This morning as we open to John 3:16, one of the best known verses in the Bible, we also open to just one of over 100+ different times the New Testament records the good news of salvation, or the Gospel, being explained.
While turning to John 3, see if you can repeat with me the best know verse in the Bible. Here we go:
“For God….so loved…”
Yes, there you have it—the best know verse in the Bible; and starting at this passage we are considering the implications of Christ’s convictions about salvation.
Jesus over and over represented Himself as the only way to God; and Jesus also clearly said that He was the only way to Heaven; and finally Jesus claimed to be the only escape from Hell. One of the most critical of all studies in God’s Word would be to actually examine each time that Jesus explained the plan of salvation.
Eight years ago I took the saints of Tulsa Bible Church on a year-long journey through the Gospels and Acts, looking at every time Jesus presented the plan of salvation. That study I called The Master’s Message of Eternal Life: Hearing Jesus Present the Gospel. We looked at each of those 100+ presentations recorded in the Four Gospels, plus Acts (They total 111 different explanations of salvation: Matthew has 31; Mark has 9; Luke has 23; John has 26; and Acts has 22). All of that year long study is available online, free of charge in both text and audio files for any of you that want to dig deeper than we’ll go this morning. Now, let’s:
Ponder the implications of Christ’s convictions about Salvation
In John 3 this morning we are looking at just one of these incredible presentations of the greatest message of all, the plan of salvation. As we look at this event note carefully that Jesus believed that He the only means of salvation.
Christ’s presentation of salvation is clearly captured in John 3; and it is a very simple summary of salvation that contained three truths:
• “you” (salvation is a personal and individual transaction)
• “must be” (salvation is a very exclusive, narrow, and quite directive command from Jesus to lost sinners who need to be saved)
• “born again” (salvation is an obedient, personal confession that your first birth into what ever family, religion, heritage, ethnic group, and so on is insufficient to get you to Heaven, and unless a supernatural, conscious miracle called conversion takes place, only Hell lies ahead).
• A person who was deeply religious and God fearing;
• A person who was under the Jewish covenant,
• A person who was circumcised in the exact and proper method prescribed by the Old Testament Mosaic law, and
• A person who was carefully keeping all the commands of God’s Word in every way he knew how.
However, though Nicodemus was God trusting, and Bible obeying, Jesus explains that because he was never personally born again, supernaturally converted or saved from his sin, Nicodemus was going to be banished from the banquet called Heaven, and cast into the place of everlasting doom called Hell.
In fact Jesus confronted a religious, Bible reading, moral, upright, God-fearing man who believed every word of the Bible, prayed, was in the covenant (circumcised just like Moses said), and affirmed he believed in God with all his heart. To that man, named Nicodemus, Jesus said, “You are not going to Heaven, unless you personally call out to Me and get saved or born-again”!
Religious and Reverent But Still Lost
Think of that: covenant entrance by circumcision (or as has been transformed into the modern day practice of infant baptism) does not insure salvation. Faithful church attendance, Bible reading, prayers, strong morals, sacrificial tithing/giving, even deep personal Bible study (all of which Nicodemus was actively doing) could never get him to Heaven (or anyone like him alive today). Jesus said the only way into salvation was the conscious act of being born again or saved.
The Four Gospels are actually an 89 chapter record of Jesus strongly warning of the terrible danger of trusting in a group salvation. The Jewish people thought that they were secure forever, and had eternal life because of the covenant God made with Abraham. This was their covenant theology. Their covenant theology made them resist the clear teaching of Jesus about the need for a personal salvation.
With that in mind, listen to how unusually Jesus shares the Gospel (almost every one of the 100+ times the plan of salvation is shared we find it a little different from all the others. Please stand with me as we read together John 3:12-18:
John 3:12-18 “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?13 “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.17 “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. NKJV
The Brazen Serpent and Christ’s Gospel
One of the best-known verses in the Bible is framed by one of the strangest scenes in the Bible.
