Bible Text: John 1:6-9 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John Witnessing the Light St. John 1:6-9 by William Klock What is evangelism…other than a word that’s often scary for a lot of Christians? It conjures up images of Bible-thumping preachers yelling at people from street corners or cold-calling your neighbours—knocking on their doors, making small talk and then suddenly hitting them up-side the head with the Gospel and then having them forever avoid you until either you or they move away. For a lot of Christians, just hearing that word—e-van-gel-ism—makes us feel guilty and inadequate because we’ve either never done it, or we think we’ve never done it, or we’ve done a terrible job of it, or we feel just plain inadequate to do it in the first place. Some of our anxiety or our guilt comes from not really understanding what evangelism is or what it involves. So we need to ask: What is evangelism? Let me put it in secular terms first. Most of you know that I’m a long time Macintosh user and that I used to work repairing Apple computers. I really like Macs—and I like to talk about Macs. One time I was with Veronica at London Drugs. I was killing time by looking at the computers. I was looking at the new MacBook Air. There was a guy standing next to me and we started talking about it. He’d never used a Mac and was pretty sceptical. I started telling him how cool it was and before I relised what I’d done, I’d talked him into buying one—into being what Apple calls a “switcher”—someone who switches from Windows-based PCs to Macintosh. But did you know that Apple also has an official name for people like me? I’m an evangelist. An “Apple Evangelist” is someone who talks up Apple to PC users and converts them to Macintosh. In fact, back when I first started working on Macs, the marketing department at Apple was, believe it or not, actually called “Apple Evangelism”. They borrowed heavily on the Christian idea of evangelism. The world is dominated by the cold, unloving darkness of PCs and Windows and MicroSoft. Apple Evangelism exists to share the “good news” of the warm and user-friendly Macintosh with those living in darkness. And brothers and sisters, it works. When I was working for Apple resellers we had PC users coming in every day and wanting to buy a Macintosh because their friends who used Macs had been telling them for years how great Macintosh was. That’s evangelism—a secular and commercialised take on it—but still a form of evangelism in a broad sense. We “evangelise” in that sense for all sorts of things. Every time we tell our friends about some product or some place or some company or some book we really like or when we talk about some political party or candidate or some cause we think is worthy, we’re engaging in a form of evangelism. And consider that it’s not very often that we hesitate to do it. If we’re into something, if we like something, talking about it just becomes a natural part of our conversations. Being an Apple evangelist doesn’t mean knocking on my neighbours’ doors to insist they buy an iMac; it doesn’t mean standing on the street corner shouting and waving my MacBook; and it doesn’t mean having the organist play “Softly and tenderly Steve Jobs is calling” forty-three times until someone finally puts up his hand and commits to buying an iPod. It’s a lot simpler and more natural than any of that. I was thinking about all this one day and it occurred to me: When the subject of computers comes up, I’ve never been anxious or afraid to tell someone how great Macintosh computers are. I’ve never been afraid to tell someone about a great book I just finished reading. And there are a million and one uses for Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and when I hear someone talking about some problem they have with dirt that they haven’t been able to solve and I know that a Magic Eraser will fix it, I don’t sit there waffling about whether or not I might offend them by telling them. And yet, I wondered, why it is that when it comes to the solution to the world’s greatest problem, we’re so afraid—and by that I means “I’m so afraid”—to even bring up the subject of Jesus in a casual conversation where it would be completely natural to do so. Granted, Mr. Clean isn’t going to change your worldview and you don’t have to make him your Lord to use his products, but still, why is it that when someone asks why we’re so happy or why we’re so at peace, and why, when it should be so natural to simply tell them about Jesus, we so often don’t? All of that is why I want to start today on a new series of sermons that I hope will encourage us all in the area of evangelism. The fact is that you and I do live in a world lost in darkness—darkness far deeper than any computer or software company can ever make. And, brothers and sisters, we also know—or we should know that we’ve got the answer—the solution—to that problem, and it’s a far better answer than even the most user-friendly computer ever could be. In his first epistle, St. John tells us: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Through Jesus Christ, God has forgiven our sins, he’s restored us to himself, and now he’s sent us back into the world as his people to bear his good news to those who haven’t encountered it or who haven’t heard it yet. Just as you’re a living, breathing, walking testimony of so many secular things in life, you are also a living, breathing, walking testimony of the truth that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When Jesus prayed for us, he said, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). And so I want to spend the next couple of months looking specifically at St. John’s Gospel and what it can teach us about evangelism and about witnessing the good news of Jesus Christ. John’s Gospel is full of witnesses: In 8:14 Jesus describes “the Father who sent me bears witness about me.” In the same passage he says of himself, “I am the one who bears witness about myself.” In John 15:26 Jesus tells his disciples about the Holy Spirit bearing witness when he says, “when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” Christians aren’t the only evangelists. All three persons of the Holy Trinity are involved in bearing witness to the good news of the Gospel. And God’s Word—the Scriptures—are a witness too. The entire Old Testament was given in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus. In John 5:39 Jesus says, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” And John’s Gospel itself is full of witnesses: John the Baptist came as another Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus—to declare that the light had come and that God’s kingdom was at hand. John describes his own work as bearing witness to what he had seen while ministering with Jesus. And throughout the Gospel we read about all the people who had personal encounters with Jesus and went away telling their friends and family about him—being evangelists. Think of the Samaritan woman that Jesus met near a well. He revealed himself to her and she ran through town, urging the people: “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29). Or think of the blind man whom Jesus made to see again. The Pharisees tried to silence his witness, but he declared to them: “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). Everyone who met Jesus went away talking about him and that ought to be a cue for us—we’ve not only met him, we’ve experienced him in our lives; we should be talking about him. For the next few weeks I want to look specifically at John the Baptist. Let’s start with the first chapter of John—which is named after John the Evangelist, not John the Baptist—beginning at verse 6: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:6-9) Verse seven tells us very specifically what John’s mission was: “to bear witness about the light.” And we know that that’s exactly what he did. Later on many of those who had heard John’s preaching about Jesus came to see Jesus himself and they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true” (John 10:41). He was faithful in bearing witness to the light. I find that particular passage very encouraging. In a day when many parts of the wider Church are obsessed with “signs and wonders” and “power evangelism” as essential parts of “authentic” witness, we see John the Baptist—an ordinary guy who left the signs and wonders to Jesus and simply declared an extraordinary message that the light had come into the world. He was faithful to declaring the message—to share the truth. That was his sole focus and aim, and his ministry bore fruit. This morning I want to look at three key things John the Baptist teaches us about being a witness to Christ. These aren’t the only things he can tell us, but I think they’re the most important. We see the first in the content of his message. St. John tells us in his Gospel that the Baptist’s message was all about the light—all about Christ. That’s the core of our witness too and if you aren’t sure what that means or what you would tell someone, consider that this central and important part of the message is something we not only affirm, but that we drill into our own minds every single Sunday when we recite the Creed. We affirm that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God; that he is eternally begotten of the Father; that he is God of God and Light of Light, true God from true God; that through him all things were made; that for us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Virgin Mary; that for our sake he was crucified, suffered death and was buried; that on the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; that he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father; and that he will come again to judge the living and dead. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote about our mission this way: “We are meant to talk to people about the Lord Jesus Christ and to tell them he is the Son of God and that he has come into this world in order to save men and women….We are meant to tell men exactly why the world is at it is; we are meant to tell them about sin in the human heart and that nobody and nothing can deal with it save the Son of God….We are very ready to talk about our doctors, and to praise the man who cured us when so many failed; we talk about some business which is better than others, or about films and plays and actors and actresses, and a thousand and one other things. We are always glorifying people, the world is full of it, and the Christian is meant to be praising and glorifying the Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s exactly what John did. If you go home this week and read the first part of each of the Gospels—where we read about John the Baptist—you’ll see that John’s message was consistently and always about Jesus. He didn’t talk about his experiences with Jesus or about his feelings about God—it was all about Jesus himself. When he was baptising people in the Jordan and Jesus walked up, John declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). We can and should share our own experiences of the Gospel, but first and foremost our witness must be about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Each of us in his or her own way needs to be declaring, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Second, John teaches us something about the how of our witness. Look at John 1:8. We’re told there, “He was not the light.” John didn’t come to be the light, his mission was only to show it to people. Consider John’s response to the religious leaders when they asked him about his ministry. He told them: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:26-27). John was a popular and charismatic preacher. He could have claimed a lot of credit had he wanted to, but instead he deliberately directed the attention away from himself and put it on Jesus. This is important. Just as evangelism can drift into nothing more than a sharing of personal experience instead of a sharing of Jesus, evangelism can also drift into sharing ourselves instead of sharing Jesus. Yes, we bear the light of Christ in the world, but we need to remember that what we bear is the light of Christ. In fact, when Jesus said that John was a “burning and shining lamp” he described something that doesn’t burn on its own power. Look at the candles burning on the Communion Table right now. Those flames don’t burn on their own. Yesterday I had to refill the reservoirs in the candles with liquid paraffin because they were almost empty. One Sunday a couple of months ago the candles actually went out during the service because they ran out of paraffin. The flame doesn’t burn on its own. And for that matter, the flame doesn’t ignite on its own either. You’ve got to put a match or a taper to it to get it started burning in the first place. That’s what Jesus likened John to and that’s what we’re like. We’re just wicks. We won’t burn unless we’ve got Jesus himself to fuel us and to keep us fed and we won’t burn at all unless his Holy Spirit ignites us. James Montgomery Boice, in his commentary on John’s Gospel said something very true: “Whenever a Christian layman, minister, writer, teacher, or whoever it might be, gets to thinking that there is something important about him, he or she will always cease to be effective as Christ’s witness.” We need to remember that it’s never about us and that we never live or share our faith on our own power; it’s all about Jesus and by Jesus. Finally, third, our goal in sharing Christ. St. John tells us in 1:7 that John the Baptist “came as a witness…that all might believe through him.” It’s surprising to me how often I forget something so simple. Our goal is “that all might believe.” When we do share the Gospel, how often does our sharing degrade into an argument? Then we lose focus and instead of our goal being the winning of a lost soul it simply becomes winning an argument. There we are sharing the Gospel of grace and suddenly we realise that we’re no longer being gracious ourselves. Or how often do we share the Gospel with someone not so much because we’re truly concerned for their eternal well-being, but because we know we have a duty to tell them about Jesus? Our evangelism can become almost mechanical. We end up just going through the motions of witnessing, but we aren’t really looking for or expecting a response. We don’t follow up our sharing by praying for the person. When I was in University there was a guy who would show up about once a year on campus. He brought his own portable sound system and would stand on a box on the campus mall and “evangelise”. I sat on the steps of a nearby building for an hour one afternoon and just watched. What he was really being was a jerk. People he didn’t know would walk by and he’d angrily shout out things like, “Fornicator!” He’d mention Jesus a lot, but there wasn’t much of the Gospel and there was absolutely no grace in it. It was like he was doing his duty of calling people to repentance, but nothing more. In this day and age it was refreshing to see a guy who wasn’t afraid to talk about sin, but brothers and sisters, the point of pointing out sin is to then share the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ—and to model that grace while we tell others about it. If we would remember that our goal is that “all might believe” our evangelism would be full of grace and I also think we’d be more ready to labour in prayer before and after our sharing. Again, our evangelism is first to proclaim Jesus—his person and his work. Second we need to remember that it’s not about us; it’s about Jesus and that we share Jesus in the power of his Holy Spirit—not on our authority or on our own power, but with his. And third, our goal is that all might believe. It’s not to win an argument; it’s not to do our duty; it’s to win lost souls for Jesus. And none of this should be hard if we’ve experienced his grace in our own lives and if we’re living in that grace each and every day. Again, remember how ready we are to tell people about all the great, cool, and awesome things in our lives. Shouldn’t we be even more ready to tell other people about Jesus? But therein lies the rub. Maybe the reason we don’t tell people about Jesus is because we aren’t living in his grace each day. We tell people about things like Macintosh Computers and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers because they’re things that are part of our lives each day. Dear friends, it’s a sad day when computers and cleaning products consume more of our being than the Lord Jesus does. If that’s our problem, we know then that we need to spend more time in his grace, more time in his Word, more time meditating on God, on our Saviour, and on the good news of the Gospel and what it means for us. We need to spend more time actually living it and experiencing it, because the more we live it and the more we experience God’s goodness, the more natural it’s going to be for us share it with the people around us, just like we share all the other good things in our lives with them. Please pray with me: Gracious heavenly Father, you’ve given us your only Son to die on the cross in order to pay the penalty for our sins. Through him you’ve given us new and everlasting life, you’ve given us your Holy Spirit and made us conquerors over sin and death. Forgive us for keeping your blessings to ourselves. Help us daily to live in your grace, to experience it, to know it, and to grow in thankfulness for it so that we will be increasingly ready to share your Good News with the people around us as naturally as we do so many other things that matter so little. Remind us that it’s all about Jesus and that you have saved us and sent us into the world to tell others that they might be saved too. Give us a concern for the lost and kindle our lights that they might shine brightly and bear witness to Jesus. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: John 1:19-27 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John Crying Out in the Wilderness St. John 1:19-27 by William Klock I want to continue this morning with our Advent look at John the Baptist and how he models evangelism for us. If you’re following along in your Bibles, we’ll be looking at John 1:19-28. These verses give us the first account of John’s encounter with the Jewish religious leaders. The priests and Levites had been hearing about this firebrand—almost a wild man who sounded a lot like a second Elijah—who was preaching to the masses, who was proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom, and who was baptising people in the Jordan. The baptising part would have been scandalous to the religious leaders—I’ll talk more about that later. And so the Jewish religious leaders sent some representative to confront John. They asked him, “Who do you think you are?” I want to look this morning at his response. There’s a lot we can learn from it, but I want to look specifically at four ways that John’s response should shape and inform our own evangelistic work. First, as we look at verse 19 we can see that John witnessed the Good News with his life. We read there: And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” They were curious and probably not a little suspicious, angry, and maybe even jealous that John was attracting “their” sheep. St. Mark tells us in his Gospel: “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5). People were drawn to John. He proclaimed a powerful message, but more importantly, he lived out that message in his life. Augustine points out that John’s excellence was so great that people believed he was the Christ, the Messiah. Think about that: The message he preached was so powerful and the way he lived his life was so different that people who didn’t know better just assumed that he was the Christ. His witness was that powerful! People who were spiritually desperate saw hope in John the Baptist. Even these sceptical religious leaders who came to ask who he was could tell there was something different about John. And so they came and asked him: “Are you the Christ?” And John gives them his answer in verse 20. The way St. John describes the Baptist’s answer sounds weird in English—it sounds even weirder in Greek. They asked, “Are you the Christ?” Then: He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed.” The point of the convoluted grammar is that John made it unequivocally clear that he was not the Christ—not the Messiah. It sounds like they were expecting him to say that he was. If he’d said, “Why, yes, I am the Christ,” they probably would have hauled him off to trial or chalked him up as another crazy false prophet. There had been and would continue to be lots of people falsely claiming to be the Christ. But John makes it clear that he’s not the Christ. Then, taken aback, they ask: “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:21-22) They knew there was something different about John. Malachi had prophesied that in the last days Elijah would come back and herald the coming of God’s kingdom and John was a lot like Elijah—he even dressed the part and lived in the wilderness. But John denies being Elijah. Maybe then, if he wasn’t a modern-day Elijah, he was the “Prophet”—a modern-day Moses. The Jews were looking for a deliverer and the religious leaders were threatened by the possibility that such a deliverer might have come. John said that he wasn’t any of those things—even though he had in fact come in fulfilment of those old prophecies. But people flocked to him nonetheless because he offered them hope—not only with his message, but also with his own life. Brothers and sisters, we ought to be doing the same thing. Our lives should offer people hope and make them constructively curious. Think of the invitation we hear each Sunday before the Offertory: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Evangelism is more than just tellingpeople about the Good News of the cross of Christ. It’s also about living that Good News out in our lives. The most effective witness begins with a living witness. I hear people say all the time, “But I don’t know how to share my faith.” Friends, let it start with the way you live your life. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote: “The first great step in evangelising is that we should start with ourselves and become sanctified….When the man of the world sees that you and I have got something that he obviously has not got, when he finds us calm and quiet when we are taken ill; when he finds we can smile in the face of death; when he finds about us a poise, a balance, and equanimity and a loving, gentle quality…he will begin to take notice. He will say, ‘That man has got something,’ and he will begin to enquire as to what it is. And he will want it.” We need to ask ourselves: “Am I living in such a way that people want what I’ve got? Do people see something in my life that gives them hope?” That’s the place to start. The second important thing we learn from John’s example is something we touched on last time: his witness was not about himself. They asked, “Are you the Christ? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” Every time John told them “No”. John knew that he was not the Saviour, that he was not the solution to their problems, and that he wasn’t the one to be trusted in for salvation. John could have made some claim on being Elijah. In Luke’s Gospel we read that when angel announced his birth to Zechariah he said that he was the one who would come “in the spirit and power of Elijah”. Jesus even pointed back to the Old Testament prophets when he said that John was “Elijah who is to come”. John did fulfil those prophecies as a modern-day Elijah, but when he was asked, he made it clear: “I am not Elijah.” There are two reasons why. First, many of the people were looking for the real Elijah to somehow come back from the dead. That’s not who John was. He came in the spirit of Elijah, but he wasn’t actually Elijah. But more importantly, the people associated the new Elijah and the “Prophet” with the Messiah and John knew he was not the Messiah. He was just there to point people to the Messiah. So instead of saying, “Yes, I’m the “Elijah” prophesied,” he says instead, “No, I’m not Elijah…but… I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said. (John 1:23) John accepted the role of a new Elijah and, as in ancient times Elijah had called the people to repentance, John now called the people to repentance again, because God’s kingdom was at hand. We need to follow John’s example, remembering that our witness is not about ourselves. You and I have no power to save anyone. All we can do is to make sure our own lives are witnesses to the Good News and point to Jesus Christ. I find it troubling when I see big name Christians with ministries named after themselves. There are a lot of them: “So-and-so Ministries”. That’s not to say that all of them are bad or ego-driven, but I’ve noticed that in too many cases, those ministries named after men are too often about the man than they are about Jesus. But it’s not just big-name preachers or televangelists. Any time you and I start encouraging people to focus on us or on our works without redirecting them to Jesus, we’re not really evangelising them. I think it’s more tempting than we realise. We can do a lot of good works in the world without upsetting anybody. In fact, doing good works will often get us noticed by the world. The world likes do-gooders. And so it can be easy for us to take the credit ourselves. But brothers and sisters, that means stealing the credit from Jesus. It means failing at being witnesses. Sometimes it’s a challenge; as soon as the world starts applauding our good works and we point away from ourselves and tell them our good works are only the result of Jesus’ Holy Spirit working through us, people start getting upset. Brothers and sisters, we need to remember that we minister in Jesus’ name—not our own. We need to remember that we’re called to do good works not so that people will look up to us, but so they will see God at work through us and then give him glory. The Jewish leaders came to John and asked who he was. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’ This should be our witness too: “I’m here to show that you need a Saviour and to point you to the One you should worship and trust. Don’t praise me. Praise him for the great things he’s done through me.” The third point naturally follows. If we aren’t witnessing ourselves, then we are witnessing Jesus. Even when our motives are good, it’s easy to get distracted from witnessing Jesus. Verse 24 tells us that some Pharisees approached him and they asked: “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” (John 1:25) You see, the people knew that when the Messiah came there would be some kind of baptism or cleansing involved. Zechariah 13:1 says, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” But why was John baptising if he wasn’t the Messiah…or Elijah or the Prophet? Look how John answers in verse 26: John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” (John 1:26-27) John could have gone off-track and been bogged down in defending himself. He could have backed off his preaching. But he didn’t. Instead he pointed them to Jesus again—and then he stood firm on the authority he had in Jesus. The Pharisees thought that John was the problem, but John knew better. He knew their problem was that they didn’t know Jesus. Brothers and sisters, can you see how we face the same problem as we witness the Good News? I think we’ve all faced hostility from people when we start sharing the Gospel. We see people in the public square becoming more and more hostile toward Christians all the time. And it’s really easy for us to get bogged down in defending ourselves. Lately it seems our favourite response is to complain loudly in public about our rights being infringed and then call for legislation to defend us. Friends, that’s just what the enemy wants—for us to be distracted from our real mission. The world isn’t angry with us so much as it’s angry with the Jesus they don’t yet know. They don’t know his love. They don’t know his mercy. They don’t understand that he died for their sins. They don’t know Jesus. They’re living in the dark. That means that when we encounter hostility, we should be less concerned about justifying ourselves or defending our personal rights. Instead, we should be more concerned about introducing them to the Jesus they don’t know. Here’s one example we’ve probably all encountered. People really don’t like the idea that Jesus is the only way to God. People really don’t like the idea that without faith in Jesus as our Saviour all of us are bound for hell. I’ve heard Christians say that they simply don’t know what to do when they’re faced with these objections. Often times it’s when we start talking about the exclusivity of our faith and the uniqueness of Jesus as the only Saviour that people start getting abusive with us. The solution isn’t to give up and it’s certainly not to simply avoid a difficult subject like this. The solution is to share Jesus. Once we begin to introduce them to Jesus—to God-become-man to save men and women from their sins—then things start to fall into place. Maybe not right away, but as people begin to know Jesus they realise that his Incarnation, his life, his death on the cross, and his rising again to life make sense out of all their objections. If sinners don’t go to hell, why did God need to send Jesus to die for us? And if there are many paths to God, why would God sacrifice his own Son to give us yet another new path when there are already so many others? As we introduce people to Jesus, they gradually start to see that the real question is why anyone would turn away from Jesus. The Apostle John writes in 1:14 that Jesus is the Word made flesh; in 1:9 he tells us that Jesus is “the true light, which gives light to everyone”; in 1:4 he says that, “in him was life, and the life was the light of men.” These are the things that we need to have at the core of our witnessing: that Jesus is the light and the life. Finally, let me wrap this up with the fourth point. Back in verse 23, John told these people who asked who he was: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” And, brothers and sisters, you and I need to be the same thing; we need to be voices crying out in the wilderness. Richard Phillips writes, “A wilderness is a place of barrenness, poverty, and death. We must show people that this present life is a wilderness apart from Christ. Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (Matt. 5:3). We must be candid with people about the real misery, emptiness, or bondage they experience. The world devotes itself to denying these things; Christians must point out the truth.” Knowing that we’re called to be crying out the Good News in the midst of the wilderness is what should give urgency to our ministry. One of the reasons why we’re so often slack in our evangelism, one of the reasons why we lack the urgency we should have is, I’m convinced, because we don’t see the wilderness around us. For some people it may be because they’ve cloistered themselves away in their little Christian ghetto and they hardly have any dealings with non-Christians. For a lot of Christians, we’re so worldly, so unsanctified, so conformed to the wilderness ourselves, that’s we’ve lost almost all sense that the wilderness is a place of spiritual death and poverty. And for some of us, I think we may have simply found ways to tune out the fact that there are people all around us in our day-to-day lives who are bound for hell if they don’t hear and receive the Gospel. It’s kind of an overwhelming thing to consider that so many of the people around us face an eternity in hell if they don’t turn to Jesus, and so we learn to simply turn a blind eye to that fact. If we learn to ignore it, we can squelch what can easily become overwhelming—seeing everyone around us in such a desperate condition—but in the process we also end up squelching the urgency we should have in wanting to tell them about Jesus. I have to admit myself, that when I look at the world and at the people around me—sometimes my own friends and family members—the first thing that comes to mind isn’t usually that they are bound for eternal torment and eternal damnation for their sins if they don’t trust in Jesus and his cross. But at the same time, if I were to be the first person to come on a bad car accident, I know my first thought would probably be, “These people are going to die if I don’t help them!” I’d jump in to do what I could. We need to see the spiritual wilderness of world with that same sense of urgency. Instead of trying to avoid being overwhelmed, we need to remember that we have the answer! As I’ve had the occasional opportunity to talk to people with the gift of evangelism, one of the things I’ve realised is that they’ve never tuned out the world’s need of a Saviour. They’ve never tuned out the wilderness. They look at the world and they see a giant spiritual car accident full of people who will die without their help. They know that they are called to be voices crying out in the wilderness. They know that men and women will go to hell without Jesus. And they know that God has entrusted them—entrusted us, his people—with the Good News of the cross of Jesus. Brothers and sisters, let us open our eyes to the wilderness—to the world’s great need. And let us never be overwhelmed by that need, but let us always remember that we have the answer. Let us always be ready to proclaim the Gospel. Let us show the world by our lives what it means to live in the grace of God that the people around us might become constructively curious. And then when they come, just as the Jews came to John the Baptist, let us proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand, let us call them to repentance, and let us point them to the saving cross of the Lord Jesus. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, thank you for the saving grace you have given us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ. Give us the grace to be faithful and bold in our witness. Make us holy as you are holy that the world might see you in us, and give us boldness to proclaim the Good News of eternal life through your Son. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: John 1:29 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John Behold, the Lamb of God! St. John 1:29 by William Klock This morning we’ll continue our look at John the Baptist and how he declared Christ to the world, but remember some of what we’ve already seen from John’s example. Last week he showed us that when we face opposition and objections in our evangelism, instead of defending ourselves, we need to share more of Jesus. People object to him because they don’t know him. The more we share of him and about him, the more we’ll be sharing with them the very things that will overcome their objections. They think of Jesus as a goody-two-shoes or a celestial kill-joy or some kind of super-wimp who let the world walk all over him. We need to show people like that the real Jesus—the Jesus who loves us so much that he came to provide a way out of the consequences of our sins, a man so powerful that he conquered sin and death—for us—and now graciously shares with us the benefits of his victory. Back on the first Sunday in Advent I said that we need to share with people the things that Creed teaches us about Jesus: that he is God-become-man, that he died for our sins, that he rose again and ascended to heaven, where he now rules his kingdom at his Father’s side. But this week I want to look at John 1:29. Here John goes deeper, not only into who Jesus is, but especially into what he did for our sake—or from John’s point of view, what he was going to do. The things that the Apostle John describes here took place the day after the events we read about last Sunday, when John was confronted by the Levites and Pharisees. John the Baptist was out doing his work the next day—probably preaching that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, that men and women needed to repent of their sins, and he was probably baptising many of the in the Jordan River. We told in verse 29: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Think about what that meant to those people. John had been preaching about the coming of the Messiah; he had been calling people to repentance; his baptism was all about preparing the people to receive the Messiah when he came. And now here he comes. I can imagine John standing at the edge of the river. We don’t know how he baptised. The common picture we see is of him standing out in hip-deep water dunking people, but we also see John drawing on so much Old Testament imagery that I’m inclined to think that his baptism was more like the cleansing ceremony for the priests in which they were sprinkled. In that case he may had something like a hyssop branch that he dipped into the river and then shook over the people who were coming to hear him preach and receive his baptism. Whatever the case, here he was busy calling the people to repentance and pointing them to the Messiah, and through the crowd walks Jesus. And John looks up, and seeing him, he points excitedly and declares to the people: “You’ve been listening to me talking about the coming Messiah and about the forgiveness of sins—here he is. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” You and I have heard those words so many times that we’re prone to taking them for granted. Imagine what they meant to those people gathered around John that day. They were Jews; people steeped in the law and the prophets; people steeped in the Old Testament story. As we are people who look to the cross for forgiveness of sins, they were people who looked to the sacrificial lamb. The identity of the Israelites was forged in the Exodus, when God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and saved them from the Egyptian army by taking them through the Red Sea. Every year they commemorated those events when they celebrated the Passover. And the focus of the Passover was on the lamb. The book of Exodus tells us how, on the night before they left Egypt, God delivered the Israelites by sending the angel of death to kill the firstborn sons of Egypt. But before the angel came, through Moses, God provided an escape for the Israelites. Each family was to sacrifice a spotless lamb and paint its blood on the doorposts of their home. The angel of death would pass over the homes covered by the blood of the lamb. Everyone knew this story. Everyone knew that the wages of sin is death, but that through the shedding of the blood of an innocent, God would pass over sins. Now on this day, John pointed to Jesus as the one whose blood causes God’s wrath to pass over all those who put their trust in it. The people went on to commemorate and celebrate the Passover every year—each year sacrificing another lamb. But those weren’t the only sacrificial lambs. Every day of every year a lamb was sacrificed each morning and again each evening in the tabernacle and then in the temple as a reminder to the people of their sins and their need for forgiveness. The very morning of that day when John pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God” a lamb was sacrificed and another one that same evening. In Isaiah 53:6 the prophet reminded the people—and reminds us too—saying, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Bishop Ryle wrote, “Christ was the great Sacrifice for sin, who was come to make atonement for transgression by His own death upon the cross.” And finally, think back to Genesis and to Abraham and his son, Isaac. Genesis 22 gives us the first reference to a sacrificial lamb. In obedience to God, Abraham had taken Isaac, his beloved son, up the mountain. Isaac saw the wood for the fire, but they had brought nothing to sacrifice, and so he asked his father, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb.” Brothers and sisters, Isaac’s question—“Where is the lamb for the offering?”—resounds through the Old Testament. Every one of us who is honest knows that we have a sin problem—a sin problem that separates us from God. And we know that some offering must be made to take away our sin. But where is the lamb? Even as God commanded the Old Testament saints to offer lambs as sacrifices for their sins, they knew that no dumb animal could take the place of a human in suffering the just wrath of God on our sins. And so throughout the history of the Jews, even as those lambs were sacrificed day in and day out, the people asked, “Where is the true Lamb? Where is the Lamb who is truly worthy to take away our sins and to take them away for good?” And throughout the Old Testament we have the promise: “God will provide the Lamb.” And now here on this day by the Jordan River John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and joyfully shouted out to the people, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Do you understand what John’s declaration means? Brothers and sisters, can you see how Jesus’ being the Lamb of God points us to who he is and why he came into the world? One of the things that discourages us from evangelism is the fact that so many people object to what we’ve got to say. As I said last week, the problem is that people don’t know Jesus and they don’t know why he came. And so they object or they become hostile. In John’s day the Jews were looking for the Messiah, but they were looking for someone like Elijah who would reform the religious hierarchy and call the people back to the law. Many of them were looking for a Moses who would lead them out of Rome’s slavery or looking for a David who would raise up an army and drive the Romans out. People today still look for “messiahs”. They want someone to show them how to be better in the hopes that they can start doing good deeds and earn their way back into God’s favour. Or they look for someone to fix their interpersonal problems or to fix all that’s wrong with the world. The problem is that none of those things deals with humanity’s most fundamental problem. We need to be cleansed from our sin. John’s declaration—his witness to Jesus—tells us why Jesus came: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” This is what the world needs: to have its sins taken away and to be reconciled to God. This is your great need. This is my great need. This is the need of every man and woman with whom you and I have any point of contact. We all stand condemned before a just God. We are his enemies. He lovingly created us, he continues to sustain us, and yet we rebel against him. And yet in his love for us and because of his desire to reconcile us to himself, he sent his own Son to be the once-for-all sacrificial Lamb—to once-and-for-all take away our sins. To quote Bishop Ryle again, “Christ…did not come on earth to be a conqueror, or a philosopher, or a mere teacher of morality. He came to save sinners. He came to do that which man could never do for himself—to do that which money and learning can never obtain—to do that which is essential to man’s real happiness: he came to ‘take away sin.’” How did he do it? He took our punishment on himself when he allowed himself to be nailed to the cross. St. Peter tells us, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24). But whose sins did Jesus take away? John says that he came to take away the sins of the world? Some people have confused that to mean that somehow Jesus died and now every man, woman, and child is right with God. And yet we know that’s not what John meant. All we have to do is read the rest of his Gospel and we see that he makes it very clear that Jesus has made it possible for us to be reconciled to God. For our part, we have to trust in him as our Saviour. Think of those familiar words from John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life…. Whoever believes in him is not condemned.” That’s why our evangelism is so important. To avail ourselves of the benefits of the Lamb’s sacrifice we have to believe—we have to trust that Jesus is the Son of God who became man, who lived a sinless life, thus becoming the perfect and spotless Lamb. And we must believe that he died for our sins and then stop trusting in anything we can do to save ourselves and, instead, trust wholly in him and his offering of himself at the cross. We must believe. That’s why evangelism is so important. Each of us believes because someone once shared the Gospel with us—showed us Jesus, showed us who he is and explained to us what it was he came to do and how he did it. We believed. Now it’s our turn to do the same for someone else—hopefully lots of them! This past week I got an email from one of my colleagues. He has a friend who is struggling with the idea that God will punish her friends and family member who have never heard the Gospel. She could understand that God is just in punishing those who have heard about Jesus and have rejected him, but she asked, “How can a loving God condemn someone to hell who has never heard the Gospel message in the first place?” My friend wasn’t sure how to answer her. My answer was this: “We need to remember that we are God’s enemies, that the wages of sin is death, and that every one of us has willingly and knowingly chosen to sin. We need to remember that God’s justice requires punishment, but that in his love, God has chosen to send his own Son to die on our behalf—to satisfy the just requirement of the law—so that we can be reconciled to him. If we’re tempted to doubt the love of God, we need to remember the person and work of Jesus. We need to remember: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). The real question in this instance is where the love of this woman is. God loves her friends and family members so much that he laid down his life for them. If she loves them so much, how is it that they haven’t yet heard the Gospel? How is it that she hasn’t shared Jesus with them?” Brothers and sisters, God has shown us his love. If his love is truly in us, how can we not share it with others? How can we who carry Jesus in our own hearts not point the world to him and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God who take away the sin of the world”? Let us pray: Gracious Father, thank you for the gift of your Son. Thank you that while we were yet sinners, he died for us that we might be reconciled to you. Father we ask today that the love of Christ so richly fill us that we can do nothing but share it with the people around us. Let them see Christ in us, but let us also love them enough to share the Good News of his death and resurrection with them that they might know him too. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: John 1:1-17 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John Who is the Lamb? St. John 1:1-17 by William Klock Considering our lesson from John 1, it makes sense to me to keep on today with our look at sharing our faith with others. A couple of weeks ago I pointed out that the solution to the objections and hostility we so often face in our evangelism is not to defend ourselves, but to show Jesus—to introduce people to the One they don’t know, but so desperately need to know. The more they know who he is and what he’s come to do, the more their objections will be answered. Last Sunday we looked at John the Baptist’s witness as Jesus came to him and he declared to the people: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” That was all about Jesus mission—what he came to do. Our Christmas lessons today show us Jesus himself—who he is—and that’s just as important. These first verses of John are a creed of sorts—a creed before the Creeds were ever written. Let me start at the end of the lesson—verse 17. John tells us: For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. What’s the significance of the words “Jesus Christ”? A lot of people think that “Jesus” is his first name and “Christ” is his last name. That’s not it. St. Matthew, in his gospel, tells us the story of how Jesus got his name: An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21) “Jesus” is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua that literally means, “The Lord saves.” What better name for the one whom St. John tells us is also “Christ”—another Greek word, but this time a title that means “the anointed one”—the same meaning as the Hebrew word “Messiah”—the title of the One whom God had promised as far back as the time of Adam and Eve’s first sin, who would come to destroy sin and death and to restore sinful men and women to fellowship with God. “Jesus Christ”. He is Jesus the Saviour and the Christ—the promised and long-awaited Messiah. His human name, Jesus, tells us that he has come to save. His divinely given title, Christ, tells us what he’s come to save us from: from the consequences of our sins. But how can Jesus save? Now look at verse 1. This is why it’s so important that we not only understand ourselves who and what Jesus is, but that we share who and what he is with others. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. If we miss these words or if we don’t get them right, the whole Christian faith falls apart. At the core of every heresy and every cult there’s always some doctrine that undermines these very precise and Holy Spirit-inspired words of John. In the face of those who claimed Jesus was just a man, these words affirm that Jesus is eternal—that he existed before God began to create. In the face of those who denied the divinity of Jesus, these words affirm that he is God. And in the face of those who taught that the Trinity simply described God existing in three “modes” these words affirm that Jesus is not merely God, but has existed for all eternity with God—with the Father. This is important because no one else could save us. If Jesus were just a man, he’d have the same sin problem we do. If he were only God, he could not satisfy the requirements of the law on our behalf—he wouldn’t be one of us. Only one who was both fully God and fully man could be Jesus and Christ—could be Saviour and Messiah. And we might ask, why does John call him the “Word”? He calls him that as an affirmation of his eternal divinity. If Jesus and Christ are his earthly name and title, “Word” is his “divine” name. It identifies him as the Second Person of the Trinity. Look again at verse 1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. This really struck me as I was preparing to preach on this passage last year: That Jesus in his pre-incarnate state was known as the Word tells us something about God. He’s not the Deed. He’s not the Thought. He’s not the Feeling. No, Jesus is the Word. As much as God’s deed and thoughts and feelings are important, we need his Word if we are to be restored to him. The first two verses of our Epistle lesson from the book of Hebrews tells us: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. Our God has never intended to be unknown to us. He created humanity to know him and to be in fellowship with him, and when we fell into sin and broke that fellowship, he began communicating with us through his prophets, giving us the Scriptures, that the fellowship might be restored. Our God is a God who speaks to us, who tells us about himself. Not only that, but it is the power of the Word that brings life. By the power of the Word God created the cosmos. By his Word written, we know God himself and we know his ways and expectations. And by his Word now Incarnate in Jesus, he offers us a means to be restored to the life we lost through sin. Jesus, the Word Incarnate, is the culmination of God’s revelation to us. He is the last and final Word and the Word by which God comes to us, makes himself clearly known to us, and draws us close. John says in verse 3: All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. But in verse 10 John also writes: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. Instead of living in gratitude to our Creator, we’ve all rebelled against him. We’ve sinned and made him our enemy. He gave us life and we’ve chosen death. And yet because he loves us, he isn’t willing simply to let us chase after death. He wants to restore us to himself. And so he became incarnate as one of us—to speak to us again, this time to call us back to himself, to shine his light into our darkness and to offer us the life he created us to enjoy. John says in verse 4: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. That’s who Jesus is. From there we get into his mission and ministry. From there we make the jump to John the Baptist’s declaration: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” But brothers and sisters, if we don’t have it right in our understand exactly who the Lamb is—that he is eternal-God-become-man, that he is God’s Word to us, and that he not only bears God’s light and life, but that he is light and life because he is God—if we don’t have this right—then he can never fulfil his mission of being the perfect and once-for-all sacrifice for our sins. So as we celebrate Christmas again this year, think of what Christmas means in terms of sharing your faith with the people around you. Remember that it’s not just a sentimental holiday about a baby in a manger. It’s about God becoming man to save sinners and it’s about the Good News that by his blood offered at the cross our sins can be forgiven and our bodies redeemed from death—if we will only believe and trust. Amen.
