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For God So Loved the World

Tom Pennington John 3:16


As we gather here this morning, there are people all across our country celebrating this Easter weekend. But there is a great deal of confusion exactly what it is we're celebrating. That was brought home to me even this morning, when, before the first service, someone told me that a pastor here in our country had asked for a bakery to make a cake for the celebration of Easter. He was going to have some family and friends together. And he said across the top of the cake I want you to put the words: "He is risen". When he received the cake back from the bakery, the baker had done exactly as he had asked. And there were the words emblazoned across the top in an arch form: "He is risen". But to be helpful, the bakery had added just below those words a smiling Easter bunny. Gives new meaning to He is risen, doesn't it? There's a great deal of confusion.

What is it exactly that we are gathered here today to do? At its heart, this Easter weekend – Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday – is about one simple reality, and that is the gospel, the good news that Jesus Christ brought to this planet. And nowhere is the gospel clearer than in the most famous sentence in the English language, and that is John 3:16. It's been called the golden text of the Bible. Martin Luther, the reformer, called it the miniature gospel and a text in which the whole Bible is contained. It's no surprise that as Luther lay dying, he was reciting to himself again and again John 3:16. Probably every person in this room this morning knows it by heart. But sadly, its words are so familiar to us that we don't even hear them anymore, much less truly understand them. This morning, I want us to study this extraordinary text together, because it really encapsulates what we celebrate on this Easter weekend.

Now before we look at it in detail, we need to understand how it fits into the surrounding context. As you know, the first part of John 3 records a conversation–a conversation between Jesus and the preeminent scholar in Israel in his day, a man named Nicodemus. Since there were no quotation marks in ancient Greek, it's hard to tell where that conversation ends and where John the apostle's commentary on that conversation begins. It's possible the conversation ends with verse 15. It is also possible that verses 16 to 21 are a continuation of Jesus' conversation. If that's true, then these famous words come from the lips of Jesus Himself. But it really doesn't matter because even if verses 16 to 21 are John's commentary, obviously John is capturing the essence of what Jesus told Nicodemus or the essence of what Jesus had told John the apostle himself. So in the end, these are the words of Jesus.

Now just to get a running start here, back in verse 1 we meet this man Nicodemus, the chief teacher in Israel at that time and a Pharisee. He came to Jesus one night. In verse 3, we learn that Jesus quickly discerned the real question on this man's mind, and it was how to get into God's kingdom. That in and of itself is remarkable because although Nicodemus was the chief biblical scholar in the world at that time, he knew that he wasn't in God's kingdom and he didn't even know how to get in. And so he comes to Jesus, someone he recognizes as a teacher sent from God.

And in verses 3 through 13, Jesus explains this reality to him. And He uses the analogy of human birth to illustrate to Nicodemus this crucial truth, and that is, it is impossible for any of us including Nicodemus to get into God's kingdom through our own effort. Just as we have nothing to do with our physical birth, in the same way we can't orchestrate our spiritual rebirth. You can't be born again. You can't rebirth yourself. And Nicodemus got it. He said: How can this be? How can I do that? I don't have the capacity to go back and start life over again. Jesus explained to him that the new birth, required to enter His kingdom, is the sovereign creative work of the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit, Jesus says, is like wind. He goes where He wants to go and He does what He wants to do. You can't control Him. You can't manipulate Him. You can't demand anything of Him. He does as He pleases. So the message of the first thirteen verses of John 3 is that it is completely impossible for any human being to do anything to enter God's kingdom.

But the good news is: God had a plan, and that plan is recorded for us beginning with verse 14. Let's read it together. You follow along as I read John 3:14.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the 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. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

This extraordinary passage takes us back. It takes us back to decisions that were made in heaven in eternity past. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit decided to create man, and to create man as a free moral agent, to enable man to choose to obey and follow and love God or to choose sin and rebellion. But God knew that man would choose sin and rebellion. And He knew that that meant that, in His justice, He must condemn man and punish man's sin. John 3:16 explains what God decided to do in light of that reality. Look at it again, these famous words: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life."