Nicodemus comes in an evening visit to Jesus, seeking answers about salvation. The Nicodemus of the New Testament may have been the Nicodemus known in secular history as Nicodemus ben Gurion. If so he was the 3rd richest man of early 1st Century Israel. His younger brother would have been known as Josephus ben Gurion, as in the world famous historian whose three famous books we can still read today, by an author you may have heard of called Josephus. If that is who Nicodemus was it makes his conversion even more amazing, because he was so wealthy and so powerful in that era of history!
To confront Nicodemus with his need and explain the magnitude of this New Birth, Jesus goes back to a strange Old Testament story which is told in Numbers 21:4–9. Please turn back there with me to Number, the fourth book of the Bible and in chapter 21 capture the picture Jesus uses in this presentation of the plan of salvation.
Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.” 6 So the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died. 7 Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
On their journey through the wilderness the people of Israel murmured and complained and regretted that they had ever left Egypt. Because of t
heir complaining, “the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people: and much people of Israel died.”
When they repented, the Lord told Moses to erect a serpent of brass upon a pole, symbolizing sin judged and put to death. Moses had to attach the serpent of brass nailed it to a tree to hold it on! “… and it came to pass that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived”.
Salvation is Amazingly Simple When Jesus explains it
Jesus explain to Nicodemus the scholar, the man who had done it all how these obscure verses from Numbers 21, were actually an Old Testament picture of salvation only through Jesus Christ. As Peter later says, He is Jesus who “bore our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). So Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15) .
Now, take an Old Testament Sunday School story ask why did Jesus use that picture? What exactly was Jesus saying that the Brazen Serpent story pointed at that Nicodemus needed to understand?
The great similarity between the condition of the sinful and doomed Israelites of 3500 years ago, Nicodemus in Christ’s time, and each of us today is incredible! Have you ever thought about this?
First, we all share the same deadly infection,
And all those infected will die.
All the doomed rebels in the wilderness of Numbers 21 who were infected by the poison of the serpents would die. Nicodemus the moral and outwardly righteous man was just as infected and also would die. So each of us today were also born with the same deadly serpent bite of sin and are all doomed just like the Israelites of Moses’ day and Nicodemus of Christ’s day.
The lesson Nicodemus needed was the one Jesus gives first and that is: All infected by the SIN virus, will die.
Second, we all share a similar offer of a cure, Because there is only one cure.
In the wilderness of tents, sand, and these deadly snakes that could come into any home at any time and bite anyone, God Himself devised a plan. God prescribed only one antidote against the fiery serpent’s venom. Nothing else would work. Many other remedies could be tried, many other plans could be designed, but only God’s plan and remedy was able to save the snake bitten.
To Nicodemus Jesus was saying, you are trusting your own remedy and not Mine, and yours won’t work. To each of us today, Jesus is saying the same thing! God only offers a salvation purchased by Christ’s death on the Cross. That is God’s only plan.
As Moses lifted the Brass Serpent on the pole, so Christ was lifted up upon the cross (John 12:33-34). The word used in Numbers 21 for a pole signifies a banner, or ensign; and on the cross Jesus was lifted up and displayed for all the world to see that He was God’s only remedy for sin.
There is only one cure: “Neither is their salvation in any other”, Peter says in Acts 4:12 “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
We all share a similar choice, Because only God’s way will work.
IT WAS SIMPLE. They looked up from where ever they were and lived. No matter how far distant the pole was from their place of dying, God touched them and saved their life. Loved ones rushed to friends and relatives and earnestly explained the provision God had made, and all who would believe and respond were miraculously saved from the venom of the serpent.
• So today, two thousand years distant from the Cross salvation is simple. We only need to look at Christ by faith, for His salvation, and we have all our sins forever forgiven and eternal life.
IT WAS SPECIFIC. The brazen serpent’s lifted up did not cure unless looked upon with a heart of faith. Self-medication without looking at the brazen serpent, inevitably led to their death.
• So today, salvation is specific and only faith in Jesus as the One who took our place, and only placing my faith in His sacrifice can save me. No church, no works, no experience, just faith in Him.
IT WAS POWERFUL. Everyone one of the thousands who looked upon this pole, even from the outer fringes of the camp, even with burning and blurred eyes half open, were completely healed.
• So today, salvation is powerful so that anyone who lives and believes in Jesus Christ has everlasting life and forgiveness and will never die!
