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The New Birth
The story of Nicodemus is common to us all, and yet there is, perhaps, much in it which needs to be emphasized, and there may be some things hidden away that we may not yet have discovered.
In the message of Nicodemus, which confronts us now, we can readily discern how Nicodemus is a representative of national Israel, and how as such, he was altogether ignorant of the deeper spiritual meanings of salvation and regeneration,
1. An ignorant nation. To Nicodemus Jesus said in John 3:10 , "Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?" Twice Nicodemus had expressed his lack of knowledge: first, when he said, "How can a man be born when he is old?" (John 3:4 ), and again, when he said, "How can these things be?" (John 3:9 ).
The Children of Israel failed utterly to discern the Old Testament in its testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ. In Acts 13:1-52 Paul, in the Holy Ghost, makes this statement: "For they that dwell at Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they knew Him not, nor yet the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath Day, they have fulfilled them in condemning Him." Is it not strange that Israel should have read the Prophets in their synagogues and day by day fulfilled the things which were written therein, and yet never know it?
However, in religious circles today, much the same condition prevails. They were ignorant of Christ's first coming. Many believers now are ignorant concerning Christ's Second Coming. Prophecy was being fulfilled by them step by step, and they knew it not. Prophecy is being fulfilled before the eyes of the Church today, and she knows it not.
2. A trembling nation. Nicodemus came unto Jesus by night. This is stated in verse. 2. Some three times after this Nicodemus is mentioned in the Bible, and each time it is stated that he came by night. It is commonly supposed that he came by night because he was afraid to come openly. He believed that Christ was a teacher come from God, and yet he trembled lest he should be found consorting to Christ. The nation as a whole was against Christ. This was especially true of the Sanhedrin, and Nicodemus, no doubt, was a member of that group. He certainly was a teacher in Israel. This only made him the more afraid. Somehow, or other, to us there is, in all of this another tremendous meaning. Israel's darkest night is still before her. That night is scripturally known as "the day of Jacob's trouble." Luring its course, Israel will be persecuted and hated by the dragon, the antichrist, and the false prophet. Many of the Gentiles will set themselves against the Jews. It is then, however, in the night of their greatest sorrow, that they will begin to turn their faces toward the Lord, and cry unto God that the "Branch" might be sent forth to their rescue.
I. A WARNING ABOUT THE MIRACULOUS (John 3:2 )
When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night he said unto Him, "Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him."
Nicodemus, like most Jews of that day, was confounded by the miracles of Jesus Christ. He went so far as to say, "No man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him." This statement by Nicodemus brings three things before us.
1. Are miracles a true sign that a man is sent of God? In the days of Moses and Aaron when they two stood before Pharaoh, they wrought successfully four distinct miracles which in turn were re-wrought by the magicians of Egypt. We ask, could then the people by those miracles attest that Moses was sent of God?
To be sure, the Egyptians could not go all the way with Moses. Moses wrought miracles which no Satan-energized man could work. We have been forewarned that in the days of the Great Tribulation, the wicked one will come after the working of Satan with all power, signs, lying wonders, and with all the deceivableness of unrighteousness. Through these very miraculous deeds God will send unto those who receive not the love of the Truth a strong delusion, that they should believe a lie. The Book of Revelation gives abundant proof of the Satanic miraculous which will come during the tribulation.
2. How then may we judge whether miracles are of God or of Satan? Whether miracles are wrought by Spirit-filled, or Satan-energized men? May we call your attention to the healing of the lame man at the gate of the temple as he sat there asking for alms? Peter and John passed by. Immediately he sought alms of them, but Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none." Then he commanded the lame man, in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, to arise and walk.
Peter later said, "If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole." Then Peter added, "Neither is there salvation in any other." Mark two things:
Peter gave Christ all the glory, and claimed none for himself. Then, he immediately turned the minds of the people away from the miracle to salvation. Divinely wrought miracles always glorify Christ and emphasize salvation and not the miraculous.
Nicodemus came to discuss miracles with Christ. Christ bluntly said, "Ye must be born again."
II. THE NEW BIRTH (John 3:3 )
"Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God."
There are four things that we wish to emphazise, but which we will leave you to develop.
1. A religion cannot save. Nicodemus was religious.
2. Ethics cannot save. The morals of Nicodemus, beyond a doubt, were unimpeachable.
3. A mere desire to know Christ cannot save. Nicodemus sought Jesus by night.
4. Position, honor, and accomplishment cannot save. Nicodemus had all of these.
Alas, alas, that so many are trying to enter into glory by what they are, or what they do, failing to remember that all the deeds of the flesh stand before God as filthy rags. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."
