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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.”
You got it? 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. What did it mean to them? Historically, culturally – what did it mean to them? It’s truth.
What does it mean to me as a single person, a married person, a parent? 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. And so some of the questions, there are probably more, but some of the questions that I ask were things like: Why did Nicodemus want to talk to Jesus? Why did he come by night? What does it mean to be “born again?”
And why did Jesus lead with this abrupt, “You need to be born again,” to this very smart, intellectual, interested, highly esteemed religious leader? Why was Jesus surprised that he didn’t get it? If he is so intelligent, how could he not get it?
What, this Old Testament illustration about the snake and the bronze, how did – what is that all about? Did anybody hear when I was reading that, immediately you thought to yourself, Oh yeah, that Old Testament story and he put this bronze snake on a pole and he held it up and now it all makes sense, anybody? I remember reading this going, What is this about?
And so we will have to do a little research. But I will tell you this: Nicodemus went, Got it! Ooh! Why? Because he had that whole first five books of the Old Testament memorized since he was probably twelve or thirteen years old. He had been studying them for the next decade or two or more.
This is a guy in mid-life or beyond who is esteemed, who is intelligent. And Jesus taught him in a way that he could understand.
And then just: How do you receive this eternal life? What does it really mean? And why wouldn’t anybody, if this is true, why would anybody refuse it?
Those are just valid questions. Let’s answer them. Okay? What does this mean to them? Then what does it mean to us?
First reason, so, Nicodemus. He respects Jesus. He calls Him, “Rabbi.” That means, “I respect that You’re actually a teacher, even though You didn’t go to our university. You didn’t come through the system.”
And he comes at night, why? Because Jesus is a revolutionary, He is turning over tables, He is being criticized, multitudes are following Him, He’s healing people, five thousand people over here are getting fed on a few loaves, and the rumors about the woman’s little boy or little girl and this one was raised from the dead.
And things are exploding! And it’s threatening the religious establishment. And so, a lot of the religious leaders are now thinking, We have to kill this guy. We have to take Him out.
But Nicodemus has an honest heart and he does the math and he goes, You know something? I’m not sure much about where this guy is coming from, but no one could do the miracles He does. I’m going to lower my pride, put my education over here, and I am going to go privately, because I don’t want to gain a lot of attention. I want to find out what it’s all about. And so he meets Him at night.
And so, Jesus goes directly to the heart of the matter. Nicodemus doesn’t need more knowledge. “Nicodemus, you’ll not enter the kingdom of God unless you’re born again.” Now, if you’re a Jew and you hear the phrase, “The kingdom of God,” it’s where the presence of God, their expectation: God, the Messiah, the King would come, overthrow Rome, put them in power, and solve all their problems. That was one aspect.
But they also knew the kingdom of God is when the presence of God is here and you become a son of God and the phrase was used interchangeably with eternal life. And so basically He says to the smartest guy and the teacher of Israel, “Unless you have a spiritual birth, you can’t enter.” You mean my good works can’t get me in? My religion can’t get me in? My going to the Temple can’t get me in? My tithing can’t get me in? My fasting can’t get me in? All the good work? Jesus said, “You need to be born again.”
So what is “born again?” The phrase means, it has dual meaning. The word literally means: born a second time. And the word also means: to be born from above. So it is to be born a second time from above.
Well, I don’t know about you, but if you were a really smart guy and it’s been a long time since you were born and some radical teacher who does all these miracles says you need to be born a second time, what does Nicodemus do? Illogical. Right? How? Am I going to reenter my mother’s womb? That’s definitely not going to work. What do You mean?
Does Jesus change the conversation? What does He do? “I tell you the truth, unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.” So the question ought to be: What does He mean: Water and the Spirit?
By the way, you can read some commentaries on this and it always interests me that people take all this theology out of the New Testament and read in a lot to this. This is an honest guy asking an honest question. The answer is pretty simple.
So, you women who have had a baby, when something breaks, you know the baby is really coming and it’s when your water breaks. Right. Okay. Because little babies are inside the womb in this amniotic fluid and Jesus is saying, “Look, you need to be born of water.” There is a physical birth. “And just as nothing is alive, there is no power, there is no life until there is a physical birth, you need a spiritual birth! You need an encounter with God! You need to be regenerated, Nicodemus! It’s not religion, it’s not your good works, it’s not all your knowledge. It’s not what you know.”
Just as a baby is born and things change and they were – in the womb, I don’t know how it works. You know, the umbilical cord and they can live in water. Guess what, they have to live on air now. Just as there is a physical birth, you need a spiritual birth.