Here God explains to us the mission of Jesus Christ, the mission as it was conceived in the eternal councils of the Trinity. Let's look at this mission together as it's described here in verse 16. I want you to notice first of all the cause of the mission. The verse begins: "For God so loved the world…" There's the cause that lays behind the mission. The word for of course ties it to what comes before. In verse 15, Jesus has just said that whoever believes will have eternal life. How did that come to be? How did we move from the impossibility of man having a right relationship to God in the first thirteen verses to his now having eternal life? "For (here's what brought that about, for) God so loved the world…" Jesus told Nicodemus that there is only one rational explanation behind His mission on earth, and that explanation lies within the person of God, within His eternal character. God loved. God loved because that is His nature.

Scripture makes it clear that love is part of the essence of God's unchanging character. In 1 John 4:8, John the apostle writes: "God is love." Only three times in scripture does the scripture tell us something about God beginning with the expression God is. Scripture tells us: "God is Light." That is, He is unapproachable in His holiness. He is completely pure and separate from sin, and He is always nothing but the truth. He is Light. Secondly, we're told: "God is spirit." That is, He doesn't have a body like you and I have. He is a spiritual being. And thirdly, we are told: "God is love." John the apostle was saying that love is an essential part of the character of God. When you think of God, you are to think of Him as a person characterized by, known by, described by love. Our God is love.

Now what does that mean? Well, here's a definition that I love although a little unwieldy, but listen to it because I love its clarity: "God's love is His self-giving affection for His image-bearing creatures and His unselfish concern for their well-being that leads Him to act on their behalf and for their happiness and welfare." Put in simpler terms, it is part of God's nature to give of Himself in order to bring about blessing and good for others. That's part of the nature of God. He delights in bringing about blessing and good for others–to self-sacrificially love and be concerned for the well-being of others.

Now notice what we learn in this text about God's love, the cause that lies behind the mission. Notice the timing of God's love. You see the tense of the verb? It's in the past. It describes a past reality: "For God so loved (in the past) the world…" You see, the love of God for mankind began in the distant past long before Jesus came to this planet. By the time of the fall we learn in Genesis 3:15 that in fact it was already God's plan, then, to send Christ. That's why in other places we learn that Jesus was a Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Before there was anything but God, God already loved and He'd already determined what He was going to do.

Notice the intensity of God's love: "God so loved the world…" The Greek word that's translated so here can refer to the degree or the intensity, or it can refer to the manner in which God expressed His love. John the apostle loves double meanings, and I think he means both here. I think he's saying God loved the world in this manner by sending His Son. And I think he's also saying God loved the world so much, to such a degree, that He gave His own Son. You know, even when it comes to human love, often it's measured by the sacrifice that it makes and by the value of the gift given. You want to begin to comprehend the love of God for the world, for you personally and individually? I want you to think about this for a moment. God loved you to such an extent that He gave you the best gift He could give.

Notice the object of God's love: "For God so loved the world…" For students of the Bible, the Greek word translated world is a familiar one. It's the word cosmos. This word is used a variety of ways in the New Testament. It's used to describe the entire universe. It's used to describe this planet we call home. It's used of the world system; that is, the values and philosophy and mindset present in any given age that's attributed to Satan ultimately. And it's also used to describe humanity in general. The way John uses this word here in the immediate context of verse 16 makes it clear what he means. Notice verse 17. He uses the word world in verse 17 when he says Christ came so that the world might not be condemned but might be saved. Clearly now, we're not talking about the planet; we're talking about people, human beings. And in verse 19, he becomes even more specific because he says the world, in verse 19, includes both those who believe and those who reject the message of the Son. So world then in the context of John 3:16 must mean all of humanity. What lay behind the mission of Christ was God's intense love for all of humanity. Now that was radical to Nicodemus. Nicodemus understood, as well as the people of the first century, that God loved His people Israel. But Jesus says God's love is not bound by ethnicity, or descent, or race, or location. Instead, part of what moved God to send Jesus on this mission to earth was the fact that He loved all of mankind. That's what Paul says in Titus 3:4 when he speaks of the coming of Christ and he says it's "when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared…" So Jesus' earthly mission was because of the reality of God's love for mankind.

Now Scripture is very clear that God not only loves the elect (which He does), but He loves all of mankind as well. We saw it in Matthew 5 when we were studying through the Sermon on the Mount. You remember? Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:44,

…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (why?) in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; because He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Jesus says, listen. God loves His enemies. And if you're going to be His child, then you need to love your enemies as well. And Jesus defines the extent of God's love as being as universal as the rain and the sun.