III. THE NEW BIRTH EXPLAINED (John 3:4-6 )
1. The question asked. "How can a man be born when he is old?" This was what Nicodemus asked. We, too, stand before the new birth with a great question mark. We know more about it than Nicodemus knew, to be sure, and yet we cannot humanly explain it. We cannot explain the birth of a flower. How much less can we explain the birth of a soul.
2. The question answered. Jesus Christ, in reply to Nicodemus, told him "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God."
(1) To be born of water is to be born of the Word of God. In Titus 3:5 is this statement: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost." In Ephesians we read "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word." I Peter speaks thus: "Being born again * * by the Word of God." James said, "Of His own will begat He us by the Word of Truth."
(2) Being born of the Spirit speaks of regeneration by the power of the Holy Ghost. The Word of God is the seed implanted in the heart. The Spirit is the One who germinates and brings into fruitage of life the implanted Word. Christ added these remarkable words in order to contrast the physical and the spiritual birth. In John 3:6 , He said. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Let no man, therefore, vainly imagine that the flesh has any power to beget the Spirit. Kind begets only its kind. Flesh begets flesh; spirit begets spirit. The one is begotten no more truly than the other.
We are born of physical parents; we are, also, born of the Holy Ghost of God when we are born again. The one birth is just as actual a birth, as the other. We are just as much the sons of God, as we are the sons of our natural parents. It was spoken concerning Mary, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, * * therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Of every regenerate believer, it may be just as truly said: The Spirit of God comes upon such an one, and such an one was born in righteousness and in true holiness because he is the son of God.
IV. THE "MUST" OF REGENERATION (John 3:7 )
This is the shortest verse in this study, and perhaps the most profound. It may not have the width or the breadth of some of the other verses, but it has tremendous depth. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again." Christ places on the new birth, the eternal "must" of Heaven. He makes the new birth absolutely necessary.
1. The must of the new birth shows the utter inability of the flesh to inherit eternal life. The flesh is corrupt according to deceitful lusts.
There is not a just man on the earth that doeth good, and sinneth not. Corruption cannot inherit incorruption. They that live after the flesh cannot see God.
2. The must of the new birth shows the utter inability of the flesh to produce the new life. The righteousness of the Law of God cannot be fulfilled by the flesh, therefore the flesh cannot save. If the flesh cannot impart a new birth, we must be born from above. "The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou nearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit."
The new birth is full of mysteries just as the first birth is mysterious. A colored man who was operating a sailboat most successfully against adverse winds was thus questioned: "Mose, you must understand the philosophy of the wind?" He replied, "It is not necessary to know the philosophy of the wind. All you need to do is to know how to handle the sail." So, also, we do not understand how the Spirit may come or go, but we know how to throw up the sails of our faith, and catch the breath of the Spirit; then, God doeth the rest.
V. THE GREATEST MUST OF ALL (John 3:14 )
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up." Christ had told Nicodemus, "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness."
He then outlined to Nicodemus how that He had come down from Heaven, and how that He was in Heaven. After that He told him, perhaps, the supreme must of the Bible. He told it by simile. He reached back into the Old Testament Scriptures and brought from the story of Moses and the uplifted serpent His illustration. Then He said, "Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up."
There was only one way that the serpent-bitten Israelites could be saved, and that was through the up-lifted serpent. There is only one way by which the sin-bitten Nicodemus could be saved, and that was by the look of faith at the uplifted Saviour.
1. The "must" of the Cross emphasizes man's hopelessness in sin. A substitute must be provided. Sin's penalty must be paid. Every legal obstacle must be removed. This was accomplished as it only can be accomplished through the Cross of Christ.
2. The "must" of the Cross was based upon God's promises. How many there are who would teach that Christ was crucified against His will, and that He was helpless to avoid the Cross because He was forced to it even as a martyr is forced to die.
However, my dear readers, the "must" of the Cross was not the must of a mob, whose fury could not be checked. The "must" of the Cross was the "must" of a holy God, fulfilling the pledge which He had made that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head. Christ was crucified because Christ could not, and would not break His promise. All hell united as one man, under the headship of Satan; yea, all hell united under Satan, and joined by all the power of men could not have forced Jesus Christ to the Cross against His will. He was delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. He died because undying love forced Him on His way to pay the debt of sin.
VI. THE MUST OF FAITH (John 3:15 )
In John 3:7 we read, "Ye must be born again." In John 3:14 we read, "The Son of Man must be lifted up." In John 3:15 we read, "That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." In Hebrews 11:6 it is put this way: "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Not only must Christ die, but we must believe. The death of the Lord Jesus Christ is potent of its saving grace, only to those who believe on the Name of the Son of God. Let us then examine the meaning of the word, "believe."