Bible Text: John 1:30-34 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John "Who Takes Away the Sin of the World" St. John 1:30-34 by William Klock Every January 1st the Church celebrates the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. In some churches you might hear it referred to as the Feast of the Holy Name. What we celebrate today is Jesus’ submitting himself to begin his ministry even when he was only eight days old. According to the Old Testament law, Jewish boys were circumcised when on the eighth day. That was also when their parents formally gave them their names, which is why we have two different names for what he celebrate today, even though they both point to the same thing. It was on the eighth day after his birth that Jesus submitted himself to being obedient to the law; it was on that day that he shed his blood for us for the very first time when he was circumcised according to God’s command. As I said on Christmas, Jesus was the only one who could save us from our sin problem, because he was the only one—being both fully God and fully man—who could do what we can’t do: he could live his life in full obedience to the law. That was what enabled him to offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. Again, today we celebrate and remember who he was and what he came to do for us as we recall how, even unconsciously as a baby, he obediently submitted himself to the law. I think it’s true that when we think of Jesus’ submission and obedience to the law we tend to focus on his doing this so that he could be that sinless sacrifice for our sins—so that he be could be that spotless Lamb we talked about on the last two Sundays. But we also need to remember that his sinlessness points to victory over sin. As I stressed this past Eastertide: Jesus didn’t just die in order to satisfy the wrath of God and take away the penalty for our sins; his death was also just as much to give us new life and to take away our actual sins. And this is something we have to remember as we share the Gospel with people. John the Baptist saw Jesus and declared to the people: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” We need to show people who the Lamb is and that by his death he saves us from the consequences of our sins, but we also need to share with them that by his his perfect life, and by his death and resurrection he also conquered sin and death and leads those who trust in him into new life. Look with me again at the first chapter of John’s Gospel, beginning at verse 29: The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [That’s as far as we read last time, but look at how John continues:] This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34) We’ve seen how people came to John the Baptist thinking that he was the Messiah. And when they did that, John pointed them to Jesus. First he reminded them that he was only calling people to repentant of their sins. As important as that repenting was, it was Jesus who would actually take those sins away. And now here we see John reminding the people that his baptism was only a baptism with water that offered a symbolic cleansing from sin, Jesus would baptise with his Holy Spirit and actually cleanse us and deliver us from the power of sin. That’s what happened on Pentecost. And we need to remember that Pentecost is just as much a part of the Gospel as Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter. Jesus promised his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). Our baptism by Jesus’ Holy Spirit isn’t some add-on or optional extra to our faith or to the Gospel. It’s what makes the Christian life itself possible; it’s what transforms us and gives us new life; it’s what empowers us for holiness and to go out as witness of the Gospel to the world. If you’ve got it, you’re a Christian; if you don’t, you’re not. This is why, as we share our faith, we can’t stop with just sharing that Jesus forgives our sins. We need to share the Holy Spirit with people too. If we leave him out, we’ve only shared part of the Gospel. We’ll see this later when we look at Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. He offered her “living water,” and told her that “the water I will give…will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). What he was referring to was the new life that comes through his Holy Spirit indwelling us. The Gospel is good news to men and women who know that they deserve God’s punishment for their sins, but it’s just as much good news to those who are beset and weighed down by their sins—for people who can’t break the cycle of doing wrong, whose sins keep getting them into trouble, who don’t see any hope for a different kind of life. Forgiveness and eternal life are great, but some people need good news and a changed life right now. Sometimes we focus so much on the eternal forgiveness part of the Gospel that we forget to tell people what it can do for them today. In the overall scheme of things the eternal part is a lot more significant, but if you’re bogged down in sin today it’s hard to think about eternal consequences. Don’t forget to share the full Gospel. (And by “full Gospel” I don’t mean that Jesus will forgive you today and at some point down the road, if you’re holy enough for it or if you pray hard enough for it God will give you the Holy Spirit so that you can work miraculous gifts. Brothers and sisters, that’s not the “full Gospel”—that’s a foreign Gospel. The “full Gospel” is that Jesus has died and risen for us, conquering sin and death, and that at one and the same time, through faith, he will wash you clean, forgiving your sins, and pour his Spirit into you to give you his own power over sin. That’s the full Gospel and we should be sharing all of it with the people around us.) One of the best examples of this in the Bible is St. Peter. Think about how, on that last night with Jesus when the disciples were gathered in the upper room, Jesus told them that one of them would betray him. Peter got upset and made it clear that he would never betray Jesus. And yet the next morning when the test came, people accused Peter of being one of Jesus’ friends and three times he angrily and vociferously denied knowing Jesus—he betrayed his Lord. While Jesus was being crucified, Peter ran away and hid. And yet on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came, it was Peter—this weak and sinful man who seemed so often to misunderstand Jesus and what he was about—who was empowered by the Spirit and preached the Gospel boldly—right in the city where Jesus had been condemned and put to death. “This Jesus,” he preached, “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24). Thousands heard the good news that day, preached by Peter, and put their faith and trust in Christ. And it didn’t stop there. In the years that followed, Peter became the leader of the apostles and faithfully and powerfully proclaimed the Gospel, even as far as Rome. We need to remember that Jesus baptised his Church with his Holy Spirit so that every believer can be transformed the same way Peter was. First John 3:5 says that Jesus “appeared to take away sins” and then a few verses later John also tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). His point is that Jesus didn’t come just to take away our guilt, but that he also came to deliver us from the power of sin. That doesn’t mean that this side of eternity our lives will ever be completely free of sin—John also tells us that if we ever think we’ve stopped sinning, we’re deceiving ourselves. But it is true that Jesus frees us from the slavery of sin—he breaks the hold that sin has over us and he changes our lives. Think of Peter again: He believed and it changed his life—the Spirit set him on a new track and he started living a completely different life—one that was lived for Jesus. But it’s not just Peter—this is what Jesus does for every one of us when we’re born again. We need to be telling people that Jesus offers them a new and better life. In John 8:36 Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 St. Paul writes, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom,” for by the Spirit we “are being transformed into [Christ’s] image from one degree of glory to another.” This is the good news we should be sharing. But let me also add: Hopefully the working of the Spirit in our lives is something people see. It’s my prayer that we live in such a different way that we make people constructively curious—that they’ll come to us to ask what we’ve got, because by our own lives we’ll make them realise that they’re missing something. And if we want to see what it looks like, we don’t need to look any further than the form the Spirit took when he descended on Jesus. John the Baptist said, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and it remained on him” (John 1:32). The dove symbolised purity and gentleness. That not only describes the character of Jesus, but it also describes how the Holy Spirit of Jesus works and manifests himself in our own lives. To be a “spiritual” person—to be someone full of and living under the influence of the Spirit—is to be pure of sin’s influence. And like a dove, we are to be gentle in our actions. Think of how Isaiah describes Jesus: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Purity and gentleness should characterise the life of the Spirit-baptised Church. The world might see purity and gentleness as signs of weakness, but in the Gospel they’re signs of power. I think St. Augustine was right when he made a connection between the dove that Noah sent out from the ark and the Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove. Remember back to Noah: God had cleansed the world from sin with a great flood, and as the waters of God’s wrath were subsiding, Noah sent out a dove. When the dove returned carrying an olive leaf Noah new that the waters of had subsided from the earth (Genesis 8:11). St. Augustine wrote, “As a dove did at that time bring tiding of the abating of the water, so doth it now of the abating of the wrath of God upon the preaching of the Gospel.” When the dove came back to Noah, it was the sign that God had cleansed the world of sin, and when the Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove, it was a sign of the new creation that Jesus offers—a new life cleansed from sin. Again, when we share the Gospel we need to remember to share the whole message with people. We need to share with them that Jesus is the perfect Lamb who, by his death on the cross for us, takes away the guilt and punishment that we deserve for our sins, but we also need to share with them that he actually does take away the sins of the world—that he offers help and hope today for men and women trapped in sin as, through his Holy Spirit, he shares his victory over sin with us. When I think about this I always remember the hymn “Rock of Ages” that was written by Augustus Toplady. Think of the words there: Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee! Let the Water and the Blood, From thy riven Side which flow'd, Be of Sin the double Cure, Cleanse me from its Guilt and Pow'r. Let us pray: Heavenly Father, in the collect today we remembered how your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, became obedient to the law for our sake and we asked that you would purify our hearts “that we may die to all sinful desires and in all things obey your holy will”. We ask you again to cleanse us from sin by the power of your Spirit, but we also ask you to give us boldness to share the Good News of the cleansing power of Jesus’ blood and the renewing work of your Holy Spirit. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: John 1:35-42 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John Bringing Them to Jesus St. John 1:35-42 by William Klock We celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany on Friday, but we’re still celebrating it this morning. It’s the feast that brings the Christmas season to an end as we celebrate the “Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles”. Think of it in terms of our crèche. During Advent the children moved Mary and Joseph closer to the stable each week. On Christmas they put them in the stable and then brought those Jewish shepherds to come and see Jesus. Today the children brought the Wise Men up and put them in the stable—the gentile “Kings from the East”—who came to meet the Messiah who had come into the world. Angels brought the shepherds to Jesus. A star brought the wise men. As we celebrate Epiphany we should be asking: What am I doing to bring people to Jesus? Those of you who were here on Friday evening heard me talking about the Old Testament lesson—about the prophecy that God would send a light into the darkness of the world—and you heard me talk about our own duty to carry that light and to show it to the people around us. That’s how we bring people to Jesus. Now, there are all sorts of ways we can do it. The Holy Spirit gifts us all differently and as we share the Gospel with people the circumstances will be different every time. Some people are good at approaching strangers point-blank and simply sharing Jesus with them. Others are good at sharing the Gospel through acts of mercy or love or hospitality. Some people are good at speaking in public or are good at apologetics and argumentation and other people are better at simply sharing their own testimonies with friends. Sometimes God may put us in a situation with someone we’ll never see again and it’s clear that we have one shot at sharing the Gospel and in other cases God puts us in close contact with someone for a long time and it takes years and years to help them understand the Good News. I was reading this past week about Thomas Bilney. He was a priest who met Jesus as he read the writings of Martin Luther. He tried to preach the Gospel and about the abuses of the mediaeval Church, but it only got him into trouble. He was passionate about Jesus, but he couldn’t find a way to impact the world for Christ. That’s when Bilney thought of another priest Hugh Latimer. Bilney asked Latimer to hear his confession and when they got into the confessional, Bilney poured out the Gospel from his heart—he confessed that he was a sinner and that he could only rely on the grace of God in Jesus Christ. And as Latimer listened the Holy Spirit started working on his heart. “Little Bliney”, as he was known, brought the great Hugh Latimer to Jesus. Bilney isn’t widely known for doing great things. My guess would be that none of you here had heard of him until this morning. But because of Bilney, Latimer met Jesus. Latimer later became one of the most prominent bishops in England and was one of the chief architects of the English Reformation. Brothers and sisters, Bilney reminds us that even the humblest of us have gifts that God wants us to use and that all of us, no matter our gifts and abilities, can bring people to Jesus. This morning I want to look at three examples of what it looks like to bring people to the Gospel. Look at John 1:35-36. I know I’ve touched on these verses several times now as we’ve looked at what John can teach us about evangelism, but I want to look at them one last time before we move on to Chapter 3 next week. John the Evangelist introduces John the Baptist’s witness this way: The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” John is one of the best examples of evangelism we have in the New Testament. He was a prophet and he gave his testimony in public. He knew the kingdom was at hand and that the Messiah had come and so he faithfully called the people to repent and to believe. John also serves as an excellent example because he never called people to himself. People flocked to him because of his message, but he sent every one of them to Jesus. When Jesus showed up at the Jordan, John was happy to point everyone to him. I’ve met some Christians and I’ve seen some evangelists who seem more interested in building their own personality cults. That wasn’t John. For John it was all about Jesus. But, I think, most important about John