John Message #9 “Jesus & Nicodemus – The Pure Gospel”, Ed Miller, January 31, 2024

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As we get ready to look in the word, I want to remind our hearts of that indispensable principle, and that is total reliance on God’s Holy Spirit.  Some might say that goes without saying, but it doesn’t; it goes with saying.  I will always remind my heart and yours.  I want to share a verse in John 16:14 before we go to prayer, and it’s speaking about the precious Holy Spirit, and it says, “He,” speaking of the Holy Spirit, “shall glorify Me,” Jesus is speaking, “and He’ll take of mine and shall disclose it unto you.”  So, the Holy Spirit takes the truth of Christ and He discloses unto us.  With that in mind, let’s bow before the Lord.

Heavenly Father, we thank You that we can trust You this morning to unveil Christ in a fresh way to our heart.  We thank You for every part of the Bible, and in a special way for John chapter three.  We trust, Lord, that you would focus our hearts and attention, that we might behold You in a living way.  I want to thank You in advance for Your ministry in our lives, and we look forward to seeing You.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Welcome to our meditation on the Lord Jesus, and I’m not going to say on the Gospel of John, because even though we’re looking in the Gospel of John, our goal is to see the Lord Jesus, not to know the Gospel of John.  John the Apostle does not let us doubt why he wrote this book.  John 20:31, “These have been written so that,” and he gives three reasons, “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name.”  John tells us that he wrote this gospel so that we would know the Lord.  He wrote this gospel so that we would trust the Lord.  He wrote this gospel so that we would enjoy the Lord, that we would know Him, depend upon Him and then experience life in His name.

In our meditation we’ve come to John 3, the conversation of our Lord Jesus with Nicodemus.  Let me just read the first two verses.  “Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know You’ve come from God as a teacher.  No one can do these signs that You do unless God be with Him.’”  I want to give a very brief review of what we’ve looked at so far; brief because I want to move on to our new material. 

This conversation that our Lord Jesus had with Nicodemus is all about John’s purpose for writing the book, so that we might know the Lord, so that we might trust the Lord, and so that we might enjoy the Lord.  The conversation is all about how a condemned sinner can be forgiven and be reconciled to a holy God.  So, we have this great salvation story.  This story begins with the cleansing of the temple, and he graphically illustrates what will not work, and then he tells us what will work.  We’ll review that much, illustrated by the first cleansing of the temple, John 2:12-22.  He showed us what would not work, and the answer is reformation; that will never work.  That’s what He did when He cleansed the temple.  He threw stuff out because the temple was not pure; it was being defiled.  That idea of just throwing stuff out of the temple to make it pure will never work, and that’s powerfully illustrated by the fact that at the end of His ministry He had to do it all over again; He had to cleanse the temple a second time because it didn’t work.  Reformation is change but it’s not redemptive change.  I’m not going to develop that again; we looked at that in some detail last time.  If you missed that, there is a CD available or you can download it online, thank you Janet for putting that online.  Just know that’s the first truth, that reformation will not work.

The second thing that will not work is illustrated by Nicodemus, and that is religion; it will not work.  No religion will ever purify God’s holy temple.  Remember that you and I are the temple of God.  Nicodemus represents the best in religion.  John 3:1, “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.”  He was not only a Pharisee, but he was a well known Pharisee.  Notice in verse 10 what Jesus said, “Jesus answering said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel?’”  He didn’t say a teacher; He said the teacher.  Nicodemus had a reputation that he was at the top.  If you have a Bible question, you go to Nicodemus; he was THE teacher.  The record shows that he was a very distinguished member of the Jewish court, the Sanhedrin.  I’m not going to get into that again, but religion is no more able to purify a temple than reformation is able to purify a temple, and it’s illustrated in these two stories.

