Jesus and Abundant Life

 

A Bible Study of the Gospel of John

 

Three Musts – John 3

 

If you were to Google the question, “What are some must do things?” you would get the following options:

·         The December 5th 1957 speech “Some Things We Must Do” offered by Martin Luther King Jr. at the 2nd Annual Institute of Nonviolence Montgomery Alabama

·         50 Things to do before you die (Matador Network) Here are some of those that were listed:

o   Set foot on each of the seven continents

o   Cross a country on a bicycle

o   Ride something bigger than a horse

o   Learn another language

o   Climb one of the world’s seven summits

o   Dive with a whale shark

o   Surf

o   SCUBA the Great Barrier Reef

o   Volunteer abroad for a month

o   Cross a glacier on foot

o   Visit the source of one of the world’s great rivers

o   Climb an active volcano

o   Buy a boat and learn to sail

o   Bath in the Ganges

o   Travel around the world

o   Participate in “Burning Man”

o   Spend 24 hours alone in the jungle

o   Cross country only using public transportation

o   Join a caravan in the Sahara

o   Stand at the North or South pole

o   Skydive

o   Bike the Pacific Coast highway

o   Shake hands with someone who has truly changed a country[1]

·         25 Things You Absolutely Must Do Before You Die (Huffington Post – Face Book responses to this question):

o   Ride a Gondola in Venice

o   Parachute out of a plane

o   Learn to fly a trapeze

o   Find a man I could love

o   Learn to play guitar

o   Pass my riding test on a Harley Davidson[2]

·         100 Things Every Man Must Do

·         29 Amazing Things You Must Do Before You Turn 30

·         18 Things Every Person Must Do in Their Lifetime (a little more philosophical)

o   Accept that there will be whole swaths of you that will always seem a mystery

o   Learn what it means to have radical empathy

o   If you love someone, . . . tell them

o   Let loving someone or not loving someone be enough in deciding whether or not you want to be with them

o   Have a verifiably effective plan for coping with emotional pain

o   Stop trying to convince people to love you.

o   Learn to say sorry and mean it

o   Write lists and make goals and always keep yourself moving toward something

o   Accept that while most things end up okay, not everything does.

o   Stand up for what’s just

o   Let yourself be useless sometimes

o   Say thank you even when you don’t feel gratitude

o   Never go into anything thinking you are entitled to it . . . .

o   Buy a notebook

o   Know the difference between the limits that withhold you and the limits that are crucial for you to obey

o   Learn to comfort someone

o   Learn to enjoy talking about something that doesn’t come at the expense of someone else

o   Realize how important it is to mourn properly[3]

·         Things You Must Do When Visiting San Diego

·         Five Things You Must Do to Prepare for the End of a Blackberry

·         Five Must Do Things if a Family Member is Abusing Drugs

·         The Five Must Do Things to Generate a Buzz for Your Business

As you can see there is a pretty broad variety of things that come up on such a search. Interestingly, none of these lists include things of eternal worth. None of these lists includes anything with an eye to the next life or eternity. None of these lists includes any of the three “musts” that are spoken of in John 3.

Studies show that on average a person makes three thousand decisions a day. The vast proportion of these decisions are inconsequential. But in John 3 we will see Three Musts in John 3:7, 14, and 30. The word “must” (δεῖ - dĕi, die) means something necessary, binding, needed, must. In this chapter there are three musts, three things that are absolutely eternally necessary and essential. These three “musts” hold this chapter together and provide a look at essentials emphasized from the start of Jesus ministry. What are these “musts”? The three “musts” mentioned in this chapter divide the chapter in the following way:

I.)                 The Sinner’ Must – “You must be born again” – 3:1-8

II.)              The Savior’s Must – “. . . even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” – 3:9-21

III.)           The Servant’s Must – “He must increase, but I must decrease” - 3:22-36

Let’s look at our chapter and these musts.

 

The Sinner’s Must - “You must be born again”

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.

 

What do we know about Nicodemus? The name “Nicodemus” means ruler, conqueror or conqueror of the people. The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names adds Nicodemus’ name as meaning, Innocent blood; victor over the people, Conqueror of the populace.[4]

 

He was aptly named as he grew up to be a ruler of the people. As a “ruler of the Jews” he was a member of the Sanhedrin, an elite ruling body of religious leaders who oversaw the life of the people. One commentator describes the Sanhedrin as:

 

The Roman government in Jerusalem gave some powers to the Sanhedrin, the ruling council comprised of Jews and headed by the high priest. The Sanhedrin oversaw temple affairs and had some police powers of its own. While the Jews were endowed with some elements of self-rule, there was still tension between the Jews and their Roman rulers. Some of the tension arose from issues clearly political in nature—taxation, for instance—and some of the tension revolved around issues of a religious nature. However, politics and religion were not at all the separate domains in either Rome or Judea that they are in many western nations.[5]

 

The “Pharisees,” or separated ones, were a sect or brotherhood of about six thousand.[6] To be a Pharisee meant Nicodemus was very religious. The babel of religion emphasizes what a person has to do, the work they must do to get to heaven (cf. Gen. 11). Actually, you couldn’t get more religious than being a Pharisee. Scribes were in charge of interpreting the 613 Old Testament laws. Pharisees were committed to applying and enforcing the Old Testament Law and that in minutest detail. Of the Pharisees it was stated:

 

There was much that was sound in their creed, yet their system of religion was a form and nothing more. Theirs was a very lax morality (Matt. 5:20; 15:4, 8; 23:3, 14, 23, 25; John 8:7). On the first notice of them in the New Testament (Matt. 3:7), they are ranked by our Lord with the Sadducees as a “generation of vipers.” They were noted for their self-righteousness and their pride (Matt. 9:11; Luke 7:39; 18:11, 12). They were frequently rebuked by our Lord (Matt. 12:39; 16:1–4).

From the very beginning of his ministry the Pharisees showed themselves bitter and persistent enemies of our Lord. They could not bear his doctrines, and they sought by every means to destroy his influence among the people. [7]

 

Nicodemus doesn’t appear to have followed the mold of his sect. He appears to have been more open to the things of God than his brethren were. Later in John’s gospel Nicodemus appears to be a supporter of Jesus in discussions with his fellow religious leaders. He advocates that Jesus should at least be heard before they sentenced Him (John 7:50-52). This tells us that the conversation Nicodemus had with Jesus had at least led Nicodemus to be sympathetic with Jesus.

 

Nicodemus was also apparently a wealthy man. He brought very costly burial lotions to anoint Jesus’ body with after His death on the cross. What is also interesting is that Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea who was described as “a disciple of Jesus” and the two of them requested the body of Jesus from Pilate after Jesus’ death (John 19:38-42). We can’t say with absolute certainty that Nicodemus was a disciple of Jesus, but the evidence seems to point in that direction.

2 This man came to Jesus

 

Nicodemus was religious, wealthy and as a ruler had a position of power. He had it all. And yet there was something missing. And he was going to Jesus to see if he could find that missing part. How about you? Are you religious? Are you wealthy, even rich? Are you in a position of authority, a ruler? But do you feel there’s something missing? Will you go to Jesus like Nicodemus did?

by night

Why did Nicodemus come to see Jesus at night? There are a couple of possibilities. Nicodemus may have come “by night” because he was concerned about being seen with Jesus. During the day other Jewish rulers would be on watch to see what Jesus was doing and who was being impressed by what He was doing. Nicodemus may have been concerned about appearances; how it would look to others if he, a Pharisee and ruler of the Jews was meeting with Jesus. We know that if this was the case that by John 7 Nicodemus steps out in defense of Jesus.

Nicodemus also could have come at night in order to have a private face to face meeting with Jesus. During the day Jesus was surrounded by crowds. Maybe he desired to meet with Jesus to answer personal questions he himself had.

If John 2 speaks of the Passover being at hand (John 2:13), and the Passover takes place in the Spring, then chronologically John 3 takes place in the Spring. It may even have been some time after the Passover and be taking place in early to mid-summer. This means daily temperatures would be hotter during the day and nights cooler. Perhaps Nicodemus was simply meeting Jesus when it was cooler and more comfortable.

The roof of homes in the Middle East at this time were a separate living area; like a porch or deck area. On the side of the houses was a stairway up to the roof where people would go in the evening to cool off and have conversation. There were no air-conditioners in Jesus’ day. Therefore, this may be what Nicodemus was doing and why he met with Jesus in the cool of the night. This may have been the setting of the meeting between Nicodemus and Jesus.

and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.”

Nicodemus acknowledges Jesus as being “from God.” He substantiates this by noting the miraculous signs Jesus had done. “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” The miraculous signs done by Jesus had their desired impact and influence on Nicodemus. This was true not only of Nicodemus, but of other leaders too. Nicodemus says, “we know that You are a teacher come from God.” Nicodemus may have been coming to see Jesus as a representative of other Pharisees (i.e. the “we”).

 

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

 

To this Jewish leader of the Jews, a man versed in the scriptures, Jesus clearly and unequivocally states, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” There are no shades of gray about what Jesus is saying. This is an essential, a must if someone desires to see the kingdom of God.

 

We need to consider a definition of “kingdom of God.” What is the “kingdom of God” Jesus refers to here? “Kingdom” conveys the idea of a rule. “Kingdom of God” conveys the idea of God’s rule. Jews equated the kingdom of God with a political governmental rule of God. This is why the apostles questioned Jesus about establishing the kingdom of God after the resurrection (Acts 1:9-11). There will be a literal kingdom of God on earth during the Millennium (cf. Rev. 20). But there is also a sense in which the kingdom of God is established in the heart of a person. This is lordship.

 

Salvation involves Jesus as Lord in our heart (cf. Rom. 10:9). We are saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone (Eph. 2:1-9). We aren’t saved by our works or efforts (e.g. Titus 3:5). But any genuine, authentic, and actual salvation results in a change of heart and life. In salvation we receive a new heart (Ezek. 18:31; 36:26). The unsaved are a lord to themselves. The saved have surrendered their self-rule to God in Christ and now follow Jesus as Lord (Rom. 10:9-10). That is the fruit of genuine salvation (Rom. 14:9; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11).

 

When we look at the Bible the Kingdom of God is described in the following ways:

 

Mark 1:15 - and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”

 

Luke 10:9b - ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’

 

Luke 17:21b – “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”

 

The Kingdom of God began in a special way with the introduction of Jesus. When Jesus came at the incarnation He brought the Kingdom of God into the present. This speaks to us about the internal aspect of God’s Kingdom, His rule in the heart – “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Therefore, the Kingdom of God is received through repentance and believing the gospel (Mark 1:15; cf. also Mat. 3:2).

 

Romans 14:17 - for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

 

The kingdom of God is not merely material but involves a spiritual dimension of life lived “in the Holy Spirit.” In John 3 Jesus elaborates on this in His conversation with Nicodemus by saying, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. . . . You must be born again. . . So is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5, 6, 8).

 

2 Peter 1:5-11 - But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

 

The Kingdom of God is “everlasting.” The entrance into this Kingdom is abundantly supplied as we diligently live in the spiritually fruitful and growing way described here by Peter.

 

Matthew 6:10 - Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven.

