After World War II, an American chaplain called on a German general who would eventually be hanged for war crimes, and he found him reading the Bible that he had been given. The general asked him to thank the American people for him for this reason: “I know from this book that God can love a sinner like me.”

This shows how shockingly different of the love of God is from the love of any human being. God loves sinners. And his love is something that each one of us stands in need of, despite who we are, what we have done.  This love is found in the often repeated and often little understood verses of John 3:16-8.

For instance, there was once an elderly woman whom I visited in the hospital. She was in intensive care, and I started and based my witness for the brief time that I could on John 3:16. When she heard me say the words of John 3:16 as tenderly and lovingly as I could, she said how much she loved the words of John 3:16 since she had heard the words in church since she had been a little girl. But in a few moments she started to become offended as I started to explain what the words of that verse actually mean. She had often heard the words but never really understood them, and they shocked her out of her religious complacency, from her trust in her church attendance, to see her real need of faith in Jesus Christ alone was her Savior.

In the same way the love of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ often shocks religious people today also out of their comfort and complacency in their religiosity. These words have often been just a kind of meaningless mantra to too many over the years, and these same words have often been used and repeated because to some they are comforting and familiar and because, for some people who have been raised in a religious environment, they elicit an emotional buzz. But these words explain very briefly the gospel of God, and in a way that shocks us when we realize what is really being said.

These words are part of the same shocking deluge of saving truth that came to the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus on the night that he sought out a personal interview with Jesus Christ. These words are the third of a series of shocking, unsettling statements that Jesus gave him during the course of their conversation. The first shocking statement was that he and the other religious leaders didn’t recognize what God was doing right in front of them, that they needed to be born again to see what was really going on in himself and his ministry, that it was not just another teaching but the kingdom of God invading this earth. And then the second shocking statement was that the claim that Jesus possessed heavenly knowledge as the Son of Man who came from heaven and  that eternal life came through faith in himself. And then the third jolt came to Nicodemus that that God loved all the sinful people of this world, and that Jesus himself was the ultimate expression of his love.

So here’s what John 3:16-18 says: “For God so loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him would not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world that he might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Everyone who trusts in him is not under judgment; but the person who does not believe has already been judged, because that person has not trusted in the name of the one and only Son of God.”

Other versions here.

Jesus Christ himself is the ultimate gift of God’s love. The certainty that God loves sinful people is there in his free choice to give his only and only Son for a world that had rejected him and which now lay in sin and death. The demonstration of his love is the gift of his dearest and best to be the most costly solution to the problem of sin and guilt of this world of mankind.

The love of God was the only reason that he gave Jesus to the world for the salvation of men and women. There was nothing to motivate his love except his own decision to love the people who had been made in his image and who had become his enemies through surrender to sin. His choice to love is seen in the beginning of verse 16: “For God so loved the world, so that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who trusts in him would not perish but have eternal life. ” 

One of the significant questions with this passage is whether these verses are really Jesus speaking, as a continuation of what he had already been saying since verse , or whether the apostle has inserted his own words here, as an explanatory aside statement.  Certainly the apostle did include these kinds of personal and explanatory statements in the gospel, especially toward the end. Indeed, many translations and commentators treat verses 16-21 as something that the apostle inserted here, and it’s not indefensible to take that position. I think, though, that these verses are the words of Jesus himself to Nicodemus, since everything in these verses is consistent with what Jesus said in other places in the gospel of John, and his statements on the Son of God and Son of Man are perfectly in line with what he would say later in the gospel in 5:19-29.

Then, to pick up where in the conversation with Nicodemus these verses appear, and thus the preceding context of these verses, it’s towards the beginning of the ministry of Jesus in what is now almost entirely the nation of Israel and then the Roman  held territories of Judea, Samaria, Galilee and the Decapolis. Jesus has come on the scene after the ministry of John the Baptist (not the John who is the author of this gospel) began to make some waves among the Jewish people with his prophetic calls to personal religious reform, repentance and baptism. Jesus himself has been baptized, and John the Baptist has endorsed him publicly and privately as the Messiah he said had already arrived. Jesus has already performed several miracles of note and has stepped on some toes by driving some commercial traffic outside the bounds of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Nicodemus, one of the Jewish religious leaders, has come to Jesus at night in secret to talk with him, and Jesus has already dropped the bombshell on him that his religious birth and lifestyle is not enough, that he must be ‘born again.’ And then, if that were not enough, Jesus added a shocking claim to be the Son of Man that had been predicted in Daniel 7. But Jesus did not stop there; he added the claim to be the Son who was promised by the prophet Isaiah to the house of David and the whole nation of Israel.

So this statement about God giving his Son is definitely an allusion by Jesus to Isaiah 9:6 ( “. . . for unto us a Son is given . . .”). Jesus then expanded the meaning of this verse as he applied it to himself and explained it. He expanded it to say that he – the Son of God — had not been given just to Israel but through Israel to the entire race of fallen humanity. So with this statement he moved from his earlier claim to be the Son of Man of Daniel 9:13-14 to his claim to be the Son of God promised in Isaiah 9:6 – the Son who would be God himself. He was in fact making the claim to be the Messiah promised to the house of David, and he was expanding the meaning of what it would mean to be the Messiah. It was the claim to be more than an earthly king from the line of David; rather, he, as the Messiah, would be unique among all mankind, that he would be the one and only Son, or, as the Greek means, literally the one of a kind Son.

This is something that I think that the modern evangelical church needs to make certain that it is communicating a clear understanding of what this word and the word means in the context of the verse. This is especially necessary in light of the deep misunderstanding that much of Islam has about what Christians believe about the Sonship of Jesus and the virgin birth as well. What is clear in this word is that this is an assertion of the uniqueness of the Sonship of Jesus himself. The continued use of the word ‘only begotten’ has led to a persistent and unnecessary misunderstanding among Muslims about what Christians believe about the Sonship of Jesus. There has been a persistent misunderstanding that Christian belief in the Sonship of Jesus means that God had physical sex with Mary the mother of Jesus. Rather, the word translated ‘only begotten’ means that the Sonship of Jesus was unique and from all eternity – from before the birth in Nazareth, the Person who was born as Jesus of Nazareth was already completely and eternally the Son of God, and the incarnation of Jesus through the conception in the womb of Mary was a special creation by the Holy Spirit that was accomplished without any kind of sexuality accomplished or implied.

So then, this is a reference to the unique nature that he had as God the Son, but speaking in the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth. This is still a shocking statement of his identity. It was later echoed in John 5:19-29 in the context of the resurrection to eternal life and the resurrection to eternal death. It tells us of how completely and utterly God has loved us, in that his dearest and best was the one who came into our world to provide it for us.

How does God demonstrate his love for us? The demonstration of the love of God to each and every one of us is Jesus Christ himself. His love is not something that we can measure by our personal circumstances or by our personal pride and egotism and sense of our own worth but by the gift of his Son. His Son came not to a few supposedly worthy individuals, but to the world of humanity deep in sin, and he came from a love that was not motived by anything connected to our performance, attractiveness or worthiness, but by his own free choice to love. His love for us has come not in words or feelings or in lavish and luxurious gifts to pamper and spoil us, but rather in the shocking act to give his Son to live and die for all of us and for each of us. And this gift of the Son the demonstration that no matter what others have done to us, how lovingly or unlovingly others have treated us, we can be certain of the love of God for each and every one of us, no matter how others may regard us, and that this love has been there for us from all eternity, for every moment of our lives.

There was once that the evangelist R.A. Torrey was staying with a family and he heard his host say to his daughter: “Now, Stella, if you are a good girl, God will love you, but if you are a bad girl, God won’t love you.”

Torrey mentioned that what was said was simply and plainly nonsense, because the Bible clearly says that God loves sinners. He went on to mention a time he was walking on Waterloo Rd in London, England on a Sunday morning, and he was encountering drunken men and women left and right. As he went on, he found two young men throwing what looked like a bundle of rags into a cart. He then saw it was a woman 50 years old and passed out drunk, and he was about to turn away in disgust when the thought came to him: “God loves this woman. God loves this woman just as he loves you. She is a poor, sin-soaked outcast, and you are a preacher, but God loves that woman just as much as he loves you.”

Out of love God sent Jesus to bring salvation instead of judgment, and his mission was not what was expected by the people of his time. He came not to be a political deliverer, but something much, much more; his mission was to save people from the final consequences of their sins, and so he came not as a Judge but as a Savior. This is what verse 17 says: “For God did not send the Son into the world that he might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

If we read this as the continuation of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, this statement stands as the Son’s declaration of his mission as Messiah, the kind of Messiah that he was to be, in the will of the Father. If it is the declaration of the apostle, the meaning remains the same, that the Messiah, Jesus, he came as the Savior, not as the Judge. This contradicted a popular Jewish view then that the Messiah was coming only to judge the Gentile world. As usual, Jesus was setting straight the ideas that people had at his time and telling how it really was with his mission as the Messiah. This is rather Jesus coming to say how he was given to be the Savior of the entire world of mankind, and that he came not just for the chosen, for the religious people like Nicodemus, but for all people everywhere.

Because God loves the world, the Son of God came not for some people but for all people, for the whole human race. He came for the people overseas that we may regard as pagans, certainly, but also for the people whom you know, your relatives, friends and acquaintances, as well as you yourself. Christ came to be the Savior of those whom you like and dislike, those whom you approve of and those whom you disapprove of, those whom you disagree with and those whom you agree with. And Christ came to be your Savior, but now and forever. And no one else can be your Savior, not even yourself, with all your good deeds and with whatever high estimate you may have of yourself. And no one else, not even you, can be anyone else’s Savior, but Jesus only is the Savior that God has sent into our world.

There’s a story about a South American company that found that it could not operate the fine printing press it had purchased from a US company. So the company wired the US manufacturer to send a representative to come and fix it. A young man showed up, and they had some some skepticism about him being the right person, and so they wired back, “Your man is too young. Send a more experienced person.”

The reply of the was: “He made the machine. Let him fix it!” The person that they had sent was the designer and the maker of the machine that he had come to fix. And so Christ, our maker and designer, is the right one to save the man or woman lost in sin and guilt.

So we can know from the coming of Jesus that God loves us as we are. We can know tht he loves the people of our world despite our sins. We can know that he has chosen to love us, to send his Son to save us. We can know that he loves us as we are, but he also knows our deepest need and that he was never going to be satisfied that we should remain where we were, where we are, under the guilt of our sins, the danger of eternal death. So he sent his Son as the ultimate demonstration of his love, and so in Christ he has done all that can and will do for our salvation, so that there is no other way than Jesus Christ, than what he has done for us. And then, because, God’s gift of love, his salvation in Christ, is a gift, it must be received. This is how we accept the gift: the exercise of trust in Christ alone for salvation, and on the other hand, the refusal of the gift is rather the departure into unbelief for condemnation.

The response to Jesus Christ determines the eternal destinies of the people in our world. Our final destiny is dependent on our faith in or refusal of Jesus Christ as our only Savior. The response to Jesus is the eternal issue for every human life, and that is the choice of eternal life or eternal death.

Eternal life comes to those who place their trust in Jesus Christ alone as Savior; the acceptance of the gift of salvation, eternal life, is by faith in him alone. This is the way to salvation from condemnation for sin, for a new beginning with God, of eternal life through being born again by the Spirit of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God. This is where the statement of faith in Jesus meaning eternal life continues in the first part of verse 18: “Everyone who trusts in him is not under judgment.”

These are the statement of the consequence of faith in Jesus Christ. Again if we can see this as the continuation of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, this is the salvation that comes by faith in Jesus as defined by Jesus himself, and he brought Nicodemus with these statements back to the point he had already made in v. 15, that of faith in himself. This conversation shows the personal concern for someone for whom he would die, and how he was seeking to make it utterly clear to him how he would find eternal life and his entrance into the kingdom of God.

So, from the Word of God, there is set forth the same way into the kingdom of God for both the outwardly sinful and the respectably religious. This is the same step that is necessary for anyone to have eternal life. It is the genuine faith that turns our mental assent to some facts from the Bible from an idle sentiment to a genuine conviction and trust in Christ. So there will be that need for each one of us, to have that conviction, personal decision to trust Christ, and that will result also in a personal concern for others that will result in prayer and witness, because only through faith in Christ will anyone ever find salvation from their sins. This comes back to the simple definition of saving faith from J. Gresham Machen: “Faith is the acceptance of a gift at the hands of Christ.”

Even so, many try to make it more complicated than it is. There was once a woman who came to an evangelist who said that she could not understand how to be saved. So he asked, “Mrs. Franklin, how long have you been Mrs. Franklin?”

“Why, ever since I was married,” she replied.

“And how did you become Mrs. Franklin?” he asked further

“When the minister said, ‘Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband?’ I just said, ‘Yes.’”

“Didn’t you say, ‘I hope so,’ or ‘I’ll try to’?’ asked the evangelist.

“No,” she replied. “I said, ‘I will.’”

“God is asking you if you will receive his Son. What will you say to that?”

Judgment, then, is the only thing left for those who refuse Jesus Christ as their Savior. The penalty of eternal death is the only alternative for those who reject God’s way of salvation, and the ultimate tragedy in the universe is that of those who refuse Christ and choose hell. Then, in the remaining part of verse 18, the statement inside verse 16 “ . . . should not perish . . .” is further explained: but the person who does not believe has already been judged, because that person has not trusted in the name of the one and only Son of God.”.

Again, if we consider this a continuation of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, this would be Jesus’s plain description to Nicodemus of the consequences of refusing his salvation: perishing under the condemnation of sin. He would be explaining for him the condemnation for the choice of sin while God’s salvation was available, in fact, sitting in front of him, and the refusal of all that God in his love has given. While it is no great compliment to God to choose him over hell, the greatest insult to his love in his Son is to refuse all that he has done, to choose hell over eternal life through his Son.

This tells us that people need to know the consequences of unbelief honestly and compassionately, as Jesus himself explained it. It is necessary for them to know that there is no other way of salvation besides faith in Jesus Christ alone, and that the refusal of Christ is the refusal of the love of God, and the choice of hell, the final exhibition of arrogant pride and rebellion against God. If this is made clear, the result is that people go to hell of their own choice over the gift of God’s salvation in his Son made available to them. The refusal of the love of God despite all that God has done is like the story of the father who had a son who was devoted to gambling and drinking. He had already seen his wife and the mother of his son die with a broken heart. He went on and pleaded with the son to spend one night at home with him, but he decided that he was going to go out anyway. Then the old man said, “My boy, you are killing me, just as you have killed your mother. These hairs are growing whiter, and you are sending me too to the grave. If you are determined to go to ruin, you must go over this old body tonight. I cannot resist you. You are stronger than I, but if you go out, you must go out over this old body.”

