Life Over Death
You know that. That’s the theme of this chapter. But I want you to know if you’re unfamiliar with this section of scripture, that walking away from today, you should recognize this passage as not only just a popular place of scripture, but if you wrestle through this section and grab it, you really grab a holding of the monumental chapter, one of the monumental chapters of Christian theology of the church of the Bible. This is an important passage to understand. This is a passage where Nicodemus, the religious leader, comes to Jesus and Jesus inspires back at him, immediately, and says, “You must be born again.” Right? Then you get that famous scripture that we often quote from John, “God so loved the world.”
However, diving into this passage of scripture, recognizing that it’s one of those more familiar chapters of the Bible, I’m going to just start off with a question here. Have you ever considered why? Why is John chapter three here? I know you get real quick to the point and say, “Well, it’s about salvation,” right? Yes, it certainly is. But why this story at this point in the Gospel of John? When we’ve read John together, threw up a few verses, especially happens twice at the end of John chapter 20, where John, the writer says to us the things that are written about Jesus, well, you could fill libraries with the stories of Jesus. Jesus has done so much in his ministry, right?
John tells us there’s no ends the great things that you can say about Jesus. But yet somehow John finds a way in 21 chapters to communicate to us certain truths about Christ. Meaning what John is saying to us is, “Look, I could go on all day long about Jesus, but I’m being very intentional in the things that I’m saying about Jesus and the way that I’m saying it about Jesus.” Meaning John is older in life when he’s writing this to us, and it didn’t happen where someone’s like, “Grandpa John’s about gone. We should probably collect some important stories, and let’s just sit him down and let him tell us some things and then we’ll write these things.” I think those things are important to do. You’ve got some older generations around you, don’t let those stories die with the older generations, right? Certainly an important thing.
But when John is communicating this [inaudible 00:03:07], he’s saying more than just that. It’s not just Grandpa John just firing off memory after memory as best as he can recall it. This is John carrying with us themes and ideas that are interconnected but from story to story. When you get to John chapter three, you should be asking the question, “Okay, what led John to write this?” When you get ready to read John chapter three, I want you to know that this is one of the sections in the Bible where chapter divisions are put in a horrible place, because in John chapter three, really the theme from this story starts just a few verses before this at the end of chapter two.
Now, when you read the Bible, and I just said the chapter divisions are in horrible places, that’s not sacrilege to say that I want you to know, because chapter divisions were added in the Bible until about the 12th century. Verse references in scripture weren’t added until about the 15th century. They’re important for us because I can say things to you, turn to John chapter three today and you can find it like you find a street address to a home. We can all be on the same page together. We can read that along, very helpful thing. But there are certain points in the Bible that when people decided to put chapter divisions in for us, they just didn’t pick the best of places to do that, and this is one of those sections of scripture that when they start John chapter three, they really should have backed up just a few verses to help us better understand why the story is here in this passage of scripture.
If you look at John chapter two verse 23, I’m going to pick up right here and help you see how this flows together. Now, as we read along, just imagine there’s no chapter division here, okay? We’re just reading into this story, start in verse 23. It says this, “Now, when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in his name as they observed his signs which he was doing. But Jesus on his part was not entrusting himself to them because he knew all people and because he did not need anyone to testify about mankind for he himself knew what was in mankind.” Here’s what it’s saying to us. Jesus goes into Jerusalem, remember this at the time where he’s there for Passover and he’s celebrating Passover with the Jewish people, which is ultimately a picture of everything that he will fulfill.
He just went into Jerusalem and he went crazy in the temple on people. I don’t know if you recall that story. He went Indiana Jones, cracked out the whip and just drove people out of the temple. It says that while he was there, things happen, that hearts were turned to Jesus and many believed in him, right? But it doesn’t say everyone believed in him, and there’s even a question as to what degree they’re actually believing in him. Are they believing in him as far as entertainment goes? Yeah, he’s a pretty good guy. Well, believe in that, right? Or are they actually believing in him for everything that he is. Well, it tells us in verse 24 that Jesus doesn’t entrust himself to them. This word entrust is actually this same Greek word that’s used just previous for the word believe.
