July 21, 2013
I’ve been grieved lately to hear of several young adults who formerly were a part of this church, who professed faith in Christ and in some cases served in this church, but now do not go to any church. I’ve heard that some of them have renounced their faith in Christ. One of them that I recently had lunch with now claims to be an atheist.
What a tragedy! Why does it happen? The reasons are probably as varied as the individuals who fall away. Behind it all is the enemy of our souls, who prowls about as a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Pet. 5:8; Luke 8:12). Sometimes the person believed in Jesus for superficial reasons: he hoped that Jesus would give easy relief from some problem, but it didn’t happen. In the parable of the sower, Jesus told about those who believed and found sudden joy, but they didn’t have roots, so that when the hot sun of trials came out, they wilted and died. Others, He said, seem to grow for a while, but the thorns of worries and riches and the pleasures of this life choked them out (Luke 8:13-14).
I think that there are also two common problems behind those who make a profession of faith and then fall away. First, they have a shallow understanding of their true moral guilt before the holy God. They don’t understand that as sinners they are under His wrath and that their good deeds will not erase or ease His judgment against their sins. So they don’t see their desperate need for salvation. Second, they don’t understand who Jesus is and what He did for them on the cross. As I’ve often said, the entire Christian faith rests on the correct answer to Jesus’ question (Matt. 16:15), “Who do you say that I am?” If you get that question right, everything else is secondary. If Jesus is who the Bible proclaims Him to be, then you must believe in Him as your Savior and Lord or you will face judgment. Either Christ died for your sins and is risen from the dead or not. If He is not who He claimed to be, then you’re wasting your time being a Christian (1 Cor. 15:13-19).
John is clear about why he wrote his Gospel (20:31): “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, you may have life in His name.” I titled an earlier message from John 1:15-18, “Why You Should Believe in Jesus.” In our text, John hits it once more (and it won’t be the last time!): Why believe in Jesus?
Because Jesus is God’s Son from heaven who testifies to God’s truth, your eternal destiny hinges on believing in Him.
As I said last time, these verses expound on the first half of John the Baptist’s motto, “He must increase.” Although some Bible scholars think that verses 31-36 continue the words of John the Baptist, I’m inclined to side with those who argue that they are the words of John the apostle. The original text did not have quotation marks. As we saw earlier in this chapter, probably Jesus’ words end at 3:15 and John’s comments follow in 3:16-21.
A couple of things point us in this direction here. First, the Christology (view of Christ) seems to be more in line with later, more developed understanding than with that which John the Baptist would have had. Also, these verses are clearly Trinitarian. It would be highly unusual for a Jew like John the Baptist at this point in history to have had such well-defined views.
But, whether these are the words of John the Baptist or John the apostle, they are equally inspired by God, given for our spiritual profit. John makes four main points to show why we should believe in Jesus:
John 3:31: “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.”
John seems to be commenting on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus (3:11-13): “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man.”
John is repeating the point that Jesus’ existence did not begin when He was born to the virgin Mary. The eternal Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Jesus came to this earth from heaven, where He dwelt eternally with the Father. Through the virgin birth Jesus took on human flesh so that He could bear the penalty for our sins. But now He is again exalted on high, “above all,” a point that John repeats twice for emphasis (some manuscripts omit the second repetition, but it is probably original).
John is not the only apostle to affirm that Jesus is now above all. In Ephesians 1:20-22a, Paul says that after God raised Jesus from the dead, He seated Him “at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet ….” The apostle Peter affirms (1 Pet. 3:22) that Jesus “is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” And, the author of Hebrews spends the entire first chapter of that letter asserting that Jesus, the Creator of all things, is over all the angels.
In our text (3:31) John contrasts Jesus with John the Baptist, “who is of the earth, is from the earth and speaks of the earth.” He is not nullifying the testimony of John, but rather pointing out its limitations by contrasting it with the superior testimony of Jesus. While John the Baptist was a faithful witness of all that God entrusted to him, he was nonetheless human. He only had a limited understanding of the things of God, as all humans do to one extent or another. But Jesus dwelt eternally with the Father (17:5). Because Jesus came to earth from heaven and is now back in heaven, exalted above all others, we must believe everything that He has told us about God and heavenly things.