The eternal consequences in the choice or refusal of salvation are the dread alternatives of heaven or hell. So because of the eternal consequences, there remains that need to wake up both the respectably religious but not born again as well as the complacently sinful and blatantly and defiantly sinful. Jesus Christ did not come to straighten out for us those whom we cannot control – like the misguided woman who once asked me to baptize her sons so that they would obey her — but to save you, you and me, from eternal condemnation. While Christ can and will save people from the sins that offend us, we cannot see that as the only reason for others to come to Christ. He is necessary for each and every one, to be received by faith as Savior, lest they spend eternity apart from God perishing under the condemnation for their sins.


If you have never before accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior: understand that God loves you, but you will never experience his love for you until you come to Christ by faith. Do not wait to make yourself acceptable to God, or keep on postponing it while your heart keeps on getting harder and harder toward God and his salvation in his Son. Rather decide now that you are finished with the ways of sin, with selfishly trying to manage your own life for your own pleasure and satisfaction. Choose a new direction with God, to turn from your sins, and choose to come to Christ in faith, make that conscious decision of faith in him. Then you will have your sins entirely forgiven forever, you will become a new person by being born again of the Holy Spirit, and you will become a son or daughter of God himself, as God himself receives you into his family through Jesus Christ

If you can remember definitely having come to Christ and having received his salvation – but do not assume presumptuously that you have if you have not, if you have just gone through the motions to appease someone else, to escape the pressure – to pretend is literally to play with fire – have you really appreciated all that God has done for you in Christ, the way that he has loved you? Have you been living like those with no hope in Christ, still trying to trap, deceive, manipulate and demand what you call love from others around you, simply for your own selfish satisfaction? Go straight to God. Ask his forgiveness for your failure to appreciate the love which he has already given you through his Son; thank him for all that you have in Christ; and ask him to fill you with his Holy Spirit and the knowledge of his love, to be a witness to his love to those around you. From the security of his love, go to those around you, serve them in his love, show them your love in word and deed, from the joy of knowing the love of God for yourself.

Unpacked and Assembled

Once there was a man who had been invited to go to a large evangelistic meeting. Recalling it some time later, he said: “It was here, I believe, for the first time in my life, that I heard the claims of Jesus Christ presented simply and authoritatively. At the end of his talk the speaker invited those who wished to come to the front of the auditorium. I went and was introduced and we talked for a while. There were other people who wished to ask questions, so I made my way to the exit, every bit interested in what he had said, but still in a deep fog. Just as I was about to go out the door, I was confronted by a man who looked me in the eye and said, ‘Are you a Christian?’”

“’Strange question,’ I thought, putting on my best Sunday School smile and saying, ‘Oh, yes, I think so.’”

“’Are you a Christian?’ he insisted, a light in his eye.”

“’Crank,’ I thought. ‘Well, I’m trying to be.’”

“’Ever try to be an elephant?’ Grinning at my astonishment, he took me by the arm, sat me down in a chair and explained that no amount of trying could ever transform me into a Christian . . .”

So the man whom he thought was so strange then went on to explain the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, and in those moments his ignorance and astonishment turned into a new birth, the new beginning of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

Shock, astonishment, even annoyance and offense is often part of the process through which many find their way into the kingdom of God. They find what they had thought and believed for years contrary to what God has said about salvation. And they find themselves in the same kind of situation in which Nicodemus found himself in his conversation with Jesus Christ.

The first shock that came to Nicodemus during his conversation with Jesus Christ was that he and the other Jewish religious leaders couldn’t even see the kingdom of God and that they needed to be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Up until then they had assumed that their religious ancestry and upbringing meant that they were in the kingdom and that was something that they had taken for granted. But then Jesus came, and he explained the entrance into the kingdom as a new birth that they had to go through, that would come through the water of repentance and the Messianic baptism of the Spirit. And then Nicodemus had hardly caught his breath before Jesus delivered the greater shock, as Jesus unpacked and assembled the gospel. The greater shock was that he was talking to the king himself, the Messiah from the line of David, the Son of Man coming with the clouds that the prophet Daniel had predicted.

“Nicodemus replied to him, ‘How are these things able to be accomplished?’”

“Jesus answered him, ‘You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t understand these things? Most assuredly I tell you that we speak of what we know and we bear witness to what we have heard, and you don’t accept our testimony. If I told you about earthly things, and you do not believe, how, if I speak of heavenly things, will you believe?’”

“’No one has ascended into heaven, except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven;  and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up, so that each one who trusts in him would have eternal life.’”

John 3:9-15, Dale’s Sight Translation. Other versions here.

Jesus Christ reveals the way to eternal life. His mission was to bring life or death information to the human race, to the men and women of this world. It was  the most important information that they could receive, and it was revelation that came from the Son of God himself; it was not mere human speculation, opinion, or education. It was his infallible guidance to how to be certain of eternal life, through the new birth.

Religious knowledge, education and background may not include God’s way to eternal life. Much learning and being a teacher or professor does not mean that a person has the most important answer of all. Indeed, this kind of assurance that someone may have of their place in the kingdom of God through their religious knowledge, education and background can itself be something which may become an idol which blinds us to the truth about our true state before God and our need of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

So here we pick up further on the conversation of Nicodemus and Jesus, which previously started in John 3:1-8, in verses 9-11:

“Nicodemus replied to him, ‘How are these things able to be accomplished?’”

“Jesus answered him, ‘You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t understand these things? Most assuredly I tell you that we speak of what we know and we bear witness to what we have heard, and you don’t accept our testimony.’”

Nicodemus amazed Jesus with his question on how he could be born again. This showed that he still did not get it, though Jesus sought to make it clear. So Jesus made the point that he had access to that knowledge. First, Nicodemus had the knowledge of the scriptures, enough that he was a teacher in Israel, a people then steeped in the scriptures. Second, he had the witness of himself and John the Baptist, but Nicodemus and the other religious leaders had not accepted it. Instead, what they were most proud of became an idol which blinded them to the salvation in their midst. With all the knowledge and exposure that he had, the most important matter had escaped him, namely, how to be born again into the kingdom of God. So he needed more, for Jesus to unpack and assemble the gospel for him from these two sources: from the scriptures and from his testimony to himself as the Messiah of Israel.

In the same way there is much ignorance and rejection remains in the modern religious establishment on what it means to have eternal life. Even the most well-known teachers often cannot put the answer together for this simple question: what does it mean to enter the kingdom of God, for people who claim to believe in God and to know what the scriptures say?

The problem is one of communication and one of listening. It is a problem of communication, where leaders and people in the church have failed to tell people clearly how to have eternal life. It is also a problem of listening, where people within the church who have heard the message for weeks, months, or even years on end have failed to pay attention to what the Bible says about eternal life. The message is all around them but it hasn’t entered their hearts and changed them. This is like a situation that happened during the ministry of the evangelist Tom Carter. While he was holding meetings in a Pennsylvania town, the whole town stirred up by a young man who lived next to the parsonage who committed a murder. So Carter and the pastor visited him in his cell and led him to Christ. But then came this observation: “To think that I lived next door to you for months and you never told me anything about Jesus until I came here! If you had, I probably never would have become a murderer.”

But that was the whole point of the mission of Jesus: Jesus came to clear up the confusion about eternal life!  He was and remains the special messenger from God who gives reliable information. That was the next and bigger truth bomb that the would drop on Nicodemus, with the implication that Nicodemus should trust only his word on the subject of eternal life.

So Jesus makes the claim to sole authority to speak about what he has been teaching in verses 12-13:

“Nicodemus replied to him, ‘How are these things able to be accomplished?’”

“Jesus answered him, ‘You are the teacher of Israel, and you don’t understand these things? Most assuredly I tell you that we speak of what we know and we bear witness to what we have heard, and you don’t accept our testimony. If I told you about earthly things, and you do not believe, how, if I speak of heavenly things, will you believe?’”

This is a completely stupendous claim of Jesus that he made to Nicodemus, and we often don’t unpack it as to what he was saying and what he was claiming about himself. First, his assertion that no one else has ascended to heaven discounts all other claims to heavenly insight. It was first specifically directed against rabbis of that time who attempted to back up their teaching with reports of signs and heavenly visions. It was common then as it happens now that someone makes a claim to have received something from being in the presence of God to try to give that claim ultimate authority and silence all contradictions and examinations of that claim. But the claim of Jesus is even greater. He make the claim not to have gone to heaven but to have come from there in the first place. His claim was to be the heavenly Son of Man that the prophet Daniel had mentioned. Even more, his claim was that he was there on earth and in heaven at the same time – this is a place where the translation and text of the King James Version is preferable to the text and translation of the New International Version, though the New International Version does mention the preferable text and translation in the margin.

So the claim of Jesus was to be the Son of Man who is in heaven, who was in heaven at the time he was speaking to Nicodemus on earth. This is in fact another version of his claim made throughout his ministry that he was in fact God himself speaking and expressing himself through his human life. The wording here shows what Christians have for centuries called the doctrine of the incarnation: that God the Son took on human nature in the identity of the man Jesus of Nazareth of the line of David and remaining entirely God while taking on the life of an earthly man. And from this position and perspective he came to bring the knowledge of heavenly realities from personal experience and authority, an authority not from someone who was claiming a vision from heaven but rather from someone who perceived all eternal realities with the perception from being in heaven from all eternity.

So then, this indication that Jesus gave to Nicodemus was crucial for his acceptance of what Jesus had been teaching about being born again and eternal life, and even more about his life, ministry and miracles which they had just begun to experience. It is not too much ever to overestimate the importance of the incarnation and the Deity of Christ is for the authority and trustworthiness of his teaching ministry during the three years he spoke across the environs of Galilee and Judea. It shows how inadequate it is to have mere admiration for his moral teaching as a human teacher and syrupy reverence for him without obedience to his calls to repentance and faith in himself or belief in his divine nature as the Son of God. But even more, this kind of reverence leaves no explanation for the sanity of his moral teaching when placed alongside his claims to be God himself. His claims were not given in the extravagant, grandiose sense of a wide eyed megalomaniac but rather in the subtle, sensible life which was like no other ever upon earth. His claims were lived out upon earth with a full consciousness of his identity but totally without any self-conscious attempts at showing it off, as so many of us would do in our pride and folly. But a sincere and well founded belief in his incarnation and his Deity makes his word utterly true and infallible for the person who has understood what it means for Jesus to be saying the kind of things about himself and the kind of expectations that he could make clear to his followers. Because of the incarnation, then, his word is to be believed and followed above all others and exclusive of all others.

During the late 1800s there were in fact many even who had the educational credentials to be ministers and who were given positions in various denominations who diverted from the historic teaching of the scriptures about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. During that time there was a series of lectures from Canon H.P. Liddon of the Church of England on the Divinity of Christ. These lectures have never been refuted, and they are indeed quite impressive in the learning and reasoning behind them – for myself, I know just enough German and French to decipher most of the untranslated quotes and footnotes, and there is an impressive amount of untranslated references and quotes from Greek, Latin and Hebrew — and it is a tragedy that many in the ministry of the Word and even in theological seminaries have never read and and digested this book. And this is the conclusion that he came to after arguing from the scriptures and from history on the truth of the Divinity of Christ: “A sincere and intelligent belief in the Divinity of Jesus Christ obliges us to believe that Jesus Christ, as a Teacher, is infallible.”

So then, as God the Son Jesus has infallible authority in his teaching ministry. and he was himself the master teacher and the master evangelist. His identity as the Son of God is sufficient reason for trust in what he says as the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is sufficient reason to give him our whole attention, trust and obedience. It is sufficient for us to exclude our attention from all who differ from Jesus on the points of eternal life as the purveyors of mere human opinion or even hellish error, and those who are not to be believed or followed. And it leaves that responsibility upon us as well to deal with the idols that blind people to the truth and communicate his gospel so that others may also receive eternal life in his name.

But Jesus did not come just to be a teacher, but his mission included even more. The purpose of his teaching ministry was to explain in advance the eternal life he brought and he would procure, and how people should respond to him as Lord and Teacher. His mission was then to make the way of eternal life possible. Jesus Christ came to provide eternal life.

Jesus Christ came to provide eternal life. His mission to provide eternal life was even more than being a teacher. His full mission meant that he was to accomplish something for people that they could not do themselves. This was more than just a healthy dose of the truth, but eternal life, something even more that people would need to learn how to receive from him once he had done everything necessary to provide it for them. Jesus came from heaven to provide eternal life by his death on the cross, and until his mission was to explain and promise eternal life. But then, even more, he was to do everything necessary to provide it for men and women then, now, of all ages and over all the earth.

Then finally, Jesus brings the conversation to the point in verse 14:

“’No one has ascended into heaven, except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man who is in heaven;  and just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so also it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up, so that each one who trusts in him would have eternal life.’”

During his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus makes the allusion to the bronze serpent Moses had made. What had happened was that during the journey in the desert from Egypt to the Promised Land, some of the people of Israel had begun to complain, and the disciplinary judgment upon them was that they were bitten by poisonous snakes. But though they were under discipline and judgment, the Israelites who had been bitten by poisonous snakes as judgment for complaining could look to that bronze serpent on a pole for relief. It was the strangest remedy for snakebite ever, but God provided it to point to something that would happen in the future, as he did with many of the things that happened in the Old Testament.

So Jesus used this incident as an allusion, a prediction, of what would happen to him in his coming death on the cross. By being lifted up like the serpent for his death, he would provide eternal life for sinful people, just as the elevated serpent had been the source of life. As with much that Jesus said throughout his ministry, Nicodemus and any other disciples who were there for this conversation may not have really understood the full meaning of this statement until after the resurrection. It is clear that in the years afterward the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that those who were there recalled what Jesus had said and done, and that they had many “Aha!” moments as they remembered all that had happened. The simple acts of writing the gospels would have meant that this happened. But even more, this allusion shows how much Jesus was aware of his mission early on, and what his fate would be before the highest court of his countrymen and at the machinery of Roman provincial justice.