 

The context here is Jesus’ teaching on prayer. We are therefore to pray for the Kingdom of God to come. And the Kingdom of God involves God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

 

Matthew 6:33 - But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

 

We are to make seeking the Kingdom of God a priority over even our daily necessities. We are to trust God to provide for us as we seek His Kingdom.

 

Matthew 24:14 - And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.

 

Acts 8:12 - But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.

 

The message of the Kingdom of God is to be preached and proclaimed. The Kingdom of God is linked to “the name of Jesus Christ.” That “both men and women were baptized” indicates believing and receiving the Kingdom of God results in life change and an outward acknowledgement of that change.

 

Acts 14:21-22 - And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.”

 

Entering the Kingdom of God entails that “we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” Notice this “must” happen. The Kingdom mentioned here also involves discipleship; “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith.”

 

Colossians 4:11b - These are my only fellow workers for the kingdom of God . . . .

 

The New Testament example is that God’s people work together in fellowship for the Kingdom of God.

 

Ephesians 5:5 - For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

 

Colossians 1:13 - He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love,

 

1 Thessalonians 2:12 - that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

 

Entering the Kingdom of Christ and God requires sin be dealt with in our lives. Not everyone will enter this Kingdom (cf. also Mat. 7:13-14). That means we turn from our sin (i.e. repent) and receive forgiveness of our sins through faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. Eph. 2:8-9). Entering God’s kingdom involves being delivered from the power of darkness into a Kingdom described as ruled by “the Son of His love.” Entering God’s Kingdom involves a “walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” It involves a holy life.

 

Matthew 13:19 - When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is he who received seed by the wayside.

 

Mark 4:10-12 - But when He was alone, those around Him with the twelve asked Him about the parable. 11 And He said to them, “To you it has been given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God; but to those who are outside, all things come in parables, 12 so that ‘Seeing they may see and not perceive, And hearing they may hear and not understand; Lest they should turn, And their sins be forgiven them.’

 

Not everyone will understand the message of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is opposed by “the wicked one.” This wicked one will try to snatch away information and revelation about the Kingdom. He will work to thwart God’s offer of the Kingdom to people.

 

 

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

 

Nicodemus doesn’t ask “why” a man must be born again. Nicodemus asked, “how” a person can be born again. Nicodemus wasn’t looking at this conversation in a merely intellectual or academic way. Nicodemus was seeking. He saw something in Jesus that he didn’t have. He saw something different. He wanted what Jesus was talking about. He wanted to be “born again.”

 

Some say Nicodemus was not sincere and was being cute. Some accuse him of evading the issue. Was he sincerely asking Jesus to elaborate? Whatever the reason behind Nicodemus’ question it led to further discussion.

 

5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

 

Jesus makes a distinction between physical and spiritual birth; of two births: physical “of water” and spiritual “the Spirit.” A person can be physically alive but spiritually dead. Spiritual life requires a spiritual birth. Unless a person experiences a second birth, a spiritual birth, they will not enter the kingdom of God. Jesus is very clear here: “flesh is flesh, and . . . Spirit is spirit.”

 

It may also be that “water” is referring to God’s word. Elsewhere “water” is used as a type for scripture (e.g. Eph. 5:26). Indeed later in John’s gospel Jesus tells His disciples, “You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). Peter speaks of being “
born again, . . . through the word of God which lives and abides forever” in his first epistle (1 Peter 1:23). There can be little to no doubt that the word of God is an integral instrument in the spiritual birth of the sinner. The Spirit uses the word of God to convict the sinner of sin and to reveal the gospel of Jesus Christ as the solution to their sin problem.

 

If you try to live God’s Kingdom life without being spiritually born it results in the frustrating and futile and ultimately failing way of legalism. We need the spiritual life provided by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. We need the spiritual fruit produced by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22-24) as well as the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to do all God calls us to do (Acts 1:8; 2:1ff.).

 

7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’

 

Jesus said, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). George Whitefield, mighty preacher of the 18th century revivals in England and America (i.e. The Great Awakening - in America) was frequently asked why he always preached that man must be born again. “Why do I preach you must be born again?” said Whitefield? “Because you must be born again!”

In this passage of scripture Jesus is speaking about spiritual regeneration. In this material world we look at each other and see life. When someone dies or some form of life dies it is evident to us, e.g. it stops breathing; it’s heart stops beating; it decomposes, etc. But there is another dimension we don’t readily consider, the realm of the spirit. This realm is unseen. The Bible tells us that we are not born with spiritual life but must be born again or experience a second birth, a spiritual birth. If we do not, we are dead spiritually.

What causes this spiritual death? Sin causes death physically, mentally, and spiritually (Rom. 6:23). Sin is living in disobedience to God. It is settling for physical material life while neglecting or not experiencing spiritual life. If we die physically without being “born again” we will go into an eternal existence separate from God in a place of torment called hell where God’s just penalty for sin and spiritual death will be properly imposed for eternity. But if we are “born again” we will live eternally with God in a place called heaven which is a place of endless blessing in the wonderful presence of the Lord. For this to happen, you must experience spiritual birth, be born of the Holy Spirit, “You must be born again.”

How can we be born again?

  • John 1:12-13 states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

 

Being born again involves simply turning from your sin, giving up your sinful ways, and turning to God to receive by faith His gracious gift of salvation provided through Jesus. Being born again is a work of God not humanity (cf. also John 6:29). It is a work of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin (John 16:8-11), and draws the sinner to the Father (John 6:44). This spiritual birth can perplex us at times, but that is because it is an incredible work of the Holy Spirit (John 3:7-8).

Our church has an annual baptism at a public beach on the north shore of Long Island. During this service on the shore I give an evangelistic open air message. To illustrate what it means to be born of the Spirit I once scoured the shore of the beach for a horseshoe crab shell. I used the shell to show that we can easily observe that the horseshoe crab is dead. It isn’t breathing. It isn’t moving. Its innards are empty leaving only a shell of what it used to be. In this material world of ours  it’s easy for us to see that life has left this shell. But there’s more to existence than what we can see in the material world. There is a spiritual dimension. From the material dimension it’s not always easy to determine if one is alive or dead. We can sometimes mistake religious or altruistic activity for spiritual life when in fact a person is spiritually dead. Sometimes we are mere empty shells. Jesus said some people are tares amongst wheat. That is, some people look good on the outside but are empty or lifeless on the inside. Jesus has so much more than that for us. Jesus said just like we were born into the material world, we also need to be born again, born a second time spiritually. This second birth happens in the heart and fills the heart with the Holy Spirit who makes Christ’s presence known.

How can we identify spiritual life? Here are some evidences that show spiritual life:

  1. Spiritual birth – John 3:6
  2. Hears Jesus words and believes in Him – John 5:24
  3. Abide in Jesus word as disciples – John 8:31-32, 47
  4. Knows the Jesus as Shepherd – John 10:14, 27-28
  5. Obedience – John 14:21
  6. Understanding of God’s word – John 14:26
  7. Personal saving relationship with Jesus – John 15:26
  8. Guided into God’s truth – John 16:13
  9. Holy Life – As the Holy  Spirit lives in them – John 20:22
  10. Assurance of salvation – 1 John 3:24; 4:13
  11. Love of the Spirit – Rom. 5:5
  12. Fruit – Gal. 5:22-24

 

Read these scriptures references. Do you have these in your life? Have you been born of the Spirit? If not you are spiritually dead and risk spending an eternity separate from God.

Sin is disobeying the laws of the Holy God of love. He has created us and given a manual (the Bible) for people to live by to experience His best in life. Those who disregard and disobey this manual are in rebellion against God and His enemies. Their rebellious behavior is sin and that sin causes pain, suffering, and opposes the will of God. God who is just imposes a penalty for such sin – eternal death. The only way the death penalty for such sin to be justly and righteously paid is for a death to occur. But not just any death; since sin stains people it disqualifies them for paying the proper death penalty. Therefore only a perfect sinless atoning death would suffice. Jesus, as a gift of God’s grace, went to the cross and paid that death penalty for humankind. To be born again all a person therefore has to do is turn from their sins (repent) and by faith in Christ receive God’s gift of forgiveness based on the death penalty Jesus paid for us.

8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

 

What is Jesus saying here? He is saying that there is an operation of the Spirit that we may not be able to identify outwardly. We may hear the sound of the wind but we can’t identify where it comes from or where it goes. The work of a person being “born of the Spirit” can be confounding. It can be perplexing. God is the One who works salvation and we can’t always explain how He does it (Mark 4:26-29). Salvation is a gift of His grace and a product of His hand at work.

 

It may be that Nicodemus, a teacher of the Old Testament, would have his memory jogged by Jesus’ words to remember the passage of Ezekiel where the dead dry bones of Israel are brought to life by Ezekiel’s prophetic word and the breath of the Lord (cf. Ezekiel 37).

 

The Holy Spirit can go places we can’t. He can go right down into a person’s heart. He can enter their thoughts. He knows their thoughts. He can therefore reason with them in ways we can’t. He is unlimited. We are very limited. That is the point Jesus is making here. What is impossible with people is very possible with the Spirit.

 

Jesus directs us to depend on the Holy Spirit. That was the entire point of His final words to His disciples and reason for leaving; so that the Spirit could come and His disciples would learn to live in the Spirit (cf. John 14-16).

 

Jesus told His disciples (i.e. learners) to wait and receive the baptism with the Holy Spirit which would give them power to witness and serve Him (Acts 1:4-5, 8). Jesus is “He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). This is a purifying (Acts 15:8-9) and empowering (Acts 1:8) experience where we don’t get more of the Holy Spirit but He gets more of, all of us. It’s called baptism because we are totally immersed in the Holy Spirit. This is full surrender, abandonment to the will of the Spirit (Rom. 8). We need the power of the Spirit to be powerfully used by God.

 

The Savior’s Must – “. . . even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”

 

9 Nicodemus answered and said to Him, “How can these things be?”

 

A Pharisee was a privileged position. A Pharisee received a good education and had access to the word of God. All this and yet Nicodemus still doesn’t get it. He still doesn’t understand the necessity of spiritual birth.

 

Notice, Nicodemus doesn’t ask “Why must these things be?” He doesn’t deflect Jesus’ statements with philosophical platitudes to evade the issue. No, he immediately asks Jesus, “How can these things be?” He asks by what means, or in what way can these things be? From his question this pinnacle and model of religious pursuit recognizes he needs what Jesus is speaking about. He realizes he needs to be “born again.” Nicodemus represents all that religion can offer and lead to and it is still empty and need of more of what Jesus is speaking about and offering.

 

10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?

 

We can close our eyes and imagine this meeting between the representative of religion, Nicodemus and the Representative of true personal salvation, Jesus. Nicodemus dressed in his traditional religious garb, a distinctive dress from common people. Jesus, dressed in the simple seamless tunic (John 19:23). Nicodemus, representative of the Sanhedrin, the human order of religious authority was meeting with Jesus, the One from heaven.

 

Jesus’ response is not one that belittles, but is one that expresses a gentle calling to account. Nicodemus is asking a question that he should already have the answer to. Nicodemus, as a Pharisee, had access to the Scriptures. He was a “teacher” (Greek didaskalos). He was a student of the Word and had graduated to being a teacher of the word. He should know the Scriptures. Those Scriptures spoke of the way of salvation in line with what Jesus was speaking.

