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Sun, Sep 16, 2018

Jesus' Message of Salvation

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Duration:23 mins 28 secs

 

The gospel message of Jesus Christ is a story of hope, for by it we may be saved and assured of a heavenly home throughout eternity.  And the gospel message of Jesus is a story of sacrifice, because Jesus willingly and selflessly gave himself for the benefit of others—including you and me.  But mostly, the gospel message of Jesus Christ is a story of love—God's love for all mankind!

"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." (Jn. 3:16).  

This concept of a loving God—one who gives of himself, as opposed to a god who demands tribute, service, and adoration from His subjects—is a foreign concept to most of the world. The heathen, idolatrous peoples of the world serve & sacrifice to their gods (for the most part) out of a sense of fear and dread, lest they provoke them and bring punishment and hardship upon themselves.  For many, their greatest hope is simply to appease their gods so they might obtain occasional blessings of health or a fruitful harvest.  At the very least, they just want to be left alone and spared providential judgments upon themselves.

But the God of the Bible is different.  Over and over we are told that God loves, and "God is love." (1Jn. 4:8).  God even proves His love through the person of his Son, Jesus Christ!  He sacrificed Himself for us!  

We have a slang expression: "For the love of God…"  We say things like, “For the love of God, man, say something!” or "For the love of God, do something!"  But in a quite literal sense;

  • It was "for the love of God" (or because of the love of God) that Jesus came to men in the first place—left the glories of heaven to be incarnated in flesh and blood as a man.
  • It was "because of the love of God" that Jesus lived for men—His life was a life of service to others and an example for others.
  • And it was "because of the love of God" that Jesus died for men.  

You know the story of the crucifixion of Jesus.    He was arrested, falsely accused, and condemned. He was beaten, mocked, stripped, and whipped.  A crown of thorns was placed on his head, and then it was mashed and smashed into his brow.

He was forced to carry a cross to a place where he was nailed to that cross, raised up between two thieves for all the world to ridicule, and left to die of thirst, suffocation, exposure, and blood loss.

Executions today are designed to be as quick and painless as possible.  But the Roman crucifixion procedure was the exact opposite. They designed something that would mutilate the body and inflict as much pain as possible.  Crucifixion victims lingered in agony for hours (and sometimes days) before death came as a welcome relief.

Not only was Jesus innocent and undeserving of that treatment, it was within His power to avoid it!  As Lord of the universe, He could have destroyed His tormentors at any time. When, in the garden where He was arrested, Peter drew a sword to defend Him.  Jesus rebuked him saying, "Put your sword back in its place…  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Mt. 26:52-53).

Why then did He go through all that?  To pay the penalty of our sins! Man was lost—separated from God because of sin.  God cannot be "just" and simply ignore sin. So He offered Himself in the person of Jesus as a sacrificial substitute to pay the penalty.  That's how much He loves us!  It is as if sinful mankind looked up at God and said, "How much do you love me?"  And in response God stretched out his arms on the cross and said "I love you this much."

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Our Bible text today has to do with a man named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a member of the Jewish ruling council—the San-Hedrin.  As such, he was undoubtedly a very learned man; well-versed in the O.T. Scriptures.  He was also, no doubt, pious and sincere. Early on in Jesus' public ministry Nicodemus had heard of Him and desired to meet and speak with Him face to face.  This Nicodemus did, meeting with Jesus, at night.

Nobody knows for sure why the meeting was at night.  Some suggest Nicodemus was ashamed or fearful of being looked down upon by his colleagues and peers for giving any serious consideration to this young upstart of a prophet who (in their eyes) was probably a heretic.  Therefore, this was a night meeting for the sake of secrecy.

Others prefer to believe that Nicodemus, or Jesus, or both were simply too busy during the day to visit at length.  There were too many interruptions. So, the night meeting was for the sake of convenience, privacy, and leisure.

At any rate, they did meet.  (And I notice that Jesus did not reprove Nicodemus for the hour of the meeting.)  In his commentary, Paul Butler writes; "He who came to 'seek and to save that which was lost' never smothered the faintest spark of belief but ever strove to fan it into a burning fire of faith and devotion." (Paul Butler, The Gospel of John, College Press, p. 93).

In that conversation, Jesus said many remarkable things to Nicodemus.  

He said, "I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." (v.3).  Nicodemus didn't understand how that could happen.  And Jesus explained He was talking about a "spiritual re-birth"—a birth "from above" (which is the way some modern translations phrase it, including the NIV in its footnotes).  This "rebirth," Jesus explained, is a birth "of water and the Spirit." (v.5).  I believe that's a fairly plain reference to baptism.  For it is at baptism one is raised up out of the water to a new way of life, forgiven of his sins, and given God's Holy Spirit to live within him. (See Ac. 2:38).

