Belief, Judgment and Eternal Life – John 3:16

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Belief, Judgment and Eternal Life

John 3:16


I know you love the Word of God, I know you love each other–that’s really evident because that’s what happens when you’re led by someone who’s committed to that.  So I can assume some things about you—you love the Scripture, you love each other, more importantly you love the Lord of the Scripture because that’s what the Scripture is intended to do is cause you to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And you’re in the process of doing that, and that is the reason we’ve been redeemed, and ultimately in Heaven we will love Him with perfection and without any restraint or reservation.

It all goes back to the Gospel—you heard the praise team talking about that a little bit earlier. And I understand that you’ve been thinking a lot about the Gospel, at least this summer from what Chris said. And I want to draw you to a very familiar verse this morning—John 3:16. Now while that might seem a verse that you’re completely familiar with and I know you are to some degree, I want to help you to understand John 3:16 in its larger context. You can open your Bible and listen to the familiar words.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” For us that’s very familiar—that’s probably the first Bible verse you ever learned. And everybody’s got it memorized, who’s been in the Church at all. And it doesn’t have much shock value to us—there’s not much new about it. It’s pretty pedantic—it’s pretty routine for us to quote John 3:16.

But the man to whom it was said was absolutely devastated by that statement. It was the most shocking thing that he’d ever heard in his entire life. You know that man—at least you know him by name. His name is Nicodemus. The conversation begins at the start of chapter 3 and verse 1 and goes all the way down to verse 21. All 21 verses are part of the conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus.

Now I want to point out two things here that will help us grasp the significance of John 3:16. One is the shocking participation of God in salvation, and the other is the shocking participation of man in salvation. It’s pretty hard to shock people from John 3:16, truthfully, because you’re so familiar with it. But we’re going to see it today in a way you’ve never seen it before.

Now if you’ll go back with me to verse 1 a little bit, and we’ll just get the big picture here, and we’re not going to drag through every phrase as I often do.  We’re going to get a big picture here. There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Let me introduce you to Nicodemus–according to history, one of the three richest men in Jerusalem, massively wealthy man. This is a man who came from an elite family, because he had ascended to become a ruler of the Jews and a member of the Sanhedrin, which was the Jewish Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court was made up of 70 men plus the high priest, chosen because of their wealth, because of their power, because of their influence, because of their family. More than that, according to verse 10 he was THE teacher in Israel, and that isn’t what people said, that’s what Jesus said. He’s the premier theologian, the premier Old Testament teacher—he’s one of the wealthiest men, and they associated wealth with divine blessing. If you were rich God was blessing you, if you were sick God was punishing you–that’s how simplistic their theology was.

So this is a man who was highly favored–however, he is a Pharisee. What does that mean? That means he was a hypocrite—he was a total hypocrite. He was a spiritual fraud. He was empty on the inside. Highly religious—the theological teacher in Israel, top of the pile, and he is a hypocrite.

Jesus said of the Pharisees that they are sons of Hell who produced more sons of Hell. Hypocrisy is a horrible thing, but it’s the stock and trade of false religion. All false religion is hypocritical. All false religion is a representation of the kingdom of darkness and Satan.

Nicodemus was an agent of the enemy, an agent of Satan himself. He was parallel to another man that you are familiar with—Paul when he was Saul, who said, “I’m a Hebrew of the Hebrews, tribe of Benjamin, as to the Law zealous, as to the traditions faithful.” And he said, “I count it all manure”—remember that, Philippians 3? It’s all manure. So this is one of those kind of guys–a total spiritual fraud.

Now let me tell you something about hypocrites—they know it. Hypocrites know it, because their hearts are empty—their souls are empty, and they know the game their playing. They know that what they are on the outside is not what they are on the inside. You just heard a testimony about that—from a simple young man to the most complicated, complex spiritual fraud at the highest level of religion in the world, they know they’re fake.