It’s interpreted for us slightly different in each case, but it’s a great understanding of seeing what this Greek word for believe is. This idea of entrusting, turning yourself over to something fully, right? It’s saying some people believed in Christ, but not everybody. When Jesus looked at the crowd and realized many is a subjective thing. What’s many? Many is maybe 10 people. Is many as a 100 people? Who knows? But when it comes to the crowd, the crowd by and large, Jesus isn’t entrusting himself to them. He’s not believing in them as they might belief towards him because the type of belief that they have, Jesus knows that’s shaky ground. When Jesus is talking about turning himself over, there’s this reluctance there because he knows it tells us what’s really in the heart of mankind.
This Greek word here in verse 25, for mankind is the same Greek word for what we’re going to read here in verse one. For he himself knew what was in man. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. What this passage is helping us to understand is, look, Jesus didn’t entrust himself fully to people because he knew what was in man, and now here’s an example of that type of man. That’s why I say this story really starts in chapter two because he started to use Nicodemus as an illustration of how people were wrestling over the idea of Jesus. Saying Jesus came, Jesus declared himself for who he was, even at the temple in the greatest of holidays the Jews would have celebrated. I mean, this was the platform to say, “Here’s the kingdom.”
By and large, the people are rejecting Jesus as an entrusting, and so he’s not giving himself over to man and here’s an example of a man, Nicodemus. There was a man of a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” When he comes to Jesus at night, people have speculated as to why this would happen. Why would Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Some have said this, while Jesus has been in history so popular, that there was no way to even get near Jesus to have any sort of conversation, in-depth conversation, especially a leader like Nicodemus. He’s the Pharisee. He’s the one that’s considered teacher of the law for Israel, right?
There’s no way he’s going to be able to have a sit-down conversation with Jesus, so he has to come at night. Others have aid, “Well, maybe, but maybe he’s coming to Jesus at night because he’s afraid.” He knows what’s at stake, a man of his position to be seen with Jesus in this way. Maybe it comes to Jesus because he’s afraid. Both of those thoughts could be true, but I’m going to give you a third thought. I think this is an illusion to something deeper that’s taking place. This is some imagery being painted here. The reason I say this is we’ve seen this already happen in the wedding of Cana. Remember the wedding of Cana? Jesus is turning water into wine. He says to his mom, “Look, lady, I’m not doing the trick,” right? He basically said, “I’m not turning water to wine.”
What we learn from that story is the story of wedding of Cana wasn’t just about turning water to wine. That Jesus had a bigger picture in mind because he said this phrase, “My hour has not yet come.” Jesus was seeing this wedding of Cana as a foreshadowing of his own wedding to his bride, which is the church. I think the same thing’s happening here in the book of John. That John is alluding to this happening at night because when you read the gospels, there’s not a whole lot of discussion that happens at night. I think the author wants us to pay particular attention to this because this is an illusion of something. In fact, the story of John comes back to this in John three verses 19 to 21. If you read verse 19 and 21, you’ll see this contrast of light and darkness.
That’s why we called this series Light the Dark From the Gospel of John, because this idea of Jesus being this light in the midst of darkness is used continuously. It’s a reflection even more deeply of what’s happening in Nicodemus’s heart here. He’s torn over the idea of Christ. In fact, when you look at this thought of it being literally night or this discussion of night, the word night isn’t used again to refer to Jesus’s ministry until you get to John chapter 13. In John chapter 13, the next time this idea of Jesus’s ministry happening at night is also a negative description. It’s the night in which Jesus was betrayed by Judas. He took bread and he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you.” This idea of night, I think is an indicator to us to show us what’s worrying in Nicodemus heart.
You can see it. You can see it a little further in verse two because Nicodemus says, “For no …” He says, “Rabbi, we know that you have come from God as a teacher.” I love this. When Nicodemus shows up, he’s not just saying I. He hides behind the we, but he’s the front man for this, right? Whatever’s going on, the group of Pharisees that he’s with has wrestled with this Jesus, right? They’ve wrestled with this Jesus. He’s the only one that’s had spurred within him enough gumption to go talk to Jesus saying, “Look, Jesus, we recognize you’re a good teacher. We want to play ball with you here, but I can’t figure out how you fit into this because the things that you’re doing seem great, but the things that you’re saying conflict with who we are. Yet here I come at night.”
