August 10, 2008
This is the second message of four on John 3:16. The first was last week when I spoke on the first of the four D’s – Danger, the danger of perishing and the warning found in John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have everlasting life. Today I’ll speak on the second D which is God’s design found in this foundational verse which Max Lucado calls the HOPE diamond of the Bible.
But, let’s begin again with Experiencing God Day-by Day:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”—John 14:6
If you are walking daily with the Lord, you will not have to find God's will—you will already be in it. If you are walking with Him in obedience day by day, you will always be in the will of God. The Holy Spirit's role is to guide you step by step to do God's will. Walking closely with God each day guarantees that you will be exactly where He wants you to be. You would have to reject all of the Holy Spirit's activity in your life in order to get out of the will of God.
The disciples never had to ask Jesus where they should go next. They simply looked to see where Jesus was going and stayed close to Him! Jesus was their “way.” They didn't need a map as long as they had Jesus. Too often, we would prefer a road map of our future rather than a relationship with the Way. It often seems easier to follow a plan than to cultivate a relationship. We can become more concerned with our future than we are with walking intimately with God today.
Jesus will never give you a substitute for Himself. He is the only way to the Father. That's why it is critical that you clearly know when God is speaking to you As Isaiah. 30:21 states, Your ears will hear a word behind you, "This is the way, walk in it," whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
If you are disoriented to how God speaks, you will not understand when He is giving you a new revelation about what He is doing. If you want to know God's will, take time to cultivate your relationship with Jesus and learn to identify His voice. He is more than willing to show you the way.
In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby has quite a lot to say about God speaking to His people. For those of you who have been working through this study, this will ring a bell. In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby says, If anything is clear from a reading of the Bible, this fact is clear: God speaks to His people. He spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in Genesis. He spoke to Abraham and the other patriarchs. God spoke to the judges, kings, and prophets. God was in Christ Jesus speaking to the disciples. God spoke to the early church, and God spoke to John on the Isle of Patmos in Revelation. God does speak to His people, and you can anticipate that He will be speaking to you also.
Years ago I spoke to a group of young pastors. When I finished the first session, a pastor took me aside and said, “I vowed to God I would never, ever again listen to a man like you. You talk as though God is personal and real and talks to you. I just despise that.”
I asked him, “Are you having difficulty having God speak to you?” He and I took time to talk. Before long, we were on our knees. He was weeping and thanking God that God had spoken to him. Oh, don’t let anyone intimidate you about hearing from God.
One critical point to understanding and experiencing God is knowing clearly when God is speaking. If the Christian does not know when God is speaking, he is in trouble at the heart of his Christian life! God speaks by the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways. God speaks through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church or other believers. Read some of what the Bible says about God speaking to His people.
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son. (Heb 1:1)
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” (Jn 14:26)
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (Jn 16:13–14)
“He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” (Jn 8:47)
In the Old Testament God spoke at many times and in a variety of ways. He spoke through:
• angels (Ge 16)
• visions (Ge 15)
• dreams (Ge 28:10–19)
• the use of the Urim and Thummim (Ex 28:30)
• symbolic actions (Je 18:1–10)
• a gentle whisper (1Ki 19:12)
• miraculous signs (Ex 8:20–25)
• and others
That God spoke to people is far more important than how He spoke. When He spoke, the person knew God was speaking; and he knew what God was saying. I see four important factors each time God spoke in the Old Testament. The burning bush experience of Moses in Exodus 3 is an example.
When God spoke, it was usually unique to that individual. For instance, Moses had no precedent for a burning bush experience. He could not say, “Oh, this is my burning bush experience. My fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had theirs, and this is mine.” There were no other experiences of God speaking this way. It was unique. God wants our experience with Him, and His voice, to be personal to us. He wants us to look to Him in a relationship rather than depend on some method or technique. The key is not how God spoke, but that He spoke. That has not changed. He will speak to His people today, and how He speaks will not be nearly as important as the fact that He does speak.
When God spoke, the person was sure God was speaking. Because God spoke to Moses in a unique way, Moses had to be certain it was God. The Scripture testifies that Moses had no question that his encounter was with God—The “I AM WHO I AM” (Ex 3:14). He trusted God, obeyed Him, and experienced God responding just as He said He would. Could Moses logically prove to someone else that he had heard from God through a burning bush? No, all Moses could do was testify to his encounter with God. Only God could cause His people to know that the word He gave Moses was a word from the God of their fathers.