The message of the scriptures, then, is that the only source of eternal life for anyone is Jesus through the cross. His sacrifice paid the penalty of sin, so that there could be the new birth, the entrance into the kingdom of God, which is eternal life. His cross means that the guilt of sin does not have to stand between people and their entrance into the kingdom of God, and that the way is open through the sacrifice of Christ. How much this can mean for a new beginning for men and women in this world in this life was recognized by Dr. William P. Wilson. Years ago he established the program for Christianity, medicine and psychiatry at Duke Medical Center, and he recognized the the modern goal of psychiatric medicine could be fulfilled through the new beginning that Jesus Christ offers: “One of the greatest causes of mental illness is unresolved guilt. Feelings of shame, inadequacy, missing the mark, not measuring up, are some sources of guilt feelings. The answer to guilt is grace and the new birth. The new birth leads to the forgiveness of sin.”

So Jesus provides eternal life to those who put their trust in him. His promise is that those who will receive the gift and take him at his word and promise will find the way into his kingdom through the new birth and receive eternal life.

1. v. 15: With his explanation of how he would be lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus then gave the direction to Nicodemus on how to receive eternal life, to enter the kingdom of God. Here he was gently guiding him to faith in the very person who was speaking to him. In one of those wonderful, truly evangelistic conversations of the gospel of John, we see Jesus dealing with Nicodemus at the point of conviction and awareness of his personal inadequacy and need. He was pointing to the future for Nicodemus but now back to the cross for those who would hear the gospel after his death and resurrection. And this conversation was preserved not only for him but for all people everywhere, for faith in him and what he has done.

There is one simple direction for everyone to be born again and to have eternal life. That is the decision to place one’s faith entirely in Jesus Christ and only in what he has done for us by his death for us and his resurrection for eternal life. There in no place for trust in ourselves or our own goodness as a recommendation before God for us to have eternal life. Only by faith in him will anyone have the certainly that he or she has eternal life.

Even more, as well as this need for personal assurance and testimony comes the need to be a witness to others. Make certain that you have no complacency about the salvation of anyone, yourself, family members or friends without a clear testimony of faith in Christ and being born again of his Spirit. Many of the most noteworthy men and women who have become Christians over the centuries have had to come to that point where they realized that they had the need of Jesus Christ and him alone for eternal life. For instance,  John Bunyan, John Wesley, David Brainerd and Charles Finney all passed through these various stages on their way to a clear testimony and assurance of salvation: careless about their true state of being unconverted, awakened to the reality of God, sin, Jesus and eternal life, convicted of their sins and their state of being unregenerate, and then, finally, converted with a full assurance of and testimony to having received eternal life by faith in Jesus Christ.

Make no mistake, people who may come from Christian families and who may linger around churches and ministries but who have never been born again are far more prevalent and far more neglected in witness than many realize. Over the course of time they develop this unfortunate tendency to become fakers as they hear about what it means to be a Christian but never truly have put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. They often repeat the words that their friends and relatives may expect but without reality and without the experience of truly having been born again. It may be at some point in their lives they may have come forward in response to an evangelistic appeal, prayed a prayer or maybe even have been baptized. Very often well meaning believers in Christ may rush people forward into going through the motions of a process without having given a careful explanation of the gospel and the new birth, to make sure that they know what it means. Still, we often rush them just to do something, such as going forward or being baptized without a clear personal desire to put one’s faith in Christ or having put one’s faith in Christ.

The reality is that the new birth which comes by Jesus Christ, the pardon for sins by his death and resurrection calls for definite acceptance through repentance and faith. Some people seem to have been able to pass through this without a deep emotional experience or point to a definite moment in time but rather a definite period of time, but the pardon must be accepted. In fact there is definite legal analogy within the jurisprudence of the United States. President Andrew Jackson once issued a full pardon to George Wilson, who had been sentenced to be hanged. For whatever reason, he refused the pardon. And here are the words of Chief Justice John Marshall in the ruling of the Supreme Court upon this matter: “The value of a pardon depends on its acceptance. If it is refused, it is no pardon. George Wilson must hang.”

So then, the heart of the matter is that the mission of Jesus Christ was to provide the salvation he promised. This is the salvation that comes only by faith in him. Eternal life, the new birth by the Spirit of God, comes freely to us but was the most expensive gift he could have given. The way to fulfill the mission to provide eternal life by the cross, and so Jesus provided for people in all times and places what they could never have achieved for themselves. And he has fulfilled his mission as he continues to give people what they need to receive when they put their faith in him.


Therefore be sure that you yourself have come into the kingdom by the way that Jesus has indicated is the only way. Otherwise you are not in the kingdom at all. But if you are not in the kingdom at all, the way is open for you to enter the kingdom; repent of your sins and come to Jesus by faith.

Only by faith in Jesus Christ will anyone escape condemnation to hell, enter the kingdom of God. So we can have no complacency about the eternal state of ourselves or anyone else we know unless there is definite testimony of repentance and faith in Christ and the new birth. And this means that we need to go beyond satisfaction at just our own salvation and to seek the salvation of others that we know. This means prayer for the salvation of our friends and relatives: prayer with concern for their eternal destiny above all, for the glory of God alone, and prayer with forgiveness and love, so that our dislikes, disagreements and grudges will not stand between us and the answer to our prayer, and finally, prayer with thanksgiving for the answer in faith. Then go forth from prayer, to show them the difference that Christ has made in your life by the fruit of the Spirit, and most of all of the fruit of love. From that point you can share the gospel with them in gentle, loving, tactful witness, just as Jesus himself did and as if he himself were making the appeal to them through you – because he is.

Born Again

After World War II, in Schweinfurt, Germany: a mother and a daughter waited at the train station for the return of their son and brother, Joseph Kuzmera. The Red Cross had told them that he was coming home from prison, and, in addition to them, the mayor of the town, the local president of the Red Cross and a large crowd waited with gifts and greetings. After the train arrived, a a young man emerged from the train, gazed at the crowd, and then rushed toward the woman he thought was his mother. But then each of them stopped suddenly.

The supposed mother of the young man exclaimed, “No, it can’t be. You’re not my son!”

And he groaned, “And you’re not my mother!”

This was a remarkable case of mistaken identity. Though the names and the ages were exactly the same, he was not a part of their family since he had never been born into that family.

The expression ‘born again’ is almost a cliché nowadays, but it was actually a term that Jesus chose very early during his earthly ministry. He chose it long before it had any political implications in the United States. In fact because it was a new term, he used it for shock value, to awaken a man from religious complacency. Jesus used the term ‘born again’ to show him the shocking truth that his religious heritage, upbringing and family connections were not enough for him to be in the kingdom of God. This happened one evening early in the ministry of Jesus, and this term came to us as part of the conversation passed down from the apostle John – the mind boggling, life changing conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus one evening. With that one little phrase Jesus turned upside down all that Nicodemus had thought and believed about his standing with God up until that moment. At that moment Jesus showed him that he needed to become a new person for eternal acceptance with God, and that it had nothing to do with his religious heritage and upbringing, his family connections or his political or social beliefs. Rather, it had to do with having a whole new beginning with God so that he could be born again into the family of God.

“There was a man from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, who was a man in authority among the Jews. He came to him [Jesus] at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, because no one is able to do such miracles as you are doing unless God is with him.’”

“Jesus replied to him, ‘Most certainly I tell you, unless a person is born again [or from above], that person is not able to see the kingdom of God.’”

“So Nicodemus says to him, ‘How is a human being able to  to be born once that person has become old? That person is not able to enter into the womb of that person’s mother to come out and be born again?’”

“Jesus replied, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, that person is unable to enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again [or from above].” The wind [or the Spirit] blows wherever it wants, and you can hear its sound, but you don’t know from where it is coming and where it is going. It’s the same way with someone who is born of the Spirit.’”

John 3:1-8, Dale’s sight translation. Other translations here.

The new birth means eternal life. For a person to have eternal life, another birth must occur after physical birth, according to Jesus himself. So then, the people in this world who have eternal life have had a new beginning according to Jesus and all he has to continue to say to us through his Word. And with these words Jesus emphasizes that, to have eternal life, even the respectably religious must be born again. This still shocks people who trust in their religious heritage, association and adherence as the entrance requirements to eternal life and the kingdom of God. This means that all that they have does not mean that they have eternal life. Rather, they must face the fact that even they must have a new beginning in their lives.

So this starts with verses vv. 1-2:  “There was a man from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, who was a man in authority among the Jews. He came to him [Jesus] at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, because no one is able to do such miracles as you are doing unless God is with him.’”

The apostle tells how Nicodemus arranged a private interview at night with Jesus. It seemed like he wanted to satisfy his curiosity and so he presented his opinion as a group opinion, not just from himself, but from himself and some others in the Jewish religious hierarchy. He seems to have given a positive assessment of Jesus as a teacher sent from God. That assessment seemed complimentary and flattering, but Jesus was not going to go along with that view of himself and his credentials. He knew that that was only a starting point and insufficient for the man who was sitting in front of him to receive eternal life. Still, Jesus was not going to accept that view of himself as sufficient.

The problem with many of the same respectably religious people remains this seemingly positive view of Jesus Christ as just a teacher who came from God. This view which fails to come to the gripping truth of his identity and mission often is shared by many of the respectably religious today. They find themselves in the same situation as Nicodemus. They likewise are satisfied with their religious heritage, upbringing, association, habits and rituals and believe that those are the entrance requirements for eternal life and the kingdom of God. They also may have a seemingly positive view of Jesus as a teacher sent from God and maybe even deep admiration of him as a human. This view, though, falls short of the full truth of his identity and mission. It is this view that shows no possession and personal conviction of the truth that makes all the difference, that is necessary for eternal life, and that indicates that the person has eternal life. All these seemingly positive opinions are insufficient unless they lead to the saving truth of Jesus, of who he really is, what he really came to do and what he can give and what he wants to give for each one of us. Many in our world are likewise almost there but not yet and need to go further. They likewise need to have their world shaken up by the words of Jesus about the need to be born again.

The new birth is necessary to perceive the kingdom of God. The absence of accurate spiritual perception is the evidence of the absence of real eternal life, and the presence of real spiritual understanding is the evidence of eternal life. This real spiritual understanding has come to the person who has come to the realization of who the Carpenter and Teacher from Nazareth really was and is and has been born again into his kingdom.

Then Jesus delivers a huge ‘truth bomb’ in verse 3: “There was a man from the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name, who was a man in authority among the Jews. He came to him [Jesus] at night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, because no one is able to do such miracles as you are doing unless God is with him.’”

Because Nicodemus could not see the Kingdom of God in Jesus and in the signs which were part of his ministry, Jesus knew that he had not entered the Kingdom of God. This spiritual diagnosis from Jesus himself, and he knew that someone who had genuine possession of eternal life would see the greater significance of himself and his ministry, beyond teaching and miracles. That person who had genuinely received eternal life would see him for who he really was and is, the King sent by God, the eternal Son of God, the Messiah, the Kingdom of God who was there in the person of the chosen King. This was not too much to expect from Nicodemus at that point, since it was an admission that others had already made, and whom Jesus had already assured had received eternal life. With the unclouded spiritual perception of the Son of God himself, he diagnosed the absence of spiritual perception in Nicodemus the sign of his need of the new birth and his need to to receive eternal life.

This shows the attitude of Jesus to this view of himself, the kind of faith that could be called intellectual assent. This is the belief in Jesus simply as a great teacher whom God had sent. From the beginning of his ministry he regard this as an inadequate understanding of himself and his significance and a view that shows a lack of eternal life in the person who holds that. Genuine saving faith has gone further, to see and confess Jesus as the eternal Son of God and as the King whom God the Father had sent. This was the intended significance which the merely religious did not and in fact could not get. But this was the intended conclusion to believe all that he had said about himself and to receive all that he had to give. Saving faith, that shows the reality of having been born again, is more than an admission of religious preference, but rather the life and death saving faith in his Deity and his being Lord and Savior. Saving faith has elsewhere been summarized as trust in Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the scriptures, and it does mean a transition of the basis of faith as the views of Jesus that I have just from listening to others or maybe reading a book or two which purports to be about Jesus to the way Jesus is revealed in the scriptures themselves. And so part of the evidence of salvation is trust in Jesus Christ as he is revealed in the scriptures. So spiritual blindness to him as the Son of God and the Messiah the sign of the need of the new birth, and new life that comes from him carries with it the recognition of his true identity and his divine glory and power.

So then, the new birth is necessary for eternal life, but even more it is possible for anyone because it is a spiritual birth. The new birth is a new life from God. There is a great deal of confusion nowadays about what it is, and this confusion of what it is requires clarification then and now. It is the new beginning of life from God, new life with God in this life, and not a physical birth or anything else like that. The new birth is the entrance into a new life while still in this life and it means becoming a new person while still remaining yourself. It could be described as the remaking of a person from the inside out by the Spirit of the living God.

Nicodemus, then, became confused, and Jesus had to clear this up for as he started to do in verses 4-5:

“So Nicodemus says to him, ‘How is a human being able to  to be born once that person has become old? That person is not able to enter into the womb of that person’s mother to come out and be born again?’”

“Jesus replied, ‘Most assuredly I tell you, unless a person is born of water and the Spirit, that person is unable to enter into the kingdom of God.’”

Jesus had to clarify what the new birth was for Nicodemus, and he described this entrance into the kingdom of God as having been born of water and the Spirit. This clearly describes a decisive transition from one spiritual state to another, of being outside the kingdom of God to being in the kingdom of God. And he was clearly not explaining this from the standpoint of church history and tradition or historical theology, and so our tendencies to try to shoehorn what Jesus said into things which were said and written many years afterward are invalid. Rather, what he was saying had to be terms that Nicodemus could grasp. So here’s what I think that the prior context indicates as the water and the Spirit: the water the baptism of repentance as begun by John and continued under Jesus and his disciples; the Spirit the baptism of the Spirit, as prophesied by John and given by Jesus (we). Certainly Jesus was  not giving doctrinal assurance for baptismal regeneration, that just being baptized in a church meant that a person was born again, but describing in terms Nicodemus could understand how to enter into the kingdom of God, incorporating what had been proclaimed by John the Baptist and himself.  His description included two elements – first the water of baptism, as described earlier by John the Baptist: “I baptize with water “. Joh 4:1-2 indicates that baptism of those who professed Jesus as the Messiah and became his disciples was continued by disciples of Jesus. But he also includes the words about the Spirit – what John the Baptist had said about the Messiah whom he asserted was right there – “he will baptize with the Spirit” – which was the promise later taken up by Jesus for himself as in 7:37-39. Jesus described to Nicodemus these two things as the entrance to the kingdom which had been set before him. With this he gave a summary of what needed to happen to enter the kingdom of God which Jesus laid out before Nicodemus, using words which he himself had heard, of what it would mean to begin a new life by repentance and to receive eternal life from Jesus, the Son of God.