is his example of biblical proclamation. People came to him and he told them what the Scriptures say. When people talk to me about evangelism, the most common thing they tell me is that they just don’t know what to say to people. (This is why I’m preaching this series!) Brothers and sisters, you don’t have to be a theologian or a great orator. Just tell people what you know about Jesus. As I’ve said several times, share with them what the Creed teaches us: that Jesus is God-become-man, that he died to save us from our sins, and that he rose from the grave in triumph over sin and death. But let me say, as great as the Creed is and as much as everything in it comes from Scripture, it’s not itself Scripture. Don’t forget Scripture as you bring people to Jesus. Christians say all the time that they don’t know what to say. Friends, let God speak for you. Sit down with someone and simply share with them the first verses of this first chapter from John’s Gospel—the very place from which we draw much of the Creed. If you have time to meet with someone several times, invite them to read and discuss the whole Gospel of John with you—or Mark or Matthew or Luke, for that matter. Let the Spirit-inspired words lead them to Jesus. One of my favourite ways of letting the Holy Spirit speak for me is something that you might hear called the “Roman Road”, because it walks people through the Gospel from the book of Romans. Start by explaining that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Explain that “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Explain what God has done for us: “God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). And finally you can share with them: “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13). These are verses anyone can memorise, but as you can see, I actually highlighted them in my Bible with a different colour than I normally use so that I can quickly turn to them and point them out to someone—that way it’s not just my yakking at them that they hear; they can see it right in God’s Word. These obviously aren’t the only ways to proclaim the Good News using the Bible, but they’re good ones. The point is that we proclaim God’s Word. Sharing personal testimonies is great; sharing our own thoughts and beliefs about Jesus and the Gospel are great as long as they’re biblically informed, but the most important thing is to proclaim God’s Word. St. Peter wrote, “You have been born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). Second, speaking of personal testimony, let’s look at verses 40 to 42 and the example of Andrew: One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). We recognise Andrew as one of the twelve apostles, but he’s not one we hear about much. He’s always in the background—and that should give us ordinary Christians encouragement. John’s Gospel mentions Andrew three times and in each of those three instances, he tells us about Andrew leading someone to Jesus. In Chapter 6 it was Andrew who brought the little boy to Jesus who had the loaves and fishes which Jesus used to feed the multitude. In John 12 Andrew brought a group of Greeks to Jesus so that they could meet him and learn more about him. And here—not even a Christian for twenty-four hours—Andrew brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus. The very first thing Andrew did as a believer was to go and share the Good News with his brother. I’ve observed that this is one of the things we Christians find hardest to do. I know people who will share the Gospel with complete strangers, but have never shared it with their own family members. Andrew was too excited not to tell his brother and that should be true for all of us. But notice too how Andrew’s witness took the form of a personal testimony. He ran to Peter to tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” While it’s vitally important that we share what the Bible has to say about Jesus, most of the time it’s our own testimony that makes the initial impact—it’s our excitement over what we’ve found in Jesus that gets the attention of our family and friends. We should be sharing with people what it was that caused us to believe; we should be sharing with them the joy we’ve found; we should be sharing with them the peace that Jesus has given us and the love that God has shown us. Think back to the first sermon in this series when I talked about “Apple Evangelists” and Mr. Clean Magic Erasers. We tell people about things we like and products that work well. We find a great deal on something at the store and we call up our friends and tell them so that they can take advantage of it too. Are we just as excited to tell them about Jesus and the salvation he offers? The Gospel is so much more important. And you don’t have be eloquent to share your excitement. When was the last time you didn’t tell a friend about the big sale at Future Shop because you didn’t feel you could find the words? Why should sharing our excitement about having found Jesus be any different? Think of Bilney. He wanted to make an impact for Christ, but he figured out he wasn’t in a position to be a great preacher, so he humbly shared Christ with someone who was. How about Edward Kimball? Has anyone heard of him? I didn’t think so. Edward Kimball was a quiet and timid man. He wasn’t eloquent either and he was anxious about sharing Jesus with strangers, but he felt that God really wanted him to share Jesus with a certain loud, outspoken, and crude shoe salesmen. He later wrote that he was so nervous when he walked to the man’s shop that he actually walked right past. He couldn’t later remember the words he shared, only that they were “limping words” and a “weak appeal”. But he shared something about Jesus and his love with that shoe salesman and God did something amazing through his witness. My guess is that many, if not most, of you recognise the name of the shoe salesman; he was Dwight L. Moody, who became one of the greatest evangelists of last half of the 19th Century. Moody came to Jesus because one Christian man was faithful to bring another to Jesus. That’s what Andrew did when he brought his brother, Peter, to Jesus and it’s what we’re called to do too. We think of Peter, the great chief of the Apostles who preached on Pentecost and led thousands to Jesus and yet it wouldn’t have happened without Andrew. Richard Phillips writes, “There are no more glorious words written about anyone in the Bible—apart from Christ—than the words spoken of Andrew in John 1:42a: ‘He brought him to Jesus.’” Finally, look at verses 38 and 39: Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi…where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” Jesus’ personal invitation is to “Come and see” and that invitation of his should be part of our witness. When Jesus gave his invitation he also gave a promise: “If you come, you will see.” This is a reminder that it’s our job to bring people to Jesus—to share the Good News with them—but it’s his job to open their eyes and to change their hearts. If a man or a woman will truly come seeking him, he will show them who he is. Sometimes we think that we have to coerce people into making a decision or a profession of faith. That’s not our job. Your job and my job is to set the truth of Jesus before people. We should share our excitement with them. We should make sure they understand how urgent it is that they turn to Jesus. We should pray for the Holy Spirit to be at work in their hearts. But ultimately it is Jesus who will give them sight. The Psalmist wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is Good” and God promises that his Word will never return void. If your gifts make you a great preacher or a great evangelist you should use those gifts, but the fact is that most of us are probably more like Andrew. Whatever the case, though, we have a duty: We’re called to bring people to Jesus using whatever gifts and talents he’s given to us. Share with them the joy and peace that are yours since you’ve found the Messiah. Share Jesus and the Gospel with people from the Scriptures. And remember Jesus’ promise: If you come, you will see. Let us pray: Gracious Father, thank you for the grace you have given us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Remind us not to keep it to ourselves, but to use the gifts you’ve given us to share your Good News with the people around us. Work in us by your Holy Spirit to renovate and change our lives that we might be faithful witnesses of your light by our actions and give us boldness to share Jesus in our words. We ask this in his name. Amen.
Bible Text: John 3:1-8 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John The New Birth St. John 3:1-8 by William Klock This morning we’re continuing our look at what John’s Gospel teaches us about evangelism with chapter three. We’ll be looking at verse 1-8. This is where we read about Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. I want to talk this morning about being “born again”—and that means there are two sides to what we’ll be looking at today. If we’re going to be engaging in evangelism, we obviously need to know what it means to be “born again”. New birth is one of the most important things that the Gospel is about. But this is something I hope each of us takes some time to think about in terms of how it relates to us. As we look this morning at what Jesus says about being born again, everyone should be asking: “Does that describe me? Have I been born again?” John tells us that this encounter with Nicodemus took place just after Jesus was baptised by John and just after he went to Jerusalem and cleansed the temple. This was at the beginning of Jesus three-year ministry. John had been telling people about him, so quite a few people knew who he was, at least to some extent. He was travelling around teaching like other rabbis did. But when he got to Jerusalem and went to the temple, he definitely did something the other rabbis weren’t doing. He saw moneychangers and people selling animals for sacrifices. He saw they were ripping off God’s people right in God’s own house and he got angry. He turned over their tables and ran them out. And that got the attention of the religious leaders—especially one man in particular, named Nicodemus. John tells us in verse 1: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. That means he was a member of one of the two dominant Jewish religious parties. There weren’t a lot of Pharisees, mainly because being a Pharisee meant living up to an extremely high moral standard. Most people couldn’t cut it. It also meant that he was highly esteemed by most good Jews. Everybody looks up to a “holy man”. Lots of people would like to be a “holy man” or a “holy woman”, but most of us are realistic and honest enough to know that no matter how hard we try, we’re still sinners. Not so the Pharisees. John also tells us that Nicodemus was a “ruler of the Jews”. That means that he was a member of the Sanhedrin—the governing religious body. That put him in doubly good standing with good and pious Jews. It also means that he was a scholar. He knew the Scriptures and he knew them really well. His name tells us something too. Remember that Judaea had been ruled first by the Greeks and at this time by Greek-speaking Romans. Jews—especially upper class Jews—were immersed in Greek culture, so they usually gave their children two names, one Hebrew and one Greek. The fact that Nicodemus went by his Greek name suggests that he probably had high standing with the Greeks as well as the Jews and probably that he had studied Greek culture and philosophy. Nicodemus was not only intelligent and well-educated, he had some real status both religiously and politically. He exemplifies the intelligent and wealthy man of good works and self-righteousness. The specifics may have changed with time, but even today I think we can all think of people we’ve met who are very much like Nicodemus. There are lots of them in our churches—people who do good works and are known for them, maybe they’re well-educated or maybe they’re just well off and are benefactors of good causes, but they’re also people who expect to get into heaven someday on their own merit. In verse 2 John tells us: This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Contrast that with so many of the other people who came to Jesus. Contrast this especially with the people who were physically or spiritually broken who came to Jesus. They came to him in the daylight. They pushed their way through crowds to get to him. They weren’t afraid to be seen by others. They weren’t afraid for other people to know that they had a need. And they came to Jesus, often throwing themselves at his feet and crying out for help—crying out things like, “Lord, have mercy!” Nicodemus came to Jesus under cover of darkness. What he says suggests that he might have even been sent by or come as a representatives of the other Pharisees and yet even still, he comes when no one would see him associating with Jesus. And when he comes, he comes not as a worshipper. He comes as an equal. He calls him “Rabbi”—that was his own title and that’s how rabbis addressed each other. And he says, “We know you’re a teacher from God.” What he’s doing is acknowledging Jesus as an equal, but even then he does it in a very patronizing way. We’ve all met people like this. Almost everybody is happy to accept Jesus as a good man or a great teacher, but when it comes to acknowledging him as Saviour and Lord, that’s another story. And Jesus immediately saw the problem. If he was just a good man or a great teacher Nicodemus would have been stroking his ego. But Jesus is more than that; he’s more than just another rabbi and more than just Nicodemus’ equal. So Jesus cuts him off and goes right to the heart of the problem. In verse 3 we read: Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” On the surface this seems like an odd way for Jesus to respond. Nicodemus was being patronising about being a rabbi and a teacher from God and you’d think that Jesus would respond by either affirming what was right in Nicodemus’ statement or maybe by telling him that he’s actually more than just a rabbi or a teacher. Instead he changes the subject and tells him that he can’t see the kingdom of God without being born again. But if we look at some of Jesus’ other encounters this starts to make more sense. When the rich young ruler confronted him, Jesus told him to sell his worldly possessions and to give the money to the poor. When he met the woman at the well he offered to give her living water. Nicodemus was a man proud of his heritage, proud of his standing in society, proud of his power and influence, and proud of his works. If there was anyone who epitomised what it meant to the Jews to be part of God’s kingdom, it was Nicodemus. And Jesus cuts through it all. Jesus always cut through it all and took people to their real need. The rich young ruler’s wealth wasn’t going to save him. The woman at the well was thinking only of her physical needs. Jesus cuts through our worldly sources of confidence. So he tells Nicodemus: “By birth and standing you’re a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’—to borrow a line St. Paul would later use—but that hasn’t earned you any favour with God. If you want to see God, you need to give all that up and be born again.” Everything there is about your life right now needs to be changed. You’re living the wrong life. You need to start over—completely. Bishop Ryle described what it means to be born again this way: “It is a thorough change of heart, will, and death to life. It is the implanting in our dead hearts of a new principle from above.” Those words “from above” are important. Some of your Bible translations might actually say that Jesus told him that he must be “born from above.” You can actually read the Greek either way: “born again” or “born from above”—and this is one case where Jesus has both meanings in mind. To enter his kingdom you have to be born again, but being born again means being born from above. Back in the prologue to his Gospel, John wrote, “To all who did receive [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). You have to be born again, but the new birth isn’t something we can do on our own power. Nicodemus didn’t get it and says in verse 4: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” He missed the point of this new birth being from above and he mocks Jesus. Obviously, even if he could be physically born again, he’d get a ‘do over’ on his life, but that wouldn’t change his basic problem. And so Jesus answers him: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Presumably Nicodemus had heard the things that John the Baptist had been teaching. Certainly those things will be in our own minds as we read John’s Gospel—John the Baptist was pointing people to Jesus and telling them that while he baptised with water, Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit. But all that itself was rooted in the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. These were things that Nicodemus would have known—it’s just that he hadn’t connected the dots. Through Ezekiel, God had told the people what Jesus would do: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (Ezekiel 36:25-27). To be born again means having our sins washed away by water so that you have a new standing before God, but it also means being transformed