The Gift

Posted: December 28, 2014 in John
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John 3:14-21, “The Gift”

So how was your Christmas?  For many children, the very first question they get asked on December 26th (and following) was “What did you get for Christmas this year?”  People are always interested to know what kinds of presents were unwrapped, and if there were any surprises.  We especially love the stories of the “perfect gift” – that one gift that had the very best reaction from the recipient because it was exactly what they wanted (even if they didn’t know it at the time).

Of course, the very best Christmas gift is the one we celebrate in Jesus Christ.  God sent His Son into the world through the miracle of the Incarnation, and Jesus gave His very life for us when He went to the cross.  God gave Himself – He gave His Son…there can be no better gift than that.

It’s the gift of Jesus that is the subject of our text.  Jesus has been talking with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus.  Nicodemus had come by night to speak with Jesus, after Jesus had thrown the money changers out of the Jerusalem temple & had continued to perform all kinds of signs and wonders during the feast of the Passover.  All of this had caught Nicodemus’ attention, and this religious leader easily saw the hand of God that was upon Jesus, so he had come to find out more.  Today, we might imagine Nicodemus sitting with Jesus at a local coffee shop to get to know Him better, and try to figure out what it was Jesus was teaching the people.

As it turned out, Jesus wasn’t just teaching the masses; He was teaching Nicodemus as well.  Jesus cut to the chase and immediately told Nicodemus that the only way anyone would ever see and enter the kingdom of God would be through a miracle of God.  A person would have to receive a new birth – a spiritual birth from the Holy Spirit of God Himself, or he/she would never see heaven.  Of course, Jesus was the perfect Person to teach such a thing because He Himself had come from heaven (thus He could testify of the things of heaven).

All of that begs the question: how does someone receive the new birth?  If it’s so important, then how can it be experienced?  In terms of Christmas presents, it’s one thing to have a gift under the tree with your name on it; it’s another thing to unwrap it and receive the gift for yourself.  One is available; the other is received.  God has made the gift of the new birth available – how do we receive it?  Through faith, which is exactly what Jesus will go on to teach.