The new birth a summary statement of what it means to enter the kingdom of God and to have eternal life. It is obvious that this does not come; not from religious heritage but rather the process of repentance and saving faith in Jesus to receive eternal life. So in the New Testament baptism was a normal part of the process after repentance and faith in Jesus, usually the last step and public testimony. This progression of repentance, faith and baptism all meant entrance into the kingdom of God, which is his kingdom of salvation.

Because the new birth is a spiritual birth, it has visible effects upon the life of the person who is born again. The Spirit of God who gives the new birth is invisible, but he leaves definite effects upon the lives where he gives new birth. Jesus clarifies these significant things behind his use of the expression “born again,” and it makes all the difference on our understanding and use of that expression today.

Here’s where Jesus made all this clear about the new birth, in verses vv. 6-8: “’That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t be amazed that I said to you, “You must be born again [or from above].” The wind [or the Spirit] blows wherever it wants, and you can hear its sound, but you don’t know from where it is coming and where it is going. It’s the same way with someone who is born of the Spirit.’”

Jesus explains the invisible nature of the new birth by an analogy to the wind. This shows that he was not speaking of a physical birth but the spiritual birth, and this once and for all negates the idea that is sometimes imported from other religions that Jesus is speaking about incarnation. Rather, he is describing a spiritual birth from above – there’s a word play on “again” and “above” in the original language. And then Jesus compares the effect of the Spirit to the effect of the wind – the words for “wind” and “Spirit” are again the same in the original language.

The significance of the analogy between the Spirit and the wind is this: people can perceive the wind and its direction and effects, and they know it is there because of the effects that it has on its surroundings. So the analogy means that the same thing is true of the new birth, that the new birth by the Spirit of God produces a change in a person’s life that other people can see. For Nicodemus, the changed lives of his disciples was exhibit A for Nicodemus, and their changed lives were the visible effect of the unseen work of the Spirit of God who brings eternal life. And Jesus then presents the new birth as a must have for Nicodemus and those he tried to represent, since Jesus was speaking to those who had sent him – the You in ‘you must be born again’ is plural, and presumably refers also to the Jewish religious leaders who shared his opinions of Jesus. And then,  from later loyalty to Jesus that we can read about in the gospel of John, in 7:50 and in, 20:39, it looks like he did enter the kingdom.

So the same thing that Jesus said about the new birth then to Nicodemus remains true of the new birth as it happens to believers in Christ today. Others definitely perceive the effects of the Spirit of God on the lives of those who have definitely been born again. In our day and age what it means to be “born again” is often misunderstood and mischaracterized. But what it means to be “born again” has nothing to do with modern day politics, since Jesus was saying nothing about the politics then and certainly nothing to do with the politics in our day and age. Having been born again is not adherence to any kind of political stance or being in thrall to a particular voting bloc, Nor is it a merely emotional change or simply a change of religious opinions though many experience a deep emotional transformation and a radical change in their deepest convictions as it happens to them. Rather, it is the unseen supernatural work of the Spirit of God. It comes as part of whole conversion/regeneration process which includes repentance and faith in Jesus.Its premier sign is the conviction that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the only Lord and Savior, and the bedrock trust in him for salvation now and forever. And it is the beginning of a transformation that renovates the life of a man or woman until that person steps over the threshold of eternity.

So there’s one example of how this took place well over a century ago. The father of C.T. Studd, the great English cricket player and then missionary, was the subject of a remark from a guest had to his chauffeur that Mr. Studd had become religious or something. This reply of the chauffeur perfectly sums up the change that Jesus had made in him from the inside out: “Well, sir, we don’t know much about that , but all I can say is that though there’s the same skin, there’s a new person inside!”

Then turn the clock ahead some ninety or so years. There was a man who 20 years before had escaped from a Louisiana prison from a sentence for armed robbery to Michigan. Once he was found, after further investigation, the extradition request from Louisiana to Michigan was dropped, and this was the reason: “(he) represents the classic case of the man who turned his life around, and (is) an asset to society.”

His own lawyer said this about him: “He is not the same young, impetuous person whose former life was one of a criminal nature. He’s a good man now.”

His own testimony was that this had happened to him: “I’m a different man right now than what I was then. I tried hard when we were first married, but trying wasn’t good enough. So I gave my heart to Jesus.”

And this is what his wife said: “We are both born-again Christians. We accepted the Lord as our Savior, and it has made all the difference in the world.”

This was by all accounts a changed life, and changed for the better. Certainly there are many that might claim to have been changed by a religious experience, but revert to their previous ways once the heat was on. The fact that he had been living a changed life before he was even discovered by the authorities shows that his was not a jailhouse conversion that lasted just as long as the heat was on.

Going back to my high school years, I remember a classmate of mine who started attending a Bible study in which a number of us were involved during my senior year. He would make some comments and such as it was happening. I knew some of the things in which he had been involved over the course of those years, and it actually surprised me that he would attend. Then toward the last couple of months of our senior year, a local pastor came and spoke to our group. After the pastor had finished speaking, I remember my classmate coming up to him with a joy on his face that I had never seen before. I didn’t hear much of what he was saying, but I do remember him saying that he had received eternal life and been born again that very hour. He said something to the effect that “I thought that I was before, but now I know that I wasn’t, but I am now!” And some years later he passed away, and when his name was mentioned at a high school reunion, someone said with wonder and gladness, “He really changed a lot!” And indeed he did – from self deceit to a true assurance of salvation in Jesus Christ and a changed life.

By the new birth, then, God makes new people from the inside out. It is not an accident, and it is not something which comes completely without explanation or expectation, as a lightning bolt from above. It comes simply through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ as the beginning of a new life from God. And still another effect of it is that this new life from God means that God becomes not a distant Somebody, but a near and living Person, who loves you, w ho has changed your life now and for all eternity. So the import of this is that the new beginning from the new birth is available to all, from the outwardly respectable and social elitist to the social rejected and downtrodden. It is a new beginning for all who realize what they are still lacking the most important thing, who realize the need for themselves to come to God, to repent of their sins, to put their faith in Jesus Christ and to be born again by the Spirit of God. Thus everyone needs to be born again, as Jesus himself said, and his statement, “you must be born again” includes every one of us;. And with these words the call of Jesus comes to everyone, and because of his promise it can come to anyone who calls to God through Jesus Christ for his salvation and for a new life by being born again of his Spirit.


So through this message the Lord Jesus is offering you a new beginning, eternal life. He calls you to make that conscious decision to repent of your sins and trust in him alone for eternal life. He summons you to make that definite decision to turn from the self-determined, sinful life to live entirely for God. He challenges you to make the conscious decision to declare your faith in Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God, who died for you and is risen again. So trust in him for eternal life, and acknowledge him as your Lord, Master, and Savior as your appropriate response to all he has done for you.

Then be sure that you understand that the new birth by faith in Jesus Christ is the start of a new life, where Jesus is Lord and Master. It is an utter travesty that will end in eternal tragedy if you try to use the words and façade of salvation just as a cover for your earthly wickedness and evil deeds, and you are mocking God for every moment that you persist in this play acting. Rather, understand that starting life in his kingdom as a loyal, faithful, trusting subject of the King means giving him rule and control in your life, his Word as the only guide for your life, It means the life of knowing God personally, through the risen and living Christ as your Savior, Teacher and Friend, and it is the life that continues from earth to heaven, knowing God through Christ forever.

“Spiritual But Not Religious”–So What?

How do you deal with someone who says that he or she is “spiritual, but not religious”? How do you get to a point where you can share the gospel with someone who may in fact be smirking at you behind that cover phrase, as if you were the superstitious, gullible one in the conversation?

I think that it can mean asking some serious questions, first about what that person means with that catchphrase, and then asking about what actual ‘spiritual’ books, interests and activities they are actually pursuing. From my experience, the average unbeliever in the Western world, once you get past the pseudo-science and scientism, is really a superstitious person, often very gullible about aliens, horoscopes, extra Biblical and unBiblical angelology, occult and spiritistic practices, and so on. For instance, Richard Dawkins made a remark about aliens instead of God which got him a lot of ridicule, and the late Christopher Hitchens was actually quite fascinated with ‘spirituality without God.’ So, once you get some some idea where the other person is coming from, you can get to some other questions.

  • How do you know that spiritual evil does not exist? Are you relying on some authority and pointing your finger to someone else as the reason that you know spiritual evil does not exist?
  • How do you know that spiritual evil cannot appear pleasing, attractive and give good feelings, and yet be so seductive that it can entice you to do things that you regret to the depths of your being? How do you know that you yourself have not fallen to its seductions to evil time after time in your own life?
  • How do you deal with the fact that there is a large part of our entertainment industry that routinely deals with the demonic, ghosts and occult under the horror movie genre and through video games and occult paraphernalia if these things do not have some validity and find some foothold in human nature?
  • How do you deal with Shirley MacLaine and others making a fortune out of encounters with ‘spirits’ if everyone that goes down that road is a ‘kook’? Do you yourself know people who talk about getting ‘guidance’ from ‘angels’ in their lives and pursuing ghost sightings, or have you done so yourself?
  • Can you honestly say that there could not be an extraordinarily wicked spiritual force allied with the human wickedness of this world, such as the elite pedophiles and human traffickers and perhaps even instigating them? Could that be described accurately as ‘demon sex’?
  • So, finally: how do you know that the view of spiritual evil — the demonic — which Jesus had as depicted in the New Testament is not the true one? How then do you deal with how many thousands over the centuries who have told how Jesus has set them free from the traps and enticements of spiritual evil? (From this point you may be able to share the gospel with that person.)

I’ve attached a link to a transcript of the only sermon that I’ve ever heard preached on Deuteronomy 18:9-14 — because I listened to it as I was preaching it. Corrie ten Boom spoke often on this passage and saw much deliverance from demonic oppression through her ministry from that point. I think that there are many in our churches who are unaware of that passage and consequently are gullible when it comes to these practices. Acts 19:17-20 would also be a good starting point. But certainly be deep in prayer and with prayer support as you tackle this, since it’s not an area to tread on lightly.

Some Reasons Why People Leave Churches

Also worth consideration — with this line: ” . . . take with a grain of salt someone else’s account of why a person has left a church, and to understand that someone else’s account may be full of self serving and self excusing falsehoods.”

Preaching Point

The thought came to me the other day that no one ever walked away from an encounter with Jesus feeling personally violated or that Jesus had sinned against them. Often enough people felt that his call upon them for repentance and discipleship was too heavy, but no one felt that he had lied to them or was slandering them, or seeking financial gain from them, or seeking to enhance his reputation at their expense. During his ministry, the worst that the Pharisees could find on him was that he healed people on the Sabbath or claimed God as his Father, and during his trial all that they could get from the false witnesses they put up against him was that he made a claim that he could rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem in three days.

Unfortunately, it’s often not the same case with our churches. As a pastor who came…

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Rebuild the Bridges

Broken relationships call for rebuilding the bridges to a relationship that is safe for both parties. Often relationships get brokent when one party sees the relationship as unsafe and even dangerous. Unfortunately, too often people in church listen only to the person that the party who sees the relationship is unsafe and dangerous is running from, and never give a fair hearing to the person who is running from the unsafe, dangerous and abusive person. Rebuild the bridges in righteousness, fairness and love!

Preaching Point

Malicious gossip and backbiting are the weapon of choice for many professed believers in the modern church. Sometimes it seems like a person can hardly spend any time in a church today without becoming a recipient of malicious gossip or backbiting about another person at one time or another. This distorted, unfair and often untrue view of another person not only damages that person’s reputation and fellowship within the church, but it often taints and pollutes previously beneficial relationships among the believers. When this happens, and it becomes clear that a lie has been told and accepted, there is the need to rebuild the bridges. Unfortunately, genuinely conscientious believers are often not very good at doing this. Here are some ways to rebuild the bridges to someone who has been hurt by rumor and gossip within a church.

Understand that accepting and participating in a campaign of malicious gossip definitely…

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During the time of the Russian revolution, about the time of World War I, some Russian communists made a village turn out for a long harangue. They then called out the local pastor of the village church and gave him five minutes to reply. The pastor replied that he only needed five seconds. He then stood up before the village and gave them the familiar Easter greeting: “The Lord is risen!” The thunderous reply came back from the crowd: “He is risen indeed!”

The central truth of Christianity, the linchpin on which it hangs, is the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This event is the basis of the timeless validity and certainty of the gospel, and it is based upon the unanimous and consistent testimony of the apostles through the New Testament that the Lord is risen indeed. The fundamental belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is fundamental to a person having saving faith in Jesus Christ. And as this one event stands it reduces other religions to myths and stories and other philosophies to vain speculations and mere imagination. Marx and Mohammed remain in their graves, but the sure and confident faith of the Christian is that Jesus rose from the dead and is alive forevermore.

One of the eyewitness testimonies to the risen Christ comes from the apostle John. He passes on to the world the turnaround of his fellow apostle, a man whose hopes had been dashed and who seemed to have been turned into a confirmed skeptic of the resurrection. This account was passed on to persuade us of the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and to guide us to a personal faith in Jesus. For the apostle, and for the apostles and the New Testament itself, the proper outcome of the persuasion of the fact of the resurrection is a personal trust in Jesus himself and him alone for salvation, for eternal life. What was written was given to us in a confident, gentle and loving manner to guide us to enter into an experience of him as a living Savior who is able to bring us eternal life.

“But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

“Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

(John 20:24-31, Dale’s sight translation, click here for other translations)

The resurrection of Jesus Christ assures us of his reality as a living Lord and Savior. The risen Lord lives and is able to give us all that he has promised, and in view of his resurrection, having been persuaded that he is risen, belief in him, trust in him and following him is the greatest realism.

The resurrection of Jesus was a real event three days after the crucifixion. There was no controversy among the disciples who were there that they were seeing the same Jesus alive whom they had seen arrested and crucified three days earlier. This is what they had to say to Thomas about that: “But Thomas, who was one of the Twelve, who is called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples were then saying, ‘We have seen the Lord!’”