by the pouring in of the Holy Spirit so that your heart and mind are renewed and regenerated. That’s new birth. It’s about giving up the old man and putting on the new. And it’s not optional. Twice in these verses Jesus uses those words “Truly, truly I say to you” to stress the importance of new birth. In verse 6 he says: That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do you ever wonder why some people have zero interest in God, zero interest in Jesus, zero interest in the Gospel or in what the Bible has to say? It’s because until we’re born again, we’re of the world, not of God’s kingdom. If the only birth you’ve experienced is the birth of the flesh, then you’re of the flesh. You’re not only not part of God’s kingdom, but you’re actually an enemy of his kingdom by birth. Ephesians reminds us that before we were born again, we were spiritually dead. Life only comes as Jesus calls us to himself like he called into the tomb to Lazarus. The only way we can be “of the Spirit”, the only way we’ll ever understand or identify with the things of the kingdom is to experience spiritual new birth through the power of Jesus’ own Spirit. Think of Nicodemus. This was a man who had spent his life studying, learning, and even memorising the Scriptures. He lived his whole life according to them and in devotion to what he thought they taught him about God, and yet when he was face to face with the Messiah, when Jesus told him that he must be born again, he couldn’t wrap his mind around any of it. I’ve known lots of people like that. I’ve known Bible scholars and bishops who know the Bible, but they don’t really know it, because they don’t know Jesus and because he hasn’t’ given them a new heart and a new mind to see and to understand. In 1 Corinthians 2:14 St. Paul tells us: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” This is why there’s no other way into the kingdom than the new birth. But, brothers and sisters, as much as we need to understand the necessity of new birth, we also need to understand something else Jesus stresses here: the new birth is the supernatural work of God. How many people here were born the first time of their own will and on their own power? No. None of us is here on our own power. We’re here because of our mothers and fathers. In much the same way, we can only be born again on our Heavenly Father’s initiative. We can’t do it on our own. No one enters the kingdom based on his own effort or his own initiative. We enter only on the merits of Jesus and we can only come when Jesus himself calls us and when his Spirit has done the work of changing our hearts. Finally, in verses 7 and 8, Jesus tells Nicodemus: Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I was in Orlando in 2005 when Hurricane Wilma passed through. As hurricanes go it wasn’t a huge one, at least not where I was. But it was bad enough that we weren’t allowed to leave the hotel where our conference was held. I remember watching out the window at the driving rain. At the peak of the storm I saw two things that were amazing to watch: I saw a palm tree blow over. The winds were so strong that they rolled it across the parking lot. But what really amazed me was to see the winds not only push over a motorcycle, but they actually pushed the motorcycle along the ground, moving it about twenty feet. Now, I couldn’t see the wind itself. I could only see the effects and hear the sound of it, but I knew it was there. The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is like that. We can’t see the Holy Spirit, but we can—and we should—see the dramatic effect of him working in us. In Ephesians 4:24 St. Paul tells us that to be born again is to be “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Is that he kind of re-creation people see when they look at us? Let me close with two points of applications. First, going back to the knowledge that new birth is God’s initiative, let me ask: How often do you pray for others to be born again and how often do you pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with them? If God is sovereign when it comes to the regenerating power he works by his Spirit, that means that we need to be praying. We need to be living witnesses and we need to be sharing the Gospel message with people, but we need to be praying about it too. We need to be asking God to send his Spirit to change the hearts and minds of the people with whom we share the Good News. That really struck me this week as I was thinking about these verses. I pray daily for opportunities to share my faith—and the eyes to see those opportunities when they come—but I realised that I don’t pray enough for specific opportunities and I don’t follow up my encounters with people with enough prayer. We need to remember that if God is the one doing the work, we need to be asking him to do it, asking him for opportunities for us to share and asking him to be at work in the hearts and minds of those people who will see us, who will hear the message we have, and that he will continue to work in them afterward. Second, being “born again” really does mean something. Like we see the dramatic effects of the hurricane even though we can’t see the actual wind, people should see the dramatic effects of the Holy Spirit in our lives even though they can’t actually see the Holy Spirit. When I lived in Oregon I was reading a story in the newspaper about religion. Only eight percent of Oregonians attend church regularly and yet about forty percent of all Oregonians claim to be “born again”. First, how can you be born again—which means loving and trusting Jesus—and forsake his Body? Second, what kind of witness does that send to unbelievers? Lots of people claim to be “born again”, but how much evidence do we actually see? Even amongst evangelical Christians things like divorce and abortion happen at the same rate—and sometimes at a higher rate—than they do in the general population. Not only do we often see a profound lack of holiness in the Church, we see a lack of trust in God. Being born again is first and foremost about trusting in God and his promises, but churches and ministries routinely struggle financially, which means Christians are afraid to let go of their money and trust that God will take care of them. Brothers and sisters, this is one big reason why our witness is so often weak. Where the witness of Christians is strong, people flock to Jesus. I’m sure that the wind blows in Orlando every day, but when I was there in 2005 crowds of people were gathered around the hotel windows watching the winds. I’m pretty sure they don’t do that most of the time. No, we were watching because the wind was doing something dramatic. And friends, if people can see Jesus doing dramatic things our lives, they’re going to gather around to watch us too and when we want to share our faith with them, they’re going to be more interested in hearing what we’ve got to say. It’s imperative that we share the message with people that they must be born again, but it’s just as imperative that we remember those same words. We must remember that we must be born again and we need to remember what that means. Let us pray: “Father thank you that by your grace and through the gift of faith you give us new birth from above. Help us to remember that we must be born again to see your kingdom. Give us boldness to share that message with others and give us the grace we need to radically transform our own lives that our words might be backed up by how we live. We ask this in the name of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: John 3:9-21 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John "How can this be?" St. John 3:9-21 by William Klock Last Sunday we started looking at Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel. John tells us that Nicodemus was a Pharisee and one of the rulers of the Jews. He was an important man. He was probably upset by Jesus—another rabbi—who made a ruckus in the temple, throwing out the moneychangers. And so Nicodemus came to Jesus—at night and under the cover of darkness so that no one would see him—and he came to Jesus rabbi to rabbi. Actually, it was more like self-righteous, and condescending rabbi to rabbi. We don’t know what Nicodemus planned to say to Jesus, because Jesus cut to the chase. He could see through Nicodemus and so, like he did with everyone he met, Jesus showed Nicodemus what was in his heart and then undercut all the confidence he’d been putting in it. Nicodemus was proud of his birth. He was a Jew—a son of Abraham. And not just any son of Abraham, but an important, intelligent, and looked-up-to one at that. And Jesus told him: Flesh is flesh and will never be anything but flesh. Spirit is Spirit and if you want to be of the Spirit, you’ve got to be born from above by that Spirit. You’ve got to be born again. And so last week we looked at what it means to be born again from above—to have our hearts regenerated by the Holy Spirit. The lights started coming on for Nicodemus. The Holy Spirit was doing something in his heart. But Nicodemus still didn’t fully understand. The same thing happens when we share the Gospel with people. There are time when you share the Good News—even times when you haven’t even had a chance to explain all the most basic parts of it—and people are ready, the Spirit is at work in them, and they’re ready to say “Yes!” But most of the time they’ve got to understand more and they have to think it through. And that’s where we see Nicodemus: “Okay, Jesus. Unless I’m born from above I’ll always just be flesh. I need to be born again by the power of the Spirit. Let’s say that true. How?” Look at verses 9 and 10 of chapter 3: Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? This is exactly what we’re going to face when we start sharing the Gospel with people. They won’t understand. It’s especially hard to share the Gospel with someone like Nicodemus—a religious person who thinks they already know everything there is to know about God or who thinks that they’ve already satisfied God’s requirements to get into heaven. Nicodemus even had the Bible—he knew it inside and out—and yet he didn’t understand. If one of the great teachers of Israel didn’t get it, think about everyone else. The first problem people face is simply that they don’t know. That’s everyone at some point in time. There was a point when every one of us had not heard the Gospel. Jesus answered Nicodemus in verse 11, saying: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen… If all we’ve ever heard or seen are things of the world, things of the world will be all we know. Scripture affirms that as we look at God’s creation we can learn quite a bit about God, but there’s also a lot of critical information that is not available through natural revelation. Nature doesn’t tell us that we’re sinners; it doesn’t tell us that we need a Saviour; it doesn’t point us to Jesus as the Saviour. That’s why we need God’s direct revelation in Scripture. That’s why you and I need to share that message with others. And yet Nicodemus had the Bible. He had God’s revelation. He knew it backwards and forwards, inside and out and he still didn’t understand and that points to our second problem. It’s not that the Bible is somehow hard to understand. God’s purpose isn’t to hide himself in the Scriptures so that only those with the Holy Spirit’s secret decoder ring or those who have some special knowledge can tease him out. Jesus goes on in verse 11: Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. The problem is that we refuse the message. “You do not receive our testimony.” The Gospel message of the cross offends people who are full of pride and who are confident in themselves. The problem isn’t that the message isn’t clear. The problem is that our unregenerate hearts are full of sin and that our unregenerate wills are broken and fixed on everything other than—anything—but God and his truth. That’s why repentance of sin and trust in Jesus can only come after the Holy Spirit has begun his work of regeneration and renewal. In Ephesians 4:18 St. Paul describes us before the Spirit does his work: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” The first problem is that we’re ignorant. The second problem is that we refuse the truth when we hear it, because it offends our sinful hearts. This is why we need to undergird our evangelism with prayer. We can share the message. Only God can regenerate hearts. But I want to move on from the problem to focus on the answer that Jesus gives to Nicodemus. The Holy Spirit was working in Nicodemus’ heart while Jesus was dispelling his ignorance. Jesus said you have to be born again from above. Nicodemus said, “Okay, but how can this be?” What Jesus explained to him should be part of the message that we share with people. Look with me first at verses 14 and 15: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. Unless we’re sharing the Gospel with a Jewish person we probably aren’t going to use the same illustration that Jesus did, but if we’re telling someone that they must be born again, we need to explain to them the cause of that new birth. Nicodemus asked, “How can I be born again?” Jesus says: because of the sacrifice of the Son of Man. Jesus draws on two well-known Old Testament stories here. First he takes Nicodemus back to the book of Daniel. In chapter 7 of that book, Daniel had a vision and he saw “the Ancient of Days”—a reference to God the Father—on his heavenly throne. Then he saw that “with clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom”. What Daniel saw was the ascension of Jesus into heaven. “Son of Man” was Daniel’s title for the triumphant Messiah as he saw him ruling his kingdom—God himself who had humbled himself to take on human flesh so that he could save us from our sins. Jesus tells Nicodemus: It’s by the sacrifice of that Son of Man that new birth is made possible. Jesus also points Nicodemus back the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness of Sinai. In Numbers 21 we read how the people grumbled and rebelled against God, so he sent fiery serpents into the camp as punishment. The snakes bit the people and whoever was bitten died. The people realise their sin and asked Moses to go to God on their behalf. That’s when God told Moses to cast a serpent in bronze and to put it on a pole. Those who were bitten only had to look up to the bronze serpent on the pole and they would live. What Jesus is saying is that like the Israelites, we’ve all sinned—we’ve all swallowed the deadly poison of the Serpent—and we face death as our punishment. But the Son of Man has come into the world to take our curse—our sin—on himself and to be lifted up on the cross for our sake. We think that the way of salvation is through our good works. Jesus says no. Salvation comes when we simply admit our sin and look in faith to the cross—to the crucified Christ—for forgiveness. Jesus says, “You must be born again.” But he also says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent…so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Those two things go together. Jesus died so that we can be born again. So the cause of the new birth is the sacrifice of the Son. In verse 16 Jesus tells us the reason. It’s because of the love of the Father. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. I bet that most of us here probably know those words by heart. Think about what they mean. They tell us that we can be born again, that we can be saved from our sin and its consequences because God loves the world. God created the world to be a good place for us. He created us to love and worship him and called it all good. And the next thing the Bible tells us is that we questioned his goodness and rejected his sovereignty. We rebelled against him and turned to evil. From that point on the picture that the Bible paints of humanity is sin: hate, murder, war, dishonesty, greed, pain, suffering…the list goes on. And we don’t need the Bible to tell us what humanity is like. All we have to do is look around us. There are people in the world who think they’re different—that they’re morally better than everyone else or that they’ve somehow risen above the world’s sin. It’s true: some of us are worse than others. But what if we could somehow print out a transcript of every thought you’ve had in the last twenty-four hours—or maybe even just since you woke up this morning. Would you want that posted on the notice board in the parish hall? We can put on a good face before other people, but we can’t hide from God. In Psalm 139 the Psalmist wrote: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!