The Fourth Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
Jesus Confronts Confusion
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. 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 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. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 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.” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I certainly cannot speak for any of you, but in some ways I am a very easy person to confuse. For example, computers confuse me. When my computer does something that I didn’t want it to do, or when my computer won’t do something that I want it to do— I get confused. Usually I have to ask someone much younger than me for help. They can usually figure it out quite easily. Hydrogen fuel cells confuse me. They are just too complicated for my little mind! In my previous congregation I had a member who was a professor at Kettering University— one of the top engineering schools in the country. On more than one occasion I asked him how a hydrogen fuel cell works. Even after he explained it to me I was still confused! Again, it is just too complicated for my little mind!
What confuses you, my friends? Is there any particular topic that puts you into the proverbial “deer in the headlights” mode whenever it comes up in conversation? Most of us have at least one topic that just seems to sail over our heads no matter how hard we try to understand it.
Our sermon text for today places before us a topic which can easily confuse many people— sometimes even us. The topic is religion, or to be even more specific, the topic is salvation. As we listen in this morning on a conversation that took place between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus let’s study this portion of Scripture under the theme: Jesus Confronts Confusion. There are two points we want to emphasize. First, let’s see how Jesus confronts confusion concerning how a person is saved. Then let’s see how Jesus confronts confusion concerning why some people are lost.
Since the context in which we find our sermon text for today is critical, let’s take a moment to briefly review it. The opening portion of John chapter three is where we are introduced to a man by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus was both a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council. He was a man that people looked up to. He was a man that people listened to. Nicodemus had either seen or at the very least had heard how this relatively unknown Rabbi from Nazareth had cleansed the temple of the Lord. (See John 2:13ff) Nicodemus had either seen or at the very least had heard about the miracles that Jesus of Nazareth was performing in Jerusalem. (See John 2:23) Since Nicodemus was one of “Israel’s teachers” (John 3:10) he felt compelled to find out more about this Rabbi named Jesus. So, John tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of 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.”
As a Pharisee Nicodemus had been taught and was now teaching others that the road to salvation, the way to eternal life in heaven was paved with good works. Keep the Law that God had given to His people through Moses and keep the hundreds of laws that the Pharisees had added to God’s Law and hopefully you will be saved. As the Son of God Jesus knew the real issue that was weighing heavily upon Nicodemus’ heart as he came to see Jesus that night. How did Jesus address that issue? In John 3:3 we hear Jesus say to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Born again? That made absolutely no logical sense to Nicodemus! Still thinking that a person’s salvation is based on what they do, Nicodemus responded, “How can a man be born when he is old? Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb.” Nicodemus was— confused! And when Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus that He is talking about a spiritual “rebirth,” when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit” (a reference to Baptism) Nicodemus was even more confused! How did Jesus confront Nicodemus’ confusion? He pointed Nicodemus to an event in Israel’s history, an event that very clearly and very simply emphasizes how a person is saved. Jesus says in the opening verse of our text, “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.”
As we heard in our Old Testament lesson for today (Numbers 21:4-9) when God’s people began to complain about the way God was providing for them (they even referred to God’s miraculous gift of manna as “miserable food”) God sent poisonous snakes to impress upon His people the seriousness of their sin. When God’s people repented of their sin and turned to the Lord for help, He granted them a cure— a cure that made absolutely no logical sense whatsoever! God told Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). Did it work? Absolutely! How? The cure for the poison that was killing God’s people was a cure that was based on— faith and faith alone!
As one of “Israel’s teachers” Nicodemus was extremely familiar with this event from the history of God’s people. Now, in an effort to help Nicodemus understand how a person is saved on a spiritual level Jesus takes that event from Israel’s past and applies it to Himself. That ancient serpent the devil (Revelation 12:9) has injected the “poison of sin” into each and every ordinary human being— including us. Left on our own, we will most certainly die— just like the Israelites died in the desert. There is absolutely nothing we can do on our own to prevent it. But God has graciously provided a “cure” for the poison of sin, hasn’t He. That cure is found in the words, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up (pointing to the cross), that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” The only way for anyone to be saved is by lifting up their eyes to the cross and believing, trusting that Jesus died for them!
Why, my friends? Why would a holy, just and perfect God freely provide a cure for us mortal wretched sinners— a cure which required the agonizing death of His own Son? The answer to that question is found in one of the best known verses of the Bible: “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.” God’s cure for the poison of sin is based upon His amazing grace, His agape love for all of mankind. Anyone and everyone who puts their faith in the cure that God has provided through the cross of His Son is saved! It’s that simple! It’s that amazing!
How does this precious truth tie in with our theme for today— Jesus Confronts Confusion? Let me highlight two points. First, by nature we are all like Nicodemus. By nature we want to believe that we have the ability to save ourselves— or at least contribute to our salvation— by doing good works. Does it work? Can it work? Think back to the people who were bitten by the poisonous snakes in the desert. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves from the poison of sin! The only way to be saved is through faith in what God’s Son has done for us! That’s precisely why the Bible so clearly and so consistently teaches that we are saved purely by grace alone through faith alone!
Second, be honest with yourself. Have you ever felt unloved or perhaps even unlovable? Have you ever felt unforgiven or perhaps even unforgivable? Why is that? Usually it is because we know ourselves all too well. We know what we have done. We know what we are capable of doing. We know that we have the poison of sin permeating our thoughts, our words and our action. Whenever we are overwhelmed by our own sin what does God tell us to do? Does God say to us, “Reach down deep inside of yourself and find a way to pull yourself up out of the mess that you have made”? Does God say to us, “It looks like you are going to have to work even harder now”? Not at all! Whenever we are overwhelmed by our own sin our God says to us, “Lift up your eyes!” (Pointing to the cross) “Lift up your eyes and see how much I love you! Lift up your eyes and let the cross of my Son chase away your confusion and your fears. Lift up your eyes and trust in the cure that I have freely provided so that you can be saved! Lift up your eyes and live!”
Since God’s cure for the poison of sin is so clear and so simple, since God freely offers His cure for sin to absolutely everyone, then why are some people lost? Jesus confronts this confusing question head-on when He says in our text, “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.” Unbelief is what prevents a person from receiving the benefits of the cure that God has freely provided. Unbelief very literally says to God, “I don’t believe what you are telling me!” Unbelief says to God, “I don’t trust you!” Unbelief says to God, “I don’t need nor do I want your so-called cure for sin. I am going to find my own cure— all by myself!” Unbelief forfeits the salvation that God freely provides through the cross of His Son. Unbelief leaves person standing all alone before the Judge of the living and the dead to hear the verdict “Condemned!”
But did you catch the other point that Jesus talked about here in our text. Look at verses 19-20, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” It’s not difficult to understand what Jesus is talking about here, is it. We may know people who want nothing to do with Jesus and the cure for sin which He secured for them on the cross because they “love darkness instead of light.” They want to enjoy living their life however they choose to live it. They don’t want anyone— not even God! — telling them that this is wrong or that they shouldn’t be doing that. In short, they don’t want a “light” shined on what they are doing because as Jesus says, “…for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” The result of having that kind of attitude toward God, the result of having that kind of perspective on life is quite predictable. The poison of sin runs its course and that person will die— both physically and eternally in hell— even though God’s cure (pointing to the cross) was freely available to them. How profoundly sad!
I certainly cannot speak for any of you, but I am pretty sure that there will always be some things that confuse me. Thankfully, when it comes to the most important topic of all, when it comes to the question of how we are saved Jesus confronts any confusion with the clear simple words, “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. For God so loved the world (God so loved you!) that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Now that’s a reason for all of us to join together in saying:
To God be the glory!