John 3:14–21
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

  1. Why does Jesus mention Moses?  Because Jesus was speaking with “the” teacher of Israel (3:10).  Nicodemus should have expected Jesus’ teachings about the spiritual birth because it was foretold in the Scripture.  Likewise, there was something else that was foretold: salvation by faith, demonstrated in the event with Moses lifting up the bronze serpent.
  2. The context is found in Numbers 21:4-9.  The people were discouraged.  They had been wandering for years in the wilderness as a result of their refusal to enter the Promised Land (Num. 14).  They experienced setbacks & hardships, and even Moses had personally sinned against God by misrepresenting God to the people when he twice struck the rock after the people complained of thirst (Num. 20).  By this point, Aaron had died, and although the people had experienced some military victories, they were tired.  So they despised the gifts of God’s grace given to them in their daily manna (bread) and in God’s many miraculous provisions of water.  They claimed (yet again) that there was no water & that the only thing they had to eat was “worthless bread.”  In response to these hateful insults, God sent poisonous snakes among the Israelites & people started to drop dead.  The people then confessed their sin, Moses interceded for them in prayer, and God gave them a way to receive His grace.  Numbers 21:8–9, "(8) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (9) So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived." []  An image/sculpture of a snake was commanded to be made – not as an item of worship, but as a symbol of the judgment of God.  It was lifted high on a pole for all to see, and any who looked at the snake (presumably in faith) would live.  The people could not save themselves, so God gave them a way to be saved.  They had already condemned themselves to death, and God gave them a way to live.  All they needed to do was look.  They could choose not to look, thinking that God’s commands were ludicrous, or they could choose to believe the word of God, look to the uplifted serpent, and live.
    1. BTW – Why a snake?  Isn’t a snake a symbol of evil?  After all, Satan first appeared to mankind as a serpent, and the serpent was cursed.  Here, the snake was used by God as a judgment of their sin.  The snake was placed upon the pole because it was their sin being judged.  How does this all relate to Jesus?  When Jesus hung upon the cross, He was not sinful, but He became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), and our sin was indeed judged as Jesus hung there and died.
  3. Of course, this is all background which is seen in Jewish history and recorded in the OT history (the Torah).  Nicodemus would have been very familiar with it.  What he might not have understood was how it would all relate to the “Son of Man.” (3:15)  The Son of Man would take on the same role as the bronze serpent of Moses.  Just like the serpent, the Son of Man would also be lifted high for all men to behold.  And when people looked to the Son of Man in faith, they would find life.  Right here is the connection with the 1st part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.  Earlier, Jesus had spoken of the need to be born again / born from above in order for people to see the kingdom of God; now Jesus speaks about believing upon the uplifted Son of Man in order to live instead of perishing.  To die without entering the kingdom of God is to eternally perish.  To receive everlasting life is to be born again and enter the kingdom.  As has been often said: “Born once, die twice – born twice, die once.”  If we want to live, then we need a 2nd birth.
  4. Note that all of this centers on the “Son of Man,” which would have been huge in the eyes of Nicodemus.  The Son of Man was no ordinary human; the OT shows Him to be the Messiah, with all of the authority and glory of God (Dan 7:13-14).  He rules over an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom will never be destroyed.  How is it then, that this Son of Man could be lifted up in judgment, in a way similar to the bronze serpent?  That wouldn’t have made any sense to Nicodemus.  Surely Nicodemus was attempting to think through all kinds of scenarios trying to imagine what Jesus was talking about.  It may have been confusing to him at the time, but in hindsight, Jesus was making an obvious reference to the cross.  The bronze serpent was placed on a pole & lifted high for men to see.  Jesus was also placed on a piece of wood & lifted high when He was nailed to the cross.  He hung there, not merely as a symbol of God’s judgment, but actually bearing the judgment of God for us.
    1. This is the work of the Son of Man.  This is He who deserves all glory and honor in the universe.  Yet He humbled Himself to that point.  He debased Himself to the extent of bearing our awful punishment for us.  How far would you be willing to debase yourself for the people you love?  Jesus went farther than we can imagine.
  5. What Jesus has been describing is the basis for the cross, as seen in Jewish history.  And the bronze serpent isn’t the only example found in the OT.  The substitution of Jesus for mankind was seen in every sacrifice from the Garden of Eden forward.  It was especially seen when Abraham’s hand was stayed from slaying Isaac, and when the Passover lambs were killed prior to Hebrew exodus from Egyptian slavery.  Over & over again, even on a daily basis, the Hebrew people were reminded that the wages of sin are death, and that God alone is capable of paying the price for them.  Without the intervention of God, every one of them would “perish,” but God desired more for His people.  He wanted them to “have eternal life.”  This was pictured at one time by Moses and the serpent, but it would be fulfilled by the Son of Man/Son of God.  This is where one of the most famous verses in all of Scripture comes in…

16 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.