…You discern my thoughts from afar…and are acquainted with all my ways” (Psalm 139:1-3). We all need to be born again. How can it be? Jesus says it can be because the Father loves us and sent his own Son to die for our sins—because the loving Father sent his Son. Even when we were his enemies, he loved us. When we had no desire at all to be reconciled to him, he loved us and sent his Son to make a way for it to happen. People look at the sin in the world and ask why God doesn’t do something about it. Brothers and sisters, God has done something about it. He has made it possible for us to be born again and it cost him his own Son. J.I. Packer wrote, “The measure of love is how much it gives, and the measure of the love of God is the gift of His only Son to be made man, and to die for sins, and so to become the one mediator who can bring us to God. No wonder Paul speaks of God’s love as ‘great’ and passing knowledge!” How can this be? Jesus first said that the sacrifice of the Son is the cause of new birth. Then he said that the love of the Father is the reason. Who thinks that the third part of the answer has something to do with the Holy Spirit? Yes. Jesus goes on in verses 19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. Chapter one told us that Jesus is the light and that he came into the world to shine his light into the darkness. But he ascended into heaven and sent his Holy Spirit who now shines the light of Christ through his life-giving word. How can this be? How can I be born again? It’s because the light of Christ is shining today through the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. This is the means of the new birth. St. Peter wrote, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). The Psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). It’s a light shining in the darkness and it shines brightly when it’s read and preached and lived out and witnessed and as the Holy Spirit speaks to people through it. In John 16:13-14 Jesus said, “The Spirit of truth…will guide you into all the truth….He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Nicodemus asked how we can be born again. Jesus told him the Good News. There is new life for us through his death, it’s because the Father loves us, and that it’s the Holy Spirit who shines his light into the darkness, sharing the Good News and making our hearts ready to receive it. Let me close by asking: What happened to Nicodemus? The story here in chapter three ends without any resolution. He heard the message, but we don’t know what he did with it. He turns up again in chapter seven, where he speaks up for Jesus before the Sanhedrin and that suggests that the Holy Spirit was at work in his heart. Here he comes to Jesus in the dark, not wanting anyone to know. A few chapters later he was willing to stand up for Jesus in the light and before the authorities. Three years later Jesus was lifted up on the cross just as he said he would be and Nicodemus was there to see it. If he hadn’t seen the light before that point, he saw it then. He knew it wasn’t just a teacher or a rabbi on the cross; he saw his Saviour and as he looked on his Saviour, he saw his sins washed away by the blood of Jesus and was born again. We know that because of what John tells us next. John says, “Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came.” Nicodemus finally came to Jesus in the light of day and publicly identified himself with his Saviour. “So it is,” Jesus said, “with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). And yet none of that had happened yet as Jesus told Nicodemus about the new birth here in chapter three. This is a reminder to us that our witness is never wasted. Nicodemus reminds us that we need to be persistent—following up with people after we share the good news with them—asking about their souls and encouraging them to seek the truth about Jesus. We need to be praying for them and for the Holy Spirit to do his work of regeneration in their hearts. Nicodemus finally reminds us not to underestimate the power of planting the seeds of the Gospel. We just need to tell people: You must be born again. The sacrifice of the Son, the love of the Father, and the regenerating and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit make it possible. Let us pray: Father, thank you that while we were yet sinners, you loved us and sent your Son to die for our sins. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit that he might turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Let us not keep that good news of the Gospel to ourselves, Father, but give us opportunities to share it with the people around us, eyes to see those opportunities, and boldness to take advantage of them. We ask this through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
Bible Text: John 3:16 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John "For God so loved the world" St. John 3:16 by William Klock I want to backtrack a little bit this morning. Last week we looked at John 3:9-21. John 3:16, that verse that almost everyone here has probably memorised, falls in the middle of what we looked at last Sunday, but we only looked at it briefly. Last week we saw that while it’s Jesus who offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins and while it’s the Holy Spirit who does the work of changing our hearts and teaching us the Gospel, it’s the love of the Father that sets this whole plan of salvation in motion. He created us, we sinned and rebelled against him, and through his Son he made a way for us to be restored to his fellowship. Why? Because, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world”. I want to look more specifically at what that means today, not only because God’s love is one of the linchpins of the Gospel and it’s something we need to be communicating to people as we share the Good New with them, but also because the idea or concept of the “love of God” is something that people—sometimes even Christians—often get wrong or don’t understand. In response to the Gospel we’ve all heard people say that they could never believe or worship a God who would send someone to hell. We’ve all heard people saying things like, “My God is…” or “My God does…” or “My God would…” or “My God would never…” And of course what follows isn’t a statement about the God of the Bible, but an exercise in idol creation as they go on to create God in their own image. Sometimes we ourselves confuse human love with divine love. Sometimes we pit different aspects of God’s own attributes against each other or we ignore some in favour of others—usually we favour love and ignore his justice and his holiness. This is why it’s important that we spend a little more time on Jesus’ statement that “God so loved the world”. The funny thing is that the first thing we need to realise is that God’s love is bigger than we’ll ever fully grasp. That doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t grasp it better, but God’s love is so big that it’s hard to wrap our heads around. St. Paul had as good a grasp of it as anyone ever has and so he wrote to the Ephesians and he prayed as Christ dwelled in their hearts and as his love became the ground of their own love that they might “have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” so that they would “be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19). The better our knowledge of the depth of God’s love, the better we’ll know God—and not just know him, but experience him and appreciate what he’s done for us. A knowledge and understanding of the greatness of God’s love is the root of true and genuine service and worship. The more we grasp the greatness of God’s love, the more we’ll love him in return. And God’s love is great. That’s how the Bible describes it. St. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:4-5, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” We read “great” there, but it probably doesn’t have much impact because the word is so overused in our vocabulary. I was just thinking that last week I wrote a book review for a website. I said the book was “great”, but as I was thinking about the greatness of God’s love in this context I realised that the book wasn’t really all that great. It was good, but its goodness didn’t even remotely compare with the greatness of God’s love. If we want an idea of how great God’s love is we need to think about the fact that he loved us when we were his enemies. We need to remember that God sent his only Son to die for you and me when we were rebelling against him. Maybe that doesn’t speak very loudly to some of us. One of our problems is that we’re prone to thinking that we deserve God’s love. Think of the person you struggle the most to love—or, and I hope you don’t hate anyone, but if you do, think of the person you hate or despise the most—and realise that God’s love is so great he doesn’t struggle in the slightest to love that man or woman. He just does. God’s covers murderers and child molesters and Hitlers and Stalins just as easily as it’s greatness covers any of us. God’s love is also holy. Our culture has so confused love with sex and sex with sin that sometimes it’s hard to think of love in terms of holiness. And yet God is just as holy as he is loving. In fact his purposing in loving doesn’t stop at saving us from hell, he wants to restore us to his fellowship, and even beyond that, he wants to make us the holy people he creates us to be in the first place. That means that he won’t coddle us in our sin. His is a holy love and his goal is to make us holy people. St. Peter wrote, “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15). And as big a challenge as that seems to us as we continue to struggle each day with sin, God is almighty and so is his love. In Romans 8:38-39 Paul says, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” God’s love is also eternal. Paul tells us in Ephesians 1:4 that “He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” He spoke through the prophet Jeremiah to say, “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3). And through Isaiah he assures us, “For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you” (Isaiah 54:10). And we know that his eternal love is sovereign too. In the next verse of Ephesians Paul writes that in love “he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:5-6). The cause of God’s love is only in himself. He doesn’t choose to love us because some of us are particularly lovable. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8 Moses told the Israelites, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you.” Finally, we need to understand that God’s love is infinite. That’s why it’s so hard for us grasp, but there’s no greater proof of it than Jesus’ statement in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world.” There’s an infinite gulf between the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man and yet in his love God sent Jesus to bridge the infinite gap. My guess is that Nicodemus was probably offended by that statement that “God so loved the world”. We know John 3:16 so well that we probably don’t give it much thought, but those words were incredibly provocative. As far as the Jews were concerned, they were God’s chosen people and God loved them and hated everyone else. That was pretty much how all peoples in the ancient world thought. Each nation or people had their god or gods and those gods loved them and hated and opposed everyone else and everyone else’s gods. God’s love is big enough to cover the whole world. He had tried to communicate that throughout the Old Testament. He elected Israel and worked through her so that the rest of the world would see his love, but most of the world—even most of the Jews—missed it until Jesus came to manifest God’s infinite love himself. If we go on in John 3:16, the next thing we see is that because God so love the world, “he gave his only Son.” Greek has four words for love. Each one emphasises a different kind of love or a different aspect of love. Storge describes family love—the sort of love that is loyal no matter what someone does. Eros is where we get our word “erotic” and it describes romantic or sexual love. Philos is a love that longs for or delights in something—philosophy is the love of wisdom, for example. And that’s a receiving love. It’s contingent on what we get from it. I love bacon because bacon tastes good. If bacon didn’t taste good I wouldn’t love it. But the fourth kind of love—and it’s the love that Jesus stresses in John 3:16—is a giving love. It’s a word you’ve probably heard: agape. It’s a love not based on what we get, but on what we give. This is driven home by what God gave because of his love: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son. If you want to measure God’s love, Jesus is the measuring stick. Only the infinite worth of God’s only Son could match the infinitely giving love of the Father. There aren’t many things stronger than the love of a parent for a child. When it comes to a choice between our children and people who aren’t our children, children always win. Even if the people who aren’t our children are incredibly important to us, children win. John Flavel wrote, “Who would part with a son for the sake of his dearest friends? But God gave him to, and delivered him for enemies: O love unspeakable!” The gulf was infinite, God’s love was infinite, and so to bridge the gulf he gave us a gift of infinite worth: his Son. Now, what does Jesus mean when he says that God “gave” his only Son? As the Bible teaches us—and as we affirm every week in the Creed—“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” He humbled himself and became one of us, dealt with all our struggles and temptation, but without sin. Thirty-nine times in John’s gospel alone Jesus tells us that the Father “sent” him on a mission of salvation. The Father sent him to reveal his truth, to proclaim the good news of salvation, but especially do what had to be done to actually save us. Bishop Ryle wrote, “Christ is God the Father’s gift to a lost and sinful world. He was given generally to be the Saviour, the Redeemer, the Friend of sinners,—to make an atonement sufficient for all,—and to provide a redemption large enough for all. To effect this, the Father freely gave Him up to be despised, rejected, mocked, crucified, and counted guilty and accursed for our sakes.” Brothers and sisters, when Jesus says that God “gave his only Son” we should be thinking of the cross where Jesus suffered and died so that we can be forgiven. God’s love is so great that even though our redemption meant the torture and death of his only Son and even though it meant pouring out his own just wrath for sin on his beloved child, God was willing to give him for that. I can only imagine how painful that was for the Father to give up his Son, but he was willing to do so because his love for us is so great. This is what Paul wanted the Ephesians so desperately to grasp, because the better we understand what it means that God loved us enough to give his only Son, the closer it will draw us to him, the more we’ll be driven to holiness and service and worship, and the more we’ll want to share that love with the world around us. And God’s gift wasn’t just infinite in worth; it was perfectly suited to need our need: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God has done all sorts of things for us because of his love for us, but it was the giving of his only Son that met our greatest and eternal need of redemption. This is why when the Bible speaks about God’s love, the most common way it does so is to speak of it in terms of the saving work of Jesus at the cross. In his first epistle John writes: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). Let me conclude with three practical applications of the truth that Jesus gives us in John 3:16. First, if God’s love is so great that he was willing to sacrifice his own Son to restore men and women to him, shouldn’t that drive us to share that Good News with the people around us? The means that Jesus himself ordained for the spread of the Good News was his Church. He gifts his people to share the message with others. This starts at home with our children. Parents, do not neglect to share the love the Father has shown you in his Son with your children! Set a godly example, pray with them and for them, teach them Scripture, and include them in the life of the Church. Take those vows you made at their baptism seriously! Second, we should find great assurance in the knowledge that God loves us enough to give his only Son. If God’s love for us is this great and if he’s willing to go to such great lengths to save our souls from the eternal damnation, we can be sure of his willingness to meet our day-to-day needs. Paul wrote in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” We needed a Saviour and God did not withhold his own Son. Why shouldn’t we trust him to provide the other things in life we need? He loves us.; our response should be to trust in him—for eternal things and for the things we need today. Our trust shows our love and gratitude and it serves as a witness to the world of the Gospel and God’s love. Finally, third, we need to ask what it means to reject Christ. John Flavel put it this way, “If the greatest love hath been manifested in giving Christ to the world, then it follows that the greatest evil and wickedness is manifest in despising, slighting, and rejecting Christ.” Think of what that means. How often do Christians first slight God’s holiness by believing—against everything the Bible teaches us—that somehow everyone’s going to go to heaven, that there’s really no condemnation for sin? How much greater is the slight to God’s infinite sacrificial love when we say—again contrary to everything the Bible teaches us—that there are lots of different paths to God? Dear friends, if our sin wasn’t an affront to God’s holiness and worthy of eternal condemnation, why would he give up his only Son to torture and death? And if there are multiple paths to God, why would he have paid such a high price—a price the value of which we can never fully comprehend—why would