I made a point last week how instructive those first words Jesus said to Nicodemus were.  John 3:30, “Jesus answered, and said to him, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”  Focus again on Jesus’ answer; answered what?  Nicodemus never asked a question, and we showed you last time how God was looking in his heart, and was answering the question that was down in his heart, and he was responding.  That’s what an answer is, it’s a response to a question.  Jesus answers the question.  Nicodemus said in effect, “I know I’m religious, I know I’m famous, I know I’m distinguished, I know I’m at the top of the list as far as religion is concerned, but it’s not working; something is missing, something is wrong.”  And Jesus saw that cry, and that question, and He said, “You need to be born again.”  So, He answered the question of his heart.

If reformation and religion doesn’t work, what will work?  And He gave that double answer, as well.  John 2:19, “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  The only thing that will work is resurrection, “Destroy this temple, destroy Me and the picture, and I will raise it up.”  That’s the same expression as, “I will build My church.”  That’s what is going to work.  There’s no pure temple, unless there’s resurrection, unless He raises it up.

Then in the story of Nicodemus, religion doesn’t work.  What does work? “Truly, truly I say that unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” the new birth, a birth from heaven by the Holy Spirit.  So, resurrection and redemption work; reformation and religion will not work.  Nicodemus, the self-righteous Pharisee needed to see Jesus.  He knew the Old Testament, and so Jesus gave him a story, John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  Nicodemus knew that story.  There’s a record at the end of John that Nicodemus was at the cross when Jesus died, and I have no doubt that his mind went back to this evening conversation, “As Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”  The Lord was presenting to Nicodemus, “You are, indeed, a bigwig religious man, but in fact, you are nothing but a snake bitten sinner, and the venom of sin is flowing through your veins, and you need to look to the one who is lifted up as they looked, in order that you would not perish.”  So, the revelation of our Lord Jesus to Nicodemus was that He was the substitute Savior for perishing sinners; He is the substitute Savior for snake bitten sinners.

I told you that John had a three fold purpose; so that you’d know who the Lord is (He’s a substitute Savior for perishing sinners), but what’s faith?  And we also looked at that.  He wants you to believe.  In this story, faith is looking, faith is beholding, “Behold the Lamb of God.”  The question we haven’t answered yet, and Lord willing I can answer this morning, is what is life?  He gave us this gospel so that we would know who Jesus is; He’s the substitute Savior for perishing sinners, so we would trust Him.  Faith is just looking, so we would enjoy Him.  How does the Nicodemus story present how we can enjoy Him?  That’s the end, that’s the goal of this lesson.  May God help us!

I want to return to the conversation that our Lord Jesus had with Nicodemus.  There is so much packed into these wonderful verses, this discourse.  I felt like I had to return to it to meditate on the very instructive things that we haven’t yet addressed.  There will be some things that I’ll pass over that I will not address; one for the sake of time and one for the sake of my ignorance, but we’ll pass by those.

I want to begin with a caution, and it applies to this story but, also, as you read through any story in the Bible.  Let me start by quoting Hebrews 8:1, “Now, the main point in what has been said is this; we have such a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the majesty in the heaven.”  I want to call attention to that.  The main point of what we have said is this, we have such a high priest.  That’s Hebrews 8:1. There are seven chapters in front of that.  There are 119 verses in front of this, and yet in chapter 8 he says, “Now, the main point is this.”   The main point is that we have such a high priest, not that you understand Him, not that you know what His ministry is, but you have Him.  That’s the main point of the first eight chapters in the book of Hebrews.  Other things are mentioned in those seven chapters, and they’re interesting, and they’re instructive, but they’re not the main point, and it’s important when you study the Bible, to make the main point the main point.  Sometimes we miss the main point because we get distracted by other interesting things.  I call attention to that because in the conversation that our Lord Jesus had with Nicodemus, there is a main point.  We need to find and understand that main point.  In that conversation there is kernel, there is the meat, the reality; what is the main point?  I am amazed as I read my commentaries in my possession that so many of them miss the main point.