Nicodemus knew it. In fact he knew that he was not in the Kingdom of God. And everything that he’d ever done in his whole life was to make sure he was in the Kingdom of God. But he comes to Jesus by night in verse 2, and he wants to tell Jesus that he believes in Him. He says, “We know that you’ve come from God as a teacher, for no one can do the signs that you do unless God is with Him.” He’s a believer.

If you go back to chapter 2 verse 23 when Jesus was in Jerusalem at the Passover during the feast, many believed in His name, observing the signs which He was doing. So there were many people who believed—the question is, what did they believe? Because verse 24 of chapter 2 says Jesus didn’t entrust Himself to them because He knew all men, and He didn’t need anybody to tell Him what was in men, His omniscience told Him what was in men.

He knew exactly what everybody thought. He knew exactly what everyone’s spiritual condition was. So here were some people who believed, but Jesus didn’t commit Himself to them–which means their believing was something short of a saving belief. What did they believe? This group of people mentioned in 2—what did they believe?

Well Nicodemus tells us what they believed—they believed that Jesus came from God, as a teacher. And the reason they believed that was because no one had ever done the things that He did—miracles. Power over disease, power over death, power over demons, power over nature—every day, massive display of divine power. So they said, “He’s a teacher, He’s from God. He’s being authenticated by miracles,” none of which had ever been done for centuries.  You’d have to go all the way back to Elijah and Elisha to find God doing miracles in Israel—so they knew He was from God. Did they believe He was God? No. Did they believe He was God the Son? No. Did they necessarily believe that He was the Messiah? No. But they did believe He was a teacher from God.

So here’s what Nicodemus was thinking—I’m the top teacher in Israel, and there’s no one I can go to. I’m empty, I’m a hypocrite, I’m a phony, I’m a son of Hell—I know my own heart. I know I don’t know God, I know I’m not in His Kingdom. I have no hope of Heaven—here is somebody who’s above me, because as important as I am as a teacher, I can’t do any of those things.

So he comes to Jesus with a desire to know how to get into the Kingdom, and Jesus says to him the most amazing, shocking thing. He says in verse 3, “Truly I say to you, unless one is born again he can’t see the Kingdom of God.” You have to be born again. Familiar? You’ve heard that? People used to talk about being a born again Christian. I talked a lot about that at the Shepherds’ Conference last February. Every preacher, or most every preacher, has preached a sermon on being born again.

I was in Dallas, Texas last week preaching to a thousand African-American pastors and I asked them, I said, “What did you contribute to your birth? What did you contribute to your physical birth?” And they just kind of laughed. It was really funny—you get instant feedback with a thousand African-American pastors comin’ at you.

What did you contribute to your physical birth?  Absolutely nothing. That’s the same thing you contribute to your spiritual birth—that’s why Jesus took that analogy. There’s a famous book written by Billy Graham, How to be Born Again—that’d be like writing a book on how to be born. How could you write a book on how to be born? Who would read it—the unborn? And then what would they do with that information?

Jesus is saying, “Nicodemus, something has to happen to you in which you do not have any part.”  That’s the first shock—why? Because Nicodemus, like everybody in every form of false religion, thought that in order to get into the Kingdom of God, he had to produce something—works, ceremonies, rituals, sacraments if you will, righteous deeds, good behavior, morality, virtue. And that’s why these Pharisees above all people—they took the road less traveled, they took the hardest route.

There were 6,000 of them in Israel—they were ridiculously fastidious about all kinds of crazy things. For example, on the Sabbath, if they took an egg out of a chicken’s nest, that was permissible, if they killed the chicken for laying it on the Sabbath. That’s part of being a Pharisee–just bizarre things in which was the way in which they defined their religiosity and righteousness.

So here is a man who has taken the high road of works righteousness. The parallel in our day—he would be a priest in the Roman Catholic system at the highest possible level…religious to the max. And all he had ever known was that you earn your way in. And Jesus says to him, “If you want to enter the Kingdom of God, something has to happen to you in which you do not have a part.”