Now in the context, John the Baptist is in the scene, because water does have one symbolic thing that I think we can say, historically, is that thousands of people are going out to hear this wild man. He was really, I mean, if you were Nicodemus, this is an Old Testament prophet. He’s crazy. And yet you can tell God is working.
And the water meant what? Repent. People were going to him to say, “My life is messed up. I’m not the kind of dad, I’m not the kind of mom, I do have greed, I covet in my heart, I do sleep around, I do cheat. The stuff that comes out of my mouth, I have unresolved anger issues,” all the stuff that we have!
Multitudes were coming out and John said, “You have to repent,” and the word is: metanoeō. “Have a change of mind.” And they were coming to be baptized to say, “I want that old life and that old junk – I want it washed away and I want to walk with God now.” And that was preparation. So, you prepared and realized, Now what you need is the Spirit of God with the power to do that.
And so, Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, the prostitute, the tax collectors, the people who see their need, they are going and they are being dipped in water.” But guess what, the religious rulers didn’t go there. The Pharisees didn’t go there. Well, why? That’s like admitting you have need.
“We’re the rulers! We’re the descendants of Abraham! We teach the Word of God! We fast! We do all the stuff!” To go be baptized would say, “I have need, my life is messed up, I covet in my heart, I may be squeaky clean on the outside, but I lust on the inside.”
And so, He is saying to him, “Nicodemus, you need a spiritual birth, and part of a spiritual birth is you have to repent and realize you have a need.”
And Nicodemus says, “How can this be?” And you know Jesus, illustration. “Look, Nicodemus, you can’t see the wind, right?” “Right.” “When the wind blows, though, if you go outside and you see a tree doing this, can you say, Oh, I see the wind? Or what can you say?” I know the wind is blowing because I see its effects.
And He is using a little play on words. The word in Greek for wind? Pneuma. The word in Greek for “Spirit” is pneuma. I’ll go over that again. You got it? Pneuma – pneuma. And so what He was saying to him is that when the Spirit of God gives birth in your life, you can’t see it or understand how it all works, it’s not your little formula, it’s not your self-effort, it’s not your performance, it’s not your religion.
There is power! There will be an effect! You’ll love, you’ll care, there will be change.
Well, Nicodemus hears that and he goes, “You know, I’m still not quite getting it.” And so now Jesus is going to give him something that was very helpful for him and at least a little confusing for us. He said, “Okay, look, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him can have eternal life.”
I want you to turn to Numbers chapter 21, because the story about the serpent is pretty simple. It’s only about four verses.
And, again, I never opened the Bible until I was eighteen, and so Numbers is like, Where is that at? Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers. It’s the fourth book of the Bible, okay?
The story is the children of Israel. They have come through the Red Sea, God has miraculously delivered, there is a cloud by day, a fire by night. When it moves, they move. There are roughly two million, maybe two point five million people along with their animals. It’s very organized. There is the tent of meeting. And then north, south, east, and west – the different tribes are all organized.
And they are just, after all the miracle, miracle, miracle, they just get a very bad attitude and they rebel. And so, you pick up the story in Numbers chapter 21, beginning at verse 4. “They,” the children of Israel, “traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way. And they spoke against God and against Moses and said, ‘Why have you brought us out from Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread, there is no water, and we detest this miserable food,’” the manna.
“Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them, and they bit the people, and many Israelites died.” Sin always has consequences. God is forgiving; He is merciful. When I sin, when you sin, there are always consequences.
“The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned! We spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that He will take away these snakes from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.” And as he prayed, God said, “Here is the solution.”
And candidly, I’m just going to tell you, to me it’s really odd. I think this is a really odd solution. Now knowing God’s plan and how so many things are prefigured in the Old Testament to help us understand the New, but this is the solution. There are two million people in rebellion, there are a bunch of snakes, a lot of them have been bitten, there is no antidote, it takes a while to die from a snake bite.
“And God says to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole. And anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on the pole and then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
Now, let me give you the parallels. God commanded Moses to put this snake on a pole. It symbolized God is going to save His people who are dying. The cure was of faith. They didn’t do anything. They just believed that if you looked and if you did look at it, you would be healed. It was lifted up on a standard. And a standard would be a pole and then they would make the snake and then there would be a cross to hold it so it would be literally like the prefigure of a cross.
And every, single person’s destiny would be dictated by whether they believed in the statement and went and looked, or not.
Now, that’s an obscure Old Testament story. But now imagine yourself with this brilliant intellect, knowing all the Old Testament. And He says, “Just as Moses lifted this bronze snake, and people came and just looked and they were healed, so Jesus, the Son of Man, must be lifted up.”
And he gets it! Crucified. So whoever would look to Him shouldn’t perish but have eternal life. Translation. “Nicodemus, being born from above can never happen by good works or religiosity. You must believe that My death on the cross will pay or cover for the sin of all people of all time. If you believe and trust in that, you will have life. If you reject that offer, you will die.”