The apostles, the eyewitnesses of the resurrection, had recognized the same Jesus whom they had all known and loved was alive among them on the evening of the day of resurrection. The invitation of Jesus to touch his body and see and touch the wounds of the crucifixion, show that it was the same body in which he was crucified, and it was able to be touched and handled. This establishes that the resurrection wasn’t a ecstatic vision, nor the haunting of a ghost, nor a hallucination, nor the shared memory of a dear departed friend, as some have tried to explain the resurrection appearances. It was the resurrection of Jesus in the same physical body in which he had lived and died, but radically changed in nature and capability. The testimony of the eyewitnesses is that the body of Jesus was the same but he had undergone a radical transformation. It was a real body that they saw and touched, but a spiritual body that was no longer subject to death. His resurrection was more than the resuscitation of a corpse, like Lazarus. Rather, it was the entrance of an entirely new physical life from the power of God. His resurrection was not the loss of personal identity nor the loss of corporeal life, but the reception of physical immortality and incorruptibility. And this points out the ultimate destination of the believer in Christ, glorification, resurrection to be like Jesus himself.

It was and remains entirely reasonable and realistic to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, and it is the ultimate moment of transformation in this life. For the apostles, it meant that a scared and defeated group of men, most likely from a couple of men as young as John to older men past middle age, saw behind the closed doors the visible, demonstrable triumph of the Son of God over the power of sin and death. This was the basis of their later zeal and preaching that turned the world upside down, and eventually, all but one of them laying down their lives for their testimony to the risen Lord. This was the power of the cross and then the resurrection that changed these men then and continues to change lives today. There’s a story about an undertaker’s son who was in Sunday School who said confidently that Jesus would never have risen if his father had gotten ahold of him. It makes a cute story, but it’s true that no power on earth could have held him down, as Dallas Holm so wonderfully put in the song, “Rise Again.”

This passage then also shows something extremely important in our day and age about the nature of belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the nature of saving faith in Jesus. It is not belief without evidence, as some may try to mischaracterize Biblical faith. It is believe through the testimony of the eyewitnesses, and it ultimately goes back to the evidence that came through the apostles, the chosen witnesses of Jesus to the resurrection.

So here’s how Jesus lovingly corrected Thomas for his refusal to believe on the evidence that came through the apostles to him:

“But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the wounds in his hands and I put my finger into the wounds from the nails and I put my hand into his side, I won’t believe it!’”

“And after eight days the disciples were inside, and Thomas was with them. Jesus came while the doors were closed, and he stood in the center and said to them, ‘Shalom to you!’”

“Then he said to Thomas, ‘Bring your finger here and check out my hands, and bring your hand and put it int0 my side, and don’t be unbelieving but believing!’”

Thomas wasn’t a gullible or naïve man. He was passionate and intense, as it would seem, from the gospel record. But he knew then what every normal adult man and woman knows from his or her experience in this world: dead men do not rise from the dead. Except, though, there would be this one case where that would happen despite his prior determination not to believe it. Before long, the proof would be standing before him. And not only that, the risen Lord would be standing before him speaking directly to him and contradicting his refusal to believe what he had been told.

Jesus obviously considered that the testimony of the other apostles was sufficient for Thomas to have believed their word about his resurrection. Their testimony is recorded throughout the New Testament. It is the testimony of those eyewitnesses who laid down their lives for the certainty of their claims. It is an intellectually reasonable and defensible and historically accurate record of events that actually happened. There have been many over the centuries who have examined the record of the New Testament and found it reasonable and credible. Here are two:

Charles Hodge (past president of Princeton Theological Seminary): “It may be safely asserted that that the resurrection of Jesus is at once the most important and best authenticated fact in the world.”

John Broads (past president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary): “If I don’t know that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, then I know nothing in the history of mankind.”

The evidence is therefore considered sufficient for saving faith from all the gospel writers and the writers of the New Testament. The resurrection was the culmination of the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God throughout his life and ministry. What there is is sufficient to confirm the claims of Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the Messiah, to back up his promises and teaching, and the reality of his resurrection. There’s a report that a Muslim once taunted a Christian that, “You Christians do not even have a tomb to which you can point, where your Jesus lies buried. We have the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.”

The Christian then replied, “That is just the point; your prophet is dead and lies buried; our Christ is risen and with us always.”

Therefore, the historic, Biblical faith of the Christian lies in a risen Savior. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection is the basis of a strong, securely grounded faith. And this means that faith in Jesus Christ is not an escape from reality, a childish mind game, a comforting refuge for the weak minded, nor a fantasy, but an acceptance of the deepest reality in our world, and a living, livable, the only viable option of life. The persuasion of the truth of the resurrection must then lead to the point of personal faith in and commitment to the Lord Jesus, the risen Savior.

Persuasion of the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ calls for a personal faith in him. It is completely reasonable and fitting for someone who claims belief in the fact of the resurrection to come to personal belief in and commitment to the risen Lord himself. This is the proper response which is recommended from the gospel itself:

“Thomas answered him and said, ‘My Lord and my God!’”

“Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen do you believe? Blessed are those who have not seen and who have come to faith!’’”

The personal commitment of faith in and obedience to Jesus comes from the words of Thomas himself. It means making that personal commitment of faith in him and obedience to him, to be his follower and disciple in the Biblical sense of the words. For Thomas, these words meant a full pledge of his allegiance and submission to Jesus as his Lord and Master: “My Lord!”; in our day, some try to use the word, ‘leader’, here, but I think that’s too weak a word for the complete and total commitment that these words describe. In our day and age a leader may seem to be someone out in front, but it’s often seemed to me that people feel themselves under very little obligation to follow a leader unless that person leads them in a direction which they approve. But what this meant for Thomas was giving Jesus total authority over his life.

It is, moreover, personal submission to Jesus himself, and full acceptance of his Deity, as Thomas acknowledged, “ . . . and my God!” Thomas knew Jesus as an extraordinary man. He had witnessed the miracles of Jesus and had heard all the teachings of Jesus over the course of the ministry of Jesus. It’s also evident from his earlier mention, in John 11, that he was deeply attached to Jesus personally and thought that he would be willing to die for Jesus. This admission of Deity is way more than a normal Jew of the time would have made unless he had come into contact with extraordinary, incontrovertible evidence. And the final evidence was more than the teaching and the miracles, though they had pointed forward to this moment. In this moment, what came from his mouth was the acknowledgement that the man before him, bearing wounds of the crucifixion, the one that they had known to be dead but was now alive, was God himself. The nature of this belief would later be worked out over years to come, to the attestation that Jesus was the Son of God in the unique sense, as the Second Person of the Trinity. The belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God was not upon mere assertion but upon the stupendous reality of his resurrection.

From this, then, the confession of Thomas would be a fully viable expression of saving faith from those who would come to faith later on. This is why Jesus put in that remark about those who have not seen and who believe. It was more than his gentle, loving rebuke of the previous unbelief of Thomas. It was the indication to them that there would later be those who would not have the eyewitness experience that they did and yet would come to saving faith in him.

So then the apostle gets gently personal with each person who is reading: “Jesus performed many other signs before the disciples which have not been written in this book. But these things have been written that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that as you believe you might have life in his name.”

The apostle is asking each one who is reading to take the words he has written and upon them, come to faith in Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus was loving and gracious with Thomas, the apostle echoes this grace and love in extending this invitation. No high pressure; no strong demands; no spittle flecked ranting into a microphone like the caricature of an old time evangelist; the apostle just gives you the opportunity to consider what he has written and come to saving faith, eternal life, in the name of Jesus. The invitation is to make that open declaration of faith in Jesus which the Bible calls saving faith. This is the way that the apostle Paul put it: “. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).

What this is is personal submission to Jesus himself, from the personal conviction that he is risen from the dead, to make him Lord of your life. This is more than church membership or commitment to a church. So many may be a part of a church and may be good and moral people, but may never have made that personal commitment of saving faith in Jesus Christ. For instance, a long time friend of mine from years ago, unfortunately (for us) now deceased, years ago went to a convent and became a nun because she was seeking direction and discipline in her life. But then some years afterward, she volunteered to become a counselor at a Billy Graham Crusade in her area. It was as she she was reading the material that she was expected to explain to another person that she realized that with her discipline and work with the church, that she had missed the most important point: she had never put her faith in Jesus personally, for herself, and had not received eternal life by faith in him. And then she did so.

Lots and lots of people visit and attend churches and explore and become involved in religions and religious activities, but miss the point. I myself attended church with my family for years as I was growing up, but until August 27, 1974, I never understood or discovered the point of it all. It’s like the reaction of the newspaper editor in Dayton, Ohio, to whom Katherine Wright, the sister of Orville and Wilbur Wright, gave this telegram: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” The editor said, “How nice that your brothers will be home for Christmas.” People get involved with churches and religions for guidance, for spiritual curiosity, because of family and tradition, and out of desire for some kind of social connection. But they often miss the point of the witness of the church to the resurrection of Jesus and the invitation through the apostles to receive eternal life by faith in him alone.

Years ago Leon Jaworski was a household name during the Watergate controversy in the USA. He was the special prosecutor for that time, but what is less known about him is that he was the son of a Polish immigrant who was an evangelical preacher. In 1981 he went beyond his years of church attendance to speak more openly of his faith in Jesus Christ, and he said, “I had a heavy burden off my heart because I did something that I felt I should have done a long time ago.”

Saving faith in Jesus Christ, then, is this openly professed faith in Jesus Christ and submission to his Lordship. It means belief in his resurrection and his Deity, and upon the authority of Jesus Christ, the truthful and almighty Savior, this brings the assurance of eternal life. The assurance of eternal life is not in anything that we are, in anything that we have done, but in whom we have come to know, the risen Savior, through a personal and conscious decision of faith.

Jesus Christ is risen! The same Jesus Christ who died on the cross has risen from the dead! This truth calls us today to celebrate, with worship and praise to the Lord for his victory. And the point of the celebration is to celebrate with faith in him.

Join in the celebration, with all believers everywhere today. Give your praise and adoration to the Lord of life, the resurrected Son of God! Praise him for his almighty power and for his all powerful love and goodness, which has conquered sin and death. Praise him for the hope which he has made certain, for the eternal life of those who love and follow him. Praise him for his eternal glory, as the Son of God, who is greater by far than anything or anyone else is or ever shall be.

Keep on in the celebration! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus is to give us joy and confidence every day of the year, even though we focus on it today. His resurrection is truth to nourish and strengthen our faith and the foundation of our faith. This will bring us consistency and stability in the faith, as we live with the understanding and awareness that we serve a risen Savior. The constant realization that the Son of God is alive means that we are not pursuing a fantasy, but that our love for him and our obedience to him is to a real and living Person. And our declaration that the Lord is risen will ignite our hope to be with him and to be like him, and make it a burning expectation within our hearts.

Enter into the reason for our celebration. For believers in Jesus, his resurrection is not something that happened far ago in history that happened to a stranger. It is the victory over sin and death of the Lord whom we have come to know personally when we put our faith in him. The reason that we celebrate is because we have received eternal life by faith in the risen Son of God. So then, the question come to you through all the ages: have you made a personal commitment of your life to Jesus Christ? Have you made a conscious decision to repent of your sins and to put your faith in him alone for your eternal salvation? Will you declare your faith in him and then follow him as your Lord?


The late Marjoe Gortner was probably the most infamous example of someone who had been pushed forward as a child evangelist and later renounced his public profession of faith. Yet because of his experience he had some perceptive comments that he made later about what he saw and experienced. He once said, “When I was traveling, I’d see someone want to get saved in one of my meetings, and he was so open and bubbly in his desire to get the Holy Ghost. It was wonderful and very fresh, but four years later I’d return and that person might be a hard nosed and intolerant Christian because he was better than anyone else because he had Christ. That’s where the danger comes in. People want and experience. They want to feel good . . .”

That continues to be a problem. His remarks do give credit that this happened with some people and not everyone. It’s conceivable that many became faithful, humble, loving Christians as well – but there’s no drama or the self righteousness of the renegade former evangelical that feeds on the hypocrisy of the few. But the issue for everyone everywhere remains not the faithful Christians or the hypocritical ones. It always remains Jesus – who he is and what he has done. And this is why the gospel of Jesus Christ constantly and relentlessly points us away from our feelings and experiences to Jesus Christ himself. Some years ago there was a song about coming back to the heart of worship, but it never seemed to come more than halfway back, since there was still a lot of “I” and “me’ in that song. But the final word was that it is all about Jesus. It’s not about getting a buzz on the music and the atmosphere, and the words of so many of our songs are fuzzy about the fundamental truths should be crystal clear for someone abiding in Christ and growing in him and in the knowledge of his Word. So many things are backhanded references and you have to think way too hard to find anything Biblical in so many of the words of our worship songs. And so many of our worship songs seem to be more like third rate poets celebrating their feelings and finding bad metaphors and similes to express what they think their experiences are than wholehearted scriptural praise comparable to the hymns and songs of praise that have been the repertoire of the church for two thousand years.

There needs to be a new and fresh vision of Jesus Christ beyond the foggy, cloudy and gushy experience that we’ve been taking on in the past few years. We need a fresh realization of the glory of our Lord. The fog, cloudiness and almost incomprehensible expressions of our shallow and superficial experiences needs to give way to the bright and shining glory of God in the incomparable person and work of Jesus Christ. It must be that we’ve only settled for what we’re finding is that there is a great lack of realization of who Jesus Christ really is and what we have done. We seem to celebrate a sentimental familiarity with Christ rather than the stunning statements of who the man of Galilee really was and is and what he has done for us. It may seem like heavy theology, because we seem to have been accustomed to shallowness. Yet what was written for us, and what has often been in the faith and worship of the church for centuries, was intended for ordinary people, not for academics. It may be difficult for the mind to grasp – indeed the finest merely human mind cannot come to a full realization and understanding of all that the scriptures say about Jesus. What the scriptures say is there for our faith to believe and seek understanding upon that basis. This then corrects what may be a deeply faulty, inadequate and shallow inner image that we have of Jesus, as far too small, weak, and less than the Lord of glory. So next stop is the portrait of Paul of the incomparable Christ, the cosmic Christ, in terms and attributes that are far too often passed over even by Christians who have been in the faith for many years. The cosmic Christ, the Lord of all nature, superior in nature and rank to all the creation, and who is first in the universe in every way, preeminent above every being, shocks and astounds us out of the self concerned, festering morass of our feelings and experiences into an adoration and worship where we become enthralled with him and only him.

So here’s how the apostle Paul described how Jesus Christ is first in the universe in every way:

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation, because through him all things in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen, whether thrones or lordships or rulers or authorities; all things were created through him and for him. And He is before all things, and all things are sustained through him. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might be first in all things; because in him all the fullness of god was pleased to dwell and to reconcile all things to himself, as he made peace through the blood of his cross – whether things on earth or in heaven.”