I’m going to give you a couple of examples.  John 3:2, “This man came to Jesus by night.”  I’m amazed by how many pages in the commentaries, “Why did Nicodemus come at night?  Is this the same reason that’s given in 19:38 about Joseph of Arimathea?  “After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews.”  The next verse mentions Nicodemus.  Was he a secret disciple for fear of the Jews, and he was nervous about what others would think, and so he came at night?  Pages are written to argue that.  Does the fact that he came by night imply blame?  When it’s mentioned later by Nicodemus it says, “He’s the one that came by night.”  He keeps referring to that.  Even if you use John 3:19, and that’s what some commentators do, this is in the conversation, “This is the judgment, that light has come into the world and men love darkness rather than light; their deeds were evil.”  Some use that and say, “That’s why he came at night, because his deeds were evil.  He had sin in his life,” and all that kind of thing.

Remember, this is Passover.  There are hundreds of thousands of people.  Maybe he just came at night because Jesus was busy during the day.  There were a lot of people.  Maybe he just wanted a private conversation with the Lord about some deep things he was questioning in his heart.  Jack Wyrtzen, Word of Life; he was a dear brother, and we became sort of friends.  His comment was, “Nicodemus came by night because he was so hungry and so desirous to meet Jesus, he couldn’t wait until morning.”  I don’t know if that’s the reason he came, but the point is that it’s not the main point in this story.  It’s a distraction.  Whether it’s literal or figurative… Some say the Judas, when he denied the Lord, “And it was night.”  Is that figurative or spiritual, and so on?

Let me give another illustration of getting sidetracked, something that’s very interesting, but not the main point.  I’m talking about verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”  And so, pages and pages, “What does He mean by water?  What does He mean by being born of the Spirit?”  Some say that’s a reference to John the Baptist, Mark 1:8, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”  So, water refers to baptism.  Others say, “No, no, no, it’s not two things.  It’s not water and baptism, but that’s the same thing, water and baptism.  Then they quote Ezekiel 36:25, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  I’ll cleanse you from all your filthiness, from all your idols, and I’ll give you a new heart, and put a new Spirit within you, and I’ll remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh.  I’ll put My Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes.”  In other words, it’s not two things; it’s one.  “I’m going to make you clean and I’m going to fill you with My Life.”  So, there are pages written on that.

Others say, “No, no, no, no, water and the Spirit, He’s talking about two births, a natural birth and that’s connected with water, everybody knows that, and the spiritual birth, and so water pictures the natural birth, and the Spirit pictures the spiritual birth.”  The next verse they call attention to, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is Spirit.”  So, water is the same as the first birth, and Spirit is the same as the second birth.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m not saying it’s not interesting.  It’s not the main point.  Don’t get sidetracked.  There’s a Greek word born again, and some say, “That can also mean born from above,” and that’s true.  The Greek scholars tell us that it’s born again or born from above.  Now there are commentators that insist that you can’t read born again; you’ve got the read born from above.  They get so sidetracked with that.  If I read verse 4, I think Nicodemus understood it to be “again” because Nicodemus said, “How can a man be born when he’s old.  He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born, can he?”  I think he thought “again”.  The point is, is there a difference?  Isn’t being born again the same things as being born from above, and yet arguments are going on and on, pages just to deal with that. 

Verse 8, “The wind blows where it wishes; you hear the sound of it, and you don’t know where it comes from and where it’s going.  So is everyone born of the Spirit.”  There’s a whole group of commentators that say, “The wind is a picture of the Holy Spirit,” and there’s others that look at the end of the verse and say, “No, no, no, no, so are those who are born of the Spirit.  The wind is a picture of the Christian who is born of the Spirit.  On and on they go.  That’s not the main point.  It’s true that the word “wind” and “Spirit” is the same Greek word.  It’s true that the Christian, everyone born of the Spirit can be illustrated by the wind, but that’s not the main point.  I’m suggesting that it’s a distraction.  The Spirit is the breath that gives life, and those who are born of the Spirit have the Life of God.  It’s the same thing.