he have paid that so that we can be forgiven and restored to his fellowship? Brothers and sisters, in his love God has given his very self as a sacrifice for our sins. All we have to do is accept his invitation to trust in that sacrifice. You and I may not have rejected that offer of salvation, but we need to be careful not to slight it by worldly wishful thinking about the state of humanity, about the heinousness of sin, or about our need for a Saviour. By the same token, you and I need to press this reality on the hearts of the people who are reluctant to receive God’s gift of his only Son. The wonderful thing about growing in our knowledge of God’s love is that it will cause us to grow into the experience of God’s love. That’s why Paul didn’t first pray for the Ephesians that they would share the Gospel more or that they would trust God more or that they would receive the Gospel more. No, he first prayed that they would come to know the height and depth and breadth of the great love of God. The more we plumb it’s depths and come to realise just how much God loves us, all those other things will come as natural responses. If you feel like you’re lacking motivation for obedience, for evangelism, for prayer, for worship, take time each day to meditate on the cross and what it means that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Let us pray: Almighty God and Father, thank you for the great love you’ve shown us by giving up your only Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Increase in us daily our understanding of your love that we might ever more grow in our appreciation of it and in our desire to live it out and share it with others. We ask this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Bible Text: John 4:1-10 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: John & Jesus: Learning Evangelism from the Gospel of John "Whoever Believes in Him Should not Perish" St. John 3:16-18 by William Klock Two weeks ago we looked at John 3:16 and specifically about what it means when Jesus says that “God so loved the world.” Before we move on to Chapter 4 next week, I want to take one last look at John 3:16 and at the two verses that follow it. If you’ve got your Bibles follow along with me as I read verses 16 to 18: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. I want to start this morning with those words in verse 16: “whoever believes in him”. We’ve seen that eternal life is made possible by the love of the Father in sending his Son who loving died for us and as his loving Spirit works in our hardened hearts to soften and turn them to him. And that’s when we believe. But what does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? We’ve all met people who are happy to say, “Oh, yes, I believe in Jesus!” And yet their lives show little or no evidence of obedience to God. They never darken the doors of a church and show no love for Jesus’ Body and no desire to be part of it. We hear people say that they believe in Jesus, but they deny his divinity or they deny that you have to make him your Lord or they deny the central truths of the Bible. In the last several weeks something called the “Insider Movement” has been in the Christian press because of their approach to missions. These people are working mainly in Muslim countries and their mission isn’t to convert Muslims (or anyone for that matter) to Christianity. They just want to introduce them to Jesus. The people they reach can stay Muslims, they can still read the Quran, still believe that Mohammed is God’s prophet, still believe everything that Mohammed taught, just so long as they “believe in Jesus” too. They’ve been in the news lately because of the Bible translations they’ve been producing—translations that avoid telling people that Jesus is God’s Son—because that part of the message forces people to make a choice between false religion and Jesus. If Jesus isn’t the Son of God, we can find ways to incorporate him into just about any belief system. The problem is that that kind of belief in Jesus won’t save you. So we have to ask: What does it mean to “believe in Jesus”? We need to understand this not only for our own benefit, but also so that we have some idea of what we need to share with people and why. To believe in Jesus is to have faith in him and there are three aspects to faith. If any of these three elements is missing our faith falls short of what Jesus calls for here. The first of these elements is knowledge. This is why we share the Gospel. Faith has to have an object—something it believes and trusts in. People can’t have faith in Jesus if they’ve never heard of him, who he is, and what he’s done. There are some people who seem to think that the Christian faith is nothing more than feelings or experience. The fact that Christians have worked so hard over the years to define the faith—this is why we have statements like the Creeds and our Articles of Religion—should tell us that faith is more than just feelings or experience. Those feelings and experiences need to be defined and focused on truth. This is one reason why the Bible is such a big book. There is intellectual content to our faith. It doesn’t mean that every Christian has to know and fully understand every last bit of that knowledge that God has revealed, but it does mean that there are some basic truths about God, about Jesus, and about the Gospel that we have to know. We put our faith in something and we have to know what that something is. We often say that we are saved by faith. What we really mean is that we are saved by Jesus. Faith is simply the means by which we trust in him to save us. Saving faith has Jesus as its object, and not just any Jesus, but the Jesus of the Bible. Think of it this way. Chairs keep us from falling on the floor when we sit down. Sitting in a chair and expecting it to hold me up requires a certain measure of faith. And yet before I put faith in a chair, I actually have to know what a chair is. An empty box might look like it will give me some support, but if I sit on it I’ll find out otherwise when my backside goes right through it. Knowledge about chairs will also warn me before I put my faith in a chair with a missing leg or a chair that looks like a chair but is made out of something that isn’t strong enough to hold my weight. Brothers and sisters, it’s knowledge of God’s truth, of who the real Jesus is, of the Cross, of the inadequacy of my works to save me—it’s this knowledge that keeps us from misdirecting our faith. When it comes to your eternal destiny you don’t want to wind up putting your faith in a religious cardboard box! (There are lots of them out there.) But neither do you want to find you’ve put your faith in a brittle or broken chair. Sometimes the problems aren’t so obvious. There are cults out there that have a Jesus who looks a lot like the Jesus of the Bible, but if he isn’t the Jesus of the Bible you’ll find out on the Last Day your faith might as well have been in a cardboard box. So when we say we “believe in Jesus” that means we believe in Jesus as he is presented to us by God in the Bible. Second, it’s not enough just to know what the Bible says about Jesus and the Gospel. The second part of faith is that we have to agree with those truths; in other words, we have to hold the conviction that they are true. Some people may call themselves Christian, they may know what the Bible says, and yet they’ll say things like, “I don’t really believe that Jesus is God” or “I don’t really believe that God will punish my sins” or “I don’t really believe that Jesus rose from the dead.” Those are all critical parts of the Gospel message itself. If you knowingly deny them you are not a Christian. At the end of his Gospel, St. John tells us, “These [accounts of Jesus’ ministry] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). It’s not enough to know who Jesus is and what he’s done; we have to believe that what we know is true. Let’s go back to the chair analogy. I know what a chair is. I even know how to tell the difference between a good, solid chair and one that is rickety, broken, or not strong enough to hold me up. I know the difference between a chair and an empty cardboard box. I know that a chair is what will keep me from falling on the floor when I sit down. But if I’m not convinced of that knowledge, will I actually sit down in a chair? Probably not. Instead I’m going to stand here stupidly looking at the chair, forever debating in my mind whether it can or will hold me up. And just like that, there are people who have heard the truth of the Gospel, but because they aren’t convinced of its truth, they never actually put their trust in it. That’s not faith. That leads us into the third point: trust. Real, saving faith involves trust. Trust is what takes us beyond mere knowledge of the Gospel, beyond being convicted that the Gospel is true, and leads us to truly putting it to work in our lives. Brothers and sisters, to be a Christian is to have committed—to have trusted—yourself to Jesus, sure in the knowledge that at the Cross he paid the price for your sins. Leon Morris writes, “Christian faith means the abandonment of trust in one’s own achievements and a coming to rely on what Christ has done to bring us salvation.” To go back to the chair again: real faith in the chair’s ability to hold me up is seen when I actually sit down on it—and that’s when I really sit down on it. Lots of us say we trust in Jesus, but at the end of the day, if we really look at our hearts, our faith in Jesus is something like me sitting perched on the very edge of the chair. I can sit in the chair—sort of—but still keep most of my weight on my feet. I haven’t really sat back in the chair and let it do it’s work and until I sit back and entrust myself to the chair, I’m not really having faith in the chair. Just so with Jesus. We trust ourselves to him, but we don’t trust him fully. We still lean forward; we still keep our feet on the floor and most of our weight on them. “Yes, Jesus, I trust you paid the price for my sins on the cross, but I’m still going to keep sort of trusting in my good works just in case your Cross isn’t enough.” “Yes, Jesus, I trust in you to save my soul, but if you wonder why I’m not tithing, it’s because I’m going to keep trusting in myself for my daily bread.” We do this in too many ways to count, but friends, true faith means going from knowledge, to conviction, and finally to trust, and when it comes to the Gospel, partial trust doesn’t cut it. We have to put our whole trust in Jesus. The prophet Isaiah gave King Ahaz a warning that applies to all of us: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isaiah 7:9). Brothers and sisters, you and I need to be firm in our faith, but as we share the Gospel with others, we can’t forget to let them know what it means to truly trust in Jesus. We can’t be satisfied with an undefined, “Oh yes, I believe in Jesus.” We need to know that they have fully trusted in him too. Let’s move on now to those words “should not perish”. We need to understand what those words mean. We can never be effective evangelists if we don’t. A few years ago I read a book by R.C. Sproul called Saved from What? He took the title from an experience he had many years before. He opens the book by telling how one day when he was teaching theology at Temple University. He had taken a long lunch and was hurrying across campus to class when a man suddenly stepped onto the path, seemingly from out of nowhere, and simply asked him, “Are you saved?” Sproul describes how completely taken aback he was. He said the first thing that came to mind, “Saved from what?” He writes that the man was completely unprepared for that response and just stood there stammering and stuttering. Sproul writes, “Though this man had a zeal for salvation, he had little understanding of what salvation is. He was using Christian jargon….But sadly, he had little understanding of what he was so zealously trying to communicate.” It seems like a no-brainer that if we’re going to share the Gospel with people that we need to know why we’re doing it. We’re sharing the Gospel because, as Jesus clearly tells us here, it’s only those who believe in him who will not perish everlastingly. And yet what does Jesus mean when he talks about “perishing”? He hinted at it in verse 14 when he talked about the “serpent in the wilderness” that Moses lifted up. Remember back to the Israelites who grumbled against God and were bitten by poisonous snakes. They were perishing and many of them did perish, but those who trusted in God and looked up to the brass serpent on the pole were healed. Jesus says that as those people looked up in faith to the serpent raised up before they did not perish, so all those who look to him as he is raised up on the cross will not perish. Going back further, those snakes that bit the Israelites point to the serpent who tempted Adam and Eve to disobey God’s command. God had warned them not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He warned them, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). I don’t think it was physical death that God was warning them about, because after they ate the fruit what we read about taking place was a spiritual death. Suddenly their innocence was gone and God was forced to cast them out of the garden—out of his direct presence and fellowship. They believed the serpent’s lie and let the poison of sin into their lives—a poison that led to their death. And that spiritual death is eternal. Revelation describes it as to be “tormented day and night forever”. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that those who perish in their sins “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Brothers and sisters, when we ask, “Are you saved?” That’s what we need to be saved from: from eternal punishment for our sins. And people will ask: “If God is loving, how can he permit anyone to perish that way?” Jesus gives us the answer in verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” We need to remind people—or tell them in the first place if they don’t already know—that God is as just and holy as he loving. The same God whose love is so great that we can never fully grasp it is also a holy judge. If he were to dismiss our sin he would not be just and if he were not just he wouldn’t be God. Sin is sin and our sins—sins that we have chosen wilfully to commit—condemn us. And then we need to take people back to God’s love. God shows his love for us in sending his own Son to die for our sins. Through Jesus he has made a way for us to be forgiven and to escape his judgement. It cost him his Son, but through faith in the sacrifice of his Son our sins can be transferred to his account at the cross. That was where he died as the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Our souls hang on that act of faith. We can receive his loving offer of salvation or we can refuse it. Friends, no unbeliever will suffer in hell because God was somehow unloving. They will suffer in hell “because [they did] not believe in the name of the Son of God.” People don’t like the idea of God condemning them and yet there’s no good reason for us to resent God’s judgement. Jesus tells us plainly, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). God isn’t a sadistic meanie who takes joy in tormenting or punishing his creatures. Brothers and sisters, we brought judgment on ourselves through our sin. We have no one to blame but ourselves for our predicament. It was God who loved us so much that even as were his enemies, actively rebelling against him, that he lovingly sent his own Son to die for us. He’s like a doctor who gives a prescription for the medicine we need to get better. It’s not his fault if we refuse to fill the prescription or if we refuse to take the medicine. If we refuse the medicine we condemn ourselves to death. It’s just like that with all those who reject Jesus as their Saviour and Lord. Jesus’ promise is that those who believe—really believe in him as the Bible presents him to us and wholly put their trust in him—will not perish, but have eternal life. And, brothers and sisters, if by “perish” Jesus is talking about eternal spiritual death and separation from God, then to have “life” is to be restored to his presence and fellowship, and not just for today, but for all time. That’s the good news of the Gospel. I hope that everyone here has truly believed—that we’ve all got the knowledge, the conviction, and the trust that make up real, saving faith. But remember that this is the message we have to share with the people around us. The bad news is that we are sinners—sinners who have already perished and sinners who have placed ourselves in the position of being condemned. The good news is that through faith in Jesus and his Cross, our loving God offers us a way back to life. Let us pray: Gracious heavenly Father, thank you for the Good News; thank you for sending your only Son to die in our place that we might not perish everlastingly, but have eternal life. Strengthen our faith, we ask Father, and let it be a true and saving faith. Remind us also as we share your Good News with the world, that faith is not a vague belief or affirmation about Jesus, but that we must tell people who you really are and help them to understand that they must put their whole trust in you. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord. Amen.