Our destiny is determined by what we do with the Light.
John(82) (Part of the Believe(74) series)
by Marc Webb(56) on June 30, 2019 (Sunday Morning(281))
All our lives we are constantly put in positions where we have to make judgment calls. Judgment calls are decisions that we make based on good, bad or no information. Each one of us will make thousands of judgment calls in our lifetime. Some are trivial, such as what kind of cereal to buy, what shirt to wear or what brand of toothpaste to use. There is not much risk in making those decisions and they are pretty easy to make though some of us spend hours on research in order to make them.
Some judgment calls are harder to make such as whom should I date or marry? Should I take this job or that job? Should I move to another town? Should I tell so-and-so about such-and-such secret? These pivotal questions are gray area problems that are the hardest to resolve – ones where despite all the research you’ve done and experts you’ve spoken to, the answer is still unclear. These are problems where it’s up to you, your experiences, and that pesky gut feeling to decide what is the best course of action.
There are three errors in judgment we all are at risk of committing: The first is called “representativeness bias.” This is the tendency to judge a situation based on one’s most prevalent experiences and beliefs about the situation. This bias can be useful when making quick judgments in day-to-day life, but it could prove dangerous in more far-reaching decisions because it limits our consideration of other experiences and information. In other words, if we only consider what we’ve personally experienced, we discount the larger picture.
The second is called “availability bias.” This is the tendency to make decisions based on what comes to mind most readily, even though it may not be the best choice available to us. Advertisers capitalize on our inclination to engage in this type of bias. If a certain brand of cereal is put in front of us enough times, that is the type of cereal we will think of first and, in turn, the brand we are most likely to choose. But there may be another kind of cereal out there that we’d like much better, if only it was on our radar.
Third is called “Confirmatory bias.” This is the tendency to make a judgment very early in the decision-making process and then, from that point forward, to only acknowledge information that confirms that judgment while ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
The good news is that we can catch ourselves engaging in these judgment errors once we are aware of them. Our ability to make the correct judgment calls has an obvious impact on the quality of our lives.
There are also judgment calls that we make on whether to do something that is somewhat questionable but not necessarily wrong. Usually we don’t count the consequences, we don’t think our actions all the way through, before we make these type of judgment calls.
Before I came to Idaville, I was working with youth in a church in Hanover. The adult advisors would get together and plan youth events and one of these events was a “road rally.” It was to be a kind of scavenger hunt where groups of youth in a vehicle driven by adults would drive around Hanover and look for clues and follow the route from the starting line to the finish line. So, a couple of hours before our youth meeting, one of my other advisors and myself set off to go around town and place the “clues” along the route they were to take. We decided to use lime along the road for the “clues.” We set off from the church and started to drive around the back roads putting the lime marks down on the sidewalks or on the road itself. I was driving the other advisors truck and he was on the back throwing down the lime as we drove around. After we had gone four or five blocks weaving around the back roads it was time to get on route 94. I guess at the time I didn’t think this was a big deal. It didn’t take long though for me to get pulled over by a police officer. As we were throwing the lime down on the side of the road someone used their cell phone to call the police. It seems as if what were doing was considered littering. In retrospect I didn’t completely think it through. We could have possibly caused an accident with the way we were throwing the lime down on the road. I made a judgment call without thinking the consequences of my actions through and it could have ended really bad for me or for someone else. I showed a lack of judgment that day.
What are some judgment calls you have had to make during your lifetime? Maybe you had to decide whether to leave a job and pursue another one. Or maybe you have made investments and had to decide which ones would be profitable or not. Maybe you had to decide whether or not to cancel an event because of bad weather. Sometimes that can be a hard decision especially if the weather forecasted hasn’t began at the time you have to make the decision. Of course we all have had to decide whether we are going to sin or resist the temptation to sin. Sinning is a bad judgment call that we have all made many times in our lives.
This morning we are going to be looking at John 3:16-21. We are going to delve into the most well-known verse in the entire Bible. But we are also going to be looking at a pretty important judgment call that we all have to make sometime in our lives. We can’t avoid it or have someone else make the call for us. It is the difference between spending eternity with God or eternity separated from God. Our choice centers around the person of Jesus Christ! Which brings us to our big idea this morning which is “our destiny is determined by what we do with the Light.”