Let me mention one more distraction, and then we’ll get to the main point.  It’s John 3:13, “No one has ascended into heaven but He who has descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  If you have the New American Standard, there would be a footnote in the margin saying that later manuscripts add, “Who is in heaven.”  If you have the King James Version, that expression “who is in heaven” is in the text, and so the argument comes, “What did Jesus say?  Is He saying to Nicodemus, ‘I’m standing in front of you.  I’m talking to you, and the same One who is talking to you on earth at the same time is in heaven?  You don’t understand earthly things; would you understand heavenly things?”  That certainly would be a heavenly thing. 

That distraction really distracts because it raises the question about the manuscripts, “We need to get back to the original Greek,” but which Greek manuscript are you using?  Some include, “who is in heaven,” and so on.  And some would say, “If you leave that out,” like the New American Standard leaves it out, “you are attacking the deity of Christ, that He’s claiming to be man on earth, while He is still in heaven, His omnipresence.  If you leave that out, you’re attacking the character of God.  Then they get to bumping heads about which is the correct manuscript.  “If you are not using the Textus Receptus,” that’s a group of manuscripts which includes the words, “who is in heaven,” and that’s the one the King James uses.

Maybe you have heard of those who are King James only?  Have you heard of those?  They aren’t really King James only; they are King James manuscript only.  In other words, they believe that King James was translated from those received texts, those manuscripts only.  The older manuscripts have been found to go back before that.  So, the theory is that older is better, the closer you get to the original, the more accurate it is.  But then is older better?  They had destructive critics back then, too, like Origen and Justus Martyr and so, they wrote stuff down, and that’s what we’re digging up, calling them manuscripts.  There’s a big argument, and it’s not the main point; it’s a distraction.  Whether you’re using the Majority Manuscript based on the Byzantine text or the Alexandria which is written by many critics, it’s not the main point.  You can see what a distraction it is.  When I go through the commentaries, I’m trying to get to the heart of the Nicodemus story, and I’m being led in all of these different directions.  If you leave out the word “who is in heaven”, you haven’t changed Bible truth.  You know it’s a truth of God, whether those words are there or not.  Jesus is human, and Jesus is divine.  Enough on the caution.  Avoid distractions, and lets get to the main point. 

What do we know for certain as we come to this story?  We know the Pharisees were well aware of the ministry of John the Baptist.  They knew his message, they knew his claims, and John the Baptist did not minister in the dark; it was a public ministry.  Mark 1:5, “All the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sin.”  The whole town had come out, the whole area knew about John the Baptist and many Pharisees, also came to investigate John.  Matthew 3:7, “And when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers; who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore, bear fruit in keeping with repentance.’”

I love John 1:22 along with verse 24, “And they said to him, ‘Who are you, so we give an answer to those who sent us?  What do you say about yourself?’”  Verse 24, “Now, they had been sent by the Pharisees.”  Nicodemus was a Pharisee and he sent them, “Investigate John,” and John made it clear; he said, “I’m not Elijah, and I’m not Moses, and I’m not one of the prophets, and I’m not the Christ.”  Luke 3:15, “While the people were in a state of expectation, and all were wondering in their hearts about John, as to whether he was the Christ,” we need to understand that in the air, there was a spirit of expectancy.  These people were wondering, “Is John Messiah?” because John made a comment in John 1:26, “John answered them, ‘I baptize in water, but among you stands One you do not know.’”  John announced that Messiah had come.  After four thousand years of being promised, John said, “He’s alive, and He’s on the earth and He’s among you.  He just hasn’t revealed Himself, yet, but He’s here.”  That created in the hearts of the people this great expectancy, “Where is He?  Who is He?”  That Messianic expectancy, that stirring, that question was in the heart of this Pharisee, Nicodemus.

