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About this series
Jesus Unfiltered - Believe
When life gets really hard, because of choices you've made, or circumstances in which you find yourself, wouldn't it be great to know you've got the source of all wisdom and strength right there with you? That's what Jesus promised you could have. That's what He longs to do for you. Knowing the real Jesus is the most important relationship you will ever have. Chip Ingram reveals, from Scripture, who Jesus really is and how you can have this relationship - beginning today and for forever!More from this series
Tim Tebow, they are going to win the national championship at Florida – he does something unusual. He paints the black underneath his eyes and then he puts the numbers: three-one-six. Sports commentators, everyone wants to know, “What in the world is 3:16? Why did he put it under his eyes?” A few years later, Tebow makes it for a brief career in the NFL. The number one quarterback gets hurt, the Broncos haven’t been in the playoffs in a long time, he is put in to the game, the last few games, and they have a playoff game, which no one gives them any hope.
He passes for, are you ready? Three hundred and sixteen yards. Uses this for an opportunity with the 3:16 and it becomes the number one Google search in US history. People are going, John 3:16…what is this all about? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.
It is the most quoted Bible verse, the most well-known Bible verse in all of Scripture.
And it raises, I think, a couple or three very important questions. Notice it’s a promise. First of all, it talks about the kind of God that we serve. “God so loved the world.”
And love always translates into giving, “…that He gave” – what did He give? “His one and only Son” – why? “that whosoever” – here’s the promise, “would believe in Him shouldn’t perish,” or be apart from God forever, “but have eternal life.”
You might, in your notes, circle the word believe, because that is pretty important. Whatever this promise is, if you believe, you get it. If you don’t believe, you don’t. The other big, important word you might circle is the word eternal life. What exactly is eternal life?
And then I don’t know about you, but when I get one sentence out of something, I want to know the context – what came before; what came after; historically, what was going on – so we can get, not what someone else thinks about this verse, but what it really says.
At the very top of your notes it says, “We are going to discover,” now, think of this – this is an outrageous promise – “how to obtain eternal life.”
And let me just preface with: eternal life is not something that happens after you die. We are going to learn what eternal life is. It is not just a quantity of time. We will learn it is a quality of life.
And no amount of being good and no amount of being religious can merit eternal life. Contrary to every religious system on the face of the earth, save the very words and life and death and resurrection of Jesus.
The context of this, remember? It said, “Where did this come from?” The context of this goes something like this: It’s about A.D. 85 or 90. There is only one disciple left. All the others have been martyred. John is still alive. Matthew, Mark, Luke have already been written. Tens of thousands of Christians now are turning the world upside down. They are saving infants on the dump piles, they are living a life that is radical in this multi-god generation world. They live under the cruel, cruel, ruthless life of Rome.
They are giving their lives; persecution has occurred. And, yet, they are following this Jesus and everywhere they go, they keep loving people. And these little Christs, it was a derogatory term. They called them, “Christ-ones” or “Christians” in Antioch.
Because they did weird stuff, they cared for one another, they shared their resources, people would be evil to them and they would do good back to them. And so this derogatory term emerged. They called them “Christians.”
In fact, about that time, fifty or sixty years, then, some little isms and cults and they were decentralized and getting farther and farther apart. And so John is called by God and the Spirit of God is going to give the gospel of John to get clear on who Jesus is, how do you have a relationship with God, what is the clarity of the story that will pull all the things together as the last gospel is written?
And so, in chapter 1, he tells us who Jesus is and where He came from. In chapter 2, He launches a ministry with joy and power and a wedding and with laughter and He came to love people.
And at the end of chapter 2, we learn that some people believed, but belief is one of those words that you can superficially believe. You can believe intellectually or you can just believe emotionally. And so, the question that came up: What does it mean to have genuine faith that gives you a supernatural new life resulting in a relationship with God forever?