Now it is true that God is sovereign in salvation. Scripture clearly teaches that. It also teaches that He has a special love for His own that compelled Jesus to come to this planet. But it is equally true that God loves the entire world. John Calvin writes about John 3:16, "Two points are distinctly stated to us - namely that faith in Christ brings life, and that the Father loves the human race and wishes that they should not perish." What was the object of God's love and what was the cause behind Christ's mission? God loved the world so much. Can you personalize that this morning? Because God loved the world, all of humanity, individually as well. You see it with the rich young ruler in Mark's gospel who never came to faith in Christ, and yet we're told Jesus loved him. Do you understand this morning that God loved you so much that He sent His Son into the world? How else could He demonstrate His love? What else could He do to prove to you His love? That's the cause behind the mission.

Now the next phrase in verse 16 introduces us to the second important fact about Christ's mission. We've seen the cause of the mission – God's love for the world. Notice secondly the heart of the mission: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…" Now the phrase only begotten is a little bit misleading in English and has led people into error of various kinds. The Greek word is monogenes; that is, mono meaning one, and genes the word from which we get genetic. It simply means an only child. It's used that way in the New Testament. The other three times it's used when it's speaking of someone other than Christ, it always means an only child. In Luke's gospel, it's used twice of an only son. And a third time, it's used of Jairus' daughter. You remember the ruler of the synagogue there in Capernaum whose twelve-year old daughter gets deathly ill and he comes to Jesus? She's referred to as his monogenes, his only child. It came to be used as a result of that meaning, of something unique– something of which there was only one of its kind. For example in Hebrews 11, Isaac is referred to as the monogenes of Abraham although Isaac was not Abraham's only son, but he was the one of a kind son. He was the only son of Abraham and Sarah. He was the child of promise.

When this word only begotten or monogenes is used of Jesus, it describes Him in both ways. He was the only and is the only Son of God, the only eternal Son. We are adopted sons and daughters (those of us in Christ), but He's the only Son in the true eternal sense. And He is the one of a kind Son, the unique Son. God gave His Son, His only Son, His unique Son. Do you hear in this expression echoes of God's word to Abraham when Abraham offered up Isaac in Genesis 22 and He says to him: "You have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me"?

And what did God do with His only Son, His only child, His one of a kind, unique Son? Notice verse 16. He gave Him to the world. Now in what sense did God give His Son? Well from the context, we learn that God gave His Son to the world in two very specific ways. First of all, He gave Him in the incarnation. Notice verse 17: "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." Jesus, here, says that the primary reason God sent His Son into the world the first time was not to judge, not to condemn, but to save all of those who would believe. So the first way that God gave His Son to the world was: He gave Him to us in the incarnation. He became like us. He came into the world. But He not only came into the world like He did in the Old Testament and in the appearance of a man. This time, He actually became man. Let this settle into your mind. The scripture claims that Jesus, the Son of God, the only Son, the only child of God, became everything you are except for sin.

Look back in John1:1. "In the beginning was the Word, (speaking of Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Verse 3, He made everything that exists. Verse 14, this Word that was God "became flesh, (He became human) and He dwelt among us, (literally, He tabernacled among us. He set up His tent among us and lived here) and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." God gave His Son by sending Him into the world as one of us. 1 John 4:9 says: "By this the love of God was manifested. . . that God has sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him." 1 John 4:14 – "…the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world." So God gave His Son in this sense. He sent Him into the world as one of us.

But there's a second way in which God gave His Son to the world – not only in the incarnation, but also in the crucifixion and the resurrection. Notice verse 14 of John 3:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

It's a strange expression. The Son of Man – literally, the Greek text says: "it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up." It must happen. What does that mean–to be lifted up? Well, John uses that expression three times in his gospel. Always it refers to Jesus being physically lifted up on the cross. We see it in this verse. We see it in John 8:28. But the third time, John explains what it means. Turn over to John 12:32. John quotes Jesus as saying, and you read this this week if you read along with us. Jesus said this on Monday of the Passion Week. Verse 32:

And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, (there's that expression again) will draw all men to Myself. (What did He mean? Well John tells us, verse 33.) He was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which He was to die.

He was to be lifted up on a cross. That's what He meant. So Christ being lifted up, then, refers to His crucifixion. So back in the context of John 3 when Jesus says that the Father gave the Son, He means in this sense as well. He gave Him to the cross in order to pay for our sin.

