************ Sermon on John 3:16-17 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 29, 2020
"The Shocking News of Christmas"
Nicodemus was an important man. He was a Pharisee, a teacher of the Law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, Israel's Supreme Court. He was noble, respected, wealthy. But, he had what one commentator calls "The Sinner's Worry." He worried that he wasn't saved. He worried that he didn't know God, wasn't forgiven of his sins, wasn't reconciled to God. He worried that his good works were not enough to get into heaven. The Sinner's Worry.
My experience tells me that very few people have this worry. Like Nicodemus, they should have The Sinner's Worry. But they don't. Instead, they have The Sinner's Lie. Satan comes along and says they are basically a good person. He tells them that in their life the good outweighs the bad so they are going to heaven. He tells them that they can save themselves. Unlike most people, Nicodemus had The Sinner's Worry and not The Sinner's Lie.
Do you know God's answer to The Sinner's Lie? The Ten Commandments. One of the purposes of the Ten Commandments is to show us, to tell us, to teach us that we are on our way to hell and on our own cannot attain to heaven.
On this first Sunday of advent, God has a shocking answer to The Sinner's Worry:
John 3:17 (NIV84) — 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.Why did God send Jesus? To deal with The Sinner's Worry. To save us from our sins and God's judgment on those sins.
As I said, this is a shocking advent answer. It is shocking news about the world, it is shocking news about faith, it is shocking news about God.
I Shocking News About the World
A First of all, at Christmas we see shocking news about the world: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world" (Jn 3:17). Why would John even write this? Who can possibly think Jesus came to condemn the world? The Jews believed this. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came He would save Israel and punish all the nations. He would punish them for their blasphemy. He would punish them for their idolatry. He would punish them for how they mistreated Israel. They believed -- get this -- they believed God hates the world. And, because they thought God hated the world they hated the world too.
Now, our holy God could have sent Jesus at Christmas to condemn the sinful world. In fact, the next time the Messiah comes, He will be coming in judgment. But not the first time. The first time God His Son into the world He did not send Him to condemn the world. What a shock this was to Nicodemus and to the Jews.
B On this first Sunday of Advent we see more shocking news about the world: God sent the Son "to save the world through him" (Jn 3:17).
The purpose of the Messiah's coming is not judgment. It is not condemnation. Rather, it is to save. God wanted to save the world. God gave Jesus to save the world. God sent His Son to save the world. The purpose of Christmas is to save the world.
Save from what? Save from judgment. Save from condemnation. Save from God's wrath against our sin. Save from the fires of hell. And, save to have life -- everlasting life, supernatural life, life with the Lord, the life of the Lord.
So God doesn't hate the world. Instead, at Christmas He shows He loves the world. Out of love He gave the Son. Out of love He sent the Son. This is shocking, absolutely shocking to someone like Nicodemus who has been taught all his life that God hates the world.
II Shocking News About Faith
A Our second point is shocking news about faith.
So many people don't realize God's love for the world does NOT mean everyone is saved. Notice the condition laid down in verse 16: "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Did you hear the condition? Believe. Have faith.
God loves the world. But not everyone is saved. From the human perspective, only those are saved who believe in Jesus. Only those who believe in Jesus escape the judgment of hell, are given forgiveness, and receive everlasting life. On man's side, the key to salvation is faith. This is the message of the true Christian church: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith" (Eph 2:8). You are saved by faith, not by works, not by religion.
B Having The Sinner's Worry this, too, was a shock to poor Nicodemus. As a Pharisee, he wants to know what he needs to do in order to be saved, to have the assurance of salvation, to be right with God. He wonders if there is a law he can keep, a religious practice he can follow, a prayer he can say, a rite he can submit to so he for sure enters the Kingdom of Heaven. His cry is, "Jesus, tell me what I can do so I don't have The Sinner's Worry."
Jesus' answer: HAVE FAITH! How does one escape hell and get to heaven? Not by works, not by morality, not by virtue, not by generosity, not by ceremonies and rituals and religious activities. The only way to escape hell and enter heaven is by believing. There is nothing Nicodemus can do, nothing he can bring, nothing he can experience to escape hell and get to heaven. Jesus says nothing about the Law, nothing about the Temple, nothing about ceremonies. All He says is "believe, have faith."
As a teacher in Israel, Nicodemus should have known this. He knew the story of Abraham. Remember what we are told about Abraham?
Genesis 15:6 (NIV84) — 6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Cf Rom 4)Nicodemus should have remembered the words of Habakkuk 2:4 that "the righteous will live by his faith." Nicodemus knew all the stories we read in Hebrews 11 about the heroes of faith. He should have known God wants and has always wanted faith.