You see this, the wrestling with Christ in the heart of Nicodemus, which brings him to this point to talk to Jesus about this. Like, “What do I do with you? How do I …?” When you see the life of Nicodemus move on from here, you see Nicodemus giving more into Jesus as the gospels play on even to the point of Jesus’s death, I’ll talk about in just a moment. But in John chapter three verse three, Jesus doesn’t waste any time here. But when you watch this interaction, I love this story because Nicodemus comes in and he’s considered a very prominent figure. I mean, think about who Nicodemus is in society. He’s the guy that if you consider who’s the most well put-together person in all of Jerusalem and all of Israel, they would look to people like Nicodemus and say, “This guy.” I mean, he’s the Pharisee, right? Pharisees in their day, the interpreters of the law, he would’ve lived Judaism.
He would understand it through and through. He would’ve been a prominent man in society, probably likely would’ve been a wealthy man in society. He probably would have been an older man in society. They would have revered him in society. When you read the story of John, it’s like this, that Nicodemus talks a lot in the beginning and then Jesus interrupts him and says something, and then he talks a little bit less, and Jesus interrupts him and says something. By the time you get to the end of the story, he’s not saying anything anymore and Jesus is showing himself as the true teacher, but more than a teacher. Right? In John chapter three verse three says, “Jesus respond to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless someone is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.'”
“Nicodemus, let me just tell you, you’re here talking to me right now. I just want to get straight to the point. Unless you’re born again, you can’t see God.” Now this is where we get the phrase as Christians, right? Be born again. You ever wonder why do Christians talk about what are … Maybe you are familiar with it, but if not, what are Christian talking about being born again? Well, Jesus says you must be born again. Now when we come to terms like this, like born again, sometimes we have some baggage that might come along with that. Sometimes we might think, “Born again. They’re one of those types. They liked to use that phrase born again, they’re one of those crazy people come to Jesus and they still crazy,” right? They really love Jesus, right?
Sometimes when you think about that term, born again, some people might even categorize it in such a way that there are those people that need to be the born again type. I know I need Jesus, but they really need Jesus. They’re the ones that they’re really sinful, and man, something radically has got to change in their lives. Unless they do, then they got no hope and they need to be one of those born again types. But what Jesus is saying here is really interesting when you think about who Jesus is talking to. Because if anyone in society got an extra leg up in the world in God’s eyes, it’s going to be the Pharisees. After all, they’re the most religious people. They’re the ones that live the law better than any.
Yet what Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” Nicodemus, when it comes to relationship with God, there is no one ahead of anyone else. Everyone must be made new. It’s like the way we say as Christians, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. God doesn’t care about your pedigree, God doesn’t care about your religion, God cares about your heart. Everyone that goes to heaven, everyone must come through the cross. Everyone must be born again. This would be a very humbling statement for Nicodemus to wrestle with, right? He’s the elite, and yet he’s saying, “Nicodemus, you’ve got to start with step one. You’ve got to be born again to see this kingdom.”
Verse four, Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb a second time and be born, can he?” Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which has been born of flesh is flesh and that which has been born of spirit is spirit.” I know verse four, Nicodemus is trying to wrestle with this idea of what it means to be born again, and Jesus talks about being born flesh and being born of the spirit. But I want to look at verse five for just a minute, hone in on this. Jesus says, “Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Just ask the question, what in the world is Jesus talking about here?
I’ve seen people wrestle with this verse as well where they’ll come to this and say, “Well, what Jesus is saying is you have to be baptized and you have to have a spiritual birth, right? You have to be baptizing and have a spiritual birth, that’s what Jesus is talking about here.” Then others will say, “Well, I think what Jesus is talking about, because of verse six, he say … Jesus is talking about you got to be born of water and spirit, what he’s talking about is physical birth because when a woman gives birth, her water breaks first and so it’s representative of physical birth and then the spiritual birth.” I’m going to be honest in saying, most of my life when I’ve heard people teach this passage, I’ve heard them communicate at one way or the other like that, and I’ve even held to those views.
But as I’ve studied this and walked with the Lord, I’ve come to understand that a 100% neither of those are true. Neither of those are accurate. The reason for that is because in verse five, you might even see this if you have a Bible with cross references, is Jesus is quoting from here Ezekiel 36 and 37. In fact, Jesus is summarizing Ezekiel 36 and 37. He’s more pointing to verse 25 to verse 27 of chapter 36. In fact, I think I have it on … Throw it up on the screen here. What Jesus is identifying for Israel is the promise of the new covenant. Israel would have known when the Messiah comes what he’s going to bring is this new covenant. This is something told about in Isaiah. It’s in Jeremiah 31 verses 31 and following. It’s here in Ezekiel 36, but let me just read it for you so you can see how Jesus is summarizing Ezekiel in a statement in verse five of chapter three of John.