This is the message of the New Testament everywhere. Romans 5:8 – "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Listen to 1 John 3:16 – "We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us…" Exactly how did He accomplish that? 1 John 4:10 makes it clear: "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins." Now that's not a word we use often, propitiation. It simply means to satisfy God's justice and anger. That's what it means. So God sent Jesus to be crucified in order to satisfy His own just anger against the sins of those who would believe. God gave up His Son, He gave His Son by delivering Him over both to physical suffering and physical death but to more than that – to God's own anger against sinners.

So He gave Him in the sense of the crucifixion, but the rest of the New Testament uses the same Greek word translated lifted up to refer to more than Jesus' incarnation and His crucifixion. It also refers to His resurrection and His exaltation. Listen to Peter on the day of Pentecost forty days later, when he preaches that great sermon and so many people come to faith in Christ. In Acts 2:33, Peter says this: "He has been lifted up (same word) to the right hand of God…" Acts 5:31 – "Jesus is the one whom God lifted up to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance… and forgiveness of sins." In Philippians 2:9, Paul combines this word lifted up with a word of intensity. And there we read: "Therefore also, God highly lifted Him up, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name (the name Lord)…" So understand then, God gave His Son. He gave us the Son in the incarnation and He gave us the Son in the crucifixion and the resurrection. The plan that flowed from the love of God is, that He would give His Son, His only Son, and that He would give Him to the world in two senses. He would give Him by sending Him into the world as one of us, and by orchestrating His crucifixion and His resurrection and His ultimate exaltation.

So we've seen the cause of the mission – God's love for the world. We've seen the heart of the mission – God giving His son. Notice thirdly the goal of the mission, the last part of verse 16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." You see that word that? In the Greek text, it's a word that's only used in one way. It's crystal clear. It's a word that literally means in order that. It speaks of the goal or the purpose with which God acted. This was the goal behind God's giving His Son. And the goal had to do not with the world, but with individuals. Notice "whoever believes in Him…" Do you understand that the only one in the world that God loved, who benefits from the mission that Christ came on, is the one who believes in Him? It's the only one who benefits. You must believe, but what does that mean?

What does it mean to believe on Jesus? Well, I could give you a theological definition, but Jesus, here in this context, provides us with a powerful illustration to help us understand what this kind of saving faith really looks like. Look back at verse 14: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up…" Jesus is here referring to an incident that happened at the very end of the forty years of wilderness wandering, just before the children of Israel entered the Promised Land. Look at Numbers 21 where this incident actually occurs. Numbers 21:4 explains that part of the problem was, at God's leading, they took the long route, a circuitous route. And because of that, the end of Numbers 21:4 ". . .the people became impatient because of the journey. And the people spoke against God and Moses, 'Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and there's no water, and we hate this miserable food. (speaking of the manna that God had provided)'" They sinned against the Lord. And verse 6 gives us God's response:

The Lord sent fiery serpents (that word 'fiery' may describe their color or it may describe the red, enflamed surrounding of where they were bitten, but the Lord sent fiery serpents) among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, 'We have sinned, (that's why we're suffering) because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove these snakes from us.'And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, I want you to make a fiery serpent (in other words, I want you to craft a bronze serpent out of metal that resembles the ones that are biting the people, and I want you to) set it on a standard; (that is, on a wooden pole where everybody in the camp can see it) and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.' And so (verse 9) Moses made a bronze serpent, set it on that wooden pole; and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.

Now go back to John 3. Jesus, here, compares that bronze serpent lifted up on a piece of wood to His being lifted up on the cross. Look at verse 14 again: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up…" What is Jesus saying? He is saying: just like that bronze serpent was lifted up on a piece of wood and all who looked at it in faith were saved from physical death, in the same way I must be lifted up on a tree so that all who look at Me in faith will be saved from spiritual death. Do you see the analogy? Do you see the point Jesus is making? It's a beautiful picture of faith. It's a beautiful picture of the need that we have. In both Numbers 21 and in John 3, death is the punishment for sin. God, in His sovereign grace, has provided a remedy for that death. And the sinner's only hope is to completely repudiate all of his own remedies and to embrace solely God's remedy. And everyone in both of these chapters who keeps looking in faith at that which God has lifted up, is delivered from death - in Numbers 21 from physical death; in John 3 from spiritual death.