1. There must be an assent of the mind. We must have heard of the Son of God. We must know intelligently that Christ died, the Just for the unjust.
2. There must be the affiance of the heart. The faith that saves is not the mere assent of the mind. That is a part of saving faith, but it is only its beginning. The faith that saves is the faith of the heart, that is, of the affections. Romans 10:10 puts it this way: "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." The word "faith" therefore includes affiance. It means trust and confidence.
3. There is the obedience of the life. The faith that saves is an active, obedient faith. We believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore we follow Him. We believe, and therefore we obey. James said, "Shew me thy faith without thy works and I will shew thee my faith by my works. * * Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only." The works, however, which justify a sinner are not the works, by any means, that precede faith. They are the works of faith. They are the works, according to James, by which we see the man's faith. They are the works which make faith perfect. In other words, a perfect faith is a faith that works.
VII. THE NEW BIRTH IN ITS MARVELOUS RICHES (John 3:15 )
Once more we will read John 3:15 . "Whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." In answer to the question of Nicodemus as to how a man should be born, and over against the must of the new birth, Jesus Christ placed the must of the death of Christ. Then the necessity of faith as completing the act of regeneration is definitely set forth. Following the statement that "whosoever believeth" are two great truths which we will now consider.
1. Shall not perish. Here is a wonderful verse on security. If we have everlasting life, we cannot come into condemnation. When we are born again, we have life, and we cannot perish. How happy is he who knows that in Christ he is secure. How happy is he who is assured that there will be no children of God in hell. God gives unto us eternal life, and we shall never perish, neither shall anyone pluck us out of His hand.
2. Have eternal life. Eternal life, everlasting life, is life forevermore. For "this is life eternal, that they might know Thee the only True God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent." "He that hath the Son hath life." Jesus Christ, in speaking of this, said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." The life of a believer is a begotten life, but it is also a "partaking" life.
The child born after the flesh lives a life distinct from, and separate from the life of his father. He who is born of the Spirit of God does not live a separate life from God, but he lives the life of God. That is why we read in Colossians, "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear." That is the reason that the Apostle Paul, in the Spirit, wrote, "For to me to live is Christ."
Jesus Christ likened the new life to the vine and the branches. The one reaches out into the other. The branch is twined and intertwined in the vine, and the vine also in the branch. The life of the branch is the life of the vine. There is no distinction between the one and the other, for they are of the same life. Eternal life! How wonderful it is. Not only are we to be with the Lord, but we are to be with Him forever and for aye!
Speaking of the New Birth and the value of a soul we are reminded of Wilbur Chapman's story:
A bone button ran a race with medical skill. The purse was high, Ten thousand dollars was offered to defeat the button. But, though five doctors worked with might and main, the button came in winner, and a human life was sacrificed to a simple nursery accident.
The mother was in an adjoining room when a choking sound caught her ear. She ran into the nursery, and saw the child writhing on the floor, black in the face. A big bone button which she had taken into her mouth, baby-like, had lodged in her windpipe. The mother's cries rang through the house.
Soon a doctor came, and then two more They worked over the little sufferer, striving by every means to dislodge the bone disk which was slowly choking the child to death. The frantic mother ran about the room, wringing her hands and crying to them to save her child.
"Madam," said one of the physicians, "I fear------"
"Oh, don't say that! I can't bear it! Send for more doctors. She must be saved!"
Two more physicians of the neighborhood were soon in the room. But, though heroic remedies were tried, and methods almost barbarous in their severity, they could not dislodge the button. Life was ebbing fast.
The mother saw her child's death-sentence in their faces.
"I'll give you a thousand dollars to save her I'll give you five I'll give you ten! My husband has money, plenty. I will see that you are paid as I promise. Only do not let my little Annie die!"
The doctors turned away. Accustomed as they were to death-room scenes, they were shaken by this mother's" awful anguish.
"Too late," said one of the doctors. She caught the words and fainted away.
Salvation Made Plain
We are using the story of Nicodemus as the basis of our message for today. However, we are planning to bring out some very vital considerations which no one portion of Scripture would supply. Therefore, we will go from Scripture to Scripture for much of our discussion. We wish to present to you a brief story of Nicodemus.