And chapter 3 is going to answer that question. Look at the structure. The structure in chapter 3, it has two major sections. The first section is Nicodemus. We will find out that he is a Pharisee. He is the teacher of Israel. Think in your mind, now, of maybe someone who went to Harvard Divinity School, did graduate work at Stanford, holds a couple of PhDs, and is the esteemed person on philosophy and religion. That’s Nicodemus.
And then the second section is John the Baptist. Nicodemus is going to have a private meeting with Jesus. John the Baptist, literally, is sort of the rock star of his day. He is an Old Testament type prophet. He wears this big belt, he wears camel’s hair, he eats wild locusts and honey, and he is out in the wilderness and the desert.
And people were streaming out of the cities and he says, “Repent! The kingdom of God is coming!” And then he calls people, tells it like it is, calls Herod down. He said, “You know what? The woman that you have is your brother’s wife. It’s wrong.” Roman soldiers are coming out who would be abusing people, prostitutes are coming out, tax collectors are coming out, people are coming out and they are being baptized with water to say, My way of life is wrong, I know it’s wrong, and I want to turn around. And John will say, “My job was just to prepare the way. I baptize with water, but God is going to send His Son who will baptize with the Spirit, meaning real life. Not just turning from your sin, but forgiveness and brand new life.” You got it? Got the context?
Let’s walk through together just the first section, then. And let’s follow along and let’s just read this interview. Because Nicodemus is going to learn, although he is moral, squeaky clean, he fasts as a good Pharisee on Tuesday and Friday. He gives a tenth of everything that he has – down to herbs, spices, everything. He is as squeaky clean as you can be. He has nearly, if not all of the Old Testament memorized. He leads in worship, he is the epitome of religion, and he is sincere.
“Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council. And he came to Jesus at night. He said, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could perform the miraculous signs that You are doing if God were not with Him.’
“In reply, Jesus replied rather abruptly, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Question, “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born?” Repetition. “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, unless a man is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to the spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, “You must be born again.”’”
Explanation. Illustration – you should get, “‘The wind blows wherever it pleases, you hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it’s going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ ‘How can this be?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘You are Israel’s teacher,’ Jesus said, ‘and you do not understand these things? I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know,’” speaking of Him and the disciples, “and we testify to you what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?”
Now Jesus reveals His identity. It’s a bit veiled, but the Son of Man was always Messiah. “No one has ever gone into heaven except the One who came down from heaven, the Son of Man.” Second illustration that Nicodemus would go, Oh, okay. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up so everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.”
Summary, explanation. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes is not condemned. Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Perspective, judgment, evaluation – 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 plainly seen what he has done has been done through God.”
As you’re there, what I can tell you is that in that paragraph, if you understood what Nicodemus understood, if you had all the Old Testament memorized, and you knew Judaism forward and backward, what He is saying is going to make a lot of sense, but it was going to shake your world upside down.
Now, as you lean back, this is going to be very important. John’s ministry continues to grow as Jesus’ ministry is starting. So he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” so Jesus, the crowds are beginning to follow Him, but John is still baptizing.
And so now the author wants to make it very clear, there is a big shift that occurs and there is no competition between Jesus and John. And now John, like a candidate who has been running in a primary and then it gets to the big day, he says, “No, no, no, no, no. I’m not the candidate. I throw all my support. If you believe in me, if you have trusted me, all my support goes to this person, Jesus.”
So just follow along and picture in your mind what is occurring as I read this second half.
“After this Jesus and His disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where He spent some time with them and He baptized. Now John was also baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and the people were constantly coming to be baptized (this was before John was put in prison).
“An argument then developed between one of John’s disciples and a certain Jew about the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John,” speaking of John the Baptist, “and said to him, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one that you testified about – well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.’”
So you have been a follower of John the Baptist, you’re preparing the way, and these multitudes, literally, thousands and thousands of people, and then he says something about Jesus. Now Jesus is baptizing over there and your big crowds are getting small and His small crowds are getting big.
And if you’re a good follower you’re going, Hey, boss, what’s with this? Notice John’s response. “A man can only receive what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ or the Messiah, but I am the one sent ahead of Him.’”