Now let's put it together. Do you see the point Christ is making? Faith, believing in Him, is acknowledging, that just like the Israelites, you and I are facing eternal death because of our sin. And that we deserve it, and that there is no way that we can save ourselves, and that our only hope is in Jesus–the One whom God has raised up to die for our sins in our place. And so you must so put your confidence in Jesus, that you look at Him, and you just keep looking. You don't see a remedy anywhere else in yourself. You don't see a remedy of any kind, but Him. And you recognize that your only hope of ever being right with God is what He did when He died on that tree.

So what happens when someone believes in Jesus like that? Well, Jesus explains it both negatively and positively. Look at the goal of the mission explained negatively in verse 16: "He gave His Son in order that whoever believes in Him shall not perish…" The word perish in this context means to be condemned by God, to suffer eternal ruin. And oh, by the way, that's exactly the condition of the one who doesn't believe. Look at verse 18: "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." This is a remarkable verse because Jesus divides the entire world, including all of us in this room this morning, into two groups. Notice the condition of those in each group. Verse 18: "The one who believes in Jesus is not condemned…" In other words, if you're sitting here this morning and you have put your faith in Jesus alone as your only hope of heaven, you've turned from every remedy of your own to embrace Him alone and you're just continuing to look at Him as your only hope, then you are not condemned. You, as you sit here this morning, have not been condemned before God and you never will be. Romans 8:1 – "There is therefore now no condemnation to the one who is in Christ Jesus."

But notice the other group in verse 18: "the one who does not believe is condemned already…" Now that is absolutely shocking because it runs contrary to what everybody on this planet thinks. The average person thinks that God's verdict on his or her life is still out – that God hasn't made a decision about them and He won't make a decision until the Day of Judgment. And so if I can just keep doing the best I can, if I can live the best life I can, if my good outweighs my bad, and if I just try to be the best person I can, then maybe in the future, on that day when He does render His verdict, I have a chance. Jesus says: "The one who doesn't believe in Him has been judged (and condemned) already…" In other words, if you haven't believed in Jesus Christ as you sit here this morning, God's not waiting to pass a verdict on you. The verdict has already been passed – guilty. And all that awaits in the future is the public presentation of the evidence and the formal declaration of that verdict that has already been established. That's what will happen on the judgment day. You have been judged already. Why? Look at the last part of verse 18: "because you've refused to believe in God's one and only Son (whom He gave for us)." Because you have added to the rest of your sins, the guilt of saying to God, God, I know that You loved the world. I know that You loved me and I know that You gave Your Son in order to rescue me, but I don't want Him. I'm happy as I am, thank you.

In light of verse 18, why doesn't everyone believe? Have you ever asked yourself that question? If this is so clear and obvious, why doesn't everyone believe? Well, let me make it more specific. Why don't you believe? Jesus answers that question in verses 19 and 20:

This is the judgment, that the Light (meaning Himself) has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

Now that is very hard and very confrontive. And let me just say: I'm not saying this. This is what Jesus Himself said. According to Jesus, the reason you don't believe in Him is not because of some intellectual objection to the Christian faith. It is not because you haven't sufficient evidence in order to believe. There is only one reason and it's not an intellectual reason. It's a moral reason. It's because you love your sin, and it's because you don't want to give it up. You don't want it to be exposed. You are, in Jesus' words, perishing–condemned and perishing.

But here's the good news. Look back at verse 16. For the one who believes, "he shall not perish…" Jesus promises those who believe in Him that they will not perish. I love the way it's said over in John 10 just a couple of chapters later in verse 27:

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish (there's not a chance they're going to perish because they're in My hand and My Father's hand)… And My Father, who gave them to Me, is greater than all…"

Can't happen - I'll never face condemnation and perishing.