It says, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you’ll be clean. And I’ll cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you and I’ll remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh, and I’ll put my spirit within you and bring it about that you walk in my statues and are careful and follow my ordinances.” What Jesus is saying to Nicodemus is the Jews believed that they could just live the law perfectly and please God. What Galatians teaches us is that the purpose of the law isn’t to show you how to be perfect. The purpose of the laws to show you how much you need Jesus. The law tells us in Galatians, as a tutor, not to reveal how great you are but how needy you are of Christ to redeem you.
So the promise in the old covenant was that God would give a new covenant because what Israel should recognize is that it was impossible to live up to the standard of perfection that the law demanded upon its people. They needed a greater hope and the Messiah would do that. When the Messiah would come, he would sprinkle us clean and he would bring a new heart within us so that when God looks at us, He looks at us in the perfection of Jesus not in ourselves. Now, when we talk about the sprinkling clean, it’s not this literal physically cleaning your body. It’s not even saying baptism cleanses you, but it’s an illustration of cleansing Israel. They had this ceremonial cleansing that they would do which was a great model of the cleansing that God would ultimately bring them.
That’s what happened at the wedding of Cana. That when Jesus turned the water into wine, he didn’t pick the jars they were already drinking from. Jesus said, “Go and get the jars of purification and let’s fill that with wine,” because Jesus wanted that to be an illustration that as he brings that new wine in our lives, he purifies our souls. Do you remember the night Jesus was betrayed? It tells us in John chapter 13 that Jesus goes and grabs a towel and some water. Verse five, and he comes and he kneels before his disciples and he starts to wash their feet. Peter freaks out. Verse seven. Peter says, “No Lord, you’re not going to wash my feet,” and Jesus says, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part in me.” Peter says, “Well, don’t just wash my feet, wash my whole body.” Jesus says, “Peter, you’ve already been cleansed. You just have this need for me to wash your feet.”
What Jesus is illustrating there is our souls, trusting in him, find that cleansing that we need through the cross of his crucifixion. We put that faith in Messiah. Jesus is saying to Peter, “Look, Peter, you’ve already put that faith in me, but my relationship with you requires that there just be this continual cleansing and renewing of your soul before me.” This idea of water is an image of what God does into our soul, that He would cleanse us and He would make us new by the power of His spirit that indwells us. It’s a picture of everything the new covenant would be. It’s the reason that we said last week when Jesus went to the temple and he drove people out of the temple and he says, “Destroy this in three days, I will rebuild it.” Jesus is pointing to himself as that temple.
Before God’s presence dwelled in the building, the temple that was where the Israel went to recognize God and to worship Him. But now God would dwell in His people and you become the very temple of God. John three verse five. Verse nine, this isn’t on the screen but Nicodemus, as Jesus talks about this, is a little confused. In verse 10, Jesus criticizes Nicodemus a little bit. He’s like, “What are you talking … How do you not know Ezekiel 36? You’re the religious leader. You’re the one that knows the law. I mean, if the religious leader doesn’t know the word of God, what hope do we have?” Then in verse 13, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who has descended from heaven, the son of man, and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
I love that Jesus does this here. He uses this illustration back from Numbers chapter 21 when Israel is walking disobedient to God and God sent these poisonous snakes into the camp and it’s biting the people and they’re dying and Moses pleads for their life, and God gives him this image. He says, “Take this bronze serpent, raise it up. If they look by faith up to the serpent, I’ll heal them.” God uses that as an illustration of Himself, who would ultimately be lifted up in our place that we could find healing if we would look to Him. Now here’s the beauty of this story. I don’t think that you get the full picture of the story until you get to John chapter 19, I think it’s verse 39. But when you follow the theme of Nicodemus, you see him wrestling here with the image of Jesus, “Who are you? How do you fit into my life?”