John 3:2, “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You’ve come from God as a teacher; no one can do the signs You do unless God is with Him.”  He’s not just being polite.  Nicodemus recognizes that this somebody special, a teacher come from God.  That was rare in those days.  And he had also seen signs.  The Bible doesn’t tell us which ones, but he had seen signs.  Certainly, he saw the temple being cleansed and Jesus showing great authority.  The question, then, is not, “Why did Nicodemus come at night?”  That’s not the right question.  The question is, “Why did he come at all?”  You see, there was a Messianic expectancy in the air because of John’s ministry.  Everybody was talking about it and everybody was wondering, and a lot of these religious leaders had the same wonder.  He had heard many things, and he had seen many signs; he wasn’t just coming out of curiosity.  Jesus shows that he had a hunger in his heart.  He came to vet Jesus, “Are You the Messiah?  Are You the Christ?  Are You the promised One?  Are You the One the Jews have been waiting for all these centuries?”  He went to Jesus to scrutinize Him; he went to Jesus to examine Him, to question Him, to rule Him in or to rule Him out.  That’s the main point of this conversation, “Are You the Christ?  Are You the Messiah?  Are You the promised One?”

The question that Jesus detected in his heart, “Who are You?  Are You the Christ,” is there anything in this conversation with Jesus to Nicodemus that answers the question?  The question, the main point, “Are You the Christ?”  In this conversation did He give an answer?  Did He say, “Yes,” or did He say, “No?”  From another point of view, this is a private conversation, and that’s how we’re going to look at it, but from another point of view it can be studied as the first sermon that Jesus ever preached as far as the chronology is concerned.  The first sermon is not the Sermon on the Mount.  His first sermon is right here, and his congregation consists of one person in the sermon.

Back to the question, is there anything in the conversation that shows that Jesus clearly answered the question, whether or not He was Messiah?  I’ll give you the answer right now, and then I’ll show it to you.  The answer is yes, He answered the question, and He made it clear to this Jew, to this Pharisee.  Any teacher who is a true teacher will try to start with what you know, and then move toward what you don’t know.  You have got to have a starting point, so Jesus begins this conversation with what He knew.  Nicodemus knew that Messiah had to be human, son of David; they were looking for a human Messiah.  Of course, they thought it would be some kind of a hero that would overthrow Rome and reestablish the glory of the kingdom as in the days of David and Solomon.  They had a wrong expectation, but He had to be human, He had to be a son of David.

Let me call attention to a title that Jesus used of Himself in this conversation.  Verse 12, “No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  Underscore that.  Then again in verse 14&15, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.”  He referred to Himself as the Son of Man.  Nicodemus knew that Messiah had to be human, Son of David, but he added then, “Son of Man sent by God.” 
“The Son of Man who is talking to you was sent to the earth by God.”  That expression “Son of Man” is so interesting.  Do you know how many times that’s mentioned in the gospel?  It’s mentioned eighty times, “Son of Man.”  Seventy-nine of the eighty times is out of the lips of the Lord Jesus Himself.  Nobody ever called Him “Son of Man”.  There’s one little exception, and that’s in John 12:34, “The crowd answered Him, ‘We’ve heard out of the Law that Christ is to remain forever.  How can you say the Son of Man must be lifted up?  Who is this Son of Man?’”  And so, they said “Son of Man”, but only Jesus called Himself Son of Man.  That was His favorite title for Himself, over and over again.  Nicodemus knew that Messiah had to be a Son of Man.  When He called Himself a Son of Man, He said, “The Son of Man was sent down, and I’m talking to you.  The Son of Man must be lifted up on a pole.  If anyone looks to the Son of Man, they’re going to have eternal Life.” 