John 3:32-34: “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” John affirms three things in these verses:
John 3:32a: “What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies ….” We hear stories these days of people who supposedly went to heaven, came back, and wrote a book about it. A lot of what they write contradicts what the Bible says about heaven, but people buy their books and receive it as true because the authors claim to have eyewitness testimony. It’s interesting that none of the people in the Bible who were raised from the dead wrote books or set up speaking tours to tell everyone what they saw up there! The apostle Paul had a vision of heaven (some think it may have been when he was stoned and left for dead), but he only spoke about it hesitantly 14 years after it happened (2 Cor. 12:1-10). And he adds that because of the surpassing greatness of that revelation, God gave him a thorn in the flesh to keep him humble. Paul missed a huge opportunity to cash in with a best-selling story about what heaven is like!
But John’s point in our text is that Jesus can testify truthfully about heaven because He is telling us what He has seen and heard. He wasn’t speculating or philosophizing about heaven. He was speaking the very words of God, telling us what the Father is like and how we can have eternal life. His witness is reliable and certain.
This isn’t the only time that John asserts this. In John 7:16, Jesus said, “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” In John 8:28, He said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” In John 14:10, after telling Philip that if he has seen Jesus, he has seen the Father, Jesus adds, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”
D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 213) sums it up: “Jesus so completely says and does all that God says and does, and only what God says and does … that to believe Jesus is to believe God.” The converse is also true: To reject Jesus’ testimony about God is to reject God (see John 12:44-50). Even worse, to reject God’s testimony about Jesus is to call God a liar (1 John 5:10): “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.” So it’s a very serious matter to set aside Jesus’ testimony as recorded in the Bible!
John 3:32b-33: “and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true.” Obviously, in context, the first half of that statement is a generalization, because the second half indicates that some do receive Jesus’ testimony. It’s similar to what we saw in 1:11-12: “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” The general response to Jesus when He came to this earth was rejection. John 3:19, “Men loved darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” But, by God’s grace alone, there have always been some who have responded by believing. These affirm (“set their seal to this”) “that God is true.”
It’s interesting to contrast John’s statement in 3:32, that “no one receives His testimony,” with the report of John the Baptist’s disciples (3:26) that “all are coming to Him.” Jesus had a large popular following because He healed people and they found His teaching fascinating. They enjoyed His stories. They liked the fact that He spoke with authority, not like the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 7:29). But, the same fickle crowd that shouted “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday on Friday shouted, “Crucify Him!” Their views about Jesus changed with the popular tide of opinion.
The point for us is: the reason we should put our trust in Jesus is because we have come to the firm conclusion, based on the apostolic witness, that God is true and that Jesus spoke the words of God. He is who He claimed to be. He is the Christ, the Son of God, sent from heaven to redeem us from our sins. By setting your seal to this, John means that you fix in your mind and heart that Jesus is the promised Redeemer, your personal Savior and Lord. Even if all others forsake Him, you will be faithful even unto death.
The truth is, it’s easy to ride on the coattails of your parents’ faith or your friends’ faith or of popular opinion. Perhaps you went to an evangelistic meeting and all of your friends went forward at the altar call as the congregation sang an emotional hymn and the preacher pled for everyone to come forward. Under a flurry of emotion, you went forward. You felt great about it at the time and even shed tears of joy as the counselor shared with you that you now have eternal life and that it can’t be taken from you.
But, then a few weeks or months later, the glow faded. Stubborn problems reared their ugly head. Rather than answering your prayers for deliverance, things got worse than they were before you went forward. Meanwhile, a lot of your friends who are not religious are saying, “I told you it wouldn’t work!” An atheistic professor gave a lecture ridiculing Christianity. If your faith rests on popular opinion, it will crumble in time.
I grew up in a Christian home and made a profession of faith at a young age. But I remember that when I got to college, I realized that there are a lot of other options out there on what to believe. As I thought it through, I realized that if my faith was going to endure, it had to be my faith, not my parents’ faith and not my friends’ faith. It had to be based on the truth about Jesus.
John 3:34: “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure.” The truth that God sent Jesus to this earth is repeated about 39 times in John’s Gospel, which affirms His deity and His heavenly origin (Ed Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. by John F. Walvoord & Roy B. Zuck [Victor Books], 2:283). It also underscores Jesus’ authority, which John emphasizes in the next verse (3:35).