1. The description of man's best. Nicodemus was one of Israel's teachers. That he summed up the very highest ideals of Judaism, we have no doubt. He was reckoned as a Pharisee, and as a Pharisee of the Pharisees. He was one of those who made broad his phylacteries, who made large the borders of his garments. He was a man against whom there were no charges, and he stood clean in the sight of men. As a religionist he was a recognized authority and power. In this world there are many such men, and there always have been. There was Saul of Tarsus. He himself said that concerning the Law he was blameless. He came from the strictest sect of the Pharisees. He had high ideals. His ambition was, beyond a doubt, to become a member of the Sanhedrin, and a leader among his people, Israel. The rich young ruler was another New Testament character whose morals were unimpeachable. He came running to Jesus inquiring how he might enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The Lord referred him to the ten Commandments, and he replied, "All these have I kept from my youth up." The rich young ruler was beyond any doubt a high type of young manhood. The Lord, looking on him, loved him. There are many men today who are of the same class, men who serve everything that is worth while in family life, in the state, and in the commercial world, who do not stoop to the mean methods of dishonesty and injustice. These men may even go farther and give honor unto the God of Heaven. They will say that they are interested in everything that is good and righteous. They will help the churches with their contributions.
While they confess no faith in Christ, yet they believe the church has a high moral mission among men, and they stand for general world betterment no matter from what source it comes. Their own innate goodness and honor is their only hope of Heaven. If you would ask me if they will be saved as they now are, I would answer, "Absolutely no!" The reason, we will discuss under our next point.
2. Man's best is short of God's righteousness. When men compare themselves among themselves they stand forth to good advantage, but when these same men compare themselves to the righteousness of God, they are miserably short. Thus it is the Bible says, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God."
When we think of God we think of Him as dwelling in light, unapproachable. We can even now hear the angelic hosts saying, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Hosts." Men are sinners. By nature they are fallen, corrupt, and full of darkness.
3. Job, an example. The three false friends of Job continually condemned him, alleging he was a sinner. Their position was that the basis of approach to God was an unimpeachable integrity. This, they claimed, Job lacked. God hid His face from His servant, said they, because His servant was vile and unjust. All of this appears very good on its face, but God's estimate of Job was that there was none like him in all the earth. He was "a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and eschewed evil." Thus Job stands not as his three false friends insinuated, a base and corrupt personage, but before God as the very best product of Adam's race. However, even Job's righteousness fell short of the righteousness of God, and when Job, who had constantly maintained his integrity, saw the Lord face to face, he said, "Behold, I am vile," and he added, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes."
I. THE STANDARD OF FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD (Hebrews 12:14-16 )
Our verse says: "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
1. Social standards among men. All men put up a barrier between themselves and other men, or groups of men. In order to pass that barrier, and enter into the comradeship of others, there are certain prerequisites.
There are social standards, which are set by various groups according to their own social attainments. To enter into the upper "four hundred" there are things demanded which would not be demanded in what we might term "the lower four hundred." Every city, village, and hamlet in the United States has its own social cliques, perhaps unconsciously, but nevertheless effectively. They put up a wall of financial, social, or political idealisms to which one must measure up in order to enter in.
There are financial standards. The men who handle the great monetary problems of the nations of the world would deem it far beneath their dignity to receive into their monetary councils men who are altogether beneath their own capabilities. The president of the United States, if he is selecting men to advise with him on how to save the nation from its depression, will seek only such men as will measure up to the economic standards which he sets up. Musicians have their standards; poets have their standards, as do painters and sculptors, and others.
2. Spiritual standards with God. God cannot receive into His fellowship or presence the unclean. Men feel that fellowship with one. beneath their class drags them down, and puts a shadow upon their own attainments. The pure cannot associate intimately with the impure, the learned with the ignorant, the exalted with the humble. God cannot associate the just with the unjust, the holy with the unholy, the clean with the unclean. If God lowered the standards of entrance into Heaven He would mar the beauty, the glory, the blessedness of that wonderful sphere. God has said concerning His holy city that the unclean shall in no way enter therein.
II. GOD'S ATTITUDE TO A FAILURE (Jeremiah 18:4 )
Our verse describes the potter who was making a vessel upon his wheel. "And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it."
1. The attitude of men toward their own failures. The artist is standing at a distance looking at a picture which he has painted. As he looks at it he finds that it is beneath the usual standard of his work. He will not dare to let that picture go out as the product of his brush because it would drag down his good name and ruin his reputation. He throws the painting aside.
The poet who has just penned a sonnet reads it over. He sees that its whole conception, the dignity, and beauty of its message, has been marred. Perhaps, the rhythm is out of order; perhaps the meter is faulty, or more likely the beauty of thought is lacking. The poet will not place this failure among the gems which he has written. He casts it aside.
The mechanic has sought to place an invention upon the market. He had many dreams of its possibilities. When, however, he tried it out it failed to work; thus he threw it aside.