  1. There is a foundation/basis for the cross of Christ found in the OT, and it is seen in all of its fullness in Jesus.  But it all begs the question: WHY?  Even if God has a basis for doing this, why would He do it at all?  Why would He allow His beloved Son to be lifted up on the cross for the sake of sinful man?  We see the reason in the 1st few words: “For God so loved the world…”  Amazing!  God loved the world.  The perfect, almighty, righteous Creator God selflessly loved the world.  He has every reason and justification to hate the world, but He does not.  He loves us.  Think about that for a moment.  How many of your enemies do you truly love?  For all of the people who have hated you and actively worked against you to bring you harm, have you truly loved them in return?  It’s hard enough to restrain ourselves from taking revenge upon them, not to mention actively loving them and seeking their best.  Yet that is what God did for the world.  We were at enmity against God.  We had been rebellious traitors against the God who created us and gave us life.  We sought what was our will, rather than the will of the One we ought to have recognized as our King.  We deserve His hatred, but we received His love.  He loved us with a selfless, giving love.  He has loved us with an everlasting love (Jer 31:3).  He loves us with an αγαπη love.  The very love that we read about in 1 Corinthians 13 is the love that Almighty God has for the world.  His love for us is patient & kind, not seeking His own, not rejoicing in iniquity, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things, enduring all things (and more!).  THAT is the love that God has for us in Christ Jesus!
  2. But how do we know if we are included in that love?  Perhaps God reserves that love for only a select few.  No doubt He has the right to do so, and it wouldn’t even be all that unusual.  After all, we love some people more than others (family more than friends, friends more than strangers, etc.).  Why wouldn’t God do the same thing?  The only way we can know is from Scripture.  God has this same αγαπη enduring love for all people. “For God so loved the world”  The word here is κοσμος, and it means exactly what it implies in English: the world.  It refers to the whole of creation – every person everywhere in all of existence.  This is not a reference to only the elect within the Church. How can we know? (1) There are other words that could have been used, if that was what God intended to say in the Scripture. (2) No one is even part of the Church until the 2nd half of vs. 16, when they believe upon Jesus to receive life and be born again.  To say that “God so loved the Church that He gave His only Son that the Church may not perish” is to logically put the cart before the horse.  Someone has to be made part of the Church first, before anything can be done for them as being a part of the Church.  No – the Scripture is clear here that God loved the world, and gives them an opportunity to become a part of the Church through faith in Christ.
    1. There is good news here: anyone can be saved!  Are you a part of the world?  Then God loves you too, and sent Jesus for you.  No one is beyond the love of God – no one is beyond His ability or desire to save.  God would as much desire to save the worst of all sinners as He would the most self-righteous man of religion.  Why?  Because God loves them all, and they are all equally lost.
  3. So we know what God did: He “loved.”  We know who God loved: “the world.”  How did God express this all-encompassing love for the world?  “He gave His only begotten Son.”  The very Son of Man that would be lifted up in the manner as the bronze serpent is none other than the Son of God.  This is huge on a couple of levels:
    1. The Son of Man = The Son of God.  This is certainly taught in the OT, but it’s a bit more mysterious.  When God made His covenant with David, He explicitly told David that the eventual Messiah would be God’s own Son (2 Sam 7:14).  The psalms prophesied this as well: "I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You." (Ps 2:7)  So it was taught in the Scripture, but the Biblical scholars at the time understandably had trouble seeing how it would all work out.  Technically, any of the Davidic kings took on a bit of the messianic role, and could be seen as adopted “sons” of God, but none of them could truly be considered THE Son of God.  Besides, when the additional title of the Son of Man is considered, the Son of Man took on far more divine qualities (as seen in Daniel), and surely none of the sons of David matched up to that.  But what Jesus says here (or what the apostle John later writes, depending on your interpretation of the speaker past vs. 15) is that the Son of Man is directly the same person as the Son of God.  This is no longer some symbolic role or partial fulfillment; this is the very embodiment of God Himself.
