The Eleventh in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Our world and everyone in it has fallen in Adam. We stand condemned and await the sentence of judgment because God is holy and he must punish all sin. Even worse, that same sinfulness which condemns us, distorts our thinking about our sin, guilt, and God’s grace. Because of this, we actually prefer the darkness of unbelief, as we foolishly attempt to hide ourselves and our sin from God. No doubt, we deserve God’s eternal wrath. But God’s holy wrath is not the end of the story. God is also love. The story of redemption repeatedly tells us that God has made gracious covenant promises to his people to save them from their sins, and then at the great climax of redemptive history, God sent his own beloved Son–who is the light of the world–to save us from ourselves, and to deliver us from the wrath of God which is to come. Nowhere is this saving mission of Jesus better summarized than in the words of 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.”
We have now made our way into John 3 and John’s report of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. In this chapter we find John 3:16, which, without doubt, is the best known and most widely-quoted verse in all the New Testament. Sadly, John 3:16 also has become a object of ridicule by many of our contemporaries–wrestler Steve Austin comes to mind. And who can forget the rainbow wig of Rollen Stewart, who showed up at every major sporting event throughout the 1970's-80's holding a sign which read “John 3:16" while mugging for the cameras. More importantly, at least in regard to our time and interest, John 3:16 is cited by many of our friends and contemporaries as the supposed biblical death knell to the evil doctrine of the Calvinists, who deny that Jesus died for everyone (“the world”), when John 3:16 explicitly says otherwise. So, there is much to say about this passage, and we best let John the disciple, the author of this text, say it.
Last time we took up the dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus in the first 15 verses of John chapter 3. Nicodemus was from a prominent Jewish family (the Gurions) and was a noted teacher and member of the Pharisees (even perhaps, a member of the Sanhedrin). An older man well-known to everyone in Jerusalem, Nicodemus approached Jesus at night to ask Jesus about the miracles Jesus had been performing while in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Based on these miracles (John does not give us any specifics other than Jesus driving out the merchants and money changers from the temple courtyard), Nicodemus knew that Jesus must have been sent by God, and that God was with him.
Jesus replies to Nicodemus’ comment by telling him that unless Nicodemus is born again (or from above) by the power of God, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Completely baffled by Jesus’ comment, Nicodemus asks Jesus “how can it be that an old man like himself can enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time?” In verse 5 of John 3 Jesus repeats his statement of verse 3, “truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God,” adding the necessity of being born of water and the Spirit to his previous comment. Some have argued that Jesus is referring to baptism (water) which regenerates (spirit). Other have argued that Jesus is referring to natural birth (water–amniotic fluid) followed by a spiritual birth (being born a second time).
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