2. God's attitude to a failure. God created man in His own image, and He said of His work, "It is good." However, man failed. Man sold out to Satan. God, therefore, entered into the garden of Eden, saying, "Where art thou?" He asked, "What hast thou done?" Then He pronounced the curse, and drove man out of the garden. God could not receive that failure into His own fellowship. Neither could He send forth that man who had failed as a representative of His Divine glory.
As we look at the corrupted earth we see the judgment of the flood. As we look at a corrupted nation, even Israel, we find a nation cast off and wandering among men. As we look at a corrupted church we hear Christ saying that it shall be broken off.
III. THE DISTINCTION OF GOD'S CRY AND MAN'S (Psalms 9:13-17 )
We spoke of the work of the artist, the mechanic, and the poet. The work all falls beneath the dignity and glory of the supreme work of God. The artist created with his fingers a wonderful picture; the sculptor has a marvelous dream of a marble creation, and the poet of fascinating rhythm. Their work is mechanical or materialistic. Lifeless is the work of their brain and brawn.
God, on the other hand, created a man with life, man with a will, with power of choice, power to love or to hate, power to do good or evil. Therefore the class of God's creation is far beyond that of man.
When man sinned the very highest and climactic work of the Almighty came into disrepute. This wreckage caused God's Name to be defamed among all the nations of the earth. One thing God could not do He could not receive into His abiding approval and blessing His spoiled workmanship. There was only one thing left to do, and that has just been discussed. God was compelled in the nature of the case to cast aside His own creation. It is for this cause that God said, "The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God." In the Book of Revelation we read that the unbelieving, the sorcerers, the whoremongers, the murderers, the idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie shall be put out of the City. They shall find their lot in the lake of fire with the beast and the false prophet.
IV. GOD'S DESIRE TO RESTORE THE WORK OF HIS HANDS (2 Peter 3:9 )
When the potter saw that his vessel was marred, he made it again. The artist, the sculptor, the poet, the mechanic, any man and every man will restore the work of his fingers if he can do it. That which is cast aside is that which is hopelessly a failure.
Man had no power to rescue himself. He could not lift himself above himself, nor make a new self upon the wreckage of the old self. The corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit; the bitter fountain cannot give good water. The leopard cannot change his spots, nor the Ethiopian his skin.
The proposition which confronted God was how He could be just, and yet justify the ungodly. He who says that God does not love the sinner is wrong. He does not love the sinner's sin, but He so loved the sinner that He gave Christ to die.
We can almost now hear the plaintive voice of God as He cried concerning disobedient and wayward Ephraim: "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?" God yearned for Adam and Eve as soon as they had sinned, and told them how they might be saved.
God has commanded us, today, to carry the Gospel of His redemptive work to every creature. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to a saving-knowledge of the truth. To us the story of God's great love surpasses understanding.
God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. God was in Christ reconciling men unto Himself. Never think of God as a tyrant with a whip ruthlessly driving" His marred creation to hell. To be sure, if His work cannot be renewed, restored, redeemed, He will, in the nature of the case, be forced to cast His creative work off forever. This, however, He will not do until, with all patience, He has endeavored again and again to save the lost.
V. GOD'S REDEMPTIVE PLAN (John 3:16 )
Some one has called this verse the Gospel in a nutshell. It is a marvelous verse. It shows how God, loving the world, gave His Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish. When we go to the manger in Bethlehem, and we see the infant, Christ, we see the great purpose and plan of God before the world was, coming to maturity.
That Babe in the manger is grace operating. It is mercy active. In that Babe's little body was incarnate God, God made flesh and dwelling among us, God the holy and the sinless.
As we pass from the manger to the baptismal scene where Christ, now thirty years of age, is baptized, we behold the same creative plan in progress. From the Heavens the Father speaks, saying, "This is My beloved Son."
As we stand by the Cross and see the same Son of God dying, we see God's purpose of redemption reaching its climactic conclusion.
God was seeking to save the lost. However, in His purpose He had to satisfy the offended God. He had to sustain His own holiness and justice, removing every obstacle to man's redemption. When Christ cried on the Cross, "It is finished," He meant that the basis of man's redemption was a completed task.
As we stand at the empty tomb we see God putting on the great assuring confirmation of His redemptive grace. The resurrection of Christ gives us an acclaimed Christ, a satisfied Father. From that day on God hath made the message of His redemptive Gospel a potent and powerful message, by the resurrection of Christ from the dead.