    2. The Son of God is “only begotten,” or “uniquely begotten.”  There is none in all of humanity like the Son of God.  On one hand, any man or women could claim to be a child of God because we are all direct descendants of Adam & Eve.  Yet not even Adam was a son of God in the same what that Jesus is THE Son of God.  Again, on one hand, any born-again Christian could be considered a child of God, because we have been both born into the family of God via the Holy Spirit, and we have been adopted into the family of God (also via the Holy Spirit).  But even with that in mind, Jesus still stands apart.  No one has been begotten by God the Father in the same way as God the Son.  He is truly unique.  He does not need to be born of divinity, for He is divine in Himself.  He does not even need a moment in time in which to be begotten; He is eternally begotten of the Father.  The Son has never needed to come into existence, because He has always existed.
    3. No doubt this is difficult (if not impossible) to fully understand.  Human language falls woefully short in its ability to describe and define this.  The very word “son” implies a coming into existence through the work of a set of parents.  Yet “Son” describes the relationship between Jesus and the Father; not the chronology between them.  Somehow in some mysterious way, the Son is begotten of the Father, but not created by the Father.  The Son is eternally existent, and the only part of Him that had a beginning is His humanity (which we celebrate at Christmas).  Is it difficult to comprehend?  Yes.  But it is essential to affirm.  This is foundational doctrine to Christianity.  To affirm less is to take away from the Deity of Christ.  Without a Jesus that is fully God (in addition to being fully Man), we have no atoning sufficient sacrifice at the cross, no sufficient resurrection, and thus no salvation.  Of course we don’t need to be fully able to articulate this in order to affirm it.  We can affirm it by faith, and it is only by grace through faith that we are saved.
  4. So start to put this all together.  “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”  How incredibly valuable is this gift?  We think of the wonder it is that God would love us at all, but what about the love that God the Father has for His Son?  Surely the Father loves the Son more than we can possibly imagine.  It’s certainly not as if God loves mere humans more than His Son. (Heaven forbid!)  After all, the Father and Son shared eternity past together – they shared the fullness of glory – they have a perfect relationship, and so much more.  It’s not as if sinful human beings can offer God the Father anything that God the Son cannot offer on an infinitely better level.  And in addition, there are literally billions of humans, but there is only one Jesus.  He is the “only begotten.”  He is unique among every creature in the universe (human or angel), and He is not even a creature because He is the Creator.  There is none like Jesus – He is truly unique.  That makes His work and worth beyond estimation.  Jesus is the very definition of the word “priceless.”  And it is HE whom the Father gave for us.  1 Peter 1:18–19, "(18) knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, (19) but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot." []  Can there even be anything more precious than the blood of Jesus?  Surely not.  His worth is beyond measure.
  5. What was the reason that God gave the gift? “That whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  It is the exact same reason that God gave Moses the serpent: that men and women would not be destroyed, but live – and that this life would last forever (eon upon eon).  “Eternal” (3:15) & “everlasting” (3:16) are exactly the same word in Greek (αιώνιον) – there’s no reason for a different translation.  It’s the other contrast that is clear, and the choice should be easy: death or life – perishing or living.  Without the gift of the Son of God, all men will perish.  They will face an eternity in hell, experiencing a never-ending destruction.  But with the gift of God in Jesus, men and women will live!  We receive an everlasting abundant life.  We will be born-again through the power of the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit, and we will forever live with God in His kingdom.  The life that we are promised in Jesus is beyond amazing!
  6. There is but one condition: faith. “whoever believes…” We must believe in the Son of God.  When the Israelites were perishing in the wilderness, they had to look up at that bronze serpent, believing that God would save them through His grace.  It’s the same thing with Jesus.  We are perishing without Him, so we look to Him and His work upon the cross for us, and we put our trust in Him – believing that God will save us by His grace.  Jesus as God chose the bronze serpent to be the method by which He would save His people, so has He chosen the crucified and resurrected Jesus to be the method by which He saves humanity.  The one believing in Jesus receives life; otherwise there is only destruction.
    1. You must believe!  The gift of Jesus is given for the entire world, but not everyone is saved.  The gift is only effective for the ones believing in Jesus.  Do you believe?  Are you currently believing?  Is Jesus your only hope?  THAT is the kind of belief that is required. 