 

Jesus says, “Are you a teacher of Israel, . . . . ?’ Jesus challenged Nicodemus. He was calling him to account. He was asking a question for which he should have had the answer. God doesn’t veil the truth; He reveals the truth. Some things are indeed beyond our puny capabilities to grasp with our mind. But the things we need to know such as the way of salvation, the way of eternal life, the way of being born again, God lays out clearly before us in His Book. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the word of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). Nicodemus was in a privileged position. He had ready access to God’s Word. He likely studied it and even studied it hard, but he had missed the most important message of God; how to be born again.

Jesus said to the teacher, “. . . and do not know these things?” The word “know” here is translated from the Greek ginosko which means to know, perceive, to understand, to comprehend and grasp intellectually. Nicodemus failed to put the clear facts and information of God together into an understandable message. He didn’t put two and two together, (a simple equation), to get four. What were some of the facts and evidence of Scripture he overlooked?

 

Abraham was made righteous by faith (Gen. 15:16). Ezekiel spoke of a new heart from God (Ezekiel 18:31; 36:26). Habakkuk said, “the just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). The lives of the patriarchs, prophets and Old Testament leaders like Moses, Joshua, and Samuel all testified to the personal relationship received and lived by faith. The Old Testament sacrificial system, while requiring many works from the participant, was rooted in the trust and faith of those involved. Yes, Nicodemus had missed the mark and drifted from the substance of the revelation of God his Creator. Nicodemus, representative of the height and limit of religious pursuit should have known “how” these things can be. But he didn’t.

 

11 Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.

 

“Most assuredly” is literally, “Amen, amen” (Greek amen) meaning truly, indeed, without a doubt. Jesus had told Nicodemus something that was certain and true; no doubt about it. Interestingly Jesus goes to the third person here; “We . . .  Our.” By using the third person Jesus may have been referring to Himself and His disciples, but I think there is something more implied. I believe Jesus is communicating to Nicodemus (and to us) that not only was Jesus speaking to him, but the Father who Jesus represented and the Spirit were also represented were in this conversation. The Father is the One who sent Jesus and from Whom Jesus came. The Spirit is the One who brings conviction of sin (John 16:8-11). God in His fullness is in the message of Jesus here.

 

Jesus Himself had told Nicodemus truth that “We know.” The word “know” (Greek oidamen from eido) refers to perfect knowledge, something known with absolute certainty. Eido refers to something that had been experienced, based on firsthand knowledge. Jesus used eido because what He has shared with Nicodemus is based on what,  "We have seen.” Jesus, God in His fullness knows this truth.

 

Jesus said “We . . . testify what we have seen, . . . Our witness.” To “testify” and “witness” (both from the Greek martureo) means bear witness to, testify. If we are to follow in the steps of Jesus and walk as He walked (1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6) we too should testify to what we have experienced in Christ.

 

To this point Nicodemus has not received Jesus’ message. “You do not receive Our message.” To “receive” (Greek lambano) means to take, grasp, seize, or receive. Nicodemus has not received by faith what Jesus has told him. Remember in verses twelve and thirteen of the opening chapter of john’s gospel account it states, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” Nicodemus is still caught up in “the will of the flesh,” or his religious works. Nicodemus hasn’t surrendered his will, “the will of man,” to “God.”

 

12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?

 

Jesus had told Nicodemus the simple truth of the necessity of spiritual birth: “you must be born again.” Nicodemus hadn’t believed. “You do not believe” Jesus assessed of the religious man before Him. “Believe” here (Greek pisteuo) means to have faith in, put trust in, be convinced of, rely in, and have confidence in something. Nicodemus hadn’t trusted in Jesus and His message. He came trusting in his religious system.

 

Why hadn’t Nicodemus understood? Why hadn’t he “believed”? That’s at the root of what Jesus is saying. Apparently Jesus attributes the lack of understanding not to an inability to understand but the unwillingness to understand. Nicodemus was a “teacher of Israel,” but didn’t take in what God was trying to say. The Pharisee rabbi Saul had the same problem, and even too it a notch higher in actually pursing God’s church murderously in the name of God (cf. Act 9). Religion is not only not the answer, it blinds and prevents us from comprehending or getting what God is trying to reveal to us. In another gospel Jesus speaks of human tradition as an obstacle to God’s will and word (Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23).

 

Nicodemus had allowed the tinsel and ornaments of human tradition to cover up the tree of the cross. In his human efforts he had glanced over the most important thing. Religion always leads to human tinkering with God’s message. When people tinker by tradition with the simple profoundness of God’s revelation His message is lost. When the focus is on human works, we miss the grace of God (e.g. Galatians 2:16-20).

 

It’s not that people can’t understand but more often it’s that they won’t understand. On the one hand religious people hide behind and are willfully sidetracked by tradition. They don’t want a deeper relationship that costs them their comfort. They just want to do the minimum that is required to get into heaven, and then go on their merry self-centered way. That is why salvation is something that takes place in the heart; the seat of the will. On the other hand people perform good works motivated by guilt or fear to get them to heaven. Neither way leads to spiritual security or blessing.

 

13 No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.

 

Jesus knows what He knows and testifies and witnesses to that which He has from the vantage point of His unique heavenly position. Jesus came from heaven. He brings and offers revelation straight from the Source; the Triune Godhead; the throne of God. Nicodemus may not have fully grasped that, but he and those he represented knew there was something heavenly about Jesus (i.e. “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God” – vs. 2). Now Jesus is clarifying who He is and where He is from to Nicodemus.

 

Jesus is “The Son of Man.” Jesus is the representative “Man” the second Adam. And as the representative Man He is able to present Himself as the just substitute in sacrifice on the cross to pay humanities’ debt of sin; death. Paul points this out when he writes, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. . . . Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned. . . .  by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the One Man, Jesus Christ, abounded to many. . . . Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life. . . . But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:1, 6, 8-9, 12, 15, 18, and 20).

 

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,

 

Jesus not turns to an Old Testament event that illustrated a truth about His mission. In Numbers 21 the children of Israel complained against the Lord resulting in a plague of pain-producing biting serpents. The people were dying. They cried out to the Lord. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and lift it up before the people. Then if they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole they would be healed and live. Jesus referred to this OT incident because it was a prophetic picture of what He must do.

The Old Testament is filled with what are called shadows; eternal truth from historical accounting but that transcend and speak to greater application and revelation. These shadow revelations are mentioned in the New Testament. The Feast and Old Testament worship system “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (Col. 2:17). In Hebrews it states the Law and sacrificial system are a “copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The Law had a “shadow of the good things to come” (Heb. 10:1). Whenever and wherever we study the Old or New Testament, we should always be asking the basic question, “What does this tell me about Jesus?”

 

These shadows point to truths about Jesus. In Hebrews it states the volume of the Old Testament speaks of Jesus in this way – “Behold, I have come – in the volume of the book it is written of Me – to do Your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7; cf. also Psalm 40:6-8). The Old Testament system of sacrifice speaks to us about Jesus’ substitutionary atonement. The fulfillment of this system is found in Christ. We need only look to Jesus in faith and receive His substitutionary sacrifice for our sin in order to be forgiven and saved from our sins and have eternal life.

 

Sin incurs a just death penalty. Jesus died on the cross for our sin. When we turn from our sin and trust Jesus and His atoning death on the cross as our substitute, (our sacrifice Lamb), God applies the just transfer of our sin to Jesus and Jesus’ righteousness to us. When we do that Jesus becomes, “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Jeremiah 23:6; 33:16). This is the gospel.

 

even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

The snake of Numbers 21 was a type or shadowy symbol of sin. It was cast in bronze because bronze is a metal that speaks of judgment. When the people looked in faith at the lifted up serpent, they were healed. What did this correspond to in the New Testament? It corresponded to the cross.

 

Jesus became a snake of sin for us so that our sin could be judged and put away and we could be healed. Sin has painful venom. There is always a painful consequence to sin; death. Jesus is the antidote for those snake-bitten by sin. Look to Jesus in faith and live!

 

The Son of Man Jesus must be lifted up. This is the gospel of salvation as depicted by Jesus from an Old Testament type of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent in the wilderness.

 

15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.

 

 Here Jesus speaks to the availability, avenue of appropriation, Agent, antidote, and aim of the Gospel. The gospel is available to all – “whoever.” The avenue through which we appropriate salvation is faith – “believes.” The Agent who performs the work of the gospel and upon who we need to believe is Jesus – “in Him.” Jesus is the antidote to the sin problem and penalty of perishing eternally – “should not perish.” And the aim of the gospel; the desired purpose and outcome is to avoid perishing and instead find “eternal life.” These are the five foundational aspects of the gospel as stated by Jesus. They are summarized as:

1.      Available to all.

2.      Avenue of appropriation is by faith.

3.      Agent who does the work of salvation is Jesus.

4.      Antidote to the sin problem that keeps us from perishing is Jesus.

5.      Aim of the gospel is eternal life.

The Apostle Paul wrote the Corinthians of this clear holy transaction saying:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:21 - 21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

 

Jesus is the antidote for sin because He became sin for us. When we look at Jesus on the cross, understand He became sin for us. That is why salvation can be in no other. That is why faith in Jesus is essential and a must for salvation; the forgiveness of sin. Jesus is our substitute sacrificial Lamb of God. Look at Jesus in faith and be delivered from your sin. Look and live!

 

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.

 

Now we come to some particularly holy ground in these words of Jesus. As a Bible teacher who teaches through the Bible, all of God’s word is holy. But there are some passages, some verses that are particularly holy. Such is John 3:16. I’m tempted to look for a grandiose illustration or explanation of God’s love, but the best description of God’s love is His inspired John 3:16. We simply can’t top these words of Jesus about the love of God. Thank You Lord for loving us so much!

God’s love explained. How could belief in Jesus save us? Jesus stated categorically that He must be lifted up. He stated that belief in Him is the determining factor between the eternal destinies of perishing or eternal life. In John 3:16 Jesus substantiates His statements with an explanation of why this is so. And in the process Jesus explains the nature and purpose of God’s love for the lost.

 

God’s love is explained in that He gave His only Son Jesus. The word “gave” (Greek didomi) means to give up. The grammar of this verb conveys the thought of something the Father did personally and decisively. God gave His only Son Jesus. I doubt we can ever fully comprehend the cost of our salvation to the Triune God. All we can say is that this giving is rooted in the Father’s love. God’s love is enveloped in His loving act of giving His most precious Son Jesus for us. Incredible.

 

God’s love is expensive. Salvation is offered to us as a free gift of God’s grace (e.g. Eph. 2:1-9). But free doesn’t mean cheap. Our salvation cost Jesus a death on the cross. Jesus paid our penalty for sin (e.g. 1 Peter 1:18-19). He became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). That’s hard to comprehend. And that’s why Paul prayed hopefully that we, “may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which pas knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:18-19). Let’s make that our prayer.

 

God’s love speaks of belief in a precious Person. Who is it that Jesus says a person must decide to believe in? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe in Jesus – “the only begotten Son.” The word “begotten” (Greek monogenes) speaks of a single one of a kind. You can only have one firstborn child. Jesus is uniquely the “begotten” Son of God. The emphasis is on Jesus uniqueness not that He is “begotten” or created as some cults say when they twist the scriptures. Jesus is unique; there is none like Him. The word holy means unique, special. Jesus is holy because He is unique and special.