Before we look at our text this morning, let’s start with a word of prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for calling us to faith, for planting your Word in our hearts, and for delivering us from our sin. I thank you for your gospel, your good news for the nations. Give us confidence in the power of your gospel. Grant us clarity in understanding your Word this morning and empower your people to recount your wondrous deeds to those we come in contact with this week. Give us love for you and love for one another. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
There are many wonderful verses in the Bible about God’s love, but few come close to describing His great love as succinctly and powerfully as John 3:16. This is what God’s Word says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
We are going to break down this verse almost word for word because the words themselves tell us a lot. We start with the very first word which is the conjunction, “for.” This word tells us the cause for God’s plan of redemption. It all begins with God and the cause is His love. God loved us unconditionally which means we didn’t have to do anything to get his love. This unconditional love is based solely upon His nature and His choice. It is who He is. In Him, we find the ultimate example of love. His love for us moved Him to take unprecedented action.
Next we see the greatness of God’s love magnified by the adverb, “so.” This word describes the manner of His love. It is not just that God loved us, but that He “so” loved us that He gave. This little adverb takes God’s love far beyond what we can think or imagine and it directs us to what He gave, which is his Son.
Last week, Pastor Stuart talked about being “born again.” How can someone be born again? The only way is through the unbounded, overflowing love of God that always was and always will be. We would not even know what love was without God. 1 John 4:19 says, We love because he first loved us. Our love for Him only exists because He loved us first. We wouldn’t even know how to love God or others if God didn’t show us his love first.
The next word is “loved.” There are four Greek words for love. The one used here is “agape.” “Agape” love is the love that chooses and gives of itself sacrificially for the best benefit of the other. It is a love that is not dependent on emotions and without this love no one could become reconciled to God. Through "agape" love God set aside His wrath against mankind because of their sin and poured it out on Jesus Christ, his beloved Son. Gangel says, “The cross does not show us the love of the son but of the Father.”
The next word is “world.” The object of God’s love is the world. John’s use of the term “world” here is in reference to all mankind. This would have been in great contrast to what Nicodemus would have believed. Remember – Nicodemus was Jewish… he was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin. They thought God loved only the Jews and then only those Jews who were keeping the law and their system of traditions. They felt they were God’s chosen and special people, and they were the only ones who had or could have a relationship with the one, true God. But when it says God loved the world that meant, he loved Samaritans, who were a mixed race and looked down upon by the Jews, he loved the Greeks who were pagans and worshipped many gods, and he loved the Romans who had come into the Jewish Promised Land by force and occupied it. It also meant he loved Egyptians, and Syrians, and people from every tribe and every nation.
Also, for God to love the world, He would also have to love sinners, and even worse to Nicodemus, Gentile sinners. Yet sinners are exactly the object of God’s love. 1 Peter 3:18 says, For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” God loved sinners so much that He made a way for them to be adopted as His children. It says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.”
The fact that sinners are the object of God’s love is one of the more astounding aspects of this verse. It means that we who respond to God in disobedience and hatred are still loved by God. It is easy to love someone that loves you, but God loves even those who hated him. It goes even farther than that because there is no one who is so sinful that God’s love is not extended to them. Abraham was the son of an idolater. Jacob was a deceiver. King David was an adulterer and murderer. The apostle Matthew was a dreaded tax-collector. Paul was a murderer and persecutor of the church. The early believers in Ephesus were pagans who practiced witch craft. Those in the church at Corinth included those who practiced fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, and were thieves, drunkards, revilers and swindlers.
The next word is “gave.” “Gave” has the double meaning of being “sent” as in the birth of Jesus and of being “delivered up to die” as in on the cross. While the object of God’s love is amazing, the sacrifice He has made in the demonstration of that love is even more amazing. The nature of true love is to give of itself, and the greatness of that love is demonstrated by the value of what is given. God loved the sinful world so much that He gave the most valuable and treasured thing that ever existed, his only begotten Son. It was an act infinitely costly to God.
The term, “only begotten Son,” is a Messianic reference to the second person of the triune Godhead. Jesus is one with the Father and the one who reveals the Father. The “only begotten Son” is the eternal, living Word, who became flesh and dwelt among us. Though we cannot comprehend this fully, the gift God gave us as the demonstration of His love was the second person of the triune Godhead. There is nothing more precious or valuable.