17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

  1. The reason for the cross continues in vs. 17 (notice the “For”).  God loved the world, and gave His Son, so that the ones believing in Him could live.  What more?  God wants people to “be saved.”  When someone speaks of a person perishing in judgment, that implies that the person has been condemned.  And indeed that is true.  We are ALL condemned outside of Christ.  But we could easily get the wrong idea from this.  Did God the Father send His Son to the world to spite the world?  As if people were unaware of our sin, so Jesus came to tell us all how lost we were, how wretched we are, and too bad!  We are doomed for hell, so we’d better get used to the idea.  Not at all!  Jesus did not come for that purpose!  God did not send Jesus as a condemnation of the world, but as a gift for the world’s salvation.  To listen to some so-called evangelists, someone might get the idea that the gospel is bad news rather than good news.  Someone might think that all God has for mankind is judgment.  Heaven forbid!  Without Jesus, we certainly have bad news.  Without Jesus, we certainly face judgment and condemnation (as we’ll see in vs. 18-19).  But that is exactly what changes with Jesus.  It is because we were already condemned that God sent Jesus.  God didn’t send His Son to be His enforcer; He sent His Son to be our salvation & the outpouring of His grace.
  2. That’s not to say that the Son has no role in the judgment.  On the contrary!  The Father has committed all judgment to the Son (Jn 5:22), and it is the Son who is apparently seen on the Great White Throne of judgment at the end of the age (Rev 20:12) – being that He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15).  If that’s the case, how is it that the Scripture says that Jesus was not sent to condemn the world?  Simple: that’s not why Jesus came the FIRST time.  Jesus is not sent to the world once, but twice.  The first time, Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost (Lk 19:10).  The second time, Jesus comes to reign upon the earth and to judge the living and the dead.
    1. The takeaway?  Believe upon Jesus while you have the chance!  For now, we live in an age during which Jesus is not present as the Righteous Judge, but offered as the Salvation of God.  This is our opportunity to be saved – we need to take advantage of it now.
  3. Note two things about this salvation: (1) It’s offered to all, and (2) it’s conditional.  This is something that’s been emphasized throughout this section of Scripture & repeated here.  Once again, the salvation of God is offered to the entire κοσμος; not a select group of individuals.  God’s desire is that the entire world would be saved.  But His salvation is by no means guaranteed to the entire world.  People must go “through” the Son, in order that they “might be saved.”  There is a single condition upon which our salvation hinges: we must believe upon Jesus Christ.  Through Him, our salvation is absolutely assured.  Apart from Him, we have absolutely no hope.
  4. Objection: “Come on, this is sounding an awful lot like a turn-or-burn message!  Do you really expect anyone to think that unless they believe exactly as you say they should believe that they’ll die and go to hell?”  No, not at all.  First of all, it’s not me who’s saying it; it’s the Bible.  My opinions mean little to nothing.  My opinions and $1.50 can get you a cup of cheap coffee.  It’s what God has to say through the Scripture that matters. If it is the Scripture that proclaims a so-called turn-or-burn message, then that’s the only authority that counts.  And yes, that is exactly what the Scripture proclaims here.  Again, there’s debate whether or not Jesus actually uttered these words, or if the apostle John was narrating at this point, but either way, the words we have on our pages are still the exact words inspired by God the Holy Spirit.  This is exactly what God intended to communicate to us.  And what is the constant contrast going back to the beginning of Chapter 3?  Eternity with God vs. eternity without God.  Someone has to be born again to see the kingdom of God, it is a work of the Spirit, and it occurs when someone believes upon the Son of God when He is lifted up.  Otherwise, they cannot see the kingdom of God and they perish because they are left condemned.  That’s about as turn-or-burn as we can get…and that’s exactly the message preached by God to us.
    1. That’s not a reason to reject the word; that’s a reason to respond to it!  The Person who has the utmost authority in the things of heaven is telling us how to go to heaven, and how not to perish for eternity.  That’s worth paying attention to!  If someone came up to you and told you that you needed to stop eating fast food & start exercising in order to be healthy, you might agree on one hand, but also wish they kept their opinions to themselves.  But if a medical doctor came up to you & showed you how your blood pressure was off the charts, showed you an MRI of your fat composition & charts of your clogged arteries, etc., and then told you how to reverse it through diet & exercise, you might pay much closer attention.  Why?  Because a doctor is a competent authority with your best interest in mind.  Who is it that is telling us how to avoid hell and receive everlasting life?  GOD.  There is no higher authority.  And does He have our best interest in mind?  Yes!  He loves us.  This isn’t a message to reject; it’s a message to receive!

