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(034) The Gospel of John VI: The End of Religion

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The Gospel of John VI:

The End of Religion

John 3:1-21

June 15, 2008


·         Newbigin

·         Passover in “Encountering”

·         Phil sermon: eternal life now, BW: Hell


·         Happy Father’s Day, but not preaching on Fatherhood this year.

Pete P.: When making cards, easily remembered dads smiling but struggled to remember the last time they saw their dad laughing:

Remind the dads to smile and laugh with their kids.  One of our roles as fathers is to teach values and priorities to our children.  I, for one, am guilty of allowing life's responsibilities to divert me from modeling for our children my expression of the joys of life.”  

As fathers, we teach our children far more than we know without speaking, but the most important lesson is also the core of today’s sermon: Overwhelming and unconditional love.

·         Even more than Mother’s Day, this can be a painful day.

·         Many of my points may be easy to internalize if you were loved well, hard if you were not.


Thank you for the fathers of this church who are dedicated to loving their kids and teaching your ways as best they can.

·         Thank you that we are not alone, you help us, and we have a community to help each other.

·         Help those who hurt today.

Finally, thank you for your inexhaustible love. Help us see in today’s passage and see that in striving to grow, we are never reaching for your arms of love, but responding to your love.

The context

Today, we study the most famous verse in the Bible: John 3:16. As powerful as this verse is in its own right, it does not stand alone, but is part of a much larger and rich context.

In order to understand today’s passage, we have to go back to the previous passage, when Jesus clears the temple:

·         Turn to 2:13, and don’t forget to bring your own Bibles.

When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  14 In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money.  15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  16 To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!"  17 His disciples remembered that it is written: "Zeal for your house will consume me." John 2:13-17 NIV  

·         This story is found in all four Gospels, but with some very important difference in John:

BTW: If you want to seriously study the Bible, you have to be okay with some ambiguity. John shapes his narrative to demonstrate deep truths, without our penchant for precision.

1. Occurs at beginning of ministry, not end: Sets the agenda.

2. Jesus does not call it a “Den of thieves.”

·         In John, it is not dishonest trading that seems to be the problem; it is the very trading itself.

I think this is reference to a prophecy that told of future time when Jews and Gentiles alike would worship God and there would be no distinction between holy and secular items, indicating a radical change in the temple system.

And there shall no longer be traders in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. Zechariah 14:21 NIV

The end of religion

Likewise, only here does Jesus drives out the animals as well as the traders. The animals were not wrong; rather they were a vital part of the temple and sacrificial system.

·         Jesus is not condemning dishonest religious practices, he is condemning the entire religious system.

If religion is seen as man trying to reach God through his own efforts, then Jesus is doing nothing less than heralding the beginning of the end of religion

·         God is now reaching out to us.

18 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?"

They understood what a bold claim Jesus was making, so must be demonstrated by miracles. This is the only occurs in John.

 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days."  20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?"  21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. John 2:18-22 NIV

Also only in John’s version do the disciples come to understand all this after Jesus death and resurrection:

Jesus was replacing the temple and this cleansing was not a rejection of the dishonest practices but of the very sacrificial system that he was replacing with himself.

Shown, now taught

Ä  Now in our passage today, Jesus teaches, though a conversation, what he demonstrated in the temple.

John 3:1-21  ¶ Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council.  2 He came to Jesus at night and said, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him."

He is a “teacher of Israel,” a respected, fundamentalist theologian, and he comes to Jesus as one teacher to another.

·         “At night” may be discretion, or wanting uninterrupted time.

Nicodemus is very interested (note the importance of “signs”), but he needs to know more. He has a huge stake in the system, so he is not willing change flippantly. It would be like Bush becoming a Democrat.

 3 In reply Jesus declared, "I tell you the truth,

“I tell you the truth”: Lit, “Amen, amen,” a strong affirmation of what has been said. It is only used to affirm something said by someone else, making Jesus self-application startling.

no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." 

Jesus doesn’t respond to Nic’s statement. To put it in terms that would match how Nic, he is basically saying, “Let’s cut the crap and get down to brass tacks – you are going to hell.”

·         Nic would have started chocking on his fig latte.

The Kingdom of God was basically their concept of heaven, but on earth, and it was for the Jew and the righteous. And Jesus is saying that Nic wasn’t “in.”

BTW: What is remarkable is the variety of ways that Jesus speaks to different people: Compassion to some, rebuke to others, and antagonism to others.

4 "How can a man be born when he is old?" Nicodemus asked. "Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb to be born!"

Nic recovers from the coronary he just had and basically says “That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard!”

It’s not that he hadn’t heard of “born again,” Gentile converts to Judaism were called “newborns.” But it was inconceivable that a Jew would had convert to see the Kingdom of God.

·         Jesus is saying the first birth, as a Jew, won’t get you in.

·         This is just as startling as rejecting the sacrifices.

 5 Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.  6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.

It is impossible to advance from one realm to another. They are completely different universes.