VI. GOD'S ONE DEMAND OF THE SINNER (John 1:12-13 )
The sacrifice of the Saviour had completed God's work of redemption so far as salvation from the power of death and hell was concerned. Christ's ascension has assured to the sinner the power of a new life. Christ's coming again will bring the resurrection of the body and the glorious consummation of God's redemptive plan.
However, before the sinner can be saved there are other things which must be accomplished. "He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." Jesus is a Saviour in possibility to all men, but in actuality only to those who believe.
God says, "As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name." The saved soul is saved only on the accomplishment of God in Christ upon the Cross, but he is saved upon the basis of his own faith.
There is, however, besides faith, another contingency, and that is confession. In Romans 10:1-21 we read, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." We do not mean that a person cannot be saved by grace through faith alone and apart from confession. What we do mean is the saved soul will confess.
The Word of God says, "He that doeth truth cometh to the Light, that his deeds may be made manifest." One thing we will need to remember, and that is that saving faith is a living, active, obedient faith. We are saved by grace, through faith apart from works, but we are saved by a faith that works.
VII. MAN'S GREATEST SIN (John 16:8 )
We have passed down the line having discussed God's standard of fellowship; God's attitude to a failure; God's creation not a machine; God's desire to save; God's redemptive plan; and God's one demand upon the sinner.
Now we come to the most startling thing of all. Our key text tells us that when the Spirit is come He will reprove men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. "Of sin, because they believe not on Me." Man's greatest sin is the rejection of a Saviour. It is not his sins that damn him, because the Father in Christ has made full atonement for sin; and He suffered for our sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.
The question now before the man of the world is the "Son" question, not the "sin" question. As to the sin question, he needs no preaching. He knows he is a sinner. As to the Son question that is another matter. The whole Gospel of the Book of John is written that we might believe that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, and that believing we might have life through His Name.
He who wants to be saved will find no other door to Heaven than Christ Jesus. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the life. He is the Bread of Life; He is the Water of Life; He is the Resurrection, and the Life.
We ask once more the question we asked in the beginning of this study: "What think ye of Christ?" All men are sinners. The lost sinner is the man who has Christ under his feet. The saved sinner is the man who opens his heart and accepts Christ as Saviour and Lord.
SALVATION MADE PLAIN
"Salvation Offered. A missionary sat in the midst of a little circle of South Sea Islanders. He read to them the third chapter of John's Gospel. Presently he came to the verse, 'God so loved the world,' etc. One of his hearers started from his seat and exclaimed: 'What sounds were those I heard?' The missionary repeated the verse. The native again rose up from his seat, and earnestly asked his instructor: 'Is that true? Can it be true that God so loved the world? God's own Son came to die that man might not die? Is it true?' The missionary assured him that it was the very message he had come so far to deliver, and that they were happy who would receive it. The man burst into tears, and turned from the little company into the bushes to think alone over the wonderful news."
God's Wonderful Love Story
John 3:16 ; 1 John 4:7-19
We wish to give our whole attention today to one verse of Scripture. It stands before us as an unfathomable river of blessing. Some one has called John 3:16 "the Gospel in a nutshell."
Let us notice for our first statement The Great Lover.
Who is it that so loves the world? It is God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, the Divine Trinity loves us, and yet John 3:16 is speaking particularly of the love of the Father because the verse says "God so loved * * that He gave His * * SON." Let us then think of God, the Lover, for a few moments.
1. The common conception of God. To the carnal mind, God is often a tyrant who is driving men to hell. The heathen spend much of their time trying to propitiate an angry God. The medicine men and the dancers of wild tribes all imagine that God is a God of terror. We have read of as many as thirty-six thousand babes who have been ruthlessly murdered in order to appease the imaginary wrath of the Almighty.
In India the babes are thrown into the Ganges with the same argument. Even in a so-called Christian country, and sometimes in pulpits, God is described as a God of wrath, while His Son, Christ, is pictured as seeking to placate His anger, and to induce Him to love sinful men. Not for one moment would we overlook the fact of "the wrath of God" being "revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men." However, by the side of this we would place the God of love, who was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
Even in John 3:16 there is a vision of the wrath of God in the word, perish. However, the verse, as a whole, is love superabounding over wrath. It is love finding the way out, and showing how God can be just and yet the Justifier of those who believe.
2. God's part in redemption. God knew that man would sin, and therefore before He created him, He gave Jesus Christ to die for sin. The Bible says that Christ was "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." He was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." God the Father is the great Lover of men. While He is a holy God, and cannot receive into His presence the unclean; while He is a just God, and cannot justify the guilty, yet He planned redemption in such a way that He could satisfy the righteous demands of the Law, uphold the honor of His justice, and save the lost. In all of this, one thing is seen, and that is our next point.