So Nicodemus comes to Jesus with The Sinner's Worry. He wants peace. He wants hope. He wants joy. He wants forgiveness. He wants assurance.
C "Believe, Nicodemus. Have faith, Nicodemus." As I said, Jesus' answer is shocking. But now let's make it even more shocking by adding the word Jesus said: the word "whoever." "Whoever believes shall not perish but have eternal life."
"Whoever believes." I can hear Nicodemus saying to himself, "You got to be kidding me. You mean the polytheistic Greeks can believe and be saved? You mean the conquering Romans can believe and be saved? You mean tax collectors like Zacchaeus can be saved? What about prostitutes and soldiers and those who work with dead bodies?" Yes, all of them can be saved too. Whoever believes. Eternal life is given to whoever believes, and not just Jews who believe. That's the shocking news of advent, of Christmas: whoever believes is saved.
"Whoever believes." This remains shocking news today. It is easy to think that we and our family and our friends and those in our church are saved. But what if someone thinks different than us, or worships different than us, or has a different lifestyle than we are used to. Can someone be a Biden supporter and be saved? Their response, of course, is: Can someone be a Trump supporter and be saved? What about all those with mixed-up, confused gender issues? What about those found guilty of rape, murder, molesting children? The shocking message of the Gospel, the shocking message of Christmas, "Whoever believes." It is broad enough to include the worst sinner who believes.
D "Believe, Nicodemus. Have faith, Nicodemus." Believe what? Have faith in what? Back to verses 14 &15: believe in the Son of Man lifted up. In John's Gospel to be lifted up means three things: He is lifted up onto the cross, He is lifted up from the grave, and He is lifted up into heaven. It comes down to this: believe in Jesus who died, believe in Jesus who arose, and believe in Jesus who reigns.
To help us understand saving faith, the Reformers said it has three components: knowledge, trust, commitment. We need to know and believe what the Bible says about Christ who was lifted up. We need to trust that because of Christ our sins are forgiven, we have been made forever right with God, and we have been granted salvation. And we need to take up our cross and follow Jesus, be obedient to Jesus, be committed to Jesus.
E What happens if you don't believe? Look at verse 18. They have got to be the scariest words of Christmas:
John 3:18 (NIV84) — 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.The most important word in this verse is the word "already." "Whoever does not believe stands condemned already." Already.
We need saving because of sin. But this is not what sends anyone to hell. What sends people to hell? Listen carefully: "because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." In the final analysis, what actually sends a person to hell is their failure to believe in Jesus. People are damned to hell because they do not believe in Jesus. That's what Jesus says. That's the shocking news of Christmas.
If you don't believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will die in your sins and go to hell. So, do you believe? Do you believe the shocking news of Christmas?
III Shocking News About God
A And now, shocking news about God. In verse 16 we are told God "gave his one and only Son." In verse 17 we are told "God ... [sent] His Son into the world." So, let's make this clear: the Father sent the Son at Christmas.
God loves the world. It isn't just Jesus who loves the world. God loves the world. God wanted to save the world. God sent Jesus to save the world. God sent His Son because of His love for sinners. God sent His Son to save them from His wrath.
Do you hear the message of Christmas? "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son."
The extent of God's love is measured by the extent of His gift. What did God give? His Son. His one and only Son. His beloved Son. The Son He loves more than anything or anyone else. The Son He loves the most. That's who God gave. That's who God sent. At Christmas.
B Again, what shocking news for Nicodemus. The God of the Pharisees was a judging God. He judged the world at the time of the flood. He judged the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. He judged the Egyptians during the ten plagues and at the Red Sea. He judged the Canaanites at Jericho and in the Promised Land. He even judged His own people. How shocking to hear that this God is also a loving God. How shocking to hear that He planned out Christmas.
There are those who try to divide the Son from the Father. There are those who say the Son is loving and the Father is judging. John does not allow us to think or talk this way. The Father sent the Son to save the world. The Father planned out Christmas.
C God loved the world. God sent His Son to save the fallen, sinful world. World means humanity. World means mankind. God loved the world, but not the fallen angels. Nowhere are we told He sent His Son to save the fallen angels. As we have been looking at Peter we have learned that some of the angels that sinned were cast immediately into hell (2 Pet 2:4). Unlike the world, unlike mankind, they have never known God's love since their rebellion.
On this first Sunday of advent I don't know if you have The Sinner's Worry or The Sinner's Lie. But the shocking message of Christmas is the same for both: believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
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