Today, the notion that personal righteousness is insufficient is still startling. There’s is nothing we can do, we need God.

For ages, we tried and failed. Nothing that comes from our own effort will get us there. Things of this earth (flesh) can never transform into thing of the spirit.

In the OT, we have a telling account of man trying to reach God by physical means: the Tower of Babel. The lesson is that all of our attempts at religion, at reaching God are doomed to fail, because he is out of our grasp.

·         The Voice of Choices: Honest attempts to pursue spirituality.

Because they are rooted in flesh, and earthly attempts to understand what we cannot understand, they will always end in confusion.

·         That magazine was another tower of Babel, confusing and contradictory.

BTW: It is Christianity’s claim of exclusivity that gives it strength. If everyone worships the same god, what hope do we have of ever knowing what God is like, as these gods are so contradictory? We can only know him by revelation.

 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.'  8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

To describe the reality of God’s spiritual realm, Jesus describes the wind. We can have some pretty powerful winds here. There is no denying existence and it power, even if we cannot see it nor control it.

·         It is mysterious and undeniable.

9 "How can this be?" Nicodemus asked. 10 "You are Israel's teacher," said Jesus, "and do you not understand these things?  11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.  12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?

Ol’ Nic is badly out classed, like a college freshman trying to Nobel prize winner. In his arrogance, he may think that he can keep up, but he’s going to fall short pretty quick. 

·         In all fairness, he is talking to God.

 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-- the Son of Man.  14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

This is a reference to a story in Numbers. They had to look upon a snake to be healed. It was an act of faith, and didn’t make sense. This is a double reference, also speaking of his death.

Ä  John explains. Greek doesn’t have quotation marks

 16 ¶ "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

·         World’s most famous verse, but can become routine.

Elsewhere, John says that not only does God love, but he “is love.” This love is not a warm fuzzies love, which is not love at all, but chemicals. Very nice and enjoyable chemicals, but chemicals none the less.

This love is a love of action. God demonstrated his love by reaching out to the unlovely and unlovable. We know that he is love not because of some philosophical musings, but because of a historical event of God becoming flesh and dying for us.

What is so powerful about this is that every other religion of the day was based around keeping the gods happy. “The Gods Are Not Angry.” God’s desire is life for the world, not destruction.

·         Jesus came to end religion and be the temple.

 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Contrary to what the Jews were expecting, the Messiah was not coming to kick the Roman’s butts (condemn them), but to save them. “The world” means people who are not following God.

·         Jesus’ reason for coming was to bring life not condemnation.

 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.

Condemned: Under God’s wrath, being an enemy of God. Our natural state is sinful and self-centered, in defiance of our creator.

Ä  If God does love the world, and does not delight in the death of the wicked, why is anyone condemned at all? John answers:

 19 This is the verdict:

Literally: “this is the judgment,” meaning, this is how the judgment works.

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 

Condemnation still must exist, even though God loves us, because many humans choose dark over light.

Hell: yes or no?

I believe that hell is God’s ultimate tribute to his gift of free will. Calvinist friends would disagree with me, but if God love us, as is clear, the only reason God would condemn us is if we choose it by rejecting him. We choose it our evil deeds.

·         Lewis: My will or thy will.

What about those who never have never heard of Jesus? Many would disagree, but we do not know. They are in God’s hands. We know that some will go to heaven who never heard of Jesus, such as OT saints or babies.

·         But this is irrelevant to us: If you can ask the question then you know enough to embrace or reject Jesus.

 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.

We choose darkness because we like doing wrong. It’s fun until it comes time to pay the bill, which is when we realize it never was fun and why God forbid it.

·         Darkness lets measure ourselves against others and think that we are okay.

·         In the light of God’s holiness, we realize how short we fall.

21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."

Time and time again, Jesus polarized, moving people in one of two directions: to him or away from him. And today he still has that effect.

·         Before the light, people are drawn closer to it or move away.

The risk

Coming into the light is risky. Admitting our failures, laying our soul bare, and surrendering ourselves to God is not easy. In our own nature, we would rather die than do these things.

Q   What gives us the courage and strength to do that?

1) Knowing our desperate need, 2) knowing that we cannot do it for ourselves, and 3) Knowing his love for us, knowing that his desire is for our best.

·         A root canal is preferable to a mugging even though they both have the same effect on your head and wallet.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

[Set up and read story]

·         We cannot do it ourselves. Religion is USELESS.


Ä  There is a danger of hearing all of this and thinking it applies only to non-Christians.

Eternal life is far more than going to heaven; it begins here with freedom from our sin and the sin of others. Salvation is not just a one-time event, but a life-time journey.

There are three key reminders to even lifelong believers:

1. Jesus has destroyed religion. We no long reach God, he has reached us. We know this, yet we often fail to live it.

2. Not Christian by birth – no grandkids.

3. Coming into the light is a lifelong process [Final Voyage paragraph].



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