Jesus also said, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (vss. 14-15).  That's a reference to an experience of the O.T. Israelites during their period of wilderness wanderings.  We read about it in Numbers 21.  The people had grumbled about their food and water.  As punishment, God sent poisonous snakes among them.  Once bitten, many died. So they cried out in repentance, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord…" (Nu. 21:7).  Moses prayed for the people, and in response God told Moses to make replica of a snake out of bronze and lift it up on a pole.  Anyone who looked at the bronze snake, believing God's promise and obeying His instructions, would be healed. Note that God did not take away the poisonous snakes, but rather provided a way of escape for those who would turn to Him in faith.

Jesus was saying that He, by being lifted up on the cross as a sacrifice for sin, would become God's means of salvation for our sin problem.

Some scholars believe that Jesus' words to Nicodemus end with verse 15, and that John's own commentary begins at verse 16.  But I like the way the NIV includes quotation marks around the statements clear through verse 21, indicating (as I believe it to be) Jesus' comments about himself in the third person.

I particularly want you notice verse 17; "For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through him."  Jesus is saying, "Nicodemus, I have come to save the world."  Let's consider that statement for a few minutes.  "I have come to save the world."  What message did it have for Nicodemus?  What message does it have for us?

 

I.

Jesus' Message is often Unexpected!

"I have come…"

It should have been expected.  The Jews had been praying for it for centuries.  Nicodemus himself, no doubt, from the time he was a little boy had prayed in the synagogue like every good Jew, "O God of our fathers, God of Abraham, send Messiah to set your people free once again."  But somehow, they weren't really ready for it when He did come.  Tom Lawson observes, "God always seems to walk in between the cracks of our anticipation."

Moses didn't expect a voice out of a burning bush either.  Forty years of herding sheep in the wilderness had dulled his sense of expectation.  Forty long years of very normal days had all stacked up into a great mountain of normality.  But God called, "Moses, Moses…Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." (Ex. 3;4-5).

Gideon may have half expected a raiding party of Midianites, but he certainly wasn't expecting an angel from God when he was threshing his wheat in the wine press. (Jg. 6).

Elisha was just out plowing a field as he'd done 100 times before—so caught up in what he was doing that he barely noticed the strangely clothed man who walked up beside him and threw his prophets cloak over him. (1 Ki. 19:19ff).

And Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus probably expected a mundane trip on a dull day to a routine city about some very ordinary business—arrest a few heretics and get back to Jerusalem in time for the Sabbath—when God, through the person of Christ, broke in with light and thunder.  "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Ac. 9:4).

Jn. 1:10-11 says of the Messiah, "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him."  You see, God is so very often unexpected!

Nicodemus surely wasn't expecting much from this young hick carpenter from Nazareth.  But then again, maybe…just maybe…God pulled the biggest surprise in history. While everybody was praying for a messiah who was always "coming" and never "here," God wrapped himself in peasant's rags and came to walk for a while among his people.

You know, people are still pretty much the same today. What was true then, is true now.  The message of Christ's coming is still an unexpected one.

Oh, we look back with 20/20 hindsight and we think we'd have done it better:

  • We wouldn't have stammered out those lame excuses like Moses did.
  • We'd have had more courage than Elijah, running like a scared rabbit from a woman like Jezebel and sulking under the juniper tree.
  • We’d have gotten our hormones a lot more under control than David when he saw Bathsheba.
  • And we'd surely have done better than Peter crouching in fear in the courtyard denying any association with Jesus.

Or would we?  We can talk about "what God once did" or even more about "what God will one day do."  But the real question that haunts us is "Where is God now in my life?"  Do you live in constant expectation not just of his return, but expectation of Him working in and through your life?  Did you come to church today expecting to be touched and moved and challenged and used by God?  Are you looking for Him to use you and work through you in the coming week?

We have become (some of us) like the great captive lion pacing back and forth in his cage.  One day the rusty lock broke loose and the door swung open. People ran in fear of what the lion might do.  But the lion just kept pacing back and forth—no longer confined by steel bars, but imprisoned now by his own routine of normality and his lack of expectation.

We've sat through hundreds of sermons, Bible School lessons, Christian conventions, revivals, workshops, etc. and we know nothing too spectacular is going to happen today.  So we shift in our seats and wait for the next point (or the last point) of the sermon. …hoping for the next point. …praying for the next point. And just maybe all the while God Almighty has come to walk for a while with us!  What was it Jesus said?  "Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Mt. 18:20).

 

II.

Jesus' Message is often Unwelcome!

"I have come to save…"

Nothing is more obnoxious than certainty.  "I have the answers.  I can solve your problems (and you do have problems.)"