And then he gives this illustration. It’s beautiful. “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends to the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. The One who comes from above is above all and the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all,” speaking of Jesus.
“He testifies of what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. The man who accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the One whom God has sent speaks the Words of God, to Him God gives the Spirit without measure,” or without limit.
And then notice his observation, “Whoever believes in the Son,” speaking of Jesus, “has eternal life.” Circle the word has. It’s present tense. It’s not someday, it’s not someway, it’s not after you die. John the Baptist, his testimony, his endorsement, “The one who believes,” whatever that means, “has,” present tense, “eternal life.”
“But whoever rejects the Son will not see life; for God’s wrath remains upon him.” If you’re new with us, I’m going to slow down for just a minute, because you’re thinking, Man, this guy talks really fast. There are times I talk so fast, I can’t even digest what I am saying.
What we have been doing is we want to not only go through what God’s Word says but we want to learn how to study it for ourselves. Real convictions in your life don’t come because you agree with what someone else says. Convictions come when you dig in on your own and God speaks to you, by His Spirit through His Word, and it’s like, Oh, I got it!
And so we said there are three things that we need to do in order to really study God’s Word on our own. And this is for everyone. This is for people, I know a lot of you are a lot smarter than some of the rest of us and you have high IQs and there are some of us at medium IQs and then some have low IQs.
The common people heard Jesus gladly. He spoke profoundly but simply. And contrary to the world, God is not all that impressed with whatever IQ people have because He actually gave it to you for a specific purpose. And some of the most loving people who make the biggest difference, has nothing to do with their IQ.
And so, He wanted us to study the Bible in a simple way. What does it say? Observation. What does it mean? Interpretation. Then the important part – what does it mean to me? Application.
When you do those three things, you can learn exactly what God said in His Word, regardless of your background.
And so, the first thing we want to do, you’ll notice at the top of your notes: What does John chapter 3 say? Just, what does it say? These are just observations. And as I read them really quickly, just ask yourself, Does it really say that or not? This isn’t what Chip thinks, it’s just we read it.
Doesn’t it, in fact, say – Nicodemus – he is an elite member of the Jewish rulership? He comes by night. He recognized that Jesus was sent by God from the miracles. He is confronted with the need for a second birth, whatever that means. He doesn’t understand how it’s possible. Kingdom entrance, your eternal life requires a physical and a spiritual birth. Jesus is surprised that this teacher of Israel doesn’t understand it.
Jesus reveals His origin, that He is from heaven, He is the Son of God, His teaching. He predicts His death. He says the Son of Man is going to be lifted up just like that serpent. And we will learn that this phrase, “Being lifted up,” is the same word used currently in the day for crucifixion and John will use the exact same phrase to talk of Jesus being lifted up on the cross.
He promises eternal life, Jesus, to whoever believes. And He came, not to be down on people and condemn, but the whole purpose of Jesus is to rescue people. And then, finally, that He reveals that some people will literally, no matter how kind or how loving, will refuse to believe.
The observations with regard to John the Baptist are pretty simple too. We find that John and Jesus are both baptizing in the countryside, John’s disciples are concerned, but John rejoices. John clarifies his role; he is to make the way of Jesus. And then he affirms Jesus’ identity, that He came from heaven. John affirms that Jesus is God and the Son of God. And then he says, “Whoever believes on Him has eternal life,” present tense, “and whoever chooses willfully to reject Him has the wrath of God upon him.”
Now, is that fair? I mean, what it says? Okay? There is nothing fancy, I didn’t go to any books. I just read it. Every one of us can do that.
The next question then is: What does it mean? And the key to asking what it means is asking basic questions of things that you would say, Well, until I can answer some of these questions, I don’t know what it really means. And here’s the deal. I want to first and foremost know, imaginary box, A.D. 85 or 90, John is speaking by the Spirit of God. I am a first century Christian. Historically, culturally – what did it mean to them? What does it mean to me with the pressures I have in my life?
God wants to speak to ordinary people like us as vividly and clearly as He did then.