Nicodemus, he comes back again I think in chapter seven of John. But it’s not until you get to chapter 19 that you really recognize, I think Nicodemus he’s finally put his faith in Christ because in chapter 19, this is where Nicodemus goes with Joseph of Arimathea to beg for the life of Jesus in order to prepare his body for burial and to put him within the tomb. It’s Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea that does this, as if to show to us that Nicodemus has finally come to this place where he’s embraced Jesus. How did that happen? Well, here’s how I think it happens. Jesus gives this statement to Nicodemus, and it’s a foreshadowing of his crucifixion, saying, “Nicodemus, when I’m lifted up, look to me.” I can imagine over the next few years of Jesus’s ministry, Nicodemus just wrestling and wrestling with Jesus as he sees Jesus.
Finally, the moment of Jesus’s crucifixion and he sees Jesus lifted up and he’s thinking, “Oh, my word, he is who he says he is.” Nicodemus I think puts his faith in Christ and this is what compels Nicodemus to go ask for the body of Jesus. This is a story of redemption that you see takes I think several years to play out. But I love the patience of Christ that we see here. Because I recognize even in our room today that we all come from different places and we can have that same battle with Christ in our lives and we’re just saying, “God, how does this work for me? How can I even break? Do you know what’s at risk if I come and I trust in you? Do you know what my family, my friends, my community is going to say?” I’m a Pharisee, I’m a rabbi or I’m this, and then how will you label yourself?
If people just found out you’re a follower of Jesus, what would they say? Yet you see the grace of God poured out. Even the point of the cross, Jesus still thinking of you. Safe to say to Nicodemus in this moment, “Nicodemus, when I am lifted up, this is for you. Embrace me.” Then you get to the most famous section, right? Verse 15. “So that everyone who believes will have eternal life in him.” Let me just say this about this phrase eternal life. Sometimes we read the word eternal life and what our mind tells us is when I die, I get to go to heaven. That is true. If you put your faith in Jesus, when you die and you get to go to heaven. But if you end there with that definition of eternal life, that is a very puny and weak understanding of eternal life, right?
The early church saw themselves as immortal. What I mean is they understood the moment that they trusted in Jesus that meant eternal life didn’t start when they died, eternal life started the moment they put their faith in him. Your relationship with God, you’re born again that spirit of God that dwells in you doesn’t start when you die. It starts the moment you trust in Jesus. This eternal life has a state of beating before Christ that will endure forever. It makes you a mortal. Yes your body and spirit will be separated one day when you go to a grave, but you will live forever in the presence of God. That’s what life is about. When the Bible talks about death, yes it can mean that you go to the grave, but death means more than that. Death means separated from God. The state of your soul before the presence of the Lord.
Now when the Bible talks about this idea of life, it means more than just getting to have, it means existing in the presence of God and relationship with him both now and forever. If you’re in Jesus, you’re experiencing eternal life right now. It’s a beautiful picture of seeing heaven as more than just a destination, but rather seeing it about the presence of God, because God’s presence is what makes heaven heaven and you can experience his presence right now in these moments. John three 16, “For God so loved the world. He gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” We see this idea of believing in him, this promise of everlasting life Jesus already gave us another definition for what it means to believe in, is this idea of entrusting taking all that you are and just putting your weight on it. It’s like when you go to a dinner table and you sit at a chair, you expect that chair to hold you up. When you think about Jesus in this promise, you expect Jesus to carry you through all of eternity in his presence. That’s what it’s saying.
All that you are and all of the things that you can trust in, whether religion or no religion, what he’s saying is choose Jesus because that’s what’s going to matter. You believe in him. When you study Greek literature, many people say this is the first time that the idea of belief and in is actually put together in Greek literature is in John’s book. They had this idea of believe, they had this idea of in, but it’s John who says, “No, no, no. You need to understand when it comes to Jesus, it’s not just believing about, it’s not just knowing he existed like George Washington existed. It’s making your life contingent and dependent up on this thought.” All that Jesus says about himself here. God, if I’m going to bank, I’m going to bank holistically in this promise, not because of who I am but because of who you are.