You’ll notice the phrase “born again”—that word again is anothen in the Greek. It means born from above—born from above. In other words, there has to be a work of God in which you do not participate. Jesus picked His analogy very carefully. I’ve heard messages on steps to being born again—how to be born again. Preachers saying, “Pray this prayer and you’ll be born again”—really! You can’t do anything to be born again. That’s a divine miracle. You’re dead in trespasses and sins and you’re unable to do anything to change that condition. This is a divine work. And the analogy is the most critical analogy anywhere in the Bible on the element of divine sovereignty in salvation.  You can’t escape this analogy.

People say, “Well, I don’t believe in divine election, I don’t believe in sovereign election, I don’t believe that God reaches down and saves the sinner according to His own will. I think the sinner plays a part. Then why did Jesus pick this analogy? There’s no way out of this analogy. It only makes sense if He’s talking about something in which you have no part, because you didn’t have any part in being born—you couldn’t have. You didn’t exist—so it’s as if you don’t exist until God from above gives you life. Nicodemus got it—he got it.

Verse 4 he said, “How can a man be born when he is old? He can’t enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” What’s he saying? He’s just sticking with the analogy. Do you understand that rabbis talked like this all the time? Jewish rabbis talked in analogical language all the time—parabolic language. Jesus giving parables was stepping right into the zone where spiritual leaders in Israel lived, where rabbis lived. Read rabbinic literature—it’s loaded with analogies. So Nicodemus’ response is simply inside the analogy to say—“I get it, it’s not possible to contribute to your birth. You can’t do that—you can’t play a role.”

And Jesus says, “Yes, yes, I know—you have to be born of water and the Spirit,“ and He’s borrowing from Ezekiel 36, the water of washing and the planting of the Holy Spirit in that great new covenant passage in Ezekiel 36, and by the way Ezekiel 36 promises the new covenant, promises regeneration, promises new birth, and it says, God speaking, “I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will, I will—I will wash you, I will take out your heart of stone, I will give you a heart of flesh, I will plant my Spirit within you.” That’s the doctrine of regeneration, the new birth in the language of the Old Testament.

And then He says in verse 6, “Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh.”  The flesh can only produce flesh—therefore you couldn’t possibly achieve spiritual birth through human means. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit, and then adding in verse 8 that not only is this a work of God but it’s a sovereign work of God that you can’t activate. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it but don’t know where it came from or where it’s going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Spirit comes when He will on whom He will in the way He will and gives life.

Shocking to a legalist. Shocking to a religious person trying to achieve his salvation by his own efforts—you play no role. God does what He wants, when He wants, to whom He wants. I mean this is just stunning truth. That’s why throughout this dialog Jesus says, “Truly, truly,” because He’s telling him things that are just alien to all the lies that he has always believed.

Nicodemus in verse 9 says, “I don’t even understand how this can happen.” Then He says, “Are you THE teacher of Israel and don’t understand these things?” You ought to know Ezekiel 36 if you know nothing else. You ought to know that this is the work of God—you ought to know Jeremiah 31:31-34, another new covenant passage that Nicodemus must have been familiar with, which again places all the work of regeneration in the power, and the purpose, and the will, and the plan of God.

It’s shocking to this man. It’s devastating to this man. He doesn’t even know where to go with this, because he has no place in his thinking for this. Pharisees hated the idea of grace and mercy, and they gave none. They provided none. They resented the idea of compassion toward sinners, because everything was built on their own achievements. So the first shock is the shock of the truth that salvation is a work of God. It’s what God does.

The second shock in this passage, and this is leading up to John 3:16—but you have to understand the first one. The second shock—turn over to verse 15. There are a lot of ways to kind of give you this overview, and there are a lot of truths in here that I’m not going to be able to hit. But this one is the second big shock, and this moves from God’s part to man’s part.