3. God, the Lover of men. As we think of the Almighty, the Creator, the Provider of the human race, we think of Him with a love that absolutely surpasses knowledge. It is in the Book of Titus that we find these words, "But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared * * according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour." In this Scripture the Father and the Son are spoken of as our Saviour. We think of Jesus loving us, and He did, but God loved us supremely.
I. "GOD SO LOVED," OR THE DEPTH OF HIS LOVE (John 3:16 )
"So" is the biggest little word in the Bible. Included in the word "so" are all of the agonies of the Cross, and all of the riches of God's grace; in the gift of His Son, are all the depths, the heights, the breadths, and lengths of grace.
In Ephesians 3:18-19 Paul is praying for the saints that they may "comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." Did you ever try to fathom an unfathomable depth? Did you ever try to know the unknowable? That is just what Paul prayed we might do. After his prayer he said, "Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto Him be glory."
How the little word "so" remains with us. We revel in its beauty. The love of God is a love that knows no end. It is a love that never fails. It is a love that loves unto the end. Many waters cannot quench His love. Neither can the floods drown it. This should all be true of our love to Him. It is certainly true of His love to us. "Having loved His own * * He loved them unto the end." To know Him is to love Him, because our love is born of His love. We love Him because He first loved us. Because of His love, we ought also to love one another.
O what love now enraptures my soul,
O what grace doth my spirit control;
For the Saviour is mine, and His love-light doth shine;
And the billows of joy o'er me roll.
O My Saviour is more than a friend,
And His love knows no change to the end;
'Neath the smile of His face, and the wealth of His grace,
All the beauties of Heaven do blend.
II. THE WORLD THE OBJECT OF HIS LOVE
It is easy for us who are saved to want to monopolize God's love. That God loved us, we know. That we love Him, we know. However, the love of John 3:16 is His own all-inclusive love. It is His love to all of the world.
1. God's love to Israel set forth. In the Old Testament we read concerning Israel these words: "[He] did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; * * but because the Lord loved you." Here is a gripping statement, God did not love Israel because of what Israel was numerically, nor in any other way. He loved them because He loved them. There is something about the love of God that is indescribable and incomprehensible. When God tried to tell His people why He loved them He simply said because He loved them. Call "because" a woman's reason, if you want to, but here it is God's reason.
2. God's love to the Church set forth. Christ loved the Church, and bought it with His Blood. "For we know the love which God hath toward us." In our Scripture for today there is much of the love of God toward His own. God loves, because God is love. God manifested His love toward us.
3. God's love to the world set forth. In Romans 5:8 is this statement. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." In Revelation 1:5 is a verse that is, perhaps, still more striking: "Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His Own Blood." That is, God loved us before He washed us.
He loved me when, a sinner,
I trampled on His love,
He loved me still, though straying,
I spurned His Home above;
And still He loved; and loving,
For me He bled and died,
Then loving on and wooing,
He drew me to His side.
III. HE GAVE HIS SON THE GIFT OF HIS LOVE
When we speak of the supreme Lover, we delight in speaking of the manifestations of His love, of the gift of His love, and of how He proves His love to us.
1. He loved us and gave all things richly to enjoy. When God created the Heavens and the earth, He commanded the earth to bring forth fruit. When God filled the earth with beasts and birds, fish and creeping things, in all of this He was working for man. He was storing the earth, and even the air with everything which man would need, and He saw that it was good.
2. He loved and gave us the Word. What a marvelous gift it is, God's love letter is God's revelation of things to come, God's expression of His heart toward men.
3. He loved and gave us the Holy Ghost. In Luke 11:1-54 we read, "If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" What a gift is the Paraclete!
4. He loved and gave us His Son. He gave Him as a teacher. He gave Him as a healer. Jesus went about doing good. All of this was the gift of God. The supreme gift of the Son, however, was that He gave the Son to be our Sin-bearer. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins."
IV. "WHOSOEVER" THE EXTENT OF HIS LOVE
There is one great joy, and that is that the love of God is all-inclusive. Rich and poor, peer and pauper, good and bad all come under the word, "whosoever."
An old blacksmith was trying to read John 3:16 . When he came to the word, "whosoever," his knowledge of letters was too circumscribed. He could not make the word out. He read, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that * *," and then he desired so much to know the next word. He laid his book aside awaiting the return of his daughter from school. He put his finger on the word, when she came in, and said, "What is this, daughter?" She said, "It is 'whosoever,' and it means me, or you, or anybody else." He clapped his finger down on the word as though it might get away, and said, "Thank God, that means me!"