Jesus Christ is, first of all, God incarnate. Those two words, “God incarnate”, describe something that we may often forget is astounding bey0nd all our thoughts, experiences and experiences. They describe Deity robed in human flesh, the fullness of Deity dwelling bodily. They mark Jesus as so supreme above every human teacher, guru and self described savior that they deserve no comparison, because he is incomparable.

As the Son of God, God incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, as Christians for centuries have described him, Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God. He is incomparable in that way to all human teachers. In Jesus, all that God is comes into perfect focus for all of humanity. He is the perfect, living theophany, through whom the invisible God demonstrated and expressed his character and personality. He was not nor did he posses just a “piece” of God in himself, or a partial but incomplete depiction of God that other teachers, gurus, prophets and avatars may fill out in other ways. He cannot be reduced in who he is and what he has done to someone small enough to be compared to someone else that someone might find preferable from their own background or tradition. That would reduce Jesus to an idol and elevate the others to whom one is comparing Jesus to idols, since idols are incomplete models of what people may think God to be. At best those idols, those fake images of God, may show something that may be some attribute of God, but they cannot express all that God is through a human personality and life. They always leave a lot out of the fullness of Deity and often include large elements of human sin and frailty – just look at the fallibility, follies, foibles and depravities of the old Indo-European sky god whom we know historically as Zeus, Jupiter and Dyaus.

As God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the creator and sustainer of all things. As Deity, the Second Person of the Trinity, his being is eternal, and as the eternal Son, he was creator with God the Father, and the universe continues to exist and be sustained through his personal agency. He is the Creator of all visible and invisible beings, all living things, even the mightiest of archangels, and all of mankind and the nations of this world; they all come from the invisible creating and sustaining agency of the one Person who is the Man of Nazareth. None among them are equal to or prior to Christ, and so they are not rivals of his in any way, and they do not deserve any comparison with him. And as the creator and sustainer of all creation, all human beings continue to live through his almighty power; we do not have life in ourselves, but only through the Son of God, the Second Person of the Godhead. And so there is nothing in the universe that is a mystery to him, and to the believer in Christ, the universe itself is no mystery, since he or she personally knows who is responsible for bringing it into being and keeping it in existence from moment to moment.

Next, as the Son of God, God incarnate, Jesus Christ is the owner and possessor of all that exists. This is the meaning of the phrase, “firstborn of creation.” That phrase, in its history, had little to do with being created or being physically born the first in the family. For instance, in the Old Testament, David, Jacob and Joseph were not the first ones physically born in their families, but each one received the right of the firstborn. It was what has been called the right of primogeniture, and it does not mean, as some counterfeit, cultish imitations of Biblical Christianity would have it, that the supernatural nature of Jesus was a superior created being. The right of the firstborn is not the same as being the first one born in a family. And what this means is that all things were created for him and his will is pre-eminent in the universe. All other commands and priorities are secondary and fade to nothing beside the word of Jesus Christ. He will have his will accomplished in all things, and the goal of all the universe is the Kingdom of God under God’s anointed King Jesus.

One of the stupendous things about this is the agreement that the apostle Paul has in what he has just asserted with one of the original Twelve apostles, the apostle John, who was writing almost a generation later and in another part of the Roman world. Here is what the apostle John had to say:

Dr. D. James Kennedy noted that most unbelievers and nominal Christians are unaware of the Deity of Jesus Christ, and sharing the meaning of what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God as himself being Deity, God in the flesh, was a significant part of the Evangelism Explosion presentation which he developed. It was often true in that era in which he formulated that presentation, the 1960s, that there were many people who attended church at that time who were nevertheless in the dark about what the words that the hymns and the Apostle’s and Nicene creeds really meant when they referred to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. And to be fair, many of the men in the pulpit of the church at that time may not either have realized its significance or believed in the Biblical meaning of the Deity of Christ, as this doctrine is often called in the systematic theology books. Making this a part of the gospel presentation, then, meant that he was correcting a part of the theological instruction that many may never have heard in the churches in which they grew up and which they attended, as to understanding and accepting that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as Deity. And this is one of the crucial reasons for sharing this as part of the gospel; it establishes Jesus as a Savior that can save to the fullest extent possible in anywhere in this world for anyone in this world.

Even more, Jesus Christ is the only Savior. The extent of his reconciliation is too often missed in our preaching and teaching; we tend to reduce it to just providing forgiveness for our sins – and that is perfectly fine and Biblical when sharing the gospel — but it goes way beyond that. His reconciliation through the cross went far beyond cancelling the condemnation to eternal punishment for sinful people, though that is fine and Biblical and definitely a part of the presentation of the gospel to those who need to come to know Christ. Even more staggering is also the realization that Jesus Christ, in a profound and cosmic way, through the cross brought reconciliation to the universe and the genesis of a new humanity. This is a part of what the cross meant and what it continues to mean; the depth, breadth and extent of the reconciliation that Jesus brought to the universe is staggering to understand and contemplate, and this is often something that may be missing in our normal preaching and teaching from week to week. Certainly the truth that we’re about to touch upon is probably far beyond the normal understanding that many believers who attended church weekly have come to realize.

The cross meant the pacification of God to all that is evil and in this fallen universe. First, this meant a stay in the ultimate judgment of the human race and gave fallen humanity the opportunity across centuries to become reconciled to God through faith in Christ. Make no mistake about it, the biggest complaint that godly people have had over the centuries about the justice of God in this world, which is not the poor formulation that unavenged evil means God does not exist, but the often voiced complaint that God’s justice is inexplicably delayed, finds its answer in the reconciliation which Christ has provided in the cross. One of the unconditional benefits of the cross is the stay in the judgment of God until the opportunity for reconciliation has been fully come to this world.

But next, the cross meant that Jesus through his resurrection would be the ultimate, incomparable Savior provided for the human race. That is what it meant for him to be the firstborn from the dead; his resurrection was more than a temporary resuscitation from death, to die later, as Lazarus and the son of the widow in the town of Nain. Rather, he was the firstborn of a new mankind, a new and resurrected human race, made from the people of the first race descended from Adam, that would supersede the original race.

Even more, this meant that he has become the Head of the Church, the fellowship of the redeemed. There is no earthly head but only the Son of God, the Savior from heaven! Then, the term that the church is his body means that he is the source of its life and each one has a unity of life with him and each other. That’s a striking thought that too little affects how we see our Lord and how we see and how we treat each other. This statement means that the church exists because of, through and in the dominion of Christ. It knocks down and reduces to ashes the human presumption that a church is our fellowship and that we are in charge and run the church. It means that our presumption is in conflict with his authority and supremacy, and that means that we need to be careful that we please Christ rather than ourselves. But this even more is the basis of the new fellowship among those who know Christ, and the understanding that we are people of destiny in a far greater way than we often realize. This means that the most obnoxious person you know, or the person that you cringe when he or she enters a church building, nevertheless shares your life and destiny under Christ if he or she has genuinely repented and placed his or her faith in Christ. All this means that there needs to be definite re-thinking of many of us on how we think about our church involvement and how we treat others in the body of Christ.

Taking another look, then, at the portrait of Christ which has been painted in the words of the apostle Paul through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, there’s that familiar face again, but greater in a way which we may have never seen before. That face is our Lord! If we linger and contemplate and gaze with the eyes of our heart, we will see him in a new way. And once we have truly seen him in this way, we can never think of him in the same way again. And even more, we can never responsibly live the same way again!

The Jesus that we see in a new way is a Lord who is worthy of all our worship and adoration! Let us never again think of our due homage to him in worship ever again as any kind of drudgery. That hero worship that we have often given to incomparably less figures in this world and our human saviors who cannot save us has a far more worthy and adequate objects, Jesus Christ himself!

And the Jesus that we see is a Lord worthy of all our obedience. Our Lord who has given all, promises all and is able to keep and will keep all of this promises. Therefore never let us give him mere lip service again, or use him as a mere figurehead for our lives!

The incomparable Christ that we see is also a Lord who is capable of helping us in all our difficulties, each and every one. He suffered himself in our world and he is able to give us a depth of sympathy and compassion beyond all that we can fully know. But he is also a Lord who is able to solve the problems and bring the comfort. Therefore let us never again go to anyone else first!

Finally, Jesus Christ the incomparable is the only Lord who can satisfy. All others will fade away and fall apart, yet he is eternal and he brings us eternal satisfaction. Let us never again act as if there is real, lasting and ultimate satisfaction that we will find anywhere else.


Years ago there was a pastor in Kentucky that sent his parents a microwave oven as a Christmas gift. The gift thrilled his parents, but they found that they couldn’t get it to work even after they had read over the directions. So two days later, as his mother was speaking with a friend, she said that she couldn’t even get that microwave oven to boil water. She confessed, “To get this darn thing to work, I really don’t need better directions; I just needed my son to come along with the gift.”

This situation was like how God dealt with his chosen people of Israel. He gave them the directions in the Law of Moses as the way of life, but they found that they couldn’t live up to the requirements of the Law and achieve their own acceptance with God because of their good deeds. Even the sacrificial worship of the Temple could not ease their consciences. So God gave them a greater opportunity; he sent his Son Jesus Christ. The Son of God was God’s gift of salvation in person, and in him he offered them all his promises of the King who would come in the line of David who would be their Savior, and, indeed, the Savior of the entire world. But still the gift of God’s Son, his appeal to them to accept his mercy through his Son, respected their free choice as human beings. The King came to them to be either accepted or rejected. Jesus publicly entered the city of Jerusalem, on the day that Christians around the world have celebrated as Palm Sunday, as the living fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, and as a national theophany. Although there was celebration on that day, ultimately it would come out that the nation had missed the opportunity to receive properly their King that God was offering to them.

This still is how God now deals with us now not so much as nations but as individuals who will one day stand before him. One day it will just be y0u standing there before God before the whole universe. Yet long before that time, and sometimes even many times over may present Jesus Christ to us through the gospel as Lord and Savior for our acceptance or rejection. And along with that, there will be ultimate, eternal consequences to our acceptance of Jesus Christ or rejection of him as he comes to us through the gospel.

“When Jesus had already drawn near to the egress down from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty deeds that they had seen, as they said, ‘Blessed be the King who is coming in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

“And some of the Pharisees who were in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, correct your disciples!’”

“And he answered them, ‘I say to you, if these people were silent, the stones would cry out!’”

“And as he came near, as he saw the city he wept over it, as he said, ‘If you have only known on this day what would bring about peace – but now it has been hidden from your eyes. Because the day will come when your enemies will surround you with a barricade, and they will encircle you and completely hem you in, and they will dash you and your children in you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not know the time that God would visit you!’”

(Luke 19:37-44, Dale’s sight translation)

Jesus Christ is himself God’s gracious offer of salvation. He himself is the gospel, the good news which God has for our world, in person. And God’s offer of his Son to us as Lord and Savior is his final answer, his only offer of salvation. Even more, the open, public offer of Jesus Christ is the open demonstration of the grace of God to our world – his gracious love and mercy to a rejecting, rebellious and dying world, to each individual who is rejecting, rebellious and dying through his or her own sins. Through the person of his Son, then, his public appeal comes for the acceptance or rejection of the salvation which he has provided.

Verses 37-44 describe something that would appear rather modest to a modern witness: “When Jesus had already drawn near to the egress down from the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty deeds that they had seen, as they said, ‘Blessed be the King who is coming in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’”

This was a procession of a crowd, maybe of several hundred to several thousand people, that went several hundred yards from the Mount of Olives on the usual way down the mountain to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since we usually celebrate Palm Sunday in the morning, we may often see this as having taken place in the morning. The gospel of Mark tells that Jesus went to the Temple just after this, looked around and left, because it was evening. So it may have started around 5 PM local time, and continued until just about 7 PM or so, when sunset would have come.

The crowds, though, recognized the significance of what it meant when Jesus entered Jerusalem on the colt. It wasn’t an occasion just to wave palms and sing songs, because we have done so since our childhood in our churches. There was no tradition of Palm Sunday to fall back on on that day. There was a tradition that explained that act, though. Jerusalem had been the capital of the forefather of Jesus, King David, and this entrance was something that recalled the entrance of the prince, the heir to the throne, who was to be crowned king of Israel. It may have in fact been the same road since in ancient cities which were continually rebuilt the roads were often repaved on top of each other. So this entrance of Jesus was the prelude to a coronation ceremony – as some of our Palm Sunday hymns acknowledge — and his public declaration of his Messiahship by his miracles and his heritage. It represented the offering of Jesus to Jerusalem and to Israel as the heir and successor of David, their promised King. The praise of the people around him, then, was their acknowledgement of his claims to the throne of David. His entrance as God’s promised King, the successor of David, was a part of the demonstration of God’s renewed favor to them.

So now we don’t see Jesus coming personally down the Mount of Olives on a young colt, but a strong reason that churches have celebrated Palm Sunday for centuries is that it reminds us that he continues to approach us through the centuries with the message of salvation through his death and resurrection. The offering of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ and the public declaration of the grace of God has now been extended throughout the centuries beyond Jerusalem and the nation of Israel to the entire world. It is still the offer of the promised King, the Prince of peace who brings peace with God when he is accepted. It is the open offer of peace with God through the Son of God, which comes to those who receive him as their Lord and Savior. It is an offer which still called for the response of those who receive it.

Nevertheless, there will be some who will not tolerate God’s offer of salvation through his Son, for whatever reasons that they may have. And the truth is that the free offer of the grace of God through Jesus Christ is often a threat to many in our world, to those who may be comfortable in the routine of the status quo. There are often spoilers in every crowd, and this is what happened then. This is what happened, as explained in verses 39-40:

“And some of the Pharisees who were in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, correct your disciples!’”

“And he answered them, ‘I say to you, if these people were silent, the stones would cry out!’”

There were some Pharisees in the crowd, on that road down the Mount of Olives into the Temple at Jerusalem. They may have been some of the Pharisees who had for years gravitated in and out of the crowds and asked hard, even trapping questions of Jesus, or schemed against him behind his back. They might have themselves been going toward the Temple for their own worship and became absorbed into the crowd. Some may have seen their objection as being grounded in good intentions, to forestall Roman intervention into an illegal demonstration. But it is more likely that it was simply their annoyance at the popular recognition of a claim that they had disputed. There was some grudging acceptance of Jesus as a lay religious teacher, who had nevertheless not been through the rigorous training of an officially recognized rabbi and member of the Sanhedrin. But this was going too far – the crowd was cheering and singing for him as if he were the promised King himself. But Jesus refused to shut down the crowd for them, and he refused to disown the kind of honors that they were giving him. His reply about the the rocks crying out was a proverbial expression that declared that honor would come to him from God no matter what anyone did.