 

God’s purpose in redemption is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). But there is a sense in which Jesus is uniquely Jesus and that we will not be able to be like Him. Jesus is God; Second Person of the Trinity.  One of the prime thrusts and purposes of the gospel of John is to present to us the Person of Jesus. John’s inspired gospel speaks to us about who Jesus is. He is the “only begotten,” He is uniquely from God. Jesus is precious. He is God! Perishing eternally or experiencing eternal life is dependent on believing in the unique, holy, precious Person of Jesus.

 

God’s love is expansive. Note here the expansiveness, the broadness of this statement of God’s love by Jesus. Jesus used words like “whoever,” and “the world,” to express the scope of salvation. God has not created some destined for eternity in hell and some destined eternally for heaven. He has made it possible for all to spend eternity with Him. If a person spends eternity in hell perishing it will be because they chose to do so. God’s love is broad. God’s love is as broad as the outstretched arms of Jesus. With those outstretched arms Jesus is saying, “Come one, come all, come and be saved from your sin, come spend eternity with Me.” Have you received God’s loving salvation?

 

God’s love is effective. Maybe you feel unloved. Maybe you have loved someone only to have them betray your love. Maybe you’ve been scared deeply, hurt, or grieved. God’s love is the effective cure and solution to such need. Jesus is the solution to lovelessness. God knows a bit about love and what it truly means. God invented love. God defines love. He authored love. He is the Creator of love and the Source of love. He sustains and gives love power. Jesus said, “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” (John 3:16).  Those are holy words. These words stand above all other words. These words are the best illustration of love that were ever spoken. If you want to know what love is, look at these words.

 

God’s love in Christ is effective in providing a saving escape from a sentence of eternal perishing. God’s love is effective in Christ in providing a saving escape to eternal life with Him. Only God’s love in Christ provides the solution to the sin problem. Only God’s love in Christ can save us.

 

God’s love is eternal. These are words with eternal weight; God’s eternal nature is communicated here; our eternal destiny is addressed here. Here we see what Paul was talking about when he was inspired by God to reveal love is the greatest (1 Cor. 13:13). Jesus spoke the words of John 3:16. Remember that. Jesus Himself spoke these precious words. These words are simple, clear, succinct, but eternally profound. These words are from God’s heart and Jesus’ heart and conveyed by the heart of the Holy Spirit. These words reveal the eternal heart of God; a huge part of His nature. John 3:16 contains the heart and love of God. This is an incredible verse. It is the pinnacle of God’s message in so many ways.

 

God’s love impacts our eternal destiny. The profundity of Jesus’ words is seen in the two eternal destinies He mentions. Jesus speaks of those who will “perish” (Greek – apollymi). “Perish” can be defined with the words to destroy, to die, to lose, mar, perish, or ruin.  This is not speaking of annihilation. Jesus is holding two options before us here. Each one is an eternal destiny. Each one expresses a permanent irreversible condition that hinges on a person’s decision. Perish here refers to the idea of eternal misery in hell. The misery is rooted in perpetual regret for all that has been lost and contemplated during a time that is forever.

 

The other option of eternal destiny mentioned by Jesus here is “eternal life.” “Everlasting life” (Greek zoen aionion) refers to life, vitality, fullness, blessedness without end. The idea is an eternity of God’s best and blessing. It represents all that is found in the life God provides. Eternal life is life with God and experiencing all the loving of God poured out on us. “’Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.” (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Cor. 2:9, 10). Look to God’s word for what eternal life will be like (e.g. Revelation 21-22).

 

It cannot be stated enough that these two options are presented to “whoever” (Greek pas). This word is broad and all encompassing. No matter what state you are in, good or bad, very good or very bad, these gospel words are presented to you. Jesus opens the gospel to all people. All people will be given the opportunity to make a decision in regard to the gospel presented in this verse.

 

These are the two options presented here by Jesus; perishing eternal death or eternal life. There is no in between or alternative. A person will either perish or experience eternal life. It is appointed for each person to die once and then face judgment (Heb. 9:27). At that judgment their eternal destiny based on their decision on John 3:16 will be determined.

 

God’s love calls for an eternally significant decision. What is the deciding factor that determines whether or not a person goes into an eternity characterized by the word “perished,” or “everlasting life”? The deciding factor that our eternal destiny hinges upon is “whosever believes in Him.” “Believes” (Greek – pisteuo) means to have faith in, trust in, to entrust yourself to, commit to.  The grammar of this word (Present tense) denotes an ongoing continual action. It’s not just a onetime belief Jesus is speaking about here. Jesus is speaking about a life commitment.

 

What is it a person must decide about whether or not they will believe? Every person must decide whether or not they will believe that “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.” Breaking these words down and dissecting them leads us to see some ramifications and details associated with the belief involved in Jesus words. Believing in Jesus involves the following. A person must decide whether or not they will trust God’s word. They must decide whether or not they will accept God’s love. They must decide whether or not they will accept that God gave His only Son Jesus. Looking deeper this implies we must accept that the giving of Jesus was necessary and essential to our eternal destiny. It involves accepting that our sinful state was bad enough to warrant God giving His only Son Jesus to save us from perishing to eternal life. We must decide whether or not we will accept that belief in Jesus and Jesus alone is sufficient for us to be saved from condemnation and eternal perishing to eternal life. All of this and more is connected to Jesus words in John 3:16. Profound. Have you believed in Jesus? Do you believe in Jesus? Where do you stand on John 3:16?

 

John 3:16 conveys the gospel in a mere 25 words. I like what commentator Jon Courson states about this verse:

 

“In twenty-five words or less, tell us why your mother should be Mother of the Year,” reads the contest rules. “In twenty-five words or less, explain the importance of the French Revolution upon the economic and social structures of the thirteen colonies,” reads the test question. Now, although I probably wouldn’t have much trouble with the second question, the first one would be extremely difficult for me because the more we know about any given subject, the harder it is to communicate our thoughts succinctly. Not so with Jesus. John 3:16 is exactly twenty-five words long, and in these twenty-five words, Jesus communicates the Father’s heart, the Father’s plan, and the Father’s will.…

 

His heart: He loved the world.

His plan: He gave His only begotten Son.

His will: Whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 

Although I know it is somewhat coincidental, I find it interesting that in our English translation of this verse, the middle word is Son. It is no coincidence, however, that those who have experienced God’s presence most powerfully are those who have made the Son the center of their lives. Just as Jesus is the center of the greatest verse in all Scripture, He must be central in our hearts and lives if they are to have meaning, purpose, and impact (Ephesians 1:10). This means that any person, pursuit, or passion in my life that cannot be centered on Jesus Christ has no place in my life.

 

Surrounding the word “Son” in this verse, there are nine other key words: God, loved, world, gave, whosoever, believeth, perish, have, and life. If you want to be really blessed, meditate on John 3:16 every day for ten days, giving emphasis to a different word each day…

 

For God so loved the world…

For God so loved the world…

For God so loved the world…

 

Perhaps you memorized this verse when you were three years old. But I believe it will come alive for you in new ways as you contemplate the enormity of its simplicity.[8]

 

John 3:16 is a revelation of God’s heart. At the heart of God’s gospel is His love. “Loved” (Greek agapao) means to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, and to love dearly. In this context, applied to God, it refers to the selfless, self-sacrificing, Godly love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:4-8) of the Creator. If you want to know what agapao love is in its essence, look to God and the giving of His only Son Jesus on the cross. God demonstrates His love in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus (Romans 5:8). Agape love is love that gives all for the sake of another. It is the supreme love of God. This is the love that is poured into the heart of the Christian when regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). That’s incredible! It is the love that should compel and motivate the Christian in all they do (2 Cor. 5:14-16). That is right.

 

God’s love for us is real. It is undeserved by us. God’s love is a product of His grace. His love is unconditional. We only need receive it. We have a hard time perceiving or understanding it, but we don’t have to understand it, we only have to receive it. God’s love is a gift. I encourage you to meditate on John 3:16; just think about it. God’s love is amazing. God’s love is incredible. God’s love is unmatchable. God chooses to share such love with us and even pour it out into our heart by the Holy Spirit. The gospel is God’s gracious love manifest.

 

There’s an old classic hymn composed by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) entitled When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.  Written in 1707, the hymn has stood the test of time. Any work that can maintain its relevance over the years like this hymn must be worth our consideration. It is a hymn that reveals what we should see of God’s love when we look at the cross of Jesus. This hymn has been called the greatest hymn in the English language.

 

Isaac Watts was an exceptional man. He learned Latin by the age of 5, Greek by age 9, French by age 11, and Hebrew by age 12. More importantly, this gifted intellect learned to love Jesus at an early age. He wrote When I Survey because he was grieved by the heartless worship he saw in English churches. Watts commented, ““The singing of God’s praise is the part of worship most closely related to heaven; but its performance among us is the worst on earth.” Sadly, the same can be said in many a church of our day.

 

By the end of his life Isaac Watt had written over 600 hymns. He is known historically as the “Father of English Hymnody.” If you want to be blessed, just do some research and take in hymns penned by this man of God. But the one that represents the pinnacle of his work is When I Survey the Wondrous Cross. This hymn, written when Watts was 33, captures his heart of devotion for God. It is a tried and true favorite of many. It is the perfect hymn to worship the Lord with in light of John 3:16.

 

.

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

 

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ, my God; all the vain things that charm me most—I sacrifice them to His blood.

 

See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

 

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small: Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. [9]

 

Why not pause a moment and let John 3:16 sink deep into your heart. It’s averse so many have committed to memory. It is a verse we may know by memory but perhaps our familiarity with it has led to a neglect of appropriate loving appreciation to God for all it entails. Why not take a moment to worship Him now. Survey the wondrous cross and thank Him for His love.

 

 

17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world,

 

“Don’t judge me!” is a common retort from anyone whose decisions, lifestyle, or views are questioned today. The media comes down hard on anyone who would hold to and be so bold as to voice the idea of absolute truth. If you are courageous enough to step out and say something is wrong or, heaven forbid, “sinful,” you will be set to the side with a swift dismissive label such as “intolerant,” “hater,” or “bigot.” “Hey,” the self-proclaimed defenders of the new immoral code say, “What condemnation? God didn’t send Jesus to condemn the world. Don’t you know that?”

So what about “condemnation”? What is it? And what does it mean when Jesus said, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved”? If you look at the world around you with even a marginal biblical worldview it sure does seem as though there’s quite a bit going on that deserves condemnation. Sin and immorality is proliferating. Government is legislating, legalizing, and imposing on its citizenry things the Bible clearly calls sinful, e.g. same sex marriage. Someone has commented, “If God doesn’t judge this world He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” So let’s look at condemnation and in particular these words of Jesus.

Most who say, “Don’t judge me” refer to Jesus’ statement, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). It’s always important to keep scripture in context. What does the context of this verse reveal? In the same teaching Jesus states, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs: nor cast your pearls before swine, . . . . Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. . . . Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. . . .Therefore by their fruits you will know them. 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” (Matthew 7:6, 13, 15, 20, and 21). The term “judge” used by Jesus is a translation of the Greek word krino. Remember, krino means separate, distinguish, decide, decide between, think, approve, resolve, determine, give judgment, condemn, punish, and judge. This is a word that speaks of assessment, of weighing facts and truth about something. There is an element of assessing, of judging in determining who dogs and swine are, those who go through the narrow or broad gate, who the false prophets are, the fruit of a person, and lastly, the genuineness of someone who uses the words, “Lord, Lord.” Is Jesus contradicting Himself? No, Jesus doesn’t contradict Himself. If that is the case, then our understanding of Jesus statement not to judge must mean something different than simply not judging people at all.

