Thursday, August 7, 2014

Unbelief Condemns—Jesus Saves (John 3:16-21)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16–21, ESV)

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night to learn more about Him. His introductory comment was that he knew Jesus must be from God in order for Him to have been doing the things He had been doing. What Nicodemus did not expect, I’m sure, was to hear what Jesus had to say to him in response. Jesus told him that he had to be born again of the Spirit. He told Nicodemus that the Son of Man came down from heaven and was going to return, and that anyone who believed in Him would receive eternal life. Next we read probably the one of the most well-known verses in the Bible in John 3:16 as Jesus tells Nicodemus that this One sent by God was also His Son. The Son of Man and the Son of God are One and the same, who was sent to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Because God loves man He sent His Son to pay the penalty for man’s sin and to give to him eternal life. This life is not given based upon any works that man may or may not do, but by believing in the Son sent by the Father. The Son was not being sent to condemn but to save. Jesus went on to say that man condemns himself by how he lives. The judgment is already settled. Man has chosen darkness over the light of God sent into the world, and because of his love of darkness and his refusal to accept the Son he is judged and condemned. Jesus went on to explain what marks those who love darkness as those who do evil things. Basking in his own works and desires he stays away from the light so that he and his deeds are not exposed.

But there are those who know the truth, who believe, and live according to the light given them. These are the ones whose works are openly exposed in the light and who give glory to God. The Jews tended to point to their works to declare their righteousness. Jesus was coming to say that righteous people live in accordance with who they are because of God’s work in them. Jesus told Nicodemus that the ones who are saved are the ones who believe and as a result evidence their changed life by how they live.

In this whole discourse with Nicodemus, unless I missed it somewhere, Jesus does not directly tell Nicodemus that He is that One sent by God. But the implications are very strong, and I can’t imagine Nicodemus leaving without clearly knowing that Jesus was speaking of Himself as more than a teacher sent by God. This is the end of the conversation, and we really don’t know from this how Nicodemus responded. We don’t know from this whether he believed and was saved, or whether he walked away as one of those who heard what Jesus had to say but did not understand and believe.

But this is not the end of the story concerning Nicodemus. In John chapter 7 there is a record of the chief priests and Pharisees trying to have Jesus brought in on charges. They were upset when the officers did not bring Him, asking if they had also been deceived by His words. They were certain in their minds that Jesus was guilty of heresy and that He needed to be brought to account for it. In this context we read, “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”” (John 7:50–51, ESV) Nicodemus stood up for Jesus, challenging the way they were going about things without hearing from Him themselves or learning more about what He does. In response to this we read in the next verse that they snapped back at Nicodemus challenging him if he had become one of Jesus' followers. Yet, still we don’t know if he believed or he was positively influenced, but at least he stood in Jesus’ defense at risk of his own position.

We read of Nicodemus one more time in the Bible. This time it is in John chapter 19 immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea, who we read is one of Jesus disciples, but a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, came to Pilate and asked him permission to take Jesus’ body away. Pilate granted him permission, and he took the body. Taking it up in verse 39 we continue to read, “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:39–42, ESV)

We know Joseph is a secret believer who came forward to bury Jesus’ body. With him is Nicodemus, who brought the mixture of myrrh and aloes that were used to prepare the body for burial. These were not cheap things, and he brought a large amount. Together these two men took it upon themselves to bury our Lord. My extremely strong suspicion based upon these last two mentions of Nicodemus is that he himself did believe and was saved. While he may also have been a secret believer, like Joseph of Arimathea, it appears that his works evidenced someone who was changed by the Light.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)

Between the various translations of the Bible there has been a great deal of discussion about how to declare that Jesus is the only Son of God. He is not a big brother, showing the way. He is fully God, One in the Trinity with the Father and the Spirit, eternal in the heavens without beginning or end. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that came into being and all that is. Going back to the Greek text it clearly declares that He is the only one. He is singularly the Son of God. He is the One sent by God to save man of His sins. Because of God’s great love He sent His Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish because of his sins, but would be given eternal life. This is the greatest truth of Scripture for man.

Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day just as the Scriptures declared. And because He lives we shall live also—if we believe.

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