Yet today this is still the reaction of some when Jesus Christ is publicly celebrated and offered as Lord and Savior, of those who do not believe trying to shut it down. It may even come from those who are religious, who themselves may be nominal Christians, and many of those from other religions who are willing to accept Jesus as a religious teacher, but try to shut it down when he is publicly celebrated as Lord and Savior, the salvation of God to this world. Yet even in this, God will still reach out to them with the offers of grace and save some, but others will still continue in underground opposition for a long time afterwards. Ultimately, though, no antagonism of any human being to reaching others with the gospel will bring silence to the honor due to the Son of God.

God desires for the people of this world to receive the salvation that he offers through his Son, and so he gives them the opportunity to respond to his grace. Those who are close to God will seek to be a part of this mission as much as possible; those who understand and empathize with God, who are filled with his Spirit and walking in his Spirit will then also seek that others will respond to God’s offer of salvation through his Son Jesus Christ.

God’s grace, then, calls for acceptance or rejection; acceptance brings salvation, but rejection has its consequence also. The rejection of the grace of God leaves only the consequence of God’s judgment. God in his love and patience gives this world the offer of his salvation through Jesus Christ. If that offer is rejected, though, that leaves only his wrath. The rejection of the grace of God brings his sorrow, regret and mourning. Yet God respects the choice of people to reject the terms on which he offers his salvation. To allow them to choose salvation on their own terms would mean that he abdicates his authority and sovereignty as God, but for him to allow people the choice to refuse his salvation is in accord with his creation of men and women as free moral beings with free choice.

In verses 41-42, then, we see the reaction of Jesus, God incarnate, to the ultimate rejection of him from Jerusalem and the Jewish nation of that time: “And as he came near, as he saw the city he wept over it, as he said, ‘If you have only known on this day what would bring about peace – but now it has been hidden from your eyes . . .’”

What we should see is that Jesus has come to a point where he can see the city as a whole, and he knows what will ultimately happen. His compassion for Jerusalem and the Jewish nation of that time led to his tears and lamentation of that time. He recognized the real spiritual blindness that so many would have to himself, his ministry and his Messianic credentials. He knew that he was not going to find the kind of reception in Jerusalem that showed spiritual readiness but rather spiritual blindness that would not mean peace with God. Though there were the crowds that were around him, there would be strong, profound and murderous rejection from the civil and religious powers that be of that time by the end of that same week. Yet still he had compassion for them, over their hardened and unrepentant hearts.

The rejection of the grace of God then makes judgment inevitable. The sad reality is that when God’s patience has finally reached its limit, then his justice begins the process of its terrible reckoning. This is what Jesus is talking about in verses 43-44: “’ . . . Because the day will come when your enemies will surround you with a barricade, and they will encircle you and completely hem you in, and they will dash you and your children in you to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time that God would visit you!’”

This was the prophecy of Jesus that was fulfilled in A.D. 70. The land of Israel, what the Romans called Galilee and Judea, would revolt from Roman rule, and the Roman governor of Syria, Vespasian, would invade from the north to put down the rebellion. While the rebellion was still being put down, he found himself proclaimed emperor, and left the final conquest of Jerusalem to his son Titus. This conquest is still commemorated in the Arch of Titus which stands in Rome today. The prophecy of Jesus was a graphic description of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Romans would build a stockade around a walled city to cut it off from the outside world, from all outside reinforcements, and through a combination of starvation, calculated terror and well honed siegecraft conquer the city. Those who were left inside, who survived when the Roman troops broke through the walls, were enslaved or crucified, and small children killed. Some cities were razed to prevent any rebuilding and as a warning to any other cities and nations that would rebel. The siege, capture and destruction of an ancient city was a horror to all involved. And here Jesus ascribes it to the coming rejection of him as their Messiah and the Son of God.

Here it’s necessary to give a pause to make it clear on the limits of what Jesus meant. The judgment would come upon that generation, but not upon all Jews for all time. The pogroms that came later in medieval times in Europe in nominally Christian countries have no justification in scripture; the rejection and persecution of any Jew at any time with the vicious and repugnant term of ‘Christ killer’ is a crime of fanaticism and ignorance. Whatever happened then was between God and Israel, and no one who has the name of Christian has any part to play in inflicting any further justice of God for the death of Christ on any Jew at any time. Rather, the prophecy of scripture was that there would be a continued, partial hardening of Israel to the gospel until near the time of the Messiah’s return (Romans 11), and over that time there would still be those who are Jews who would come to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, as has in fact happened in the ages since the destruction of Jerusalem. Our reaction today, then, is to love the Jews, whoever they are and whenever we can, for the sake of God who chose them and Jesus who is from them, himself of the tribe of Judah and the descendant and heir of David. We are to love them with sharing the gospel when we can, and love them as people when we see them and get to know them, and seek for the highest good that we can in this life that we can.

As a matter of fact, then, the significance for this nowadays is for each of us to realize our responsibility before God when the gospel comes to us. The good news of the salvation of Jesus Christ comes to us now, each of us, as an individual who stands before God, with the alternative of acceptance or rejection. Acceptance means salvation, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. But for each person who rejects it, there is only left the consequence of judgment that one brings upon oneself. The question is often asked on why a loving God would send a person to hell; rather, the question is why a person would choose hell over a loving God and eternity in heaven. The refusal of the grace of God does not put a person into a neutral ground between heaven and hell, but rather on the path to hell because it is the choice of his wrath. It is terrible to consider, but it is only and completely fair. The person who refuses the grace of God in Jesus Christ is choosing to be treated entirely fairly and with complete justice by God for eternity. The rejection of Jesus Christ is the rejection of the only and ultimate expression of the grace of God, and there are no alternatives which he has left us. But in the tears of Jesus over Jerusalem we see the reaction of God to that choice that anyone makes to refuse his grace: the deep regret and mourning of those who are not choosing something second best but something that will be horribly the worst for them for all eternity.

God’s grace through Jesus Christ shows that he would rather show mercy than show wrath, but the penalty of refusing his mercy and grace leave only wrath. His compassion continues for those who have not heard, who have not understood and not yet have accepted his gospel, and that’s why his wrath tarries. This is the time of God’s visitation for this world through Jesus Christ to reach out to all, and to provide the opportunity for the gospel to go to the ends of the earth. Those who are close to Jesus Christ will also share his compassion for those who have not yet received the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s why we continue to seek to reach all the earth with the gospel. Thus the believer in Christ who is walking closely with him must also share his concern and his compassion for those who are lost and heading toward judgment. The tears of Jesus for Jerusalem are echoed in the tears of intercession that we shed in prayer for those who are in this lost and dying world, who need to come to faith in Christ, as we pray for the softening of their hearts and the conviction and witness of the Holy Spirit to them. The tears of Jesus for Jerusalem are also echoed in the tears of compassion which may come in those times that we may have the chance to explain the gospel to others and express our concern and love for their eternal destinies – not as tallies on our gospel belt, but as real people, persons who are eternal souls who will one day stand before God.

And yet, those there are terrible consequences to the rejection of the grace of God, no one has to reject them. The possibility of the acceptance of the grace of God continues for each man or woman while he or she is alive. The consequence of the rejection of the grace of God is a strong warning not to refuse the call of his grace when it comes to you. The opportunities of grace need to be accepted when they come through the gospel. The grace of God meant that the rejection of the offer of Jesus as the Messiah to the nation of Israel on Palm Sunday, which happened finally on the evening which he was betrayed, tried, sentenced to death and then crucified on a Roman cross resulted in a deeper and more lasting offer of Jesus in love of himself as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. The offer of Jesus as King, Lord and Savior then made way to his offer of himself on the cross for the sins of the world, as the innocent and willing victim for us, who took the wrath of God for us. The truest reception of Jesus as king, then, comes through those not who wave palms and sing traditional songs of Palm Sunday, but those who come to him in repentance and faith and receive him as Lord and Savior. The gospel of the Son of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead shows the further and deeper good which God brought out of the rejection of the Son of God to be the redemption of the whole world, and through him now he gives his appeal to the people of this world to be reconciled to him.

So then, have you accepted the King? Is he your King? Have you crossed from death to life through faith in him and him alone as your Lord and Savior? Choose life, eternal life, but repentance for your sins, and place your faith in him and him alone for your eternal salvation.

If you yourself have received the King, does his compassion flow through you for those who have not received his salvation and who may be refusing his salvation? Do you desire that others would come to know his salvation? Will you let the tears of Jesus for Jerusalem come through you as his compassion and love, and share the message of his love to those who need it most.

Death Sentence

In December 2005 I became the second alternate juror on a murder for hire trial where the prosecution was requesting the death penalty. For the next three weeks, I listened to the testimony for a fairly gruesome murder. During the time when the judge, the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney were interviewing the jurors, they asked me pretty much how I would conduct myself as a juror. I can’t remember my full answer, but I remember that I said something to the effect that I would strive to understand and follow the law as much as possible and to take being in the position of possibly having someone else’s life depend on my decision very, very seriously.

In addition, on this jury were also a pastor’s wife, and two other women whom I remember as also being fellow believers in Jesus Christ. At the same time I discovered that there was a friend of mine on another jury with 200 count indictment and guilty plea for murder that was gong on at the same time. I remember that they were able to face horror of hearing repeatedly about the murders seriously, without wilting or folding under the pressure or intensity. I suspect that they had through their lives also found the need to bring the strength of God to face the hardest and most difficult situations and not shy away from them. I think that all this is part of growing into spiritual maturity and not remaining in extended spiritual infancy or adolescence as a believer in Jesus Christ. Indeed, I’ve often seen that, while sometimes there are young people who are spiritually mature beyond their years, more often spiritual maturity levels are often linked to maturity level in life, as people grow and learn through facing the challenges of this world in the strength of Jesus Christ.

The last night and day of Jesus Christ during his earthly life and ministry  can be some of the most difficult passages of the Bible to consider and study in depth. Yet these hours are all described in detail in all four gospels. I think that it’s part of the spiritual immaturity and emotional immaturity and weakness of so many in our age that we so rarely preach and teach on these passages very much. Part of the problem is that we tend to spend too much time going into the mechanics of how crucifixion worked when we get to the crucifixion. Often, though, we don’t seem to see the need to think, meditate, and preach and teach on the last hours of Jesus, even though a considerable amount of the gospels deal with these hours. But it is part of having the spiritual foundation not to wilt at what is happening and to understand what he endured was for us; it is at least enough for us to understand that all this was what he endured for loving us to the death on the cross. It at least calls for respectful and reverent consideration on a regular basis from us, to remember the price of our salvation. I think that seriously considering these passages from time to time will remind us that our faith is not spiritual fluff, an escape from reality, or getting an emotional buzz, but the strong foundation to be able to face the greatest tragedies, injustices and even horrors that this world can bring against us, as long as we do it with him, since he was there first before us to face them and conquer them.

So here’s how the adjudication the death sentence on Jesus happened. Jesus Christ had a number of hearings and adjudications on the last night and morning of his earthly life. He had what seems to have been a preliminary hearing before Annas, the retired Jewish High Priest, and then a larger trial before Joseph Caiaphas, the current Jewish High Priest, the next, secular trials after dawn before Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas. These trials, hearings and adjudications show the religious, political and criminal justice system gone criminally unjust. They show the religious and political machinery of this world through hatred, envy, indifference and incompetence driving an innocent man to capital punishment of a particularly brutal and degrading kind. Yet the injustice of the trial was also the condemnation of the world and provided the innocent victim for the sins of the world. The actual innocence before the laws of man and God, civil and divine justice shown in these hearings, trials and adjudications, and most of all in the trial before the Jewish ruling council and the high priest. They show his utter innocence before the laws of man that was part of his utter innocence that was necessary to take on the sins of the entire world. Through these trials, the redemption of the world came because of a false verdict from the machinery of civil justice gone criminally un just, and they produced a verdict and a sacrifice which God had foreseen from before the creation of the world.

“And the chief priests and the whole Jewish ruling council were seeking testimony so that they could execute him, and they weren’t able to find any, because many were perjuring themselves, and no testimony held together. And some stood up and perjured themselves as they said, “We heard him as he said, ‘I will tear down this Temple that was made with hands and in three days I will build up another that is not made with hands,” but their testimony did not hold together either.”

“And the High Priest stood up in the middle and asked Jesus, ‘Aren’t you going to give any answer? Why are they testifying against you?”’

“But he was silent and gave no answer.”

“Again, the High Priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Most Blessed One?’”

“And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

“And the High Priest tore his garments and said, ‘What need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. So how does it seem to you?’”

“And they all condemned him as worthy of death. And some began to spit on him, and they covered his face and beat him as they said to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the attendants delivered blows to him.”

(Mark 14:55-65, Dale’s sight translation)

The redemption of the world required an innocent volunteer. As the trials ground onward, the innocence of Jesus was one of the extraordinary things which was acknowledged by pretty much everyone about him. Even more, his innocence was further corroborated by the actual testimony at the trial in the twisted attempt at civil justice, as the testimony of the different witnesses ground against each other and crumbled into dust before everyone. The legal failure of false testimony nevertheless established the innocence of Jesus. False accusations and demonstrably and obviously false accusations have never been the establishment of actual guilt anywhere at any time, and it was the same as Jesus as he came before the bar of civil justice and proved it horribly wrong and twisted.

The trial started out this way:  vv. 55-59: “And the chief priests and the whole Jewish ruling council were seeking testimony so that they could execute him, and they weren’t able to find any, because many were perjuring themselves, and no testimony held together. And some stood up and perjured themselves as they said, “We heard him as he said, ‘I will tear down this Temple that was made with hands and in three days I will build up another that is not made with hands,” but their testimony did not hold together either.”