We are steered on the course of right interpretation when we look at Jesus words about not everyone who calls Him “Lord, Lord” being eligible to enter heaven. Jesus says basically talk is cheap. It’s not what someone says alone that gets them into heaven, but also whether or not their actions line up with their words. Jesus says, “but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Our actions and words must line up. This is key to understanding Jesus initial statement on not judging. Someone who says one thing and does another is a hypocrite. Jesus denounced hypocrisy with clarity and sternness (e.g. Mat. 23). And when we look at the immediate context of Jesus statement “Judge not,” we see this is what He is talking about.

Jesus says the judgment we use with others is the measure of judgment God will use with us (Mat. 7:2). This should give us pause. Are we as gracious with others as we would want God to be with us? If God holds us accountable with the measure we hold others accountable to, what would the result be? Be careful how you judge is the message of Jesus. He says this because we are so prone to hold others accountable for things we easily allow ourselves to do.

Jesus then speaks of perspective. Before we look to point out the speck of a flaw in someone else we should take care of the plank of a sin in our own lives (Mat. 7:3-4). Then He brings us to the board of correction saying, “Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Mat. 7:5).In other words be humble in yoru assessment of others. Jesus is not therefore saying we should not judge, only that we should be careful not to judge hypocritically. This brings to mind what the Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “Be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness, patience, understanding, grace and love should be our attitude in assessing those around us. That is the message of Jesus.

‘For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, . . .’ Why did Jesus say this? Why is this the case? The word “condemn” is translated from krino, the same word translated “judge” by Jesus in Matthew 7:1. It speaks of a true and honest assessment. The truth of the matter is that God did not have to send His Son Jesus into the world “to condemn the world.” The world was and is already condemned! In Psalms it states:

 

·                     Psalm 58:3-5 – 3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies. 4 Their poison is like the poison of a serpent; they are like the deaf cobra that stops its ear, 5 which will not heed the voice of charmers,

            charming ever so skillfully.

Humanity is born in sin; born with an inclination to sin against God, rebel against His Holy Word, and live as an enemy against God (cf. Psalm 51:5). Humanity is, “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). Our condemnation is already in place. Jesus says this later in John 3:18 – “he who does not believe is condemned already.” We all deserve to be eternally condemned. We did not have to learn how to sin; it comes natural to us! We deserve the righteous wrath of God. This is the condition of the entire world. But God is rich in mercy and sent forth His Son Jesus to save us (cf. Eph. 2:1-9).

 

but that the world through Him might be saved.

 

God does not want to condemn us for our sin. He wants to save the world. And recognize God wants to save not merely a select few, but “the world.” There is a doctrinal position that misinterprets Gods’ sovereignty in a way that requires God predetermine the eternal destiny of individuals separate from and independent of any free will decision on their part. In fact they deny there is any such thing as free will. They see humanities’ granted-by-God ability to choose not to receive Him as a breach or diminishing of His sovereignty. This is generally speaking what Calvinism or Reformed Theology holds to. I do not believe this is supported by scriptures. God in His sovereign determination has included free will to make decisions in His salvation equation.

 

Scripture states, “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11). Just as we are all condemned, God offers all an opportunity in Christ to be saved. There is absolutely no indication here of any exclusivity by God in determining beforehand that He created a particular group to be condemned and a particular group to be saved. He is absolutely inclusive in that all of “the world” who are condemned are all of “the world” who are sought after by Jesus to be saved. The world is condemned in sin. God sent Jesus to save the condemned world. That is all of God’s grace. We need only receive the salvation offered in Christ by faith in Him. God makes this gracious offer. He holds us accountable to our decision in response to His offer. God remains sovereign throughout.

 

God has made every effort and has gone to the supreme extent to make a way for condemned sinners to avoid His righteous and just condemnation. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11; cf. also Ezek. 18:23, 32). God, “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,”  not just a few (Titus 2:11). “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). And if God sovereignly has decided to offer salvation to “the world” or all people, then it implies there is a choice to be made toward this gracious offer of God to humanity.

 

God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of our sin for us. He sent Jesus to be lifted up, just like the bronze serpent of Moses. The Psalmist is correct. We are like a “serpent . . . a deaf cobra” (Psalm 58:3). Jesus took on the poison of the serpent on the cross in our place for us. And when a person puts their faith in Jesus God wipes their sinful slate clean with the blood of His Son Jesus. He forgives our sin based on what Jesus has done on the cross for us. He does all of this based justly on the substitutionary atonement of Jesus on the cross. Jesus died in our place suffering our death penalty for sin for us (cf. Isaiah 53:1-7; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 2:9; 1 Peter 3:18).

 

God’s purpose in sending His only Son Jesus is “that the world through Him might be saved.” “Saved” (Greek sodzo) means to be brought to safety, delivered, protected, preserved, healed, made whole, as well as saved. This implies that those in “the world” were in danger beforehand. The Father sent Jesus His only Son to make available a complete and total healing from sin and sins’ affects. God’s objective is to save the world from the poison of sin. In Christ there is deliverance, protection, preservation, healing and wholeness. Salvation in Jesus is the greatest “holistic” medicine, not because it carries any New Agey mysticism but because it addresses all of humanities’ needs.

 

That Jesus uses the phrase “might be saved” (i.e. the subjunctive case of “condemn” or judge) indicates the call for a willful decision from the sinner. God does not superimpose His salvation on us. He presents the good news of possible salvation through belief in Jesus. Then He awaits our decision to either accept or reject His salvation offer.

 

Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world but to reach down to people drowning in sin and offer them a hand of salvation. Where do you stand with Jesus? Indecision is decision. If you put off making a decision to receive Jesus as Savior by faith, you remain in your state of condemnation. You must make a decision. You must respond in faith to be saved. You must receive God’s gracious provision in Christ. Otherwise you will be lost eternally forever to condemnation.

 

The gracious offer of salvation in Christ by God is like no other religious offer. The world is sinking deep in a morass immoral quicksand; the consequence of their living in sin. Confucius comes and says, “It is not good that humanity is in sin” and walks on by. Mohammed comes and says, “May Allah’s will be done!” and walks on by. Buddha comes and says, “Learn from this situation” and walks on by.  Krishna says, “Better luck next time” and walks on by.  Jesus comes, looks in compassion, reaches down to sinking humanity, and pulls them up and out of the quagmire of sin. Then He says, “Walk with Me for eternity.” Yes, the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only redemptive reality for the sinner. .[10]

 

Religions tells people what they must do to be saved. And because religion is based on work people must do there is no assurance because we can never know how much work is enough work to justify us or work off our sin. Religion tells us what to do. The good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims, done! Jesus does the heavy lifting for us. Jesus works our salvation on the cross and then says to simply believe and receive what He has done on our behalf and you will be forgiven and saved from your sin. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Condemned? Or not condemned? The decision is up to you.

 

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already,

 

Whether or not a person “believes in Him” (Jesus) is the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny. Belief in Jesus determines whether or not God’s righteous condemnation is averted or not. “Believes” (Greek pisteuo) to trust in, entrust your life to, commit your life to Jesus is the determinant in your eternal destiny. And this belief, based on the grammar of the verb “believes” (Present/Active/Participle) is ongoing, lifelong, personal believing in Jesus.

 

Again, indecision is decision – “but he who does not believe is condemned already.” You must decide about Jesus. Believe in Him as Savior and His substitutionary atoning work will be put to your account. Refuse to believe, and your condemnation remains in place and that condition remaining permanently is only a hair’s breath, heartbeat, or final brain impulse away.

 

The word “condemned” (Greek krino) means separated, distinguished, judged, determined, condemned, or punished. The idea is to be brought to trial. The grammar of the first occurrence of the verb condemned” (krino – Present/Passive-Middle/Indicative) indicates this judgment is done to the person. This is not self-judgment. This is judgment by God on the sinner.

 

The second occurrence of the verb “condemned” (krino – Perfect/Passive-Middle/Indicative) indicates a condemnation or judgment that has taken place in the past and continues to the present and beyond. If you do not believe you will be brought to trial before God and found guilty. If you believe in Jesus you will be brought to trial and found not guilty. Every person will stand before the judgment seat of God (Heb. 9:27).

 

There are those today who try to deflect God’s call to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus by saying, “Don’t judge me!” They can say that all they want but everyone will one day be judged before God. God’s judgment and punishment will be just and true and be based on whether or not a person has believed in and trusted in Jesus as Savior.

 

Condemnation is real. It is possible that God will pronounce condemnation on a person. There is no middle ground. Where you stand with Jesus is the fulcrum, the crux, the hinge on which the door to heaven of hell swings. You either believe in Jesus and are not condemned or you do not believe in Jesus and are condemned already in God’s sight. Whether or not a person is condemned and barred from the Kingdom of God depends on whether or not they believe in Jesus as Savior. There’s no other way. This is a must!

 

because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

 

It’s important to note here the particulars of what we need to believe. Jesus delineates the necessity that we believe “in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” We’ve already defined what “only begotten Son” means in John 3:16. The important part to note in Jesus words here is “in the name of.” The “name” of a person identifies them and is representative of who they are. Who you believe Jesus is, is important! Jehovah’s witnesses believe Jesus is an angel. Mormons believe Jesus is the spirit brother of Lucifer. New Agers believe Jesus is an avatar. Islam believes Jesus is another prophet. The Apostle John tells us Jesus is much, much more than that. Jesus is “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” the same “Word” that was “in the beginning . . . with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:14, 1). Jesus is God! John’s gospel was written to make that clear. Salvation comes to those who accept Jesus for who He is, God.

 

Some would claim fallaciously that Jesus never claimed to be God. Later in John’s gospel Jesus’ opponents sought to kill Jesus because He, “said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Decision about the identity of Jesus is part of the gospel that must be believed. Who do you think or say Jesus is? Granted when we initially look to Jesus as Savior we might not fully comprehend who He is. We will always be growing in our understanding of Jesus. But Jesus is God and to be worshipped and that is essential for salvation.

 

 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.

 

Notice the condemnation of people is the consequence of their personal willful decision to reject the light God sent into the world. Instead sinful people have made a decision and chosen to have

“loved darkness rather than light.” “Loved” here is the verb agapeo and its grammar (Aorist/Active/Indicative) indicates the fact that each person has personally, actively, and decisively chosen to love darkness.

 

As stated earlier agapeo refers to the idea of to welcome, to entertain, to be fond of, to love dearly. If we extrapolate what we see in those who “loved darkness” we see those who reject Jesus and welcome, receive, are fond of and give themselves over to darkness. There are degrees of this but any rejection or refusal to receive by faith in Christ God’s generous gracious offer of salvation is offensive to God and worthy of condemnation. God gave His only Son Jesus! He gave precious Jesus! To reject Jesus is offensive in every way.