Think about Nicodemus, “Who are You?  Are You Messiah?”  That’s what he’s asking.  When He said Son of Man to Nicodemus, it was the Son of all mankind; He’s not talking about gender, or saying that He’s the Son of only man.  He’s the Son of all mankind.  Then He goes to the unknown,  John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.”  The Son of Man not only came from heaven, and the Son of man not only has to be lifted up, the Son of Man not only will give those who believe eternal Life, but the Son of man—now this new—is the Son of God.  God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.  Verse 17, “God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world would be saved.”  Verse 18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe Him has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  “Nicodemus, you want to know if I’m Messiah?  Yes, I’m the Son of Man; I’m the Son of God.  I was sent down from heaven to die for snake bitten sinners, and if you believe in Me, you are going to have eternal Life.  I came to give you new birth.” 

I don’t know how it could be more direct, especially to a person like Nicodemus, a Bible scholar.  He knew the Bible.  He knew the Old Testament.  He was religious.  The whole gospel is spelled out in this wonderful conversation. I told you in another lesson that there are two “musts” in this gospel.  In verse 3, “You must be born again,” and in verse 14, “The Son of Man must be lifted up.”  But since this is the first sermon Jesus preached, it is the most complete revelation of the gospel, the good news in the entire Bible.  Everything about the gospel is in this conversation.  I told you there are two “musts”; there’s at least four “musts” in this passage.  The word “must” is not used for the next two.  In fact, if you include the work of the Holy Spirit, there are five “musts” because it has to be by the Holy Spirit.  These are necessities and they’re implied.  John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish.”  And then in verse 18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed.”  “You must be born again,” “He must be lifted up,” and another necessity, “You must believe,” that’s in there.  And then in verse 20 & 21 there’s another “must” implied, “This is the judgment, that light has come into the world.  Men love darkness rather than light; their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light and does not come to the light for fear his deeds will be exposed.  He who practices truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be manifest as having been wrought in God.”  “You must be born again,” “He must be lifted up,” “You must believe,” and the pure gospel also says, “You must come to the light.” 

God cannot help those who love their sin and love darkness more than they desire to be delivered from their sin and their darkness.  People who claim, “I would believe; I just need more information.  I need to be convinced intellectually.”  That’s an excuse; they don’t want to be exposed.  They don’t want their sin to be found out.  Sinners are like bugs and beetles that hide under rotten logs and stones, and live in the earth.  If you tip over the log, the beetles will run.  They aren’t afraid of you; they’re running from the light.  They love darkness; that’s why they’re fleeing.  When you address a sinner who doesn’t want to be addressed, when he flees, when he gives excuses, he’s just fleeing from the life.  You must be born again.  The Son of Man must be lifted up; you must believe; you must come to the light.  Jesus gave the full gospel in these precious verses.

I call this conversation the full gospel, the pure gospel.  What I’d like to do now before we get ready to close, is to show you how in this full, pure gospel the Lord anticipated future attacks on the purity of the gospel.  In other words, these are plain words that He gave to Nicodemus, but these plain words are under attack even today.  You can sort of see how Jesus predicted the future errors that would arise and attack these pure words. 

Let me read John 3:16-18, and this is the pure gospel that’s under attack, “For God so loved world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life, for God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.  He who believes in Him is not judged.  He who does not believe has been judged already because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  That’s pure gospel from the lips of Jesus.

I’m going to mention several errors that have crept up and attacked that pure gospel.  I’m not going to develop it; I’m just going to state it.  If I were a professor teaching theology in a seminary, I would dedicate quite a few sessions to the errors that I’m now going to mention.  For our purpose in our overview of the gospel of John, I’m just going to mention it.  There may be more but I’m going to mention five errors that have arisen that have attacked the simple words that came out of the lips of our Lord Jesus.

Number one, God knew that some day someone would rise up and attack this pure gospel by teaching something called “limited atonement”.  In other words, that Jesus didn’t die for everybody; He only died for believers; He only died for Christians.  Pure words from Jesus, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”  He’s the Son of all mankind; He died for everybody. 

