Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 October 23, 2016
“God’s Promise: Eternal Life”
Text: John 3:14-17
Think for a moment of the number, preciousness, and certainty of God’s promises. With all of this in mind, how right we are to revel in God’s promises—and, by extension, how right we are to worship our promise-keeping God. After all, no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes,” and, “Amen,” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). Peter, as he responded to folks under conviction at his first sermon, noted, “For the promise is to you, and your children, and to those far off—as many as the Lord our God may call” (Acts 2:39). We do need to know (or know more, or recall), however, what those promises are—and how to understand them aright. We begin today with God’s promise of eternal life to those who are in Christ Jesus through faith in Him. Let us give ear to God Himself as He speaks to us in His Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Our text today occurs within the context of a night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus has interest in Jesus, but because he is a ruler of the Jews, he cannot show his interest openly. Hence, he comes by night—and he comes praising Jesus. Jesus, after accepting Nicodemus’s praise, teaches him about the new birth. Nicodemus, despite his best effort, fails to understand, and Jesus, after gently upbraiding Nicodemus for his failure to understand, continues to teach. Eventually Jesus reaches today’s text, a text containing what Martin Luther called the Gospel in miniature, John 3:16. With the context now noted, let us proceed to the exposition of today’s text.
In John 3:14, Jesus begins at a place that Nicodemus should know—Numbers 21:4-9. There God’s Old Testament Church, wandering in the desert wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, grumbled against His providence and His servant Moses—and this not for the first time, to say the least. God, in responds, issues forth temporal judgment; in this case, He sends fiery serpents among His people, whose bite leads to death, and many in fact die. The remaining people of God then cry out to Him in repentance, and God’s remedy, upon the repentance of His covenant people, in answer to Moses’ prayer, is to have Moses fashion a fiery serpent and place it upon a pole. Then every one bitten, when looking to the serpent upon a pole, shall live.
This account typifies Jesus, as He now shows Nicodemus and us. The Son of Man, Jesus’ self-reference, must be lifted up as was the bronze serpent in the desert that day. This lifting up refers to Jesus’ upcoming atoning death by crucifixion—as He notes elsewhere, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself” (John 12:32). The Apostle John, led by the Spirit, writes for our information, “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die” (John 12:33). Yet this humiliation, paradoxically, will result in nothing less than Jesus’ total exaltation (Philippians 2:9-11, see 2:5-11 for fuller context). Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord—to the glory of God the Father. This unbridled praise comes on the heels of Jesus’ self-emptying, atoning death.
The motive for this incredible self-emptying act is God’s love. We sometimes forget that God indeed loves the world. In fact, He is love itself (1 John 4:8). Who (or what) is the world to which John here refers? It is true that the word world, as used by John, has different nuances in different passages—and sometimes it carries two or more nuances in a single place. In this place the world refers to people from every tribe, language, et al. (Revelation 7:9), yet who are indifferent and hostile to Jesus before meeting Him savingly through the Spirit’s work. It is the world, in the foregoing sense, that God loves so much.
To this world, God sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:10). God sent His Son an atoning sacrifice for these necessary purposes: Jesus’ death satisfies divine honor and justice, appeases holy wrath, and reconciles redeemed sinners to their holy God. Here is another purpose that crowns all the others: Jesus’ atoning death displays the amazing, unfathomable love of God toward us. The Apostle Paul, writing to the Roman Christian households, expresses it well, “But God commendeth His love to us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Now we finally arrive at the promise in today’s text. Whoever trusts Christ as Savior and Lord has a twofold promise. First, he shall not perish. He shall not taste of eternal separation from God in that place reserved for the devil and his host. Though his body shall die and see corruption, yet his soul shall immediately, at physical death, continue on in the place that God prepares for him. Second, he shall have eternal life. His life is eternal in scope; that is, it never ends. The phrase eternal life also connotes a qualitative dimension. Jesus calls it, depending upon your translation, abundant life or life to the full (John 10:10). Though the evil one, the thief, comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, Jesus has come that we may have life—and that we may have it more abundantly. What a precious promise we have here from God—and how unfailingly He will work it for each and all of His own in His own good time.
Our text concludes with the succinct statement that God sent His Son not to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Alas, condemnation comes to the one who persists in rejecting Christ to the end of earthly life. Yet condemnation is a by-product of rejecting Jesus. Salvation is the promise for receiving Jesus—and this is why God sent His Son.
Recall again the twofold promise from God, in His Word, to the one embracing Christ Jesus as Savior and Lord—even the likes of us. He or she shall not perish, but he or she shall have eternal life. This changes everything. In place of fear and insecurity, we now have humble, joyous confidence for living—both now and forever. In place of seeing our trials amiss (either in scope or purpose), we see them in proper perspective. They will not last forever, and God uses them to work good in and through us. In place of prizing what this world prizes as much as the world prizes what it does, we see the things of this world in proper perspective. In place of hopelessness and despair, we represent Jesus, the one sure ground of hope, gladly to Church and to world. Therefore, receive, or continue to embrace, Christ as Savior and Lord—and revel in the promise of everlasting abundant life in and with Him.
 This is true of many words in John’s Gospel; light, darkness, night, and overcome/understood come immediately to mind.