When someone like Gideon lacked assurance, God was very gracious to reveal Himself even more clearly. When Gideon first asked for a sign, he prepared a sacrifice. “Then the Angel of the LORD put out the end of the staff that was in His hand and touched the meat and the unleavened bread; and fire rose out of the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened bread. And the Angel of the LORD departed out of his sight. Now Gideon perceived that He was the Angel of the LORD. So Gideon said, ‘Alas, O Lord GOD! For I have seen the Angel of the LORD face to face!’” (Jdg 6:21–22). Gideon was sure that God had spoken.
When God spoke, the person knew what God said. Moses knew what God was telling him to do. He knew how God wanted to work through him. That is why Moses raised so many objections. He knew exactly what God was expecting. This was true for Moses; and it was true for Noah, Abraham, Joseph, David, Daniel, and others. God did not use riddles. He made His message clear.
When God spoke, that was the encounter with God. Moses would have been foolish to say, “This has been a wonderful experience with this burning bush. I hope this leads me to an encounter with God!” That was the encounter with God! When God reveals truth to you, by whatever means, that is an encounter with God. That is an experience of His presence and work in your life. God is the only One who can cause you to experience His presence or hear His voice.
This pattern of God’s speaking is found throughout the Old Testament. The method He used to speak differed from person to person. What is important is:
• God uniquely spoke to His people.
• They knew it was God.
• They knew what He said.
When God speaks to you by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church, you will know it is God; and you will know what He is saying. When God speaks to you, that is an encounter with God.
God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the
Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church
to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
The testimony of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is that God speaks to His people. In our day, God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. He uses the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church (other believers). No one of these methods of God’s speaking is, by itself, a clear indicator of God’s directions. But when God says the same thing through each of these ways, you can have confidence to proceed.
God is going to be revealing Himself so you can trust Him and have faith in Him. He is going to reveal His purposes so you will be involved in His work rather than some other work. He reveals His ways so you can accomplish His purposes in a way that will glorify Him. God’s ways are not our ways. You cannot discover these truths about God on your own. Truth is revealed.
For God so loved the world
That he gave his only begotten Son
that whoever believes in him
should not perish
but have everlasting life.
These words of Jesus speak of four great realities in life. Each begins with "D" to help us remember.
1. The danger we all face: perishing under the wrath of God because of our sin (3:36).
2. The design of God to rescue us from this danger: his love which sends the Son to lay down his life (10:18; 15:13), and take away the sin of the world (1:29).
3. The duty of man in response: believing on the Son of God.
4. The destiny promised to all who believe: eternal life.
Last week we talked about the danger of perishing under the wrath of God. This week we ponder the design of God to rescue us from perishing: the design of the love of God to rescue us from the wrath of God. In John 3:36 Jesus says: "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
One of the steps in coming to embrace something as true is a serious, focused consideration of what that truth. That's what I want us to do this morning under this heading of God's design of love. Pray with me that, as I simply direct the focus of your mind to these things, God would confirm the reality of what you hear—that he would give you spiritual taste buds to perceive and apprehend the true value of these things. We'll focus on four great truths. The first is
There Is a God
The verse begins "For God . . . "
Jesus teaches us that there is a God. That God exists. Jesus is absolutely saturated with his consciousness of God. Everything he says relates to God. Everything he does relates to God. He is a God-entranced human being.
There are many reasons—good reasons—for believing in God. One of the best is that Jesus taught us that God exists and that he is the central reality in a life. If someone says, "Why do you believe in God?" you can say, "I believe in God because Jesus believed in God, and all that I know of Jesus makes me trust him more than I trust any philosopher or any scientist or any theologian or any friend I have ever known or read about." Then you can ask them, "Do you know anyone more trustworthy or better qualified to teach us about the existence of God than Jesus?"
We begin with God. Don't rush over this lightly. Pause in your life, and say to yourself. There is God. The world began with God. The world depends on God. I am a person with a conscience and a sense of justice and the capacity to contemplate spiritual things, and speak in sentences, and to love—all because I am created in the image of God. He was there first. And he made me like himself and for himself—that he might be known through me (Isaiah 43:7). The meaning of my life is knowing and showing God. (Is 43:10). Let’s read these verses now. If you have your Bible turn to Isaiah, chapter 43 and we’ll read verses 7 and 10: Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made." "You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.
The second truth found in John 3:16 is that God Has a Son
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . . "
Now this is a stunning reality. Jesus teaches us that God has one only begotten Son. For Muslims this sounds like blasphemy. They say it means that God must have had sex with an angel, or with a woman.
It is a startling thing to believe with Jesus that God has a Son — a one and only begotten Son. So focus on this for a moment. Don't fly over it because it's so commonplace. It is amazing and wonderful and mind-boggling—and O so crucial for our salvation from perishing.