Number two, God knew some day someone would arise and attack the pure gospel and say, “Faith is a work.  You are so depraved, and full of depravity, you can’t even trust the Lord.  Nobody can trust the Lord.”  Faith is not a work.  If I owed a million dollars, and Thomas, being so rich, offered to pay my debt for a million dollars and I accepted his gift, my accepting his gift didn’t contribute one penny to the debt I owed.  Faith is not a work; it’s a response to a work, and this pure gospel said, “To everyone that believes…”  You can believe; it’s not a work. 

Number three, God knew that some day someone would arise and attack the pure gospel and teach a doctrine that they call “election”, that God had elected some people to be saved, and had elected some people not to be saved and to go to hell.  Listen to the pure gospel, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him…”  That’s a legitimate promise…whosoever.  He’s not lying; it’s for anybody.  The pure gospel says that He died for everyone.  The pure gospel says that you can have faith and believe; it’s a response.  The pure gospel says, “Whoever will may come.” 

Number four, God knew that some day somebody would come up and attack the true gospel by teaching that no one can have assurance of salvation in this life, even though the gospel says that they shall have eternal life.  They said that for two reasons; #1 they say that you never know for certain if you were genuine when you trusted the Lord, when you prayed, when you put your faith in Him.

Let me give a little testimony.  My dear Lillian, oh how she struggled in this matter of assurance.  I knew it before we got married, but it really came to light after we got married.  Every time I would preach a message, she’d be crying and crying, “I need to get saved; I need to be born again; maybe I didn’t mean it; maybe I wasn’t sincere,” and so on. She would come every time there was an invitation, and come forward and sign a card and she’d raise her hand.  She just couldn’t have assurance that she was saved, and that was because she was brought up in a Christian family, and she always heard it, and so she didn’t have a date.  I came into her life and I was talking about Jan. 29, 1958 when I had a conversion experience.  She didn’t have one; she couldn’t find a date, and so she was filled with doubts all the time.

One day I said, “We’ve got to deal with this.”  We got down on our knees together.  I remember it so well.  I was encouraging her, “Instead of saying, ‘please,’ say, ‘thank You,’” and I was encouraging her to say “thank you” and she wasn’t getting it.  We were on our knees for some time, and I began to sing.  I’m not a singer but began to sing, “Thank You, Lord, for saving my soul,” and I sang it once, and she was still crying.  I sang it again, and I sang it again and I sang it a third time, and the fourth time she joined me and we sang it together, and we got up, and since that day she’s not had any doubts about her salvation, because she said, “Thank You,” instead of, “Please.”  That’s how you get out of Romans 7 and get into Romans 8.  It ends with “Thank You,” “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!” 

Anyway, that’s one thing they say.  Let me give an illustration.  In John 3:8 where the wind, and “You don’t know its origin, where it begins and you don’t know where it ends, and you feel the effects of it, and so is everyone born of the Spirit.”   I can say January 29, 1958.  I’m not right; that’s not correct.  Do you know how I know?  It’s because the one who is born of the Spirit doesn’t know where it began; nobody knows the exact time.  You might know when you’re born, but you don’t know when you were conceived.  God has a conception, and He’s been working in your heart and your life.  We might be able to identify when we dedicated or rededicated our life, but nobody knows. 

This error is not only that you can’t have assurance, but even if you are saved, they teach that you can lose it.  If you have sin in your life, if you backslide, you can lose your salvation.  The pure gospel promises eternal life.  If it’s eternal you’re not going to lose it.  Someone says, “Yeah, but you can sin and slip through His fingers and be lost.”  You can’t slip through His fingers; you are His finger.  We’re the body of Christ, and so this pure gospel answers all of these terrible things.

Finally, God knew that someone would arise someday and teach universal salvation, that everybody is saved.  No, the pure gospel in verse 16 says, “Some are going to perish.”  In verse 18 it speaks of unbelievers that are in judgment.  Salvation is not universal; the invitation to get saved is universal.  God anticipated by this pure gospel that some would say, “limited atonement,” and some would say, “faith is a work,” and some would say, “some are elected unto death,” and some would say, “you can’t have assurance, and you can lose your salvation,” and some would say, “everybody is saved.”  That has discouraged so many of God’s people, “What if He didn’t die for me?  What if I believed in my own strength and I didn’t mean it?”  “What if I’m not one of the elect?”  “What if I sin, and I don’t know it and I lose my salvation?”  “Why do I have to share the gospel?  Everybody is going to be saved.”  Those errors are so terrible; they’ve attacked the pure gospel.