Because in verse 17, he says this, “For God did not send His son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.” That’s a beautiful picture of God. Because a lot of times people picture God as this angry Zeus-like figure ready to zap [inaudible 00:28:29] with lightning bolts, right? God hates me. Oh no, I screwed up again. I’ll just walk around guilty and pay this penance until I feel like God doesn’t hate me anymore. But he’s saying in this passage of scripture that he didn’t come for the purpose of judging the world. He’s going to tell us why in a moment. But he came because he loves you. God doesn’t love you because Jesus died for you, Jesus died for you because God loves you. There’s a paradigm shift in our mind that happens there because it’s saying to you, look, you haven’t proven that you’re worthy of God’s love. You can’t, you’re a sinner.
No amount of good can ever undo bad things that you’ve done in life. The only thing that can cure that is grace. Someone that loves you despite that and someone that loves you through that, hey, you know who that is? It’s Jesus, because Jesus wants the best for you. Jesus thinks of your future in him if you would come to him and trust in him, Jesus wants to do this transformation in your life. Then in verse 18, this is where I want to just focus for the rest of the time, verse 18. “The one who believes in him is not judged.” Look at this, “The one who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of the son of God.” Some people will read verse 17 and say, “Look, don’t judge, you shouldn’t judge, read verse 17.” But then when you get to verse 18, you realize, wait a minute, wait a minute, we’ve already been judged, right?
They got away with it. What is this talking about? Don’t judge, and then all of a sudden you are talking about being judged here. Well, this word judged, it can also be translated to condemn. Some of your translations might say that you’ve been condemned. Jesus didn’t come to condemn you, that’s nice. Thank God. But he loves me because you’ve already been condemned. What? What are you talking … I’m already in a state of condemnation. Apart from Jesus, you’re already in a state of condemnation. How? I know you some of us read that verse and we think that, “Do you know me? How little old me. I am the most lovable person [inaudible 00:30:49] anyone else in this world. Now, what is this verse talking about? It must mean anyone else but me. My mom thinks everything I do is roses. How am I condemned? Saying we’re already condemned I think flies in the face of our culture today.”
There are some cultures that have no problem with this. They think about if God is a Holy God. They see God so holy and so separated from them, They’re like, “Of course. Of course, God would condemn us. I mean, look at us. Look at me.” They understand the holiness and sacredness of God, right? There are plenty of cultures like that. But in America, I think we have a harder idea of wrestling with this, flies in the face in our culture. We don’t like the idea of condemnation. We would say, “How can I be condemned? I’m a good person.” We even give that famous phrase, “As long as you’re good, as long as you’re good, that’s all that matters. Just be good.”
You get in a room with multiple religious people and they’re like, you’re trying to find some common ground there, you’ll make that statement, “[inaudible 00:31:48] As long as you’re good, that’s all.” Well, hopefully you don’t make that statement, but as long as you’re good. Someone will make that statement. “As long as you’re good, that’s all that matters.” Generally, compared to others, if you’re good, I think that’s great. I’m not trying to say don’t be good. Certainly be good. Be a good person and hang out with good people, right? You become the person you’re around, it doesn’t mean you don’t influence the world but you become the person you make friends with. Right? You generally want to be good in that sense, right?
But when we talk about good in the Bible, when we think about good, we’re not measuring ourselves to one another. Our measurement is before God. When you take that idea of condemnation in the thought that we have in our culture about being good and you just look through scripture, the Bible has all kinds of passages on this to help us think through, well, we talk about good. Good in comparison to God puts us in a different state. In fact, Mark chapter 10 verse 18, look at this. Jesus said, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except for God alone.” I mean, that just clarifies it right there. As long as you’re good, that’s all that matters. Well, that’s great but there’s only been one good person in the world and we crucified him, right?
As far as that standard goes, it’s Jesus and that’s it because he’s the perfect one. James 2:10, if you think about just performing in religious law, James 2:10 says this, “For whoever keeps the whole law, all of it, yet just stumbles on one point, he’s guilty of all of them.” God’s saying you think about religious standards and then you compare that to a Holy God, ‘If all you’ve ever done is one sin, you’re guilty of violating the entire law.” If we think in terms of good that way, it’s a completely different standard, right? Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” This says everybody, and what is God’s glory standard? Everyone’s short of that.
Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” What’s the consequences then of sin? It’s not … Okay, the consequences, you messed up and try to be better. It’s that the wages of sin and every one of us being a sinner is death, and death doesn’t just mean go to the grave, death means separated from God. Matthew 7:22. I love this picture because this is a description of people doing good things. “Many will say to me,” Jesus is the me here. “Many will say to Jesus on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons and perform many miracle works?'” Some of them saying, “Jesus, look at all these good things that we did.” “Then I will declare I never knew you. Leave me, you who practice lawlessness.” I was looking at all these people that list these good things, bring this declaration of their good before Jesus and Jesus describes them as lawless.
Then he says the most important thing, “I never knew you, depart from me.” That’s death, being separated from God. Depart from me. Jesus is pointing to the primary thing here in Matthew seven, is that they don’t know him. They don’t know him. We look at this idea of condemnation or judgment, we can ask this, why is this condemnation and sin so important? Let me just give you a few reasons as we think about this. Don’t worry I’m going to end in the hope because the gospel ends with hope. Okay? The seriousness of sin is seen in the one that we violate. When we look at verse 18 and you realize the one who does not believe has been condemned, that should sober up a little bit because the seriousness of sin is seen in the one we violate.
Meaning, if I go outside and I take a stick and I start beating on a tree, maybe mercilessly, probably a lot of you are going to walk by and think he’s lost his mind finally. Finally, the pastoral ministry has got to him. He’s got a little bit crazy. You might just look at it for a second and think, that’s strange, move on. But no one is going to care. I mean, maybe for my sake, but about the tree, maybe a little bit if you’re a tree hugger or something. But generally, we want to be nice to trees. But for the most part, it’s a tree, okay? Now, if you were to go outside and to see me doing that to a person, well, that’s different, right? Why? It’s because of the value of the person.
Now you think, if I were to go outside and you were to see me do that to a police officer, and we were to pretend like this was more than a year ago when we had a respect for them, we would look at that and think, they should not be doing that, right? I mean, this is someone to revere in society, someone to hold up, someone to care about. We got to show honor and respect and we should do that. Right? We should do that. Prefer to do that to a world leader. Go to some countries and you’ll never be heard of again, right? You think about when you sin against God, there was no one greater that you can bring that offense against. We think about sin in our lives, at the same time we might be looking at things that we do within our lives and think, I don’t want to sin against God, but how many of my sins have actually been against God? I know I’ve hurt people, but God, what have I done against God?
I think it’s important for us to recognize anytime we sin, anytime we sin, it’s always first a direct violation against God. Always. When you lie, God is truth, God is the giver of truth. Origins of truth come from God. When we lie, it’s always first a violation against God. Yes, it hurts other people, but it’s always first contradictory and a violation against our God who is the truth giver. When you hurt another human being, if I were to go outside and hit someone with a stick, which I have no plan to do, but if that were to happen, it’s always first an attack against God because God created that person in His image. Everything you’ve ever done that’s wrong, yes, it impacts people, but it’s always first [inaudible 00:38:16]built on a front against God. What do you do with that?
There’s judgment and condemnation there. God is a just God. God will not let sin pass. God can’t be good and let sin pass. No one would ever look at a judge and say, “You’re a good judge,” when he didn’t bring judgment against injustice. God being the greatest judge will bring judgment against injustice, that’s what makes Him good. Bring all the religion in the world that you want, but it will never, never go past the hands of God. You need His grace. I need His grace. Condemnation is the result of sin. When you sin against an eternal God, it is any eternal offense which is why Jesus separates us from him apart from this gospel. Let’s see this. How do you apply this message then? You read this chapter, you look at what God’s saying to Nicodemus, how do you apply this message?
I want to give us, very quickly, just three gospel enriching thoughts that we should think through as we consider the story. Number one, recognizing my needs for the grace of God is humbling. Recognizing my need for the grace of God is humbling. You think of Nicodemus. Nicodemus, you got to be born again. If you think you’re this religious lead person, but you need to see yourself in light of God. Just as everybody in this world, you need to be born again. When you see the way that God’s grace pours out for you, for me, even as a sinner, it’s humbling that God would even care for me, that God would even pursue me, that God would even give His life for me.
Here’s what it says to me as a person, even as a pastor, that anything I do in this world for the Lord, I do not do it for my strength. I do not do it because I am this great thing in and of myself. Any ministry I do for the Lord in this world, it comes out of my weakness, because I recognize that apart from the grace of God, that there was no hope for me, but Jesus pursued me and he’s lifted me up and he’s given me a place in him. If I ever come to a place for you that I act like I’ve got it all figured out or I’ve finally arrived and you just listen to me and I’ve hit this place of perfection, I’m just going to tell you, never listened to me again, right?