And so Nicodemus, in fact, we learn later he becomes a secret disciple. He was a little fearful and he doesn’t go public until after the resurrection. But he gets it. He really understands that his religion and his good works and, I’m good enough, and I’m better than most people and I think as long as you’re sincere, everyone is okay. All that stuff that is still going around today. And then, finally, we hear John the Baptist’s endorsement that makes this radical statement that says, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has,” present tense, “eternal life.”
Now, as you turn to the back page, let me summarize, because we still haven’t really touched on, So, what does it mean to believe?
It’s the theme. If you went through a little bit later in your little gospel of John or you can take your Bible and every time the word “believe,” or “faith,” circle, circle, circle, circle, circle, circle. I’ll tell you, it’s something you learn, is that belief happens by the Spirit of God and Jesus actually is completely astounded that this smart, wise, religious guy doesn’t get it.
And if you will, just on the side in your notes, write down, “Ezekiel 36, verses 25 to 27.” I won’t take you there right now, but God had promised that when the Messiah comes and this new covenant occurs, he says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean. And I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will take My Spirit and I will put My Spirit inside of you. And those of you who have My Spirit will, from the inside out, have a desire to obey My laws and decrees.”
In other words, that’s the New Covenant! That’s what the Messiah is going to do, that’s what was promised.
But just like us, you know when you get locked into, You know, I’m supposed to read the Bible some, I should be a little bit better, moral person, but I’m better than most people. And it’s a multi-cultural, pluralistic society and who am I to say what is right or what is really wrong? So I will try and be a really good person and I’ll try and be sort of spiritual and I guess I’ll be okay because…
And Jesus cuts through all of that. If being good could ever get you right with God, here is the big question: Like, how good do you really need to be? How good is good enough?
I think in preparation for this message I had one of these knocks at my door yesterday. A young man in a tie, early thirties, delightful guy with his Watchtower information. He wanted to talk to me about how I could have life. And we had a great conversation. And we did. And we did.
And you know what? I treated him with such dignity and I wanted him to have a great experience with a Christian.
And I said, “We could probably argue about this, this, this, and this and you’re probably going to say these three or four things. Here’s what I want to tell you. You’re hoping to be one of the one hundred and forty-four thousand and you’re hoping someday, some way you can do enough good that you are going to get in and God will forgive you. Are you ready for this? I know without a doubt that I currently have eternal life and if I died tomorrow, I would be ushered into the presence of God. Because what God has saved me by is not what I do. He has saved me by His grace. And because I have His grace, see, I don’t do good things to get God’s favor. I already has His favor; His Son lives inside me by the Spirit of God and I do good things because that is the life of Christ in me.”
And he kind of looked at me and then I said, “Are you ready for this? This is the testimony that God has given us eternal life. And this life is in His Son. ‘He that has the Son has life. He that does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written unto you that you might know,’” and the word is, “know for sure,” that you have eternal life.
I said, “I know for sure.” And what I know about every ism, every cult, every religion that is based on some sort of works – they never know, because you can’t.
But if God demands absolute perfection, no amount of good gets there. He is that holy; He is that pure. And so, we need to ask the final question: What does it mean to believe so that you have eternal life?
On the back I have summarized our teaching so that you could go back and ponder it and maybe share it with a friend. What does John chapter 3 mean to you and me? Right? Now we are to the application.
I would really ask, I have no idea where you’re at in your journey, but I would ask you right now, before I go on, that however you talk to God, however you whisper in your mind, say, Oh, God, if there is something here that You want me to understand that I don’t, will You please open my mind and open my heart?
Number one: Being good and moral does not merit or earn eternal life. It’s as radical as it gets. I live in a day, you live in a day, if you’re sincere it doesn’t matter what you believe. I can sincerely believe diesel will work in my car. It doesn’t. Sincerity is never the test. I’m a good person. Based on what? By whose measurement and by whose standard? It’s always relative.
Second, spiritual life demands a spiritual birth. Babies don’t come into the world until they come out of the womb. And they breathe life and they move and they cry and there is life. Just as a physical birth demands life, a physical life, a physical life, you have to have an encounter with God that is a spiritual birth from the inside out. That’s what Nicodemus didn’t have. And he was more moral, I’ll guarantee, than anybody in this room. And more religious than anybody in this room. And that’s why I think Jesus chose him.
Third, God loves you and wants to give you eternal life as a free gift.
Last night, in the services, I tweaked my back a little bit doing some stuff. And so, these chairs kind of mess me up now and then. So I was sitting on the floor over there. And I can’t remember which song it was, but you know sometimes as you’re worshipping and a thought will come to your mind and then it will kind of explode and then it will be like – wow.