 

You might say, “But I’m a good person.” You may be “good,” by yours or the world’s standards, but not good enough by God’s standards. God’s standard is absolute perfection – no errors whatsoever – no mistakes – no sin in life (cf. Mat. 5:48; Gal. 3:10; James 2:10). That’s why only Jesus could go to the cross. He alone qualified (1 Peter 1:18-19). Only sinless Jesus was qualified to suffer for sin in our place, “the just for the unjust.” Those who reject Jesus, to whatever extent or degree, are the supreme example of corrupted love. They desecrate the love of God in Christ. They abuse God’s love in their rejection. They trash it in the gutter. They are therefore worthy and deserving of God’s just condemnation. To prefer darkness outside of Jesus to the light of the gospel of Jesus deserves eternal condemnation.

 

The decision to choose darkness by the sinner is rooted in Jesus assessment that “their deeds were evil.” “Evil” (Greek poneros) means hurtful, evil, diseased, bad, blind, wicked, filled with peril. Quite an assortment of ugly adjectives to define a word! This evil is a condition of the heart. The decision to reject God’s light flows from the sinner’s evil heart condition. Humanity is born with a sinful nature (Psalm 51:5; 130:3; 143:2; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Rom. 7:17, 18).

 

No one can get themselves out of their sinful state on their own. “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). No one wants to get out of their sin on their own. It is only by God’s grace that we are made aware of our perilous position in sin. No one comes to God unless He draws them (John 6:46). And He reaches out to all! Salvation is a product of God’s grace (Eph. 2:1-9).

 

No one will stand before God on judgment day and claim they could not choose to receive Jesus Christ as Savior. By God’s grace everyone is given not only a chance but many chances to be saved from condemnation. God makes every effort to reach out and save the lost. That is the good news message of the gospel of God in the sending of Jesus Christ to save the world. There is no greater love and no greater redemptive effort than what God has done in sending Jesus to save the world (John 15:13; Romans 5:8).

 

20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

 

How do we know where people stand with God? “For everyone practicing evil hates the light.” “Practicing” (Greek prasso – Present/Active/Participle) means practicing, perform repeatedly, habitually, to be busy with, to commit to, live for. “Evil” (Greek phaulos) means foul, worthless, base, wicked, or evil. When we look at people what do they live for? What do they habitually do? If people are enthralled with and living for that which is foul and wicked then we know they are those who hate the light.

 

Those who reject God are not seen by God to be merely complacent toward Him. God sees them as haters. These are those how “hates the light.” “Hates” (Greek miseo) means hate, detests, persecutes, have no love for something. This is a very strong word. The evidence of a life lived for evil is that a person has rejected God’s gospel light in Jesus. We think of hate as a shaking of the fist or profanity laced outburst against someone or something. God defines hate based on accepting or rejecting His light in Christ. What we think about where we actually are toward God is not as important as what God Himself thinks of where we are with Him. Where do you stand in light of God’s opinion of you?

 

Therefore the person condemned is a person who, “does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” They have decided to willfully reject God and His light in Christ. They were given the opportunity to receive God’s light but chose to reject it and rather indulge and live in darkness. Why won’t or don’t people come to God’s light? Because they don’t want their dark deeds to be exposed.

 

“Exposed” (Greek elegcho) means to be admonished for, convicted of, rebuked for, reproved of, shown to be at fault for something. People cherish sin. They want to indulge it in the privacy of their homes. Some are so deadened by indulging in sin that they become militant advocates for their sin (cf. Romans 1:18ff.). But many if not most people enter into sin privately. Whatever the state of sin, people don’t come to God’s light because they don’t want their sin to be exposed. They rebel toward any admonishing, rebuke, reproof or conviction that their sin is wrong or sinful. People want to do what they want to do. People want to live as lords of their own life. They resist any outside interference that would say their sin is wrong or sinful – even if it is God Himself who is saying so!

 

It is the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of their sin (John 16:8-11). To reject the conviction of the Holy Spirit is the one unpardonable sin. This is because the Holy Spirit does not only convict of sin but His conviction about sin always points to the remedy in Jesus. To reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and reject Jesus as Savior is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and the one unforgiveable damning sin (Mat. 12:31; Mark 3:28-29).

 

21 But he who does the truth comes to the light,

 

What is the evidence of one who comes to the light? “But he who does the truth comes to the light.” “Truth” (Greek aletheia) refers to what is true in every situation, true and right conduct, what is factually and philosophically right. Jesus said God’s word is truth (John 17:17). The evidence of someone who has come to the light of God is the person who is living out the word of God.

 

We are out of sync with God. Sin has put us out of order, out of place, disconnected from God and out of whack with what we are truly created to be. To be true and in order with reality and being a person needs to come to the light of God. God is light (1 John 1:5). We need to come to Him. His Word is light for us (Psalm 119:105; Prov. 6:23). We come to God through His Word. Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14). Jesus is the embodiment of God’s truth (John 14:6).

 

that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

 

Whenever we come to God it will always lead to revelation of truth. We can’t come into contact with God’s light without it exposing darkness and bringing things into focus so that we see reality; as things really are. Before we come to God we live in darkness; we are deceived like someone groping in a dark room. There are two aspect of revelation that come to light from Jesus words.

 

Personal clarity. When you come to the light, a light of understanding comes on. For the first time you see things as they truly are. You see the world for what it is. You see yourself for who you are and who you aren’t. When we come to the light it means, “that his deeds may be clearly seen.” “Clearly” (Greek phaneroo) means to be made apparent, manifest, disclose, to show or be shown. When we come to the light of God it brings everything into true focus. This is true self-knowledge. This is being renewed in the spirit of one’s mind (Eph. 4:23). There is a transformation that takes place (e.g. Rom. 12:1-2).

 

Public clarity. But there is another aspect here. Jesus says, “that his deeds may be clearly seen.” When we come to the light of God it is proved genuine by what we do after our declaration of faith. Those who are truly saved are those who have been truly changed. The person who comes to the light is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). They become spiritually fruitful (e.g. Gal. 5:22-24). They demonstrate evidence of having crossed from darkness to light, death to life, from the power of Satan to the power of God (Acts 26:18).

 

Coming to the light of God in truth means we come in full surrender, open to God, no more darkness and deception. We come on His terms. We come humbly realizing that the realization of our sinfulness and need of salvation, of our darkness and lostness is all something God has mercifully revealed to us. The light of God has exposed our need of a Savior. And God’s light has shone on Jesus as that Savior. Coming to the light results in our realizing all of our salvation is “done in God.” God by His grace is the One working our salvation. We can’t take any credit for or glory for any good in ourselves. God alone can take credit and be given glory for our salvation. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Cor. 15:10). That is revelation that comes from the light of God. Salvation, sanctification and all we are, is all God’s work.

 

Indecision is decision. What is your decision about Jesus and the salvation God so graciously and lovingly offers to you? If you haven’t yet come to believe in Jesus I have a few questions for you. Why are you clinging to the darkness? Why have you rejected Jesus? Why do you persist in this state of condemnation? There is nothing in your darkness that is worth sacrificing the light of God and His love in Christ. Come to Jesus. Look to Him and live! Act on Jesus gospel words. Why perish eternally when you can live eternally with Him? Why resist making a decision and risk a missed opportunity and all it entails. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son Jesus that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. What is your decision?

 

The Servant’s Must – “He must increase, but I must decrease”

The final section of John 3 involves an important figure in the ministry of Jesus. I’m speaking of a man named John who was known for baptizing people. The gospels tip us off that this is a special figure in God’s plan as we see the angel Gabriel announcing his birth (Luke 1:11-20). There was a certain miraculous nature to his birth in that his mother Elizabeth had been barren and both she and her husband Zacharias were “well advanced in years” (Luke 1:5-10). But nothing is impossible with God.

John the Baptist, even in the womb, leaped with joy when his mother was in the vicinity of Mary who was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39-45). John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:36). It’s likely that God distinguished his calling by way of a Nazirite vow from birth (Luke 1:15). From before their birth there was a special relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. John’s birth brought great joy to his parents and the community in which he was born (Luke 1:57-58).

We are told that John the Baptist “was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). He lived on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). No doubt this time in the desert was a time when John could make his call and election sure. The desert is a place of solitude where one can hear from the Lord without disturbance or interruption. 

The name “John” means the LORD is a gracious giver. Baptism is an outward illustration of an inward work of God in the one being baptized. Baptism was a symbolic rite meant to demonstrate dying to self and sin and rising to new life. Baptism involved repentance or turning from sin to God (Mat. 3:7-9). John, whose name pointed to God as a gracious Giver, came calling people to God and using baptism as a means of his ministry. Therefore he is referred to in scripture as “John the Baptist.”

John the Baptist was called and elected by God to introduce Jesus as “the LORD” (John 1:19-28).  John was a powerful preacher. People flocked to hear him. His preaching resulted in people confessing their sins in repentance and being baptized (Mat. 3:2-6). He demonstrated an anointing from God so that even though he was straightforward in calling people out for their sins, (“brood of vipers!”) they still came to him. He was not a disrespectful, but he wasn’t a respecter of men either; he simply spoke the truth of God (Mat. 3:7-10).

John’s mission was foretold some 800 years in advance through the prophet Isaiah. John the Baptist fulfilled Isaiah’s prophetic word about preparing the way of Messiah. Isaiah was inspired to prophesy:

Isaiah 40:3-5

3     The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

     “Prepare the way of the Lord;

     Make straight in the desert

     A highway for our God.

4     Every valley shall be exalted

     And every mountain and hill brought low;

     The crooked places shall be made straight

     And the rough places smooth;

5     The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,

     And all flesh shall see it together;

     For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

John the Baptist was this “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD” (Mat. 3:3). Part of this mission was that Jesus would come to John and submit to being baptized (Mat. 3:13-16). John at first wanted to submit to Jesus’ baptism. He was humbled by his calling before Jesus. But he was also humble enough to fulfill that calling and baptize Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness.”

 

Of John the Baptist Jesus said:

 

·         Matthew 11:9-11 - 9 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 10 For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,  Who will prepare Your way before You.’ 11 “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

 

John the Baptist was the first prophet since Malachi; the first prophet to speak from the LORD for 400 years! Jesus said he was great. But Jesus said the least person in God’s Kingdom would be greater than John. In other words, those who now receive Jesus message of the kingdom are greater than John in terms of their understanding of the kingdom of God.  

 

John’s popularity caused some confusion about who he was. Some thought he might be the promised Messiah but John clearly and emphatically denied being Messiah (Luke 3:1-3). John the Baptist denied he was the Messiah and pointed people to Jesus. He further announced Jesus with the words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John the Baptist spoke of Jesus as One who “baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:29-34).

John knew his place. He humbled himself and was humbled in the presence of Jesus. He knew he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ sandal straps (John 1:26-27). Jesus was the One, the only One, who would be able to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). There was never any equivocation with John the Baptist. He lived a life of full surrender to the LORD. He easily stepped aside and pointed people to Jesus. His life motto was, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

John the Baptist was a man of courage. He had faith and courage enough to stand up to Herod concerning Herod’s immoral conduct (Mark 6:17-18). John’s courageous uncompromising stand got him thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded (Mat. 4:12 and 14:1-12).