“For He gives the Spirit without measure” explains why Jesus spoke the words of God: During Jesus’ earthly ministry, God the Father gave Him the full measure of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2; 42:1; 61:1; Luke 4:18). As John the Baptist testified (John 1:32), “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him.” This brings out the full humanity of Jesus. As a man, He had to rely constantly on the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17; 15:26), which enabled Him to speak the true words of God. In this, He modeled for us how we are to live in dependence on God’s Spirit.
There are two applications for us in this verse. First, while only Jesus could infallibly speak the very words of God, every pastor and Bible teacher should strive to be faithful to the Word of God. My aim in every sermon is that when I’m done, you should be able to look at the biblical text and understand what it means and how it applies to your life. This means that sometimes I have to teach some difficult truths (as I will do in a moment when we get to the subject of God’s wrath in 3:36). If I water down or dodge the difficult truths, as many pastors do, I am not being faithful to God. And if you sit for very long under a pastor who waters down the Word, you won’t be faithful to God.
Second, while Jesus is unique in having the complete fullness of God’s Spirit, we all should repeatedly ask God for more and more of the fullness of the Spirit. Early in my Christian life, I was taught that I could claim the filling of the Holy Spirit by faith. The implication was that either the Spirit fully controlled my life or I was in control. But the reality is, we grow in our capacity to be filled with the Spirit and in this lifetime, we never will experience the complete fullness of the Spirit that Jesus experienced. While the fruit of the Spirit can be evident in our lives, there is always room for more love, more joy, more peace, more patience, more kindness, more goodness, more faithfulness, more gentleness, and more self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Thus I need constantly to entreat God for more fullness of His Spirit.
Thus, Jesus has a heavenly origin and a heavenly message.
John 3:35: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” The love between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is eternal and perfect. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Him and the Father proclaimed (Matt. 3:17), “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Because the Father loves the Son, He has given all things into His hand. Jesus affirmed (Matt. 11:27), “All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” Just before He ascended into heaven, as He gave the Great Commission, He again affirmed (Matt. 28:18), “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”
That’s an astounding claim! If any mere man said such things, we would know that he was crazy. But Jesus could make such a claim with full credibility, because of who He is. This means that as we proclaim the gospel, we can appeal to Jesus to open blind eyes and reveal the truth to those who are lost. He alone has the sovereign authority to fulfill His Word with power. Finally,
John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” There are two and only two options: Believe in Jesus and have eternal life; or, do not obey Jesus and be under God’s perpetual wrath. Both options are present realities that extend into eternity. Right now, you either have eternal life or you are under God’s wrath. Whatever state you are in when you die continues forever after you die (Matt. 25:46).
You might expect that John would say that whoever believes in Christ has eternal life, but the one who doesn’t believe is under God’s judgment. But instead, he uses a different word, saying, “he who does not obey the Son will not see life.” He does this for two reasons. First, not to believe in Jesus is to disobey God, who calls on all to repent and believe. Second, genuine saving faith is obedient faith, whereas false faith claims to believe, but denies that claim by disobedience (Matt. 7:21; Luke 6:46; Titus 1:16; James 2:18-24; 1 John 2:3). Of course, none of us can obey God perfectly, but the overall direction of our lives should be that of obedience to Christ.
This is the only mention of God’s wrath in John’s Gospel, but it’s a frequent theme in his Revelation (6:16-17; 11:18; 14:10; 16:19; 19:15). God’s wrath is His settled, holy hatred and opposition to all sin. All sin must be punished, or God would not be holy and just. As Jonathan Edwards argued so forcefully in “The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners” (The Works of Jonathan Edwards [Banner of Truth], 1:669), sin against an infinitely holy God is infinitely heinous and thus worthy of infinite punishment. Those who refuse to believe in Christ are presently under the curse of sin and death. If they die unbelieving, they will experience the fullness of God’s wrath throughout eternity. Thus our eternal destiny hinges on believing in Christ or disobeying Him.
I am greatly concerned that all of you believe in Jesus for the right reasons: Because He has a heavenly origin—He came from above and is above all; because He has a heavenly message—He testifies of the Father; and, because He has heavenly authority—the Father has given all things into His hand. Because of who Jesus is, your eternal destiny hinges on believing in Him.
I close with this quote from J. C. Ryle (Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:172), which sums up why we should believe in Jesus: “We can never make too much of Christ…. We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honor that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth.”
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation