Friday, December 18, 2015

Experiencing Love

One of the most well-known verses in the Bible is John 3:16. I see this verse on posters, automobiles, t-shirts, and church marquees often. Most of you could quote this verse from memory.


John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”


I am afraid that your familiarity with this verse may have dulled the impact of the meaning of  John 3:16. I will share the context of this powerful, hopeful verse.


A “teacher of the Jews” named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night to learn more about Jesus. Nicodemus and a few of his colleagues were convinced that God was using Jesus. Nicodemus called Jesus a “Rabbi,” an interpreter and teacher of the Law. Rabbis gathered disciples and authenticated their teaching by their works for God.


John 3:2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”


1. God loves us in spite of our questions.

Nicodemus was a seeker. He was a real man with real issues and problems. Nicodemus is a representation of many. He had seen enough evidence to believe that there was something unique about Jesus. However, he had not made the connection yet in his life. Thankfully, Nicodemus responded to Jesus’ miracles and signs. He sought out Jesus.


Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the only way to enter the kingdom of God is through the new birth.


John 3:3  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”


Being “born again” means a new birth from above. It is the work of God and not the work of human beings. It is the new birth that the Holy Spirit gives. Jesus explained the new birth as being like the blowing of the wind.


John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”


The new birth is possible through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and through faith in Him as God’s solution for the separation we have from God caused by sin. Jesus said we must all experience the new birth to have a personal relationship with God.


John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”


One must be born of “water,” meaning the natural birth—perhaps as the water breaks in the birth of a child. Physical birth is not enough, though. One must also be born of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and illumines the message of God’s Word so that we can believe on Jesus and experience a relationship with God.


2. God loves us enough to tell us the truth about our need for new birth.

One thing that amazes me about this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus is the boldness of each of them. Nicodemus came to Jesus at night questioning him, searching for answers. Jesus boldly instructed Nicodemus that all must be born again, including the religious leaders and Pharisees. All must be born again. Jesus did not provide any exceptions to God’s plan for redemption.


Jesus Christ is here for the ungodly. Jesus Christ is here for the religious, even the most pious. Those who have never been to church need Jesus. Those who have been a part of the church their entire lives need him. No one is so religious or moral that he does not need the new birth that comes through Jesus Christ! No religious group controls Jesus. No doctrine adequately explains him or defines him.


Although Nicodemus was educated in the Law and was respected as a teacher, he did not understand what Jesus was saying about a “new birth.” Jesus did not let Nicodemus slide.


John 3:10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?”


Nicodemus, an intellectual leader of his day, struggled to comprehend and believe. He could not understand the path to eternal life through Jesus Christ.


John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”



3. God loved us enough to send his Son Jesus Christ into this world to save us from our sin.

Frankly, I am glad Nicodemus struggled to understand. The reason I am delighted Nicodemus could not grasp this concept is because of Jesus’ response. Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ question with a clear, precise expression of the Gospel story.


John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”


This verse explains salvation in a way that we can all understand it. The eternal God, who never had a beginning, sent his eternal Son to this earth from his home in Heaven. Jesus came from Heaven to earth to be lifted up on the cross for our sins to give us eternal life.


Jesus coming from Heaven to Earth is the story of Christmas. Jesus entered into the universe he created, during a particular time in human history to redeem us to God. Charles Wesley, a favorite songwriter of ages past and author of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” wrote a lesser-known verse:


Let earth and heaven combine,

Angels and men agree,

To praise in songs divine

The incarnate Deity;

Our God contracted to a span,

Incomprehensibly made man.[1]


God loved the world so much that he gave his Son to die on the cross for us. Jesus lived on this earth for about thirty-three years and died as a substitute, paying the penalty for the sins of the world. Salvation is not something we do. Salvation comes as a gift when we believe what God has done for us. “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is the pure Gospel, the Good News!


God the Father did not want anyone to perish in sin. Those who have not believed in Jesus are living under the wrath of God. They need to believe and accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus. People are either in one of two groups: those who believe and are not condemned, and those who do not believe and are condemned already.


Are you a believer or are you condemned?


The word “perish” is about the eternal death that will be the reality for those who do not have eternal life. Those who refuse God’s gift are alienated from Him without hope for the present or the future.


Why did God send Jesus? He did it as a profound expression of his love for us. The gift of Jesus, God’s only Son, to be our Savior was an expression of God’s love for each person for whom Jesus died.


I want to help you understand about God’s love. The word translated “love” is one of unique significance. This “love” is a love that “seeks to give itself away on behalf of its object. It is a love that seeks the best interests of its object while seeking nothing for itself in return.”[2]


It was not God’s priority to judge but to save.


John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.


I am moved by what God did for me! An Italian artist named Franchetti is said never to have completed a painting of Christ on the cross because every time he tried to paint it he wept so hard he could not put his brush to the canvas! I feel like Franchetti when I try to tell people what Jesus did for me.[3]


Jesus is the gift of salvation to the world. He is the only way of salvation. God did not want people perishing; he wants them living! God did not want people destroyed; he wants them saved! God sent Jesus here out of his profound love for a world separated from him.


I want to report on what happened to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, an influential religious leader, and teacher, eventually identified with Jesus. Nicodemus helped to bury Jesus before Jesus was raised in power at the Resurrection.


John 19:39-40 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.


I am grateful that Nicodemus sought out Jesus and found the answer to life’s most important question: “What must I do to be born again?” Have you found the answer to this question in your own life?


Lord Jesus, thank You for loving us with such love that You would be wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We cannot comprehend it, nor do we deserve it, but we are eternally grateful.


[1]Kenneth O. Gangel, Holman New Testament Commentary: John, (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2000), 65-66.
[2]“Note: John 3:6,” The Disciple’s Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1988), 1320.
[3]Jim Henry, In Remembrance of Me, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 153.