Having said all of that, you would ask the question, “Well, what do I do then, what do I do?” And that’s Nicodemus’ question. “What do I do? If you’re telling me, salvation is something that happens to me, not by me, what do I do? What is there for me to do?” As far as a work–nothing. But please notice verse 15, “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” There are two shocks there—two shocking terms. One is “believes”. That’s just too minimal for a legalist. The other is “whoever”—that’s just too broad for a legalist.

Believing can’t be all that’s required. But the fact of the matter is that is all that a sinner can do—that’s all a sinner can do. “Nothing in my hands I bring.” I don’t offer any righteousness—my righteousness according to the Old Testament in Isaiah is as filthy rags. By the deeds of the Law no one would be justified. Just believe. “Believe what? What am I supposed to believe?” Believe in Him—in Christ. Okay, well what am I supposed to believe about Christ? I’m glad you asked.

I want you to look at chapter 5. Chapter 5 Jesus heals the man at the pool of Bethesda who’s been there 38 years, and he’s been ill, infirm, somehow severely disabled. This kind of superstition grew that the water would be troubled, and it was maybe a spring-fed pond or pool, and the water would bubble occasionally and when that did there grew this superstition that shows up in later manuscripts about an angel stirring the waters and people came to the superstition that if they were the first one in they’d get healed.

Well he couldn’t get in because he didn’t have anybody to help him, so he languishes there for all these years. Thirty-eight years go by, Jesus shows up on a Sabbath day purposely, and He heals the man after thirty-eight years, tells him to pick up his bed and walk. He does that and the Pharisees blow up because the man shouldn’t be carrying his bed, because that’s how they extrapolated the idea of rest on the Sabbath. The man wasn’t selling beds, he wasn’t transporting beds, he was carrying up a little rolled mat. This is how they twisted and perverted the Sabbath—never mind that the guy had just been healed of this infirmity, they were without compassion, void of mercy, couldn’t care less.

And then they asked the man, “Who told you to do this? Who’s the culprit?” And he tells them, “Jesus.” So verse 16 says they were persecuting Jesus because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. Jesus could have defended His action on the Sabbath by saying, “The Sabbath is intended to give man rest, and this is the greatest rest this man has had in his whole life. The Sabbath is intended to bring joy—this is the joy that man has sought for nearly four decades.” He could have done that—He could have talked about the Sabbath. Or He could have said, “You misunderstand the Sabbath. Your rules are ridiculous.”

But He didn’t do that. He answered their assault on Him for His work on the Sabbath by raising it to a Christological level and presenting who He was. Verse 17 He said, “My Father is working until now and I Myself am working.” You know what that is saying? I’m equal to God in nature–I’m equal to God in nature.

Let me tell you what the rabbis used to discuss. Does God keep the Sabbath? Does God keep the Sabbath? This was a big debate. “Well,” the rabbis said, “He has to keep the Sabbath. We keep the Sabbath—we’re following God. God keeps the Sabbath.” Well if God rests on the Sabbath, then the whole universe collapses. So they came up with rules–they said God does light lifting on the Sabbath. He lifts things but doesn’t put His arms above His shoulders. And they had laws that you could carry something from one place to another place in the house, but not to another house. So they said since the whole universe is God’s house, He’s just moving things in the house. So essentially God keeps the Sabbath—they had to have God working, because they know that God sustains everything.

What Jesus is saying here is this, “God works until now—God works all the time, and so do I. I’m not subject to you.” In fact He said in Mark that He was the Lord of what—of the Sabbath. “God works—I work. I work the way that God works—24/7, all the time. And God is never weary or tired, nor is His energy dissipated, nor is His strength diminished.” This blew all their fuses. They were seeking all the more to kill Him because He was not only breaking the Sabbath, but calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.