This plan included the giving of his Son for the ultimate purpose of being “lifted up.” To be lifted up did not mean to be put on a pedestal for all to admire and worship. Quite the opposite, to be lifted up meant he would be made a sacrifice for our sin on a Roman cross and he would die for all the world to see and witness it. He was to be the Suffering Servant as prophesied by Isaiah. Isaiah 53:2-10 says, He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
Now that the gift had been given, God made us all an offer. This offer is a universal one made to “whoever believes.” The purpose of this offer was so “that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
The idea of believing is central to John’s gospel. He uses the term “believe” in one form or another 92 times and in every single instance it is a verb, never a noun. That is because in Hebrew thought, to believe is always more than just a mental agreement. It is more than merely reciting a creed or a prayer. To believe in Jesus means to adopt His words and actions as the foundation for my words and actions. It means that I make Him the reliable and trustworthy guide for living and that I follow Him in every area of my life. That requires a change in my choices, desires, goals and behaviors. It is a change in thought that leads to a change in action. Our whole nature needed to be remade as Pastor Stuart showed us last week.
The requirement to be enter into eternal life and not perish is by “believing in Him.” That means those having faith in Jesus and what he came to earth to do are going to experience eternal life with God and not eternal separation from God. By referencing the Old Testament event of lifting up the serpent in the wilderness, (which Pastor Stuart talked about last week) Jesus provided a basic understanding of what it means to believe. The Israelite people in the wilderness had sinned against God and were suffering the judgment for their sin. God provided a means of salvation of exercising their faith by looking. First, they had to realize they were in trouble. Second, they had to “by faith” and obedience look to the object of their deliverance. We are asked by God first to acknowledge our need for a Savior and second to look to Jesus and believe in him for our deliverance. When we look beyond ourselves and look to Jesus for salvation that look of faith brings eternal results. This brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is “to realize I am in need of a Savior and to look to Jesus for deliverance.”
Now that your nature has been remade or “born again”, belief results in an active faith that trusts Jesus and His sacrificial death as the payment for sin. It is a belief that understands who Jesus is as the Son of God and because of that seeks to completely surrender to him. It is pretty silly to say that you believe that Jesus is God in human flesh and then not do what He says. That would only prove that you think you are smarter than God. Tragically there are many people who live like that today. They profess one thing, but their lives demonstrate a belief opposite of their claim. They say they believe in God and Jesus, but they live as practical atheists. That brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is “to live my life completely surrendered to God in my thoughts, actions and words.”
All of us need to evaluate our own personal commitment to Jesus and determine whether we’ve really believed in Him in that way. Have we really staked our life completely on Him and are we committed to live our life according to His desires, purposes and plans rather than our own?
In verse 17, we see God’s purpose for sending his son. Follow along with me as I read that verse. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” The Jews at that time were looking for a conquering Messiah. They longed for God to deliver them from their current oppression by Rome and restore Israel to its former glory that existed during the time of King David and King Solomon. They were looking for the establishment of an earthly kingdom with a powerful king whose throne would be in Jerusalem. This king was to be a judge that would punish the Gentile nations and bring them into subjection to Israel.
This verse states that the purpose of the coming of the Messiah was exactly the opposite of their expectations. The Messiah was not coming to condemn the Gentiles, but to save everyone that would believe, including Gentiles. It is interesting that the root meaning of the word “judge” here means “to separate,” Instead of coming to separate Jews and Gentiles, Jesus came to “unite” all who would believe. The purpose of Jesus’ first coming was to save people from every tribe, people, tongue and nation and form them into one new group called the church.
The reason for Jesus’ coming from Heaven in the flesh was to save, but as we saw in verse 16, judgment is also indicated. Eternal Life for all who “believe” is contrasted with those who will “perish.” Holtzmann says, “Christ comes to judge the world “as little” as the sun comes to throw a shadow”, but ‘judgment like the shadow is the natural consequence of the world’s constitution and circumstances.”
In verses 16-17 we see the hope we have in Jesus for eternity but in verse 18, he gives us a warning. This is what verse 18 says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
There is a judgement to come, but it will not be based on any human division such as nationality, language or people group. It will be based instead upon the response of the individual to Jesus Christ. Do you believe in Him and what he came to do or not? Jesus didn’t come to condemn anyone… because everyone was already under the just and righteous condemnation of God. He came to rescue us from that condemnation, wrath, and judgment.
