backs on the son is to deepen the shadows.
To refuse life is to chose death. To reject salvation is to invite condemnation. The issue is really quite black and white. The believer is not condemned, the unbeliever is. What people think of Christ divides the world in two. There is no middle way. There can be no compromise. Such a choice confronts us all. We have listened in on this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, between the teacher of Israel and the Teacher. We have heard the evidence for this vital experience, being born again. We have heard the claims for Jesus own uniqueness. The son of God sent into the world to save it from destruction. Now he insists a verdict will be given.
His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.
The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved. "I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life." "No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel. "Is that your son?" the nobleman asked. "Yes," the farmer replied proudly. I'll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll grow to a man you can be proud of." And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming's son graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.
Years afterward, the nobleman's son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Alexander's Penicillin. The nobleman's name? Randolph Churchill. His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill. Winston Churchill was saved twice, by a father as a child and by his son as a man. And do must we.
Jesus is not asking us to understand everything he has said in this conversation. Nobody can do that. All Jesus is asking is that we believe in him. Jesus is commanding us to put our trust in him. That is the only way of escape from a world doomed to hell. That is the only way out from under the judgement of God.
This is the only way we can begin to be part of the solution for our world and not the problem. The only way we can become contagious for good. Because that is the only way we can be separated from our sin. That is the way, the only way to be born all over again.