In calling the Son of God "only begotten" Jesus means to distinguish the only begotten Son of God from sons who are made or adopted as sons. The angels are called "sons of God" (Job 1:6), and we Christians are called "sons of God" (Romans 8:14–16). Angels are "sons of God" by virtue of being directly created by God; and Christians are "sons of God" by virtue of being adopted into his family through our being joined to Christ by the Holy Spirit.
But the "one and only begotten Son" is not a Son by creation or by adoption, but by begetting. And begetting is simply a human analogy for what is beyond our comprehension. But it carries a crucial truth, as C.S. Lewis said: "Rabbits beget rabbits; horses beget horses; humans beget humans, not statues or portraits; and God begets God — not humans and not angels."
God's only begotten Son is God. And there never was a time when God had not begotten his Son. Because the begetting of the Son is equally eternal with the existence of God the Father. The standing forth of the Son as a perfect, personal image and representation and equal of the Father so that they exist as two persons with one divine essence is simply what it means to be God. This is the way God has existed from all eternity, without beginning. This is the point of John 1:1, 14, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
In other words, the Word, Jesus, is the only begotten Son, and co-eternal with the Father.
There is God. And God has a one and only begotten Son.
Truth 3, God Loves
"For God so loved . . . "
Jesus teaches us that the God who exists loves. Let that sink in. He loves. He loves. Of all the things you might say about God, be sure to say this. He loves. The writer of this gospel says in 1 John 4:8, "God is love." Which I take to mean at least this: giving what's good and serving the benefit of others is closer to the essence of God than getting and being served. God loves. God is love. I often wonder how evolutionists explain how love evolved out of the primordial ooze?
Now Jesus tells us more specifically what he means by love in John 3:16. "For God so loved . . . " The "so" here doesn't mean an amount of love but a way of loving. He doesn't mean: God loved so much, but God loved this way. "God so loved" means "God thus loved."
How? What is the way God loved? He loved such "that he gave his only begotten Son." And we know that this giving was a giving up to rejection and death. "He came to his own and his own received him not" (1:11). Instead they killed him. And Jesus said of all this, "I glorified you [Father] on the earth, having accomplished the work which you gave me to do" (John 17:4). So when the Father gave his only begotten Son, he gave him to die.
That's the kind of love the Father has. It is a giving love. It is a sacrificial love. He gives his most precious treasure—his Son. We need to meditate on that. It was a very costly love. A very powerful love. A very rugged, painful love. The meaning of Christmas is the celebration of this love. "For God so loved . . . "
Now, truth 4, God Loves the World
And the fourth focus this morning is that God gives this costly love to an undeserving world of sinners.
"For God so loved the world . . . "
The manner of his love is not merely seen in the infinite value of what he gives—his only begotten Son—but in the rebelliousness of whom he gives him for.
Perchance for a good man one might dare to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7–8)
Just before John 3:16 Jesus compares his own coming with what happened in the day of Moses when the people rebelled against God and said they were sick of manna. The result of this sin was a plague of serpents all through the camp, people dying everywhere.
When Moses prayed for the people, Numbers 21:8 says,
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live."
So God's design of love to rescue the rebellious people from perishing was to lift up a serpent on a pole so that all the people had to do was look at it in faith and be saved.
Then Jesus says in John 3:14–15,
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
When John 3:16 says, "God so loved the world that he gave . . . ," it means he gave his one and only begotten Son to a world of rebels, serpent bitten, sinful, perishing—and him their only hope. God loved this world.
1. There is a God.
2. He has a Son.
3. He loves.
4. And he loves the world.
And the upshot of that for us this morning is powerfully in the word "whoever." "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes . . . " God means for his Son to be lifted up before the world of sinners—all sinners, all kinds of sinners, all degrees of sinners—the way the serpent was lifted up on the pole, because he loves the world.
You say, "I have carried the poison of the serpent of sin in my life for a long, long time." Yes, God knows that. He is God. He knows everything about you. You are in worse shape in his eyes than you are in your own. But that didn't stop him. In fact it is precisely the measure of our unworthiness that makes the love of God reach for his Son as the only adequate sacrifice.
Do not look at yourself this morning. Look to the Son. And to the love of God. And to the promise that whoever believes will never perish but have eternal life. That is His design of love.
Look to Jesus
When Charles Spurgeon, the great London preacher from the last century, was 16 years old and unconverted, he happened into a small Methodist Chapel with 15 people in a snowstorm. The preacher was a layman. He took his text from Isaiah 45:22, "Look to me and be saved all the ends of the earth." At one point he looked right at the boy and said, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look. Look. Look"
Spurgeon said, “I saw at once the way of salvation . . . Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, Look! what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun.”
I say the same to you this morning. Look to Jesus. Believe on Jesus. And you will not perish. That is God’s design of love.