And I just looked at all the people in this room and I thought, God loves us! What do you think? He loves us! But it was more, I mean, “God so loved the world,” and that sort of gets to be, I know, I mean – what do I do to people I love? I love Theresa. You know what? I like to be with Theresa. I like to buy stuff for Theresa. I like to drink coffee with Theresa. I like to go on walks with Theresa. I have kids. I love them. I like to call them, I like to text them, I like to get together, I like to go on vacation. I have friends that I love. I want to hang out with them. The more stuff I have that I could help them – I love them! And I thought, That’s what God is like to us! See, the religion, we get involved in religion because down deep, we don’t believe God loves us! We think He is hard to please, we think He is down on us, we feel guilty, we think His job is that if anything is fun or good or exciting, He is probably against that.
And Jesus started it at a wedding so we could know, “I love you!” What if the all-knowing, all-powerful, omniscient, eternal, absolutely pure and holy Being who created all that there is and will be – what if He has a personal affection for you and His desire is for you to receive His Son for the payment of your sin to allow His Spirit to come live inside of you – that He wants to give you a better marriage, that He wants to give you direction for your life, that He wants to meet your needs.
Now, the pathway will often not be what you think. And it will require faith and you will have to own your stuff. But what if, who else could you trust, oh yeah, you could trust you. I’ll run my life. I know what’s best for me. No one is going to tell me what to do.
See, people do not come into the light if our deeds are dark, if we don’t recognize we need help. I just want to tell you, not someday, not some way, not if you do this, not if you start doing that, not if you come to church regularly, blah-blah-blah.
He wants to give you eternal life. See, when that happens, you’ll want to be with other Christians. You’ll want to read His Word. I can’t imagine saying, I love Theresa with all my heart. We get married and I say, “You know, I like California.” She says, “I like West Virginia.” “Great, you live there; I’ll live here.” Where she is, I want to be with her!
If you don’t want to be with Jesus, if you have no desire to love people, if you have no desire for His Word, I would just say it’s between you and God – examine yourself. Have I prayed a prayer or do I have eternal life?
Four, eternal life begins the moment you receive Christ as your Savior and Lord. See, today is the day of salvation. Moments from now, moments from now. It’s not something that is going to happen after you die. You can have the encounter that Jesus wanted for Nicodemus. You can be washed in the water, admit, Oh, God, I am not perfect and I am actually messed up in some areas and I need You. And I receive the life of Christ and His death on the cross as sole payment for my sin. And I am asking You to come into my life and be my Savior and the Lord and the CEO, He’ll do it.
The Scripture says, “Like newborn babes long for the pure milk of God’s Word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Babies need love and encouragement. And life is hard early. We are a family!
Number five: We must receive Christ by faith to begin that lifelong journey. Some of you, something boiling inside going, Okay, tell me how. Here’s how. “Jesus came and He came to His own, and those who were His own rejected Him. But as many as received Him, He gave the right or the authority to become children of God, as many as believed on His name.” So what does it mean to receive Christ? Jesus will come back to a church and talk to them in Revelation chapter 3. And I remember the first time I heard this, I had never opened the Bible, I had never heard of Jesus, I had never heard of a personal relationship. And there was a room about like this with six or eight hundred athletes.
And a man said, “Jesus said this, ‘Behold, I stand at the door of your heart and knock. If anyone hears My voice and will open the door, I will come in and live with you,’” and, literally, it’s an ancient Eastern picture, “and eat with you.” In other words, “You are mine. We are going to do life together.” And the thing about this door is there is no handle. There is no handle on the outside. He can’t open it for you.
And the eternal God of the universe says, “If you will open the door of your heart and turn from your sin and invite Christ and believe on Him, the Spirit of the living God will come permanently to live in you, seal you with His Spirit, give you spiritual gifts, direct your life, make you a part of a family, and transform you little, by little, by little, by little – that two, three, and four years from now, people will be astounded.” Why are you so kind? Why are you so others centered now? What happened to that addiction you had? You used to be a workaholic, crazy person. What happened to you? Because Christ’s will live His life out through you.
Finally, you can receive Christ today by placing your trust in His death and resurrection as the sole basis for forgiveness of your sins, to become a member of God’s family. Today may be the clearest and most powerful time that the Spirit of the living God will ever bring you to a point where you understand what you need to do and, believe me, it’s a wrestling match and there are implications, I get all that. Been there; done that.
On behalf of God, I implore you, if you are not one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life, that as we bow our heads now, that you, in your own words, tell God, I want You. I turn from my sin, I ask you to come into my life, I accept Your forgiveness.
Will you please pray with me?