 

When we look at this great servant of God we see him as a mighty preacher of repentance (Luke 3:2-18). He was fearless in confronting those who could put him to death (Mat. 14:3-4). John the Baptist had a reputation of being “a just and holy man” (Mark 6:20). While John the Baptist was courageous, just and holy, he was even more humble as we will see in our passage below (John 3:25-31). John “finished his course” faithfully (Acts 13:24-25). There’s a lot to learn and adopt into our lives from John the Baptist. If we can finish the course of our lives fulfilling our calling and election the way he did, we’ll be in good shape.

 

 Let’s look at the heart of this great saint of God.  

22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized. 24 For John had not yet been thrown into prison.

There’s something to note here about John and where he was baptizing. How did John the Baptist determine God’s will for him about where to do his baptizing? How did he know where to go? Simple, he “was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there.” He went to the location that was suited to what God wanted him to do. Sometimes discerning the direction and will of God is as simple as going where the water is. Where God guides God provides. Follow His provision.

Having said that, there are times when opportunity and provision do not indicate God’s will. For instance, the prophet Jonah was called by God to go and preach to the hated and ruthless Ninevites. Jonah went down to Joppa, found an available ticket, boarded a boat, and proceeded to sail in exactly the opposite direction to where God called him. Circumstances alone are not a good measure of what God’s will is. They are a part of it. But they are only a part, not the whole. Check your heart. Are you genuinely going to the water God has provided like John the Baptist, or are you escaping from God’s calling like Jonah.

When seeking the will of God begin by emptying your heart of self-will, self-serving, and self-gratification (Rom. 12:1-2). Then get alone with God and pray. That’s what Jesus did on numerous occasions (Mat. 14:23; Mark 6:47; Luke 9:18, 36; John 6:15). Bring your Bible with you. God’s word is His lamp to show us the way (Psalm 119:105). Seek godly counsel too. Three times in Proverbs it states, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). God does confirm His will by circumstances (e.g. Jer. 32:8). Then put it all together and step out in faith (2 Cor. 5:7).

 

25 Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified—behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!”

 

John the Baptist’s disciples are jealous and angry that they’re losing prospects to Jesus. There’s a competitive spirit working here. What John’s disciples saw as competition to his ministry John saw as completion of his ministry. Competition in ministry likely indicates the flesh is at work. Our objective should be to bring ministry to completion by exalting Jesus and making Him the center of all.

 

To be competitive in ministry is carnal. To be in the Spirit is to have an eye on completing the ministry God calls you too. Samson is an example of someone with an incredible calling on his life. God called him to be a judge of His people. Samson was consecrated to serve God from birth (Judges 13). And yet, tragically, Samson lived the majority of his life with little to no concern or care about God’s calling on his life. God empowered Samson with the Spirit to overcome his foes but more to get through to him about what he could do in the Spirit. But Samson was carnal; he was governed by what he “saw”; he was overcome with passions such as anger and lust; and he toyed with temptation (Judges 14-16). In the end his sinful indulgence blinded him, bound him and ground him down. That’s what our sinful flesh will do if we live by it; it will blind us to reality and danger; it will bind and weaken us; and it will ground us into the dirt. In the end God removed His anointing from Samson and Samson didn’t even realize it. That’s one of the saddest aspects of Samson’s downfall of all.

 

Samson finally did call out to the Lord. But when he did, he remained blind. God gives second chances. But sin leaves scars. Samson did have a final victory over his foes. Indeed it states, “So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life” (Judges 16:30). Therein is a perfect segway to John the Baptist and one of the most important truths of the abundant life we can have in Christ. Death precedes victory; death to self precedes victory that glorifies God. Samson lived for self and the only victory he could secure was for himself. It wasn’t until he died to self; literally died, that God was able to really use him. One can only imagine how much more God might have used Samson if earlier in life he had died to self. The tragedy of Samson is lost potential; what might have been.

 

John the Baptist was able to be mightily used by God because he died to self. He knew his calling and mission and lived to complete what God had called him to do. John the Baptist was used mightily to introduce the world to Jesus because he was dead to self and alive to God and His calling.

 

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.

 

John has the right perspective here. He apparently had been listening to Jesus who had said God’s  light would help a person see the blessing in life were “done in God” (John 3:21). He understands that all that he had was from God. It wasn’t his, it was God’s. Later in the New Testament Paul is inspired to say that we are bought by God with the price of Jesus and therefore we don’t have any claim on our lives (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We will save ourselves a lot of grief and pain if we simply live in full surrender to God who has bought us with the precious blood of His only Son Jesus.

 

A person does not decide to go into ministry. A person is called into ministry. It is not something we take on ourselves. It is something God puts on us. That’s important because false prophets and ministry failure is the consequence of carnal lusts of the flesh toward ministry. People enter into ministry because they see it as a source of being in authority, being in a prominent position, and as a way to personally prosper themselves materially. This brings shame to God and His bride the church and it gives a victory to the devil. Make sure your “calling” into ministry is form God not yourself or someone else.

 

28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’

 

John knows who he is and what his mission is. He knows his place and so is ready to be used by God to introduce people to Jesus in whatever way God chooses to use him. The servant of the Lord always steps aside and puts Jesus in the forefront. In ministry Jesus is the only One to be exalted, not us or any other human.

 

29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.

 

Have you ever attended a wedding where either the Best Man or Bridesmaid take the center stage of attention? When that happens those attending the wedding cringe with the inappropriateness of such a situation. It’s embarrassing; to the groom and bride as well as to either the best man or bridesmaid who are offending. A bride and groom are to be the center of attention at a wedding, not the best man or bridesmaid. John knew he wasn’t the center of attention. His ministry wasn’t for him but it was for Jesus. He took joy in people going to Jesus. His joy was full as people went to Jesus. Do you know your place in ministry?

 

30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

 

This is the essence of true ministry. These are profound words that are a key in experiencing the abundant life of Jesus. If we want to be greatly used by Jesus and experience all Hs has for us, we need to facilitate His increase and our decrease. Do you do that? Does a conversation always have to do with what you have to say or what you have done? Are you really seeing that Jesus is increasing or are you using Jesus to increase yourself?

 

31 He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.

 

John explains how he can so freely step aside and let Jesus increase. It is because Jesus who is “from above is above all.” Jesus is the greatest! And John “is of the earth” and is “earthly.” It’s a question of perspective. John was humbled in the presence of Jesus. Are we? Are you?

 

32 And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.

 

John reasons Jesus has a superior message from heaven and yet people aren’t receiving it. That’s a tragedy.

 

33 He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.

 

John confirms that Jesus is from God and God is true.

 

34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. 35 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.

 

John confirms that the anointing of God the Father is on His Son Jesus. There is no competition here. It is obvious. And one of the greatest things about Jesus John mentions is that He, “speaks the words of God.” What Jesus says is gospel; it is the word of God. God has inspired the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But in Christ God came to deliver face to face firsthand words from God’s heart to ours. That’s how much God loves us and wants us to hear and understand His love letter.

 

36 He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

 

The bottom line is it’s all about Jesus. If you believe in Jesus you have everlasting life. If you don’t believe in Jesus “the wrath of God abides on you.” It’s not a matter of people believing on John. It’s a matter of people believing on Jesus.

 

And notice these words of John the Baptist echoe the words spoken earlier in this chapter by Jesus. Jesus is the One who spoke of the necessity of believing in Him. Jesus is the One who said the decision people made in this regard is the determining factor in one’s eternal destiny; either everlasting life; or eternal perishing. John the Baptist had been listening to Jesus and echoing the same message of Jesus to others. That’s our job. We aren’t to sit in judgment of Jesus words like the Jesus’ Seminar “scholars” who rely on themselves to determine which of Jesus’ words were actually spoken by Him. That is to assume a position of authority that isn’t theirs. That is the utmost inappropriate and even blasphemous thing to do. I wouldn’t want to be them on Judgment Day. I also wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those who negate God’s word with the imposition of human traditions that embellish and so veil and distort God’s word that its original meaning and truth is lost. That too is blasphemous. No, we are to be just like John the Baptist and merely echo and proclaim the word of Jesus as Jesus gave it to us.

 

We are not saved to live our lives in old sinful ways. We are saved to enter in service of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. When we are born again the Holy Spirit comes to dwells in us, in our heart, to give us spiritual life (Rom. 8:9-11; 10:9-10). When the Holy Spirit comes to reside in us He comes to make us holy. What is holiness? It is loving God supremely with the love the Holy Spirit puts in us (Rom. 5:5), but second to that it is loving others sacrificially (Mat. 22:37-40; John 13:35). That means living a life of loving service toward God and others.

John the Baptist is the perfect picture of this. He knew he must decrease; he must put his desires; his self-centeredness aside; and replace it with a life that lifts up Jesus. Jesus said to find life you have to die to self (Mat. 10:39). Truer words were never spoken.

The world will tell you push others aside; put yourself and your interests first; if you don’t look out for yourself who will? That is a very low and fruitless way of life. Instead, when we are born again through faith in Christ we find life by giving up self. You have to willfully give up your life; put it to rest; bury it; in order to find full and rich meaning in the life of Christ. You see your flesh or self, your sinful nature is so obsessed with self that it will compete with and get in the way of God’s best for you. He will say one thing and your flesh will compete against God’s word. You have to die to self. That requires us to trust God and surrender ourselves, our flesh to the cross of Christ (e.g. Gal. 2:20). The only way to abundant life is for Jesus to increase in your life and you, your fleshly sinful nature to decrease.  

Have you been born again? Do you believe and trust in Jesus atoning cross work? Are you a servant of the Lord? Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit and empowered to serve Him? These are must questions we should consider seriously. I pray the Spirit compels you to experience fully all He has for you.

 

What You “Must” Do to be Truly Great

“He must increase, but I must decrease”- John 3:30

 

“I am the greatest!” That’s what Muhammed Ali proclaimed over and over again in February of 1964 leading up to his pivotal bout with then champion Sonny Liston. This was no small prediction. Liston was “The Big Bear,” a ferocious and huge man. He had been arrested and did prison time for armed robbery. He had beaten the skilled Floyd Patterson two years before. He was a tough and intimidating figure. Liston had a way of looking at his opponents that reduced most of them to weak kneed jelly. Liston was a seven to one favorite going into the fight. Ali was still a young man seen as petulant and boisterous by most.

The sixties were a time of racial tension. Bigotry was more blatant than in our day. There was a good number of fight fans who were looking forward to seeing this young fast talking lyrical “loud mouth” “uppity” black man cut down to size by Liston. Two black men were fighting. At least one would lose. To these people Ali was a villain.

To others Ali was a heroic symbol. His poetic way of denigrating his opponents was the genesis of prefight trash talk. He was a master of verbal fencing. He unsettled his opponents and drew blood with his words. But he was also a symbol of racial equality. And he would become a symbol of defiance to what many at that time felt was a government perpetrating an unjust and unnecessary war. He was a focal point of the peace movement. Ali resisted being drafted in the army by claiming he was a conscientious objector. He was convicted of draft evasion. While he didn’t serve any prison time he was stripped of his champion’s belt. In 1970 after three years of appeals he was deemed as fulfilling the requirements of a conscientious objector by the Supreme Court and allowed to resume his fighting career.