So when you believe in Him, you don’t just believe He’s a teacher, you don’t just believe He’s a teacher from God, you don’t just believe He’s a teacher from God who does signs—you believe He’s God. He is equal in nature. Jesus even escalates it further in verse 19, “Truly, truly I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself unless it’s something He sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”

Equal in nature, equal in works. He does exactly what God does exactly the way God does it. And this is staggering stuff. The Pharisees are standing there looking at a Galilean carpenter in His early thirties who looks every bit like every other man in that age wearing the simple garments of a Galilean carpenter with hands that probably reflect the labors of those years, and feet calloused from traversing the land for all those years.

They’re looking into the eyes and the face of this man who is saying to them, “I am God. I do exactly what God does exactly the way God does it.” That’s why in Genesis 1 God creates and in John 1 Christ creates. He was equal in nature, equal in works, equal in power—verse 21, “Just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whomever He wishes.”

That’s called the doctrine of aseity from the Latin—it means from Himself. Everything that exists in the universe derives its life from some other source. You derive your life from your parents, right?–and their parents, and their parents. God has life in Himself, underived. Whoever is the underived source is the Creator of everything.

And of course we are talking about biological life, but we’re also talking about atomic life. You look at this building you’re in—it seems static, and sitting here, this thing is in high speed motion beyond anything you could ever calculate, as atoms move at unimaginable speed. This light above you is moving at 186,000 miles a second. This light, this entire moving universe is the creation of the One who has the life.

Jesus is saying, “I am the Creator of the universe.” Not only that, He is not only equal in power, He is equal in authority, and it shows up in verse 22. “For not even the Father judges anyone. He’s given all judgment to the Son.” God is the judge of all the earth—Christ is the judge of all the earth. How can they both be the judge? Because they’re one, they’re equal–they’re equal in nature, they’re equal in work, they’re equal in power, they’re equal in authority.

And consequently verse 23, “So that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent Him.” They’re equal in honor. How’s that for a staggering statement? There’s that Galilean carpenter standing there facing those Pharisees saying, “You owe me the same worship you give God.”

So when you’re asking, “What do I believe about Jesus?”, it’s not enough to believe He’s a teacher. Many people believe that. It’s not enough to believe He’s a teacher from God—many believe that. It’s not enough to believe He’s a miracle worker—do you know that in the four gospels there’s not one occasion where anybody ever denied that Jesus did miracles, or ever denied a miracle that He did. They were undeniable.

That’s not enough. You must believe that He is God, equal in nature, works, power, authority, honor, and one more–equal in truth. Verse 24, “Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life.” “You have to hear My word and believe it”—you have to hear His word and believe it.

If you want to parallel those, what God says in the Old Testament must be believed, what Christ reveals in the New Testament must be believed. “Then you will have [end of verse 24] eternal life and not come into judgment.” That was a little bit of a tangent, so let’s go back to chapter 3. “Whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Or whoever believes in Him will have eternal life—this is believing in Christ.

There’s one other thing that I would add that Jesus alludes to. Back up one verse to verse 14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” That’s a statement concerning His cross in which you remember parallels the experience of Israel. The snake was killed, put on a pole, whoever looked up at the one, at the snake elevated was healed.

Jesus says “that’s analogous to Me being lifted up,” a term referring to His crucifixion. We must believe that He is God, the very God, fully God, and we also have to look to the cross, and the crucifixion and even the resurrection “if you believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead you’ll be saved” (Romans 10). There’s no salvation apart from the truth concerning Christ. “Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of Christ.”

So with that kind of little tangent in mind, you go back to verse 15 again, “Whoever believes in Him will have eternal life.” In His nature, His person, in His cross work, in His resurrection will have eternal life. Again this is just shattering to legalism—you just wiped it all out. Salvation is not by works. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is a gift from God coming down from heaven.” The only part you play is to believe—to believe. Why would God do this?