Notice the goal of the mission put positively, the end of verse 16: "whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Now when we see that expression, the first thought that pops into our mind is life that lasts forever. And of course, that's included in this idea, but that's not all that it means. Because you understand that every person here this morning, every person on this planet, every person who has ever lived or ever will live, will live somewhere forever. We're all eternal. Jesus says there are two resurrections. There's a resurrection unto eternal life and there's a resurrection unto eternal judgment and punishment. Those are Jesus' words. Everybody here lives somewhere forever. So it's not really about the quantity of life that Jesus is talking about. It's about a quality of life. In fact, the Greek expression that is translated eternal life is literally life of the coming age. You see, the Jews thought of this present age which we now live. And the age which is coming being the time when Messiah would reign over this planet. Jesus promises those who believe in Him that they will never be condemned, they will never die in their sins, they will never face eternal judgment; instead, they will enjoy the life of the coming age - and not just in the future, but right now. Listen. If you're in Christ, if you're a believer in Jesus Christ, you enjoy today the kind of life that will be present in the coming age. In John 17, Jesus describes it as: "This is life eternal, (this is the life of the coming age) to know You, (God) the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You've sent." You right now have a taste of the life of the coming age because you know God. You're no longer dead to God, but you can know Him, and have a relationship with Him, and love Him, and serve Him. You can know Him today in a small way what we will know completely when we're in His presence. You have now the life of the age to come. Notice verse 15: "whoever believes will in Christ have (today as a present possession) the life of the age to come." Look over in chapter 6, verse 47: "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has (as his possession today) the life of the age to come." Turn over to the end of John's gospel in chapter 20. He tells us why he wrote this gospel in John 20:30.

Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; (so John was selective, he says) these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is (the Christos) the Messiah, the Son of God; and that believing you may (right now) have that life (that is part of the age to come)…"

Now go back and look at how John summarizes all of chapter 3. John 3:36. Here's the capstone. There are only two alternatives – genuine faith and defiant disobedience. And everybody in this room falls into one of those categories – genuine faith or defiant disobedience. Verse 36: "He who believes in the Son has (as his present possession) the life of the age to come; but he who does not obey the Son (that's an interesting turn of phrase) will never enjoy true life, but rather the wrath of God (literally stays on him) remains on him." As you sit here this morning, Jesus says through His apostle John that you are already condemned and it's like God's wrath hangs over your head like a thunderstorm waiting someday to break loose. It's a stain you can't get rid of. It is a reality.

Now maybe you're tempted to respond to all of this and say, You know, I'm just not sure I believe all that. Understand this. Whether or not you believe it doesn't change the reality of what Jesus has said. Years ago, there was a pop musician who went to see the Mona Lisa. And he exited, saying: "I think that the Mona Lisa is just a load of (and he used an expletive)…" Do you understand, that musician wasn't telling us anything about the Mona Lisa? Instead, he was saying a lot about himself. The same thing is true of you. If you don't value Jesus Christ, if you come to the conclusion that He is not worthy of your confidence, that He's not worthy of your allegiance, you are not rendering a verdict about Jesus Christ. That verdict has already been passed. Instead, you're rendering a verdict about yourself. You are condemned and perishing, and the wrath of God remains on you.

According to Jesus Himself, there is only one way to pass from living under the wrath of God to living under His favor–only one way to exchange a future of eternal ruin for a future of eternal glory, only one way and it's this: you must believe in Him and the gospel, the good news that He brought. You must recognize that by nature you are a condemned sinner under God's wrath, that you are guilty of having broken His law again and again and again, and that for your many sins– including not believing in His one and only Son that He sent for you–you have already been condemned to eternal hell. And that there is no one, including yourself, who can save you either from your current condition or from future judgment. But that, instead, if you will believe that God so loved the world (including you) that He sent His one and only Son, and that He sent Him into the world as one of us, and that He sent Him to the cross in order to satisfy His own just wrath against your sin. If you will believe, God will forgive your sin and will give you the innocence and righteousness of Jesus Christ. If you will not only believe those things to be fact, but you will also put your faith in the person of Jesus Christ, you will cling to Him and to the promise you have in Him, you will look at Him and keep looking at Him; then you will never perish, but you will have (even today) the life of the age to come. That's why He came. That's why He died on Friday and that's why God raised Him from the dead on Sunday. He was on a divine mission conceived in eternity past: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, so that all who believe in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." Let's pray together.

Our Father, we are amazed at Your grace, at Your love – that You would love us who were Your enemies, who cursed You, who went our own way, who ignored You, who flaunted Your laws, chose our own way. Father, we're amazed that You would love us so much to give us such a gift. Father, I pray for those here this morning who are believing in Jesus. I pray that You would encourage them. Encourage them with the promise that our Lord has made that they will never perish, but that they (even today) have the life of the age to come.

And Father, I pray for those here this morning who, in our Lord's words, are perishing, who are already condemned, who are abiding under Your wrath. Father, may this be the day that You help them to see that condition. And through the words of our Lord Himself, may You lead them to embrace the cross, to embrace our Lord, to look at Him and keep looking as their only hope of being right with You. May this be the day they move from death to life. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.