Because anything that I do, it is from this place of recognizing that it’s only by the grace of God that I am in this place, and thank God for His grace that God loves me, and all of that has given me this identity and has lifted me up in Him that I could live for His glory in this world and share that same grace that Christ has set me free in with others. Point number two is this, the healthy view of sin demands a powerful need for a savior. A healthy view of sin demands a powerful need for a savior. Let me tell you why this is important. This is probably the most important point I think I’ll make in all of this today. In our culture right now, there is a push to no longer call sin sin. Let’s just say it’s your preference or whatever you want to call it, but let’s no longer call sin sin because we don’t like that.
We don’t know what to do with it, we feel like it just guilts us, and so we just want to push back and say, “We no longer call sin sin.” Here’s the danger church, when we stopped calling sin sin, we diminish the power of our need for a savior. Now the idea of sin demands salvation, right? That’s what makes Jesus so great. When sin looks small to us, so does Jesus. But when sin looks great, our need for saviors magnified. Now let me say it like this. I’m not saying this to us so that we go into this world and just beat people over the head and just call every sin and say bad things about people. But I am saying this to you so that you can stand confidently in saying, “No, that’s wrong. That’s sin.”
I’m not saying this to hurt you. I’m saying this so you recognize your need that you have for freedom and the one who’s come to set you free because He loves you. He loves you. I’m not saying this as if someone that’s standing above you. I’m saying this as someone who’s beside you because I need that same God too. Because when I see His grace poured out in my life, I’m not coming at you like this trying to beat you over that. I’m coming out like this, on my knees, begging you to turn to Jesus because I know the way that he transforms lives. But we lose our power as a church when we don’t stand up and say, “That’s sin, that’s wrong.” Any time that you do that, guys, if it’s in love, magnifies the glory of your savior, because that’s why he came.
Yes, when this world pushes against us, yes, there could be this temptation to just cower and just say, “Look, okay, you’re right. You have your thing, I have my thing.” But I look at that and say, “No, I’m not doing that. I can’t do that,” and say, “I want to honor Jesus because it’s his hand that sets us free.” I need to get to this last point, in Christ, we are free from guilt and condemnation. Here’s why this is important, because we share this message with people, it’s important to recognize in the end of that in Christ we’re free from condemnation and guilt because in the end people will say, “Well, you say that and all you want me to do is just walk around guilty and just be guilted and just to feel bad about the things that I’m doing.”
I just want us to realize, in our hearts right now, if that is us, that is not biblical and that is not true. Jesus didn’t come into this world to identify our sin for [inaudible 00:44:12] for him as a savior so we walk around guilty. Jesus came to this world to deliver us from our sins so that we can see freedom that we have in Christ and be made new in him. It’s to have this new identity of the goodness of Jesus made [inaudible 00:44:24] this position, this elevation, this connection to God, for which we were created. Jesus looked at a religious world in Matthew 11:28, that’s being pressured by religion. Never feeling good in and of themselves. They can’t perform, they can’t live up to the standard, and Jesus looks at those people being oppressed by that society, and he says this, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden,” and listen, “I will give you rest.”
Jesus doesn’t want you to walk in guilt. That’s why he went to the cross. Jesus said it was finished. That thing that you hold on to that makes you feel bad or makes you feel guilty, that’s not Jesus, that’s you. Jesus is the one coming to us and saying, “Let me have it. I died for this. Nicodemus, when I am lifted up, that’s for you. That’s for you.” That’s why Second Corinthians 5:21 says, “He became sin, who knew no sin that you might become the righteousness of God in him.” What he’s saying is because of Jesus, with your faith in him, when the Lord looks at you, He doesn’t see your past. He sees the perfection of Christ, and then that He honors and elevates you because of Jesus. He gives you possession because of Jesus.
The message of calling out sin isn’t to go into this world and make this world feel bad. It’s the help this world recognize that the true freedom that they’re really seeking in all these other identities is really only found in Christ. We can go into the world and minister in that way not because we’re above the world, but in this sense, we’re with the world, because we need Jesus in the same way. This is what allows us to become a servant of the goodness of all the Christ is.