Nicodemus has got to be saying, “What in the world? Why would God do this? Why? We all work so hard—why would God just hand this off to whoever?” And “whoever” especially engulfs Gentiles—do you know how the Jews felt about Gentiles? They were essentially racists. They hated the nations around them. They felt noble for hating the nations around them because they believed they were idolatrous, and that was true. They had by this time been purged of idolatry—that happened in the Babylonian captivity. They never had any idol gods after that. So they felt that they had arrived at a pure kind of monotheism, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

How in the world could God just save whoever? And again, Paul makes a great point out of this when he says in Romans that God justifies the ungodly. Nobody in religion believes that—they believe that God justifies the godly, not the ungodly, not the whoever who believe. So this is just devastating to the system of Nicodemus. Why would God do that?

The answer comes in verse 16. Why did He do it? “For God [what?]”–now there’s another shocking statement—what? We know God loves Israel—but the world? And they weren’t really too sure even about God’s love. They weren’t too sure about God’s love. They were more concerned about God’s justice, judgment, and severity. That’s why in the Sermon on the Mount you’re never more like God than when you love and forgive, when you love your enemies. They were a million miles from that.

Their god was a god of justice, and holiness and judgment. God did it because He loved the world—the world meaning humanity. Not the world inclusively, but the world extensively. God loved humanity, so “He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

So the first shock for Nicodemus is to find out that he can’t contribute to his salvation. The only thing he can do, and must do, is believe—believe. In fact, you don’t even have to be a Pharisee to qualify. Anybody, anybody—Jew, Gentile, anyone can believe. The next chapter Jesus goes to Samaria, runs into this woman at the well by divine appointment, engages in conversation—he’s thirsty, “Would you get me a drink?” He goes from there, He says to her, “Tell me about your history. Go call your husband.”

“I don’t have a husband.” He says, “You’ve said that right. You don’t have a husband—you’ve had a handful, and now you’re living with a man who’s not your husband.” He just uncovered her history and he’d never met her. She goes to the village and she says, “I think I just met the Messiah—He told me everything. He told me everything.”

The whole village comes out. The whole village comes out, and Jesus gives that little statement about the harvest being white, or the field being white to harvest. The whole village comes, the whole village is converted. Jesus stays a couple days, they come to faith in Him and they declare in verse 42, “He is the Savior of the world.” Because they were hated, despised, outcast Samaritans.

So the Son came to save the world. And in the very next chapter you have an illustration of it. Verse 17, the Son didn’t, “God didn’t send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” The world might be saved through Him.

John 3:16, let me break it up. The motive—God so loved. The object—the world. The action—gave His only Son, His only begotten Son, His monogenes, which means His unique Son, His one of a kind Son. So the motive God loved, the object the world, the action He gave His Son, the means whoever believes in Him, the result shall not perish but have everlasting life. This is a devastatingly new, shocking, stunning reality to Nicodemus, as it is to any religious legalist in any age in any time.

In our world today, it might be a Roman Catholic. It might be a Mormon, or any other religion that is based on works, and they all are. Now I want you to look at verse 18 for a moment because this is the final straw for Nicodemus on this issue of his responsibility to believe. “He who believes in Him is not judged. He who does not believe has been judged already.” I want you to look at the word “already”. If you don’t believe in Christ, let me tell you something. “Nicodemus, you don’t believe in me, you’ve been judged already.” I would say to you, if you don’t believe in Christ, you’ve been judged already.

Let me tell you how legalists think. Legalists think judgment’s in the future–judgment’s going to come, right? And how’s God going to judge—on the basis of what? Works? So He’s keeping a record. As time goes on, more and more information goes into His sort of data file, and at the end you hope the good outweighs the bad. And then the judgment will be made. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you don’t believe in Christ you’ve been judged already. You’re just between the final verdict and execution.

The judgment is not yet to come—the judgment has been made already. The only hope for you to escape Hell is to believe in Christ and turn that judgment into blessing. You’ve been judged already. The idea that you’re living your life and God is looking and charting and scoring and adding up and totaling everything—not so. Not so. The first time a person willfully, at whatever age, takes a breath—when that person is responsible before God as a child, takes a breath and doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior the verdict is made. The gavel falls. The future is the execution and every unbelieving human being is living between final verdict and execution.