After this evening discussion with Nicodemus, if you check carefully the chronology of events in a harmony of the Gospels, Jesus teaches the words recorded in Matthew 7:21-23, just before we finish please turn there with me.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Do you know Jesus personally? In the context of John 3:
Have You Looked At Jesus Who Died for You?
Before we go today: are you looking up today at Christ’s cross as a former, snake bitten, sin infected, hopelessly unable to save yourself from a horrible and eternal death survivor?
In other words, have you fallen before Jesus, as one of those infected with the deadly virus of SIN and cried out, asking Him to save you?
Remember salvation is simple “for whoever calls”; and it is specific “on the Name of the Lord”; and it is powerful “will be saved”.
Be sure you have run to Jesus, called to him who alone has the antidote to the eternal damnation that any sinner forever deserves!
Be sure you have put your name into God’s offer of salvation this morning:
John 3:16 “For God so loved [your name or ‘me’] that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever [put in your name or ‘if I’] believes in Him
[‘I’ or your name] should not perish but have everlasting life. NKJV
If you would like to know Jesus Christ today, and know that your sins are all gone—past, present, and future—you can know today. Just look up from where ever you are dying from the snake bite of sin.
Jesus still has His arms stretched out to you. If you will listen to Him, He is offering the free gift of salvation.
Please stand with me for the closing prayer.
Here is a prayer you can pray, a prayer that can express your desire to transfer your trust to Christ alone for your eternal salvation.
This prayer can be the link that will connect you to God. And if you pray it in faith, God will receive you.
Please bow with me.
I know that I am a sinner and there is nothing that I can do to save myself. I confess my complete helplessness to forgive my own sin or to work my way to heaven.
At this moment I look upon Christ alone as the One who bore my sin when He died on the cross.
I believe that He did all that ever will be necessary for me to stand in your holy presence.
I thank you that Christ was raised from the dead as a guarantee of my own resurrection.
As best as I can, I now transfer: my trust to Him. I am grateful that He has promised to receive me despite my many sins and failures.
Father, I take you at your word. I thank you that I can face death now that you are my Savior. Thank you for the assurance that you will walk with me though the deep valley.
Thank You for hearing this prayer.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
If you spoke in faith to Jesus Christ just now, He heard you and responded.
What about those who do not receive the only cure, and do not come the only way?
If you will join me this evening, we will take the only guided tour of the grave ever given. The tour guide is Jesus Christ Himself. He takes us to a live camera where we see and hear what happens one moment after two very different people die. One was trusting in the serpent lifted up on the pole (a substitute), the other was trusting in himself, what he could do and had done (religion).
The results of those two choices are horrifyingly different.
If you have never seen inside the nether world, Hades, the grave, the waiting room of Hell—that all the dead from Cain to the final person born at the end of the world end up in, come and hear about it tonight.
The 2nd great phrase is “hath everlasting life”. Eternal life is the very life of God himself. So answer this with me: if we possess eternal life, what do we have? What is entering into eternal life here and now, today? The answer is simply this – eternal life surrounds every relationship we have in life with peace.
1. PEACE ABOVE. It gives us peace with God. We are no longer cringing before a tyrannical king or seeking to hide from an austere judge. We are at home with our Father. Romans 5:1 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2. PEACE AROUND. It gives us peace with men. If we have been forgiven we must be forgiving. Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
3. PEACE ALONG. It gives us peace with life. If God is Father, God is working all things together for good. Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
4. PEACE WITHIN. It gives us peace with ourselves. Isaiah 26:3 You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.
5. PEACE TO COME. It makes him certain that the deepest peace on earth is only a shadow of the ultimate peace to come. Philippians 3:21, 4:5b-7 who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself… The Lord is at hand. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Responding to God’s Word
What should be our response to these truths?
1. YIELD TO THE WORD! Jesus and God’s Word are impossible to separate. You cannot divide Him from the Scriptures. He spoke them, defended them and affirmed them. To accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is to yield to what He taught about Scripture. Scripture’s authority is Christ’s authority. To obey the Lord is to obey His Word. “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:47). To trust in Christ is to say of Him as Peter did, “You have words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
2. TRUST THE WORD! The Old Testament cannot contain any errors. If there were any we would have to decide one of two things about Jesus Christ. Either He was ignorant of those errors, in which case He was not omniscient and was therefore not God. Or else He knew of the errors but denied them, in which case He would have been a liar and a hypocrite, and therefore not holy God.