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

  1. If God sent Jesus into the world to save the world, through His being lifted up on the cross & people looking to Him in faith, the next logical question is: why do we need to be saved?  Jesus spoke about entering the kingdom of God & about not perishing, but receiving eternal life – but why is this all necessary?  What do we need to be saved from?  Vs. 18-19 answer: “condemnation.”  Even apart from the final judgment at the end of the age, men and women have already been judged.  As the NIV puts it, the “verdict” has already been passed down.  In modern legal terms, the conviction has been made; it’s the punishment phase that awaits us.
  2. Notice that none of this is put in terms of possibility, as in, “Perhaps if someone isn’t careful, they might be condemned.”  No – the condemnation is assured, even stated in the English past tense as having already happened: “he who does not believe is condemned already…”  There’s no question of what the verdict might be; we simply ARE guilty.  That’s what sin does.  Sin leaves us guilty before a Holy God.  We don’t get a chance to argue our case – we don’t have the ability to hire the best of lawyers to persuade the Judge otherwise.  Sin is something that is cut and dry.  If we’ve sinned at all, we’re guilty…period.  There are no extenuating circumstances, no exceptions to the rule, nothing.  We’re simply left condemned in our guilt, thus fully deserving of any judgment/punishment to come.
    1. Objection: “But that sounds so unfair!”  Is it?  When two people get into an auto-collision, it may have been an accident, but there will always be someone found at fault.  Someone was doing something wrong, which caused the accident, and the insurance company (and police) wants to know who it is, in order to assign the right payment.  When there is sin (regardless of our supposed intent), there is fault.  The law has been broken, and it needs to be addressed.  Besides, when it comes to the matter of sin, no one can truly claim that each and every sinful act in his/her life was simply an “accident.”  We chose to rebel against God many times, be it by hating our neighbor, by lying, by coveting, by manipulating, etc.  Each and every time we chose to sin was a time we chose to rebel against God & thus left ourselves condemned.
  3. How can we know we’ve received this condemnation?  Because “men loved darkness rather than light.”  The light of God came into the world, and we shut our eyes to it.  We preferred to live in the darkness of sin, rather than the light of God’s holiness.  John alluded to this already in his prologue when writing of the incarnation: John 1:4–5, "(4) In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (5) And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." []  God gave light, and men ran from it.  Whether it was through the general revelation of creation that exists all around us, or the special revelation that He gave when He sent Jesus into the world, men determined to stay in darkness & remain in sin.  This answers the age-old question of “But what about ____ people, who never heard the gospel?  Are they still condemned?”  Yes – because it wasn’t Jesus’ coming into the world that condemned them; they were already condemned in their sin.  How did they respond to the light that they DID have?  They ran from it, just like every other fallen human runs from the light of God.  We don’t want our deeds to be exposed as evil, so we choose to remain in darkness, and we are thus condemned in our sin.
  4. This leaves us with a terrible problem: if we are already condemned by sin, how can we possibly escape judgment?  Once a person has been convicted of a crime, how can that person avoid the punishment?  These things go hand-in-hand, and it would seem that all mankind is without hope.  We’ve all sinned, and thus we’ve all left ourselves already condemned, before we even stand before God for judgment.  What now?  This is when the bad news becomes gloriously GOOD news!  This is when we come back to the gift of God in His sending His only begotten Son.  Vs. 18: “He who believes in Him is not condemned…”  In our sin, we are already condemned – but when we put our faith in Jesus Christ, our condemnation is lifted.  We are condemned no longer.  Why?  Because the punishment phase for our condemnation has already been carried out.  When Jesus died upon the cross, that was the punishment phase of your trial.  He already completed it on your behalf.  Because Jesus received your punishment, you receive God’s pardon.  There’s nothing left for you to be condemned for, because Jesus took it all on your behalf.
    1. That is amazingly good news!  That is the free gift of God that is available to all the world.  And it come through one way: faith.  “He who believes”  Again, we must believe in Jesus.  We must put all of our confidence in Him, believing Him to be who the Bible says that He is, and His work to be sufficient for us.  When our confidence is in Christ, then our confidence is sure.

20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 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.”