Like the person who’s sentenced to death and then goes to death row. Every unbeliever is on death row already. What damns people is not—listen to me—not breaking the Ten Commandments. That’s a very popular thing nowadays, and sometimes people do evangelism that way, you know, “Did you break this commandment, did you break that, did you break that?” No one will be sent to Hell for breaking the Ten Commandments–no one. People are sent to Hell not because they broke the Ten Commandments but because they failed to believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what damns everyone.

So when you use that kind of method, if you get into that, or try to show people that they’re lawbreakers, you can’t stop there, because that’s not the reason that they’ve been judged already. The reason they’ve been judged already is because they do not believe in Jesus Christ. Why don’t they believe? Why? What an amazing offer—eternal life, whoever, not on works, just believe and have eternal life. Why? Why would they reject?

Verse 19, “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 [what—do you know why they don’t believe? Because they love what? They love their sin.]” This is it, folks—you can’t stand up in a pulpit and say, “If you want purpose in your life, come to Jesus. If you want prosperity in your life, come to Jesus. If you want success in your life, come to Jesus. If you want happiness in your life, come to Jesus.” You will get a truncated, false conversion. Who doesn’t want that?

What you have to say is, “If you abandon your love of sin and reach out to the only Savior and escape Hell, come to Jesus.” Anything short of that is going to create more of those people who say, “Lord, Lord”, and He says, “I don’t know who you are.” No psychological appeal has any virtue. No psychological appeal has any value at all. The necessity is to confront the depths of sin, the love of sin, the love of iniquity, the hatred of Christ, the hatred of righteousness, and call people to turn from sin and turn to Christ.

But everyone,” verse 20, “who does evil hates the Light and doesn’t come to the Light because he doesn’t want to get [what?] exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” You turn from loving sin to loving God. You turn from not wanting to have the truth exposed to wanting to have the truth exposed because the truth is you’ve been transformed.

Now this is beyond anything Nicodemus ever thought of, and I’m just giving you a sweeping look at it. But let me close the story by telling you this. What happened to Nicodemus? Well on this occasion He never says anything—nothing happened. Later on in chapter 7 of John he steps up and defends Jesus’ right to have a fair trial. The Sanhedrin, the leaders, want to kill Him, and Nicodemus says, “Whoa, whoa, whoa—according to our Law. So between chapter 3 and chapter 7, he’s been thinking about what Jesus has been saying. Now he’s at least demanding for Jesus some justice. Which means he’s moved away from the volatile hatred of the Pharisees toward Jesus.

Then you meet him in chapter 19, and along with Joseph of Arimathea he comes to the grave of Jesus and he anoints him, because by then he’s a believer. He’s the only Pharisee converted in the four gospels. That’s the power of false religion and hypocrisy. What happened to Nicodemus? He was kicked out of the Sanhedrin, history tells us, lost his property—it was confiscated, he was wealthy. Lost his family, banished from Jerusalem.

And there’s a very interesting story about a girl who was digging through the dump in Jerusalem, a young girl—and a rabbi came by and said, “You’re a poor young lady, why are you digging in the dump?”

“I don’t have anything to eat.” The rabbi said, “Well who are you?” She said, “I am the daughter of Nicodemus,” at which point the rabbi turned on his heels and abandoned her.

And tradition says that Nicodemus, based upon his love for Christ, was murdered by a mob. That’s the end of the story, at least from one historical perspective. He had come to the truth–the work of God from above. What can we do? Nothing but believe.

About John MacArthur

Dr. John MacArthur is the teaching pastor of Grace Community Church in Los Angeles, CA. He is also president of The Master's College and Seminary. John is often on the radio ("Grace to You") and is the author of many books.

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