For those who believe, there is no judgement because Jesus changed the verdict. Paul stated it this way in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The person that believes in Jesus Christ has been saved from their sins because God has already paid the just penalty for their sins in the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus was judged in their place. The one that believes stands before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
But for those who do not believe it says they have already been judged and found guilty. The perfect tense used here indicates that they have been and remain judged. Jesus does not remove hope of salvation by pronouncing this judgment, but rather brings out the seriousness of refusing to believe in the only begotten Son of God.
God set forth Jesus as the only worthy object of our faith. The ultimate evidence that Jesus alone is the only worthy object of faith is that God raised him from the dead. Rejection of Jesus in favor of any other way to God rejects God’s choice that the person of Jesus alone must be believed in.
Not believing in Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the equivalent to self-condemnation. God is not to be blamed but rather the unbeliever who remains in his sin. God does not compel anyone to believe. He has given us free-will to decide whether we will return his love and accept his son as the sacrifice for our sins. Their sin is made worse by the fact that that they are rejecting ‘the only Son of God’. To refuse Christ is to sentence ourselves. (BIG IDEA)
Now we come to the test of what saves or what condemns a person. We see this in verses 19-21. This is what God’s Word says, 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
What is the difference between believers and unbelievers? It is not a matter of innocence or guilt because they are both guilty. The difference between the two is their attitude and heart response to the Light. The test is what we do when we are confronted with Jesus. Our refusal to come to the light is how we know we have failed the test. It says the Light came in to the world and men embraced the darkness and refused the Light. They loved their sin more than Jesus. They loved evil and doing evil and they would never submit to anything or anyone. Burge says, “Evil and darkness do not ignore the light; they wage war against it and try to bring it down.”
Another reason for embracing the darkness is fear and the reason we are afraid is because Jesus shines a light on our sin. He exposes our sin and lays it all out in front of us. We don’t want to be confronted with our sin, and we sure don’t want our sin exposed to anyone else. We want to ignore it and pretend it’s not there, and hope it just goes away. We don’t want our lust, pride, hate, and selfishness exposed to the world, and honestly we don’t want to be reminded of it in ourselves either. Immersed in wrongdoing we have no wish to be disturbed. We refuse to be shaken out of our comfortable sinfulness.
We love the darkness because in it we can do all the evil deeds we want without exposure. We love the darkness, not for the darkness itself, but because of what it hides. The very fact that we do not want our deeds to be known condemns us by our own guilty conscience. We are living in moral and spiritual blindness that keeps us in the dark and loving our sin. We run from the Light because the Light will expose us for who we really are and by doing so we reject God’s offer of forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, in verse 21, we see those who do pass the test of what they do when the Light comes. It says that those who live by the truth come into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. Milne says, “Those who come into the light and believe are willing to open their lives to God’s scrutiny.” This is a painful, but necessary step to finding salvation and living for God.
Those who strive to do what is right have no fear of the truth about their lives coming out. They gladly come to Jesus and let Him examine them because they know that His words will help them to get rid of sin and what is spoiling their lives. They want their lives to be open to examination and be put under God’s spotlight, so that what they really are can be seen, which is a true child of God. Such a person’s conscience is totally clear. Psalm 139:23–24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
If we live by those verses, we will not mind that our lives are brought into the light because we know that anything we have done and are ashamed of has been dealt with by the blood of Christ. We are happy for everyone to see the light shining from us. 1 John 1:5-7 says, This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
So, we need to be walking in the light or we will make tragic judgment calls morally and spiritually. More importantly, we will be happy because God will see what we do and will be pleased with us as he is with his Son. We will have God’s full approval for what we do and what we do will be the result of a close personal walk with God. Only when the Light exposes our sin and Jesus cleanses us can we begin to do good for God.
That is the second part of the meaning of verse 21. Practicing the truth is never about showing our works as monuments to ourselves. Whatever “good” or Godly works we do are only possible because of God’s power to change our lives. God’s redemptive and transformational power in us is a tribute to his superiority, not our own. The principal work of God is that by His great mercy and grace, He alone saves souls and converts sinners to Himself. It is God’s initiative and God’s work alone and so He alone deserves the honor and glory of our lives.
Those who are practitioners of the truth and recognize the light as helpful will come to the Light. Those who believe do so because they have a different heart. A person must be humble in order to do these things. They desire to come to the light because they want to see God working in and through them. They want God to be glorified by their deeds. They see themselves as God’s servants and submit to His will and commands. That cannot be done unless there has been a change in their heart. That is the essence of being “born again.” There is no fence sitting with God. Either you believe and are saved, or you do not believe and you are condemned. Either you love and seek the light, or you hate and reject the light. The offer is given to everyone. What will you do? That brings us to our last next step on the back of your communication card which is “to love the Light and seek to live my life in the Light and not the darkness.”
I would like to finish with this true story of a Father’s love for his son because even though the title and big idea of the message today was about judgment everything we saw today started with the awesome love of God. Even though God knew that we would refuse and crucify his son he still sent him to us to save us. I think the reason that he gave so much was that he was hoping we would be so overwhelmed with the gift that all we could do would be to believe in him and be saved. Of course that was not to be and because of that there would have to be judgment and everyone one of us would have to make a judgment call. (BIG IDEA)
One day a son asks his father: "Daddy, will you run the marathon with me?" The father answers yes and both run their first marathon together. Then one day the son asks his father: "Daddy, will you run the Ironman with me?" Now the Ironman is one of the toughest challenges; it requires a 2.5 mile swim, 112 miles biking and 27 miles running. Once again the father says yes.
Rick was born in 1962 to Dick and Judy Hoyt. As a result of oxygen deprivation to Rick’s brain at the time of his birth, he was diagnosed as a spastic quadriplegic with cerebral palsy. Dick and Judy were advised to institutionalize Rick because there was no chance of him recovering, and little hope for Rick to live a “normal” life. This was just the beginning of Dick and Judy’s quest for Rick’s inclusion in community, sports, education and one day, the workplace.
Dick and Judy soon realized that though Rick couldn’t walk or speak; he was quite astute and his eyes would follow them around the room. They fought to integrate Rick into the public school system, pushing administrators to see beyond his physical limitations. Dick and Judy would take Rick sledding and swimming, and even taught him the alphabet and basic words, like any other child. After providing concrete evidence of Rick’s intellect and ability to learn like everyone else, Dick and Judy needed to find a way to help Rick communicate for himself.
With $5,000 in 1972 and a skilled group of engineers at Tufts University, an interactive computer was built for Rick. This computer consisted of a cursor being used to highlight every letter of the alphabet. Once the letter Rick wanted was highlighted, he was able to select it by just a simple tap with his head against a head piece attached to his wheelchair. When the computer was originally first brought home, Rick surprised everyone with his first words. Instead of saying, “Hi, Mom,” or “Hi, Dad,” Rick’s first “spoken” words were: “Go, Bruins!” The Boston Bruins were in the Stanley Cup finals that season. It was clear from that moment on, that Rick loved sports and followed the game just like anyone else.
In 1975, at the age of 13, Rick was finally admitted into public school. After high school, Rick attended Boston University, and he graduated with a degree in Special Education in 1993. Dick retired in 1995 as a Lt. Colonel from the Air National Guard, after serving his country for 37 years.
In the spring of 1977, Rick told his father that he wanted to participate in a 5-mile benefit run for a Lacrosse player who had been paralyzed in an accident. Far from being a long-distance runner, Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles, coming in next to last. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.”
This realization was just the beginning of what would become over 1,000 races completed, including marathons, duathlons and triathlons (6 of them being Ironman competitions). Also adding to their list of achievements, Dick and Rick biked and ran across the U.S. in 1992, completing a full 3,735 miles in 45 days.
In a triathlon, Dick will pull Rick in a boat with a bungee cord attached to a vest around his waist and to the front of the boat for the swimming stage. For the biking stage, Rick will ride a special two-seater bicycle, and then Dick will push Rick in his custom made running chair for the running stage. This story illustrates a father’s love for his son, and that love is expressed not just in emotions but in action! Our heavenly father loved us so much that he also expressed his love in action. The action was sacrificing his son on the cross so that we would be able to have a relationship with him and spend eternity with him.
As Gene and Roxey come to lead us in our final song and the ushers prepare to pick up the communication cards bow with me as I close in prayer: God, we thank you for hearing our prayers and our praises sung to you this morning. We thank you for opening our hearts and minds to your Word and planting it in our hearts. We thank you for the joy of being together with this fellowship of believers and may we continue to walk with you, today, tomorrow and forever. In Jesus’ name. Amen.