3. RECEIVE THE WORD! Always remembering that it is “the word implanted, which is able to save [our] souls” (James 1:21). We should receive it because of the infinite majesty of the Author and His authoritative statements about it. We should receive it because of the price that God paid to get it to us, and because it is the standard of truth, joy, blessing, and salvation. And we should receive it because not to receive it brings judgment.
4. EXALT THE WORD! Psalm 138:2 I will worship toward Your holy temple, And praise Your name For Your loving kindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word above all Your name. (NKJV) Charles Spurgeon once said, “Is the infallible revelation of the infallible Jehovah to be moderated, to be shaped, to be toned down to the fancies and fashions of the hour? God forbid us if we ever alter His Word.” Martin Luther never feared men, but when he stood up to preach he often felt his knees knock together under a sense of great responsibility to be true to the Word of God.
5. OBEY THE WORD! We should be diligent to present ourselves approved to God as workmen who do “not need to be ashamed, handling accurately the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Like Jeremiah, we should find God’s words and eat them (Jeremiah. 15:16), and “let the word of Christ richly dwell within” us (Col. 3:16).
6. DEFEND THE WORD! We are to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Like Jude, we should fight for the integrity, purity, and authority of Scripture.
7. SHARE THE WORD! We are to have as our constant goal to share the Word. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 I charge [you] therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season [and] out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching. (NKJV) Says Spurgeon again, “I cannot speak out my whole heart on this theme which is so dear to me, but I would stir you all up to be instant in season and out of season in telling out the gospel message, especially to repeat such a word as this: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’ Whisper it in the ear of the sick, shout it in the corner of the streets, write it on your tablet, send it forth from the press, but everywhere let this be your great motive and warrant. You preach the gospel because the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
So what exactly were Christ’s convictions about this Book?
1. Jesus believed that this Book was completely trustworthy historically: because Jesus believed and affirmed the record of the events and people in the Bible as being true and reliable history. From Adam to Noah, and from Moses to Jonah—Jesus said the persons were real and the events literally happened as recorded in this Book. I believe the Bible is true because this is the Book that Jesus affirmed the absolutely trustworthy historical accuracy. Jesus believed that the Bible was the Book we can trust Historically
2. Jesus believed that the Bible was the Book we can trust Prophetically: because Jesus believed and affirmed that what the Old Testament prophets saw happening in the future, was going to happen (Matthew 24); and Jesus explained the same future events that John, Peter, and Paul all described in detail. Jesus believed that the prophecies of the Bible irrefutably affirmed the Scriptures as God’s Word (Matthew 5:18). I trust God’s Word because it is the only book that declares future events with absolute accuracy (Fulfilled Prophecy). Did you know the Bible is the only book in the world that has accurate prophecy? When you read the prophecies of the Bible, you simply have to stand back in awe. There are over 300 precise prophecies that deal with the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament that are fulfilled in the New Testament. To say that these are fulfilled by chance is an astronomical impossibility.
3. Jesus believed that the Bible was the Book we can trust Scientifically: because Jesus said that He was the Creator of everything (John 1:3); and that He created everything in six literal, 24 hour days (Exodus 20:11); and that the Universe is held together by the Word of His power (Col. 1:15-17). I believe the Bible is true because of the absolutely verifiable scientific accuracy of God’s Word.