  1. This goes again to the contrast between those who believe and those who do not – between those who are not condemned, and those who are.  Those who are condemned continue to practice evil.  Their response to the light of God is to run from it, to stay in darkness, and actually “hate” the light that has been given to them. They see the holiness of God and despise it.  They want nothing to do with God because when they get around the things of God or His people, their own sin becomes all the more apparent.  Hatred becomes all the more vile when compared with the true love of God.  So does greed, lust, and all the rest.  Even when someone attempts to live a “good” life apart from God, the illusion of their “goodness” comes crashing down when it is brought into the light of God’s true holiness.  How generous can someone possibly be in comparison with the generosity of God?  How loving – how sacrificial?  Even our best acts fall short of perfection, but perfection is all that God performs.  It’s as if we take our finger-paintings into an art museum and try to see how we measure up.  We don’t!  We come woefully short.  As Isaiah writes, our best attempts at righteousness look to be filthy rags in comparison with God (Isa 64:6).  Deep down, we know this – and this is why those who choose not to believe in Jesus Christ run from the things of God.  They don’t want their deeds to be “exposed” for what they are.
  2. Contrast that with the person of faith.  That person “comes to the light,” not so that they can brag on themselves, showing off all the good things that they’ve done – but rather to brag on God, showing all the good things that God has done in them.  They aren’t taking their finger-paintings into an art museum; they are taking the Picasso’s and Leonardo’s and masterpieces that they have been given out to the world to showcase the work of the masters.  Or more to the analogy, they are taking them back to God to thank God for His work and grace.  When those who believe in Christ Jesus stand before God for judgment at the end of the age, we won’t be pointing to all of our good works (because we have none); we’ll be pointing to all the work of Christ on our behalf.  Any good that we’ve done as believers in Christ are due solely to the work of Christ, thus Jesus will receive all of the credit and all of the glory. 

It all comes down to this: do you believe?  Left to ourselves, we are condemned in our sin.  We have been bitten by the snake of our own evil, and the poison is coursing through our veins.  We face an eternity of destruction when we receive the punishment that is due to us.  That’s a pretty hopeless state.  But it is in light of it that God gave the most incredible gift imaginable: His Son.  The uniquely begotten Son of God came into this world, and was lifted upon the cross for your punishment.  By looking to Him in faith, you will be saved.  You will not be condemned, but you will receive everlasting life as you dwell in the kingdom of God for all eternity.  That life is not offered to you because you’ve earned it (you haven’t); it’s offered to you solely because God loves you, and wants you to be saved.

So what do you do with this?  Believe.  Cast your confidence upon Jesus Christ, and believe.  There is only one condition placed upon the offer of eternal life, and that is faith in Jesus Christ.  We must go to God through Him, or we cannot go at all.  John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." []  This is something that our text emphasized over and over again: (vs 15) “that whoever believes in Him should not perish,” (vs 16) “that whoever believes in Him should not perish,” (vs 17) “the world through Him might be saved,” (vs 18) “He who believes in Him is not condemned.”  There is but one way to eternal life, and it is through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work.  You must look to Him and believe.

If you haven’t, you can.  Perhaps you’ve been one who has been running from the light of God, preferring to stay in the darkness.  You know you’ve engaged in sin, and to this point you’ve wanted to stay there.  But you’ve also come to grips with the idea that your sin condemns you, and that you face a terrible eternity.  Know this: God loves you, and He doesn’t want you to go to hell.  God literally could not have done any more for you to be saved, because He has given His very best on your behalf: Jesus, His only begotten Son.  Receive the gift of His grace!  Stop running away from God, and run TO God in faith.  Open the gift that God has offered to you, and experience the love of God for yourself.

What if you’re already born-again, having placed your faith in Jesus long ago?  Does this text have anything to offer you?  Absolutely!  It offers everything!  This is the gospel in a nutshell – this is where our hope lies.  It underscores that our salvation is based upon faith in Christ alone, and it emphasizes the love that God has for us.  It’s easy for us to wander from this.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we have to somehow earn the love of God and His salvation, and then start piling condemnation upon condemnation on ourselves when we slip up and fail.  Beloved, if you believe in Christ, then you are NOT condemned!  You have been saved by the grace of God because of your faith in His Son.  When you sin, confess it – but be done with it!  Our confidence is in the Lord Jesus – and we can have confidence in no one and nothing else.  So stand firm in your faith – hold fast to your belief – looking always to the Son of God given for you in the love of God.  He is gift of God, and He is enough.

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