1. Whosoever signifies that Christ tasted death for every man. No man is lost because there was no provision for his being found. No man is lost because his sins knew no atonement, Christ died for all.
2. Whosoever means that God sent His messengers to every man. The command was, "Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." None are excluded.
"None are excluded thence
But those who do themselves exclude;
Welcome the learned, the polite,
The ignorant, the rude."
3. Whosoever includes every son of Adam. It is an all-embracing word. It is not a question of whether you are invited, it is a question of whether you want to believe. Sin and shame, in Him will find a Saviour who can save to the uttermost.
V. BELIEVING IN HIM, OR THE RECEPTION OF HIS LOVE
1. There are some who spurn God's love as manifested in Christ. Isaiah 53:1-12 must stand before us as an exponent, not alone of God's saving grace, but of man's sinfulness of heart. Isaiah 53:3 says, "We hid as it were our faces from Him; * * we esteemed Him not. * * We did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. * * We have turned every one to his own way." Oh, how vile is the heart that rejects the Son of God! If men in their sin were rejecting an enemy, it would be different.
In the second chapter of Romans there is a statement like this: "Not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." The man who despiseth God, despises the riches of His goodness, of His forbearance, and of His long-suffering.
2. Those who accept His love. Not all spurn it. In Acts it is told how "some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not." To believe in Him, is to turn to Him. We believe it was Robert L. Stevenson who wrote, "Oh, my friend, teach me to be thine."
The story is told how when Caesar saw Brutus, his own familiar friend, come to him with a dagger, it quite vanquished him. How can we help but love Christ? How can we refrain from believing Him? "We love Him, because He first loved us."
VI. "SHOULD NOT PERISH" THE ASSURANCE OF HIS LOVE
1. Men are under Satan's power. Jesus Christ came to open the prison bars, and to set the captive free. This was God's gift, and He does not want men to remain trapped by the devil.
2. Men are sin-driven. There are not only dangers from without, which engulf sinners, but there is the power of the flesh within, the sinful self that holds men captive. God loved us, and gave Christ to deliver us so that we should not perish under the reign of self.
3. Men are hell-bound. The wicked shall be cast into hell, and all nations that forget God. God loved us and gave Jesus Christ, His Son, that we might not perish, and become engulfed in the powers and darkness of the pit.
We delight in that wonderful story of the Good Shepherd who went out after the sheep which was lost. He stayed out until he found it, and when he found it he put it upon his shoulders, and brought it home rejoicing. When we think of the love of God in Christ, we think of a love that will not let us perish, that will not let us go.
"O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give Thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be."
Let us close with that wonderful statement which was written by the Holy Ghost, "I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." This is the love of God which assures us that we will never perish.
VII. "EVERLASTING LIFE," OR THE CLIMAX OF HIS LOVE
How unfathomable is the word, "everlasting." Some one has suggested that eternity might be described by a bird which carried the grains from every seashore to some distant planet, and this one grain each year until all was gone, and then eternity would just have begun. This life is everlasting.
1. There is included the city of gold, the new Jerusalem, the new heavens, and the new earth. These will be the abode of the saints forevermore. We shall dwell where sin and sorrow, sighing and sickness, penury and pain, can never enter. We shall dwell in the city of light. We shall walk in the Garden of God, and eat of the fruit of the tree of life, of the tree which bears twelve manner of fruit. We shall pass down by the river of the water of life, clear as crystal.
2. There is included the reunion of the saints. This is for all those who are in Christ, they shall live forever together, knowing as they are known forevermore. From the east, and from the west; from the north and from the south, they will come, and sit down together in the Kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and with the redeemed.
3. There is included God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. No more of separation; no more of isolation, but eternal fellowship.
Love is Heaven's great gift. God's love in its endurance is well illustrated by a mother's love.
The end came happily to Mrs. Ellen Brown because the son for whom she had waited and watched for ten years was at her side. Today he followed her to the grave.
Everybody in Newburgh knew the sad-faced little woman who had haunted railroad stations and boat landings for a decade. Often she went across to Fishkill to watch the arrival of the New York Central trains.
"I am waiting for my son," she told those who questioned her. "He will come back to me some day,"
Richard Brown was only seventeen when he left his home. His mother never heard from him.
A month ago Mrs. Brown became grievously ill and was taken to St. Luke's Hospital. The doctors knew that she would not leave it alive. Each morning she asked whether there was news from her son. They knew that it was the longing to see him that kept her alive.
A week ago Richard Brown returned to Newburgh. He went to the hospital. There was no surprise in the little mother's face, but only a great joy.
From that time she failed rapidly. She died with her boy's hand in hers, with peace and happiness in her heart.
J. W. C.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on John 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12