Put yourself in Nicodemus' place.  Jesus says, "I have come to save the world."  That’s pretty bold and pretty ambitious, wouldn't you say?  It would probably have been a little easier to take if Jesus had hem-hawed a little bit first—something about merely being an uneducated carpenter from up north.  But Jesus got right to the point. "I have come to save the world."  And the implication is: "You need saving."  That's the reason many of Nicodemus' fellow Pharisees didn't especially like this new young prophet.

We don't like to be told we're wrong, do we?  Remember how you felt the last time somebody said, "You know what your problem is?"  You didn't want to hear it, did you?  It's not a welcome message…from either the Messiah or the church.  But that's the message we, as the church, have been commissioned to deliver.  (Hopefully, a little more tactfully than that, but still...)

Unfortunately, we who are in the church, in our efforts not to offend outsiders, sometimes skirt all around the real issues.  If we ever do get around to witnessing, we say things like; "Why don't you come to church sometime.  It's not that bad.  Why, sometimes the music is fair and sermon is short.  And you get in on some pretty good fellowship dinners."  

I'm not asking you to lie, (if that's really what you think about the music, the preaching, or the fellowship).  But maybe what we ought to be emphasizing is what Jesus emphasized—salvation from sin, death, & hell, and salvation for the future is possible through Christ!  "I have come to save the world!"  Jesus has the answer for our sin problem!  There is forgiveness through Him!

Sure there are those who will take offense, and those who will refuse the offer.  But at least they will know what it is they're refusing.

The message of Jesus is often…

…an unexpected message.

…an unwelcome message.

 

III.

Jesus' Message is often Unfulfilled!

"I have come to save the world!"

For the most part, Jesus knew that wasn't going to happen.  He came to save a world that, by and large, has no intention of being saved.  He said, "…wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Mt. 7:13-14).

Imagine giving yourself to a task you know is doomed largely to fail.  God almost has a habit of sending people on missions doomed to failure.

"Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?" God asked. (Isa. 6:8).  Isaiah, who was just getting himself up off the ground from having seen God and having his sin purged by a burning coal, finally stammers out, "Here am I.  Send me!" (Isa. 6:8).  And the rest of Isaiah, chapter 6 is God telling Isaiah that the people aren't going to listen.

Ezekiel’s call was similar.  "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day.  The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn." (Ezek. 2:3-4).

So, why do you suppose Isaiah, or Ezekiel went on these missions?  And why do you suppose Jesus went on His mission? I think they realized God has a different idea of success than man usually does.

  • Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, but Jeremiah failed to keep them from going back into Babylonian enslavement.
  • Joshua conquered Jericho, but Isaiah failed to conquer the idolatry of his day.
  • Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3000 responded, but Noah, "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Pe. 2:5), convinced only the 7 other members of his own family in 120 years of witnessing while he built the ark.

Nonetheless, all these men were "successful" in God's sight (i.e. Jeremiah, Isaiah, & Noah as well as Moses, Joshua, & Peter).  You see, God's standard of success is measured in terms of faithfulness and obedience, not in terms of numbers and results.  God puts faithfulness ahead of results.

It's still true today.  Maybe God isn't so concerned about what the number is on our attendance board, as He is concerned about how faithful the people represented by those numbers are to Him.  I'm not knocking large numbers. But "counting numbers" in God's name, means less than each one of those "numbers counting" for God!

You don't have to "succeed" from the world's perspective.  You don't have to win even one single person to Christ.  Noah didn't win anyone outside his own family.  Lot didn't even win his whole family.  But you do have to try.

"I have come…to save…the world."  It is very often unexpected, unwelcome, and unfulfilled.  But lastly…

 

IV.

Jesus' Message is always Uncompromising!

"I have come to save the world." Period!

No "maybes."  No "sometimes."  Peter would later preach concerning Jesus, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Ac. 4:12).

I'm sure it would have been easier for Nicodemus to take, if Jesus had said, "Nicodemus, you're a pretty good ol' boy.  You're doing okay. I'm just trying to reach out to those others who aren't as good as you."  But apart from the saving grace found through Jesus, Nicodemus was just as lost as anybody else.  And apart from Jesus you and I are just as lost as the worst sinner in Sedalia ...or the world ...or throughout history!

It's not easy to be a Christian…but it's worth it!  It is the only life that leads to heaven.

 

Conclusion:

God loves you…no matter how sinful you've been.  He proved it by sacrificing His Son, Jesus, on a cross so that you could be forgiven.  Now you have to accept that sacrifice on your behalf, and live for him in return.

(Adapted from a sermon by Tom Lawson delivered at O.C.C. Preaching and Teaching Convention.)

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