As we get ready to close, I want to come back to the main point, which is to see the Christ.  John wrote so that we’d know who Jesus is; He’s the substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  He wrote so that we’d know what faith is; faith is just looking, so we might have life and enjoy Him.  How does this Nicodemus story show me how to have life and enjoy Him?

Let me go back to the shadow, the Old Testament illustration in verse 14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.”  In the picture, those who were snake bitten were going to physically die.  When they looked to the brazen serpent, they didn’t die.  In the picture it’s talking about the extension of natural life; they just continue to live.  But what is promised to those who look to Jesus?  John 3:16 says that, “They’ll not perish,” listen to verse 14, “Whoever believes will have eternal life,” not just a continuation of life, being saved from dying and going in the grave. 

What is eternal life?  Some would say that it’s duration, life that goes on and on and on and never ever ends.  That’s part of it, but that’s not what’s being spoken of here.  How do I know?  It’s because everyone has duration; everyone has eternal life.  They’re not all going to live in the same place, but everybody is going to live forever.  When I look to Christ and I get eternal life, it’s not just that now I’m going to live forever.  The eternal life that’s promised is not duration; it’s quality.  John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God in Jesus Christ whom You’ve sent.”  It’s the knowledge of the Lord.  I like to put it this way and say that eternal life is the Life of the eternal One living in you, the Life of the eternal One living in me.  If it were just duration, it wouldn’t begin until I die, but according to 1 John 5 it has already begun.  Verse 11, “The testimony is this, that God has given us eternal Life; this Life is in His Son.  He who does have the Son, has the Life; He who does not have the Son of God does not have Life.”  It’s Life right now, the Life of the eternal One. 

God is not far away in heaven.  He’s not even just in this Book; He’s in your heart, in my heart, He’s in our life, and we can enjoy the Life of God.  Who is Christ?  He’s the substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  What is faith?  It’s looking.  What is Life?  Life is enjoying the eternal One who lives in our heart.

I want to close with a prayer that the Apostle Paul gave for Christians, and that’s what makes it a little bit strange.  He gave this prayer for Christians, and it’s in Ephesians 3:17, “So that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith.”  I say that it’s strange because Christ is already in their hearts, so why is he praying that Christ would dwell in their hearts if He’s already there?  Listen to Wuest’s translation, as he gets closer to the original Greek, “I pray that Christ might finally settle down and feel completely at home in your hearts.”  That’s the Greek word, that God would come and feel at home in your heart.  They all had Christ, but they weren’t all relaxed in His presence. 

I just love being home and kicking off my shoes and talking to my Lillian.  Some homes, I admit, are not like that.  Some people can’t even be at home in their home.  Their homes are a hell, and the picture breaks down.  But the reality doesn’t break down, and the reality is this, how close does Jesus want to be to you, the One who lives in heart, the expression in the Greek, and Paul prays it, “That He would just be at home, be as comfortable with you as you are with your dearest loved ones, and your friend, that He would live and be comfortable in your presence.” 

Who is Christ?  He’s the substitute Savior for perishing sinners.  What is faith?  It’s looking.  What’s life?  It’s being comfortable in the presence of Jesus and enjoying the Life of the eternal One. 

Heavenly Father, thank You for what we think we know.  Lord, work in our hearts all that You inspired it to mean, even if we haven’t mentioned it.  Thank You we can trust in You for this.  Thank You for giving us this section of scripture that present for us the pure gospel and protects us from all the errors that might attack it.  Work these things in our lives, we pray.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.