4. Our Lord JESUS CHRIST trusted this book as God’s Word: This is the most compelling reason of all. Jesus authenticated and affirmed that the book we call the Bible is the very revelation of God’s Word. He used it as the foundation for His teaching, quoted from it and ascribed to the Bible His divine imprimatur. So I believe that Bible can be trusted because our Lord Jesus Christ said so! Over and over we find Him asking those who questioned Him, “Have you never read?”, “It is written” and “Search the Scriptures”. He believed in: Jesus believed in the verbal (every word) inspiration of the Scriptures [Matthew 5:18]. And used God’s Word in His Private Life (Mt 4 quotes Deut); and He uses it in His struggle with Satan; and in His Public Ministry (Mt 5-7 quotes Isaiah 61.2); and He uses it to teach multitudes by the Sea; and in His personal teaching ministry to the disciples (and us by way of extension) such as in Matthew 24 where Jesus quotes Daniel and other prophets, when He uses it to explain the future to His disciples. Jesus believed in the Inerrancy of the Scriptures (John 10:35; 17:17) so much so that one out of every ten recorded words of Jesus are Old Testament quotes! Jesus believed in the Historical Reliability of Scripture as in the historicity of Adam and Eve (Mt. 19:4-5); Abel (Mat 23.35); Noah and the account of the global flood (Mt. 24:37-38); Abraham (John 8:56); Moses and the burning bush (Mk 12.26); David (Matthew 12.3); Elijah (Luke 4.25); Daniel (Mt 4.17); and Jonah and the great fish account (Mt. 12:40-41)
5. Fifthly, because the Apostles and Prophets completely trusted and affirmed God’s Word. When the Apostles and Prophets spoke, because Spirit of Christ was in them it was actually the Voice of Jesus that spoke through every Apostle and every prophet (I Peter 1:11; II Peter 1:21), that was Peter’s clear conviction in his epistles. In fact the writers God used to record His Word all said thousands of times that what they were writing was the very Scriptures or words from God. They were totally convinced that they were sharing words that were not originating with them; and because they were totally convinced that they were sharing words that were not originating with them, they repeated over 3800 times “thus saith the Lord”.
6. Sixthly, I am completely able to trust that the Bible is God’s Word because of its incredible survival. Jesus reminded us that Heaven and earth shall pass away but not one word will fail. The Bible has endured through the ages despite being the target of Empires, armies and infidels. As one poet wrote, the Bible stands like a rock undaunted through the raging storms of time. Its pages burn with the truth eternal and they glow with a light divine. The Bible stands though the hills may tumble it will firmly stand though the Earth may crumble. I will take my stand on its firm foundation for the Bible stands! The Bible is not a book of the month, but the Book of the ages. First Peter 1:25 says: “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” No book has ever had as much opposition as the Bible. Men have laughed at it, scorned it, burned it, ridiculed it, and made laws against it. But the Word of God has survived. And it is applicable today as much as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. It’s so majestically deep that scholars could swim and never touch the bottom. Yet so wonderfully shallow that a little child could come and get a drink of water without fear of drowning. That is God’s precious, holy Word. The Word of God. Know it. Believe it, it is True. The Bible stands though the hills may tumble it will firmly stand though the earth may crumble. I will take my stand on its firm foundation for the Bible stands!
7. Seventh and finally, I am convinced of the trustworthiness of the Bible because of its absolute unity. Jesus said of the Scriptures, “They speak of Me.” The Bible contains an absolutely unified message: from Genesis to Revelation, the Bible reads as one book. And there is incredible unity to the Bible. You know, if you look at the Bible, there is an incredible unity demonstrated in the fact that as I mentioned before, 40 different men, most of whom who never saw each other… Did you think about that? Those people that wrote the Bible didn’t even know each other. They were living in three different continents. They were writing over 60 generations of time, 1,600 years comes one unmistakable fabric woven from prison to palace, desert to dungeon, hillside to holy places. There is one common denominator, one shared theme and one united message. There is but one system of doctrine, one system of ethics, one plan of salvation and one rule of faith. One King and one Kingdom and one entrance into His presence! Most of them never saw what the other one wrote. And yet, this book has an absolute unity. The Bible forms one beautiful temple of truth that does not contradict itself theologically, morally, ethically, doctrinally, scientifically, historically, or in any other way. It fits together better than the most machined parts. It totally unites. And when you look at this book, you find that there’s an unmistakable fabric that was woven from prison to palace from desert to dungeons, from hillsides to holy places and there’s one common denominator. There’s one shared theme. There’s one united message. There’s only one system of doctrine, one system of ethics; and there’s only one plan of salvation. There is a supernatural, unearthly unity to this book.