Ali ended his fame producing “I am the greatest” speech by adding, “He’ll fall in eight to prove I’m great. If he keeps talkin’ jive, I’m going to cut it to five.” Ali was known for floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. Ali beat the odds and won that fight decisively. Liston was no match for the young fast as lightening and surprisingly powerful taunter. Ali was champion. He backed up his talk. He was as he would often say thereafter, “the greatest of all time!”

Ali was a controversial figure. Once known as Cassius Clay he announced shortly after his fight with Liston that he had converted to Islam changing his name to Muhammed Ali. He became a supporter of the Nation of Islam group that much of white America felt was anti-American. Ali claimed the, “followers of Allah are the sweetest people in the world. They don’t carry knives. They don’t tote weapons.” He said this to justify his conscientious objection to the Vietnam war. That seems a bit contradictory since 9/11 and all the violence perpetrated by adherents to Islam.

When Ali reentered the ring he became one of the best if not the best professional boxers of all time. He fought epic battles against Joe Frazier and George Foreman. As a young man I enjoyed watching Ali and his prefight and in fight verbal jabbing. I appreciated what he stood for in terms of racial equality and resistance to the war. He was a very popular figure in his day. He was a three time champion. Some might argue, but I believe he really was the “greatest,” as a boxer.

But there were chinks in the armor of “the greatest.” Ali was a man who lived an immoral lifestyle. History reveals him to be a walking contradiction in many ways. He converted to Islam from Christianity. It’s doubtful he was ever a Christian but he still represents one who left light for darkness. And in light of eternity a man with Ali’s history walks under condemnation. “He who believes in Him [i.e. Jesus] 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” (John 3:18). Those are Jesus’ words. There’s more to “greatness” than the world leads us to believe.

I’m not picking a fight by mentioning the “great” Ali. I’m just mentioning this popular societal figure who was “great” by the world’s standards so that we can see that there is more to greatness. The Bible tells us very clearly what we must do to be truly great. Jesus said to be the greatest you had to humble yourself like a child (Mat. 18:4). He said service was the essential of greatness (Mat. 23:11). Jesus said the greatest was the “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-35). We don’t see Jesus proclaiming, “I am the greatest!” Even though Jesus had a jab from Jehovah and an omnipotent punch we don’t see Him saying to His opponents, “You’re going down in eight so you‘ll know I’m great!”  The disciples may have leaned toward Ali in how to attain greatness. But Jesus enlightened them toward true eternal greatness.

There’s one man Jesus pointed to as being great. That man was John the Baptist. Of him Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist;” (Mat. 11:11a). “Assuredly” means without a doubt. If you want to know what Jesus’ brand of true greatness looks like in a person, look at John the Baptist.

 

John the Baptist’s birth was announced by the angel Gabriel (Luke 1:11-20). He was born to a woman who had previously been barren. His parents were both “well advanced in years” (Luke 1:5-10). But a unique birth was not what made him great. John was the cousin of Jesus (Luke 1:36). But being a relative of Jesus was not what made him great. John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when she came near Mary who was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:39-45). John likely lived out a Nazirite vow from birth (Luke 1:15; compare with Num. 6). But all of this is only a very small part of John’s greatness. 

God brought John to the wilderness to begin building greatness in him. John “was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel” (Luke 1:80). He lived on locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). No doubt this time in the desert was a time when God made John’s call and election sure. The desert is a place of solitude where one can hear from the Lord without distraction, disturbance or interruption. It was in the wilderness where the LORD brought John deeper. 

“John” means the LORD is a gracious giver. The angel Gabriel instructed John’s parents to specifically name their son “John” (Luke 1:13, 60, and 63). In the wilderness, where God could minister one on one with John, the meaning of his name must have been a topic of conversation. The meaning of his mission from God flowed from that. God often maneuvers us into a place where He can have our undivided attention. He will even use predicaments and life problems to get through to us. If we’re going to be great we need to spend time alone with God.

When John came out of the desert he came baptizing. Baptism is a symbolic rite meant to demonstrate dying to self and sin and rising to new life with God. Baptism involved repentance or turning from sin to God (Mat. 3:7-9). John, whose name pointed to God as a gracious Giver, came calling people to God and using baptism as a means of his ministry. So prolific was his ministry that he became known as “John the Baptist.” Pointing out God’s grace is part of being great. Calling people to God through repentance is an attribute of greatness.

John the Baptist was called and elected by God to introduce Jesus as “the LORD” (John 1:19-28).  Jesus is not just a prophet or good man. Jesus is “the LORD.” John was a powerful preacher. He was empowered by God. People flocked to hear him. His preaching resulted in people confessing their sins in repentance and being baptized (Mat. 3:2-6). He demonstrated an anointing from God so that even though he was straightforward in calling people out for their sins, (e.g. “brood of vipers!”) they still came to him. He was not disrespectful to men. But he wasn’t a respecter of men either. John simply and clearly and decisively spoke the truth of God (Mat. 3:7-10). Speaking God’s message and introducing people to Jesus is a great part of true greatness.

John’s mission was foretold more than 700 years in advance through the prophet Isaiah (cf. Isaiah 40:3-5). He was the “voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD” (Mat. 3:3). Part of his mission was that Jesus would come to John to be baptized (Mat. 3:13-16). John at first wanted to submit to Jesus’ baptism. He was humbled by his calling before Jesus. Who was he to baptize the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world? But he was also humble enough to fulfill that calling and baptize Jesus “to fulfill all righteousness.” Humble obedience is another important part of true greatness.

John became very popular. His popularity caused some confusion about who he was. Some thought he might be the promised Messiah. John nipped that thought in the bud. He clearly and emphatically denied being Messiah (Luke 3:1-3). Instead John pointed people to Jesus. He announced Jesus with the words, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John knew and proclaimed Jesus’ baptism was greater than his. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mat. 3:11; cf. also John 1:29-34).

John knew his place. He humbled himself and was humbled in the presence of Jesus. He knew he wasn’t worthy to tie Jesus’ sandal straps (John 1:26-27). Jesus was the One, the only One, who could take away the sins of the world (John 1:29). There was never any equivocation with John the Baptist. He lived a life of full surrender to the LORD. He easily stepped aside and pointed people to Jesus. His life motto was, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). True greatness is humble. Greatness is in proportion to one’s surrender to God. The more you surrender to God the greater you will be. If you want to be great then, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John the Baptist was great because he focused on, submitted to, and promoted the greatness of Jesus. John was great because he echoed the message of Jesus. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36). The bottom line is it’s all about Jesus. If you believe in Jesus you have everlasting life. If you don’t believe in Jesus “the wrath of God abides on you.” It’s not a matter of people believing on John. It’s a matter of people believing on Jesus. That is the message of true greatness!

 

John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.” (John 3:27).  John was great because he had a proper perspective. He had listened to Jesus who had said God’s light helps a person see the blessings of  life were “done in God” (John 3:21). He understood that all he had was from God. It wasn’t his, it was God’s. The Apostle Paul was inspired to write we are bought by God with the price of Jesus. Therefore we don’t have any claim on our lives (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We will save ourselves a lot of grief and pain if we simply live in full surrender to God who has bought us with the precious blood of His only Son Jesus. That is the lesson of true greatness.

 

John the Baptist was a man of courage. He had faith and courage enough to stand up to Herod concerning Herod’s immoral conduct (Mark 6:17-18). John’s courageous uncompromising stand got him thrown in prison and ultimately beheaded (Mat. 4:12 and 14:1-12). Courage is fear that has said its prayers. John must have been a man of prayer in order to be a man of courage. Prayer and courage are a part of true greatness.

 

When we look at this great servant of God we see him as a mighty preacher of repentance (Luke 3:2-18). He was fearless in confronting those who could put him to death (Mat. 14:3-4). John the Baptist had a reputation of being “a just and holy man” (Mark 6:20). While John the Baptist was courageous, just and holy, he was even more humble. John “finished his course” faithfully (Acts 13:24-25). John was great because he fulfilled his calling and did the most with what he was given by God.

 

Yes, John the Baptist was a great man. But did you know there are greater people than him? Yes, Jesus went on to say, “but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Mat. 11:11b). Jesus said, “there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.” But then He goes on to say “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The word “greater” here is translated from the Greek megas which means greater in size, form, rank, volume, intensity of feeling, or in strength. John was and is a “great” man of God. From Genesis to the Gospels of all those mentioned in history; Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David, the Patriarchs, kings and the Prophets; of all of these, Jesus says John is the greatest. And yet, “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

 

How could anyone be greater than John the Baptist? Well, those now living in the fullness of the gospel of God’s grace in Christ are greater in understanding because of God’s completed revelation. We are greater because we have the privilege of knowing God’s complete canon of scripture. We have a greater understanding of the gospel and prophetic history. We know of God’s revealed eternal plan of redemption. John was anointed by God to greatly fulfill his ministry. We in Christ have the privilege of Pentecostal empowering of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the Great Commission. But beyond all of this and really to prepare us to experience all of this greatness of God, there is a key we must use to unlock the fullness of God’s true greatness.

 

Jesus tells us the key to true greatness. To be the truly great according to Jesus you have to be “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” True greatness is the product of leastness. The word “least” (Greek mikros) means small, little, short, least.  The littlest, smallest, or least person in the kingdom of heaven (who has access to the completed revelation of God, His plan and empowering to complete the plan) is greater than John the Baptist. But if there is a “least” in the kingdom of heaven it implies there is also a greater in the kingdom of heaven. And to be truly great in God’s heavenly kingdom requires we be least.

True greatness requires we must be least in our estimation of ourselves and great in God’s estimation of us. True greatness requires we must be least in trusting in ourselves and great in trusting God.  The key to true greatness is first realizing we are small, little, short, and least; we don’t measure up.  But what unlocks true greatness is turning to God in simple childlike faith and trusting in His greatness. True greatness realizes God is the greatest!

 

John the Baptist began to point us in the right direction when he said, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” That is the key we must insert into the keyhole of the rest of the revelation of God in the New Testament. The journey to true greatness is one of constant personal decreasing and constant increasing of Jesus. To be truly great we must move away from self and close to Jesus. To be truly great we must stop focusing on ourselves and focus on Jesus. To be truly great we must stop drawing attention to ourselves and draw attention to Jesus. To be truly great we must step out of the center of attention and put Jesus in the center of life. To be truly great we must realize Jesus is the greatest, not us. That flies in the face of the world and our flesh. But true greatness doesn’t proclaim, “I am the greatest!” It proclaims “Jesus is the greatest!” Be truly great.

 

 

 

 

 



[1] 50 Things to do before you die at www.matadornetwork

[2] 25 Things You Absolutely Positively Must Do Before You Die at www.huffingtonpost.com

[3] 18 Things Every Person Must Do IN Their Lifetime at www.thoughcatalog.com

[4]Smith, Stelman ; Cornwall, Judson: The Exhaustive Dictionary of Bible Names. North Brunswick, NJ : Bridge-Logos, 1998, S. 185

[5]Packer, J.I. ; Tenney, Merrill Chapin ; White, William: Nelson's Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible. Nashville : Thomas Nelson, 1997, c1995, S. 510

[6]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 457

[7]Easton, M.G.: Easton's Bible Dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996, c1897

[8]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 459

[9]Osbeck, Kenneth W.: Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions. Grand Rapids, Mich. : Kregel Publications, 1990, S. 106

[10]Idea built on an illustration from Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 459