The parade of false witnesses against Jesus, one after another, was part of the setup by the high priest and the Jewish ruling council to get the verdict that they were seeking. These were public officials responsible for justice who were themselves suborning perjury and that in itself was and remains a deep and malicious crime upon their own ledger. It was unjust then, just as it is unjust and illegal now. With all that was said at that time, they could not yet could not find any testimony of anything that would bring a death sentence, even as they strove to bring at least a pretense of legality and public justice to these proceedings. There was probably some kind of record of the testimony, since in the ancient world there were several known forms of shorthand available. As the testimony was coming out, it was obviously insufficient and inconsistent testimony. According to the Old Testament Law, according to Deuteronomy 14:16, the testimony had to agree among at least two witnesses to establish that a capital crime had been committed. The narrative indicates that they were looking for proof of false teaching and public sedition which were capital crimes under the Jewish and Roman Law. It finally came down to the false testimony based upon twisting of something like he really said, which was quoted in John 2:19. Yet even then the trial could not produce anything like the consistent testimony required for a death sentence, since the false witnesses still contradicted each other in some way.

But still, see how much Jesus had to endure standing there before malicious, lying lips seeking to end his life. This round of false testimony probably took at least an hour and probably several hours where he stood in silence before all before the false witnesses seeking to provide testimony that would end his life. Yet there was purpose behind this also, since this was something that had been portrayed in the Psalms as part of the suffering of the Righteous One to come. And as he was standing there, it is a remarkable comfort and encouragement to believers in Jesus for all the ages since then. It seem like something that has been a common situation for believers of all ages as well to stand before others who have been offering false accusations against them, and behind them the instigator of the false accusations has been the Enemy of their souls and the souls of all mankind. Ever since then, one of Satan’s common weapons against Christians have been false accusations:

“Keep up such good conduct among the Gentiles, so that, in that time when they slander you as evildoers, they will still see your good actions with their own eyes and then glorify God in the day of his return” (I Peter 2:12; see also I Peter 4:3-4).

“Blessed are you when they scorn you and persecute you and say every kind of dirty word against you falsely for my sake” (Matthew 5:11,  see also Luke 6:26).

Also, a cursory glance through the Psalms will show that there were many, many times the Psalmist endured false accusations.

So then, if you are a follower of Christ, then be prepared for false accusations. They may come against you and they may even be of unimaginable depravity. They may even be gaslighting accusations, such as Festus shouted to Paul that he was insane when he was given a chance to speak before him in an informal hearing. It’s possible that we may even find ourselves in situations where it seems like everyone is seeing us through the eyes of our haters and detractors, and nothing that we say to set forth the truth about ourselves seems to find anyone willing to give us a fair hearing.

Furthermore, at the same time, this is never something that any believer should ever do to any other believer deliberately, persistently and stubbornly, and no believer in the church of Jesus Christ should continually have to deal with false accusations from fellow believers. The body of Christ, the fellowship of believers, should be the one place where false accusations go to die. But recently, I heard the great line from an old song on the radio: “The talk is cheap when the story is good . . .” Unfortunately, that’s often the situation among many people in our churches. Many people in our churches have never grown beyond the level of social maturity that they had when they were in high school, and the gossip that may fly around even under spiritual pretenses may include stretching the truth beyond recognition, wild insinuations and exaggerations, and false accusations sometimes of the most outrageous, lurid and fatuous sort – sometimes based on something no more reliable than they saw on television or on a website about someone else somewhere else at some other time.

No believer in Jesus Christ should have to live under a cloud of suspicion, rejection and disdain in the fellowship of believers in Jesus Christ because of someone else’s overactive imagination and uncontrolled tongue. Unfortunately, some may have grown up and sought attention by being the breathless tattletales about the faults or (highly exaggerated) mistakes of others, or there may be the religious narcissist among us who spreads horrible accusations behind the back against those who may call him or her to account for his or her bad behavior. Some others repeat the same things about the same person for decades, even, and never face the person even to get a fair hearing. We need to deal with such people with the love, consideration and firmness of Jesus Christ. Neil Anderson in one of his books suggested these questions for the purveyor of this kind of backstabbing gossip, which I’ve adapted here:

  1. What is your reason for telling me/anyone this?
  2. Where did you get your information?
  3. Have you gone directly to the source?
  4. Have you personally allowed yourself to be quoted on this?
  5. Will you allow yourself to be quoted on this?

And briefly, note that false accusations are also a normal part of the abnormal situation of abuse, since it seems to be necessary for the abuser to dehumanize the target to make some kind of self justification for their treatment of another human being, to pour out their self nurtured bitterness the result from often exaggerated and fabricated list of wrongs. Note also that both spousal abuse – husband to wife and wife to husband – and child abuse are contrary to clear scripture, such as  Colossians 3: 8,19, 21: “But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. . . . Husbands, love your wives and do not pour out your bitterness upon them . . . Fathers, do not make your children bitter, or they will become discouraged.”

Even where there are a slew of false charges, the innocent do not always have to answer the false charges. False testimony may fail by itself and this is what happened with the false testimony against Jesus. It may well be part of our following him in our lives not only to face false accusations but perhaps even to remain as silent as he was before these false accusations. I don’t think that there’s a hard and fast rule here – some well meaning believers may say, “Never defend yourself,” but I see throughout the Bible many godly people asserting the truth about themselves in the face of false testimony. But in all this we can know that he has gone through it also: “ . . . for we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but who was tested in every way in a similar way, yet without sin. So then, let us come with boldness to the throne of grace, that we might receive mercy and we might find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

So, as all this was going on, Jesus remained silent:

“And the High Priest stood up in the middle and asked Jesus, ‘Aren’t you going to give any answer? Why are they testifying against you?”’

“But he was silent and gave no answer.” (verses. 60-61a).

The silence of Jesus during all the false testimony was dramatic but not intended for dramatic effect. He knew whatever he said would be twisted and used against him. Caiaphas, whose real first name was Joseph, had been give a name which meant something like, ‘the inquisitor.’ So when he invited Jesus to take the opportunity to defend himself against the false witnesses, he was not acting as someone who was on side side of Jesus, let alone someone who was on the side of justice. Even more, it was not the responsibility of the high priest to ask this question on why Jesus did not defend himself or the next question. Underneath Joseph Caiaphas was growing more and more irritated and baffled, and it seemed that this false friendliness was intended to bait Jesus into saying something incriminating about himself in response to the false testimony. That it had come to this point demonstrated the frustration that the false testimony had given to their murderous intentions. Certainly the silence of Jesus was entirely appropriate in a legal sense, since it was not necessary to answer and refute false testimony, which he could have done easily.

The responsibility of Jesus during this trial, though, while all this false testimony was happening, was not to defend himself. Rather, his responsibility was the fulfillment of prophecy of the Messiah of Isaiah, from his concern from the conclusion to Gethsemane, that the scriptures would be fulfilled in him. He was then living out before the Jewish ruling council Isaiah 53:7: “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Years later, the apostle Peter, who seems to have watched this from a safe distance, described it in this way: “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23).

When false accusations come, then, choose the Christlike reaction. Know that before this world Jesus was there first and your reaction is to be like his, This does not mean that there will not be legitimate concerns for personal safety or civil justice from the brutality of this world; certainly both Jesus and Paul did point out illegalities during the proceedings when they were on trial. But know this, that in the power of Christ it possible not to answer or become angry in turn no matter how ridiculous or maddening the false accusations are and how false and hateful the accusers become, and above all, do not hate the haters in return. Live out Romans 12:17-21: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Living like Jesus in this world even in the face of the most maddening and infuriating experiences is part of what it means for us to be in the world but not of the world. But even more, knowing what he went through gives the assurance that even in the hour of darkness, there was no darkness in him. His victory over the darkness included his coming through without a stain through all the accusations that were thrown against him. This was a part of his sinless life, of how he came to and lived through this fallen world without a stain of sin upon him, even through the worst that the twisted machinery of human justice tried to throw at him. So then, with his utter innocence and his utter willingness, he was utterly worthy to be the sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. Because he had no sins of his own so therefore he could take on the sins of all humanity, and so his worthiness took away our unworthiness in the cross.

But even more, the redemption of the world required the death of the Son of God. The redemption of the world required not just someone completely innocent, or even an innocent volunteer, but someone who was able to shoulder the sin of the entire world and take it away forever.

One remarkable fact came from the trial of Jesus. It brought forth the plain acknowledgment from Jesus of his being the Messiah. At the climax of the trial he acknowledged before the world who he was. The frustration of the High Priest drove him to ask Jesus plainly whether the was the Messiah, in terms no one could misunderstand. . vv. 61b-62:

“Again, the High Priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Most Blessed One?’”

“And Jesus said, ‘I am, and you will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

In a way, the question which came to Jesus was a trick question, but it received a plain and forthright answer. The plain question was asked in a way as if Jesus had been under oath to answer. In fact, the High Priest could not have asked the question in a more serious and compelling way in a Jewish court proceeding. He plainly asked Jesus if he were the Messiah, and Messiah as the Son of the living God. The reaction shows that Caiaphas did not mean it just as a traditional Messianic title, but as a virtual admission of personal Deity. He was in effect, trying to trick Jesus into an admission which might be interpreted just as a traditional title, but which he would twist into a virtual admission of personal Deity.

And Jesus answered the question. He gave his answer in the language of Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13, before the entire ruling council. The answer of Jesus was solemn acknowledgement of his Messiahship before the entire ruling council. If he had been silent and had refused to answer, that would have been denial and disrespect to the office of the High Priest and to the name of God. In that moment; his own public testimony told the truth about himself to the entire Jewish ruling council;. He was already before the highest court in the land, but his answer also implied and carried a warning that he would one day be their judge. And their rejection of his Messiahship would in fact secure his exaltation and his glory yet to come as King, Judge and Conqueror. And his answer was also the indirect explanation also as to why he was not there yet in glory as the conquering Messiah, since his glory was yet to come. He identified himself as the right person, but pointed to the ultimate fulfillment of how they expected him to come to the future.

The world without Christ also puts the believer in Christ on trial constantly. We may not necessarily be called to stand for Christ in a court trial for our lives, though many believers worldwide have had to face that even in our day. Still, our confession of Jesus before the world is what he expects from us when the world challenges us, asks us whether we are what we say we are, whether we are genuine. The answer we need to give and live out is the answer that God expects, though, not the answer that the world expects and want. Though Jesus’s confession of himself before the world for who he was gave the answer that led to his sacrifice for the sins of the world, our truthful answer will likewise be redemptive in a way, in that our witness before the world will lead to some to faith in Christ. Once a rabbi introduced Corrie ten Boom, to a meeting of Jewish friends, and she told them that she had come to tell them about her greatest friend, the Jew Jesus. At that point some tried to leave, but they were told to sit down and listen respectfully. At the end, one doctor said, “When I hear Corrie ten Boom tell about the joy and security she had from her Jesus, even in such difficult circumstances, and what love he had given her for her enemies, I almost envy her and get a longing to know the Lord Jesus more intimately.”

The confession before the world did not meet with the acceptance of the world, though, but rather the most extreme rejection that the world had to offer:

“And the High Priest tore his garments and said, ‘What need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. So how does it seem to you?’”

“And they all condemned him as worthy of death. And some began to spit on him, and they covered his face and beat him as they said to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the attendants delivered blows to him.” (verses. 62-65).

When Jesus made the plain acknowledgment that he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God, he met with an immediate summary judgment and its aftermath. The death penalty for blasphemy normal in OT Law (Leviticus 24:16, I Kings 21:10, in the case of Naboth. He could have offered a credible defense of his self identification as the Messiah, based on his words and deeds. Indeed, he could have given a discourse like he had given the men on the road to Emmaus, on the day of his resurrection, as he “ . .  began from Moses and from all the prophets explained to them from the scriptures all concerning himself . . .” (Luke 24:27). But all this would have fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, he wasn’t even given an opportunity to mount a credible defense once the words left his mouth.

The answer of Jesus was taken as self incrimination before the Jewish High Council. It was the only play they had left in face of the inability to get other testimony earlier that would have warranted a death sentence. There was deliberate high drama of the high priest tearing his garment to get the verdict, since he had to make it as dramatic as possible. Still, they had no legal authority to perform the execution. As a conquered nation subject to the Roman governor, they still had the legal requirement then to take it to Pontius Pilate for the actual execution. Later, in Mark 15:1, the official sentencing took place at the crack of dawn to meet the letter of the law in the legal requirement that it not be at night. But let us also note right here, finally and forever, that this verdict was the responsibility of the men that were there at that time in that century. There is no justification ever after for any of the idiotic and brutal pogroms and persecutions of Jews that took place centuries later with the horrible epithet of calling them “Christ killers.” Any Christian who takes the Bible at all seriously at this point must bow his or her head in shame at how some groups of professed and utterly ignorant Christians tried to use this to justify their brutality toward the innocent Jews in their midst.

But – to go on further about the events of that day — immediately, after Jesus had spoken and they all agreed to the death penalty, the trial degraded to the beating and mockery from some members of the ruling council and by the Temple guards which preceded the beating and mockery of the Roman guards later, in 15:16-20 (see Abused for a further explanation of this passage). This beating by the Temple guards, though was itself an official, legal act as taking place under the authority of the high priest, and marked an official rejection of the purported blasphemy. The blindfolding was a weird Messianic test based upon Isaiah 11:2-4, the idea that ‘the Messiah does not need to see’. But the reality is that he was fulfilling Isaiah 50:6: “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.”

So when it comes down to us, the world will often reject our testimony to the Messiah. So do not expect them to accept your confession of Jesus. They may immediately reject our testimony and make up all sorts of false tests for us in the form of “if you were really a Christian you would do this.” And these false tests, like they made up for Jesus, will often something be humiliating, selfish and ridiculous, as if they were the authorities on what it means to be a Christian, as if they were living up to their own standards and as if they were trustworthy to stand in judgment on the credibility of the testimony of believers. Yet again, remember that this also how they treated Jesus, as he was there first also; and also their rejection of our testimony to him is also their continuing rejection of him. But even so,  some will respond to our testimony. This means that there is still the need for believers to continue and realize expendability in the mission, as we follow Jesus in this world. It’s incumbent upon us also to recognize that we’re expendable in the mission, as Nate Saint did, before he and three others were martyred by the Auca Indians: “During the last war, we had to be willing to be expendable. A missionary constantly faces expendability.” His understanding of his expendability was echoed by Jim Elliott: “If that’s the way God wants it to be, I’m ready to die for the salvation of the Aucas.”

Too often the church has mistaken being glib and talkative with knowing the truth and being called to speak the truth, and the simple forthrightness of Jesus is too often missing, though it is the mark of those who have truly been with Jesus. Though this world challenges us to be genuine and will not accept it when we are genuine, nevertheless there will still be those for whom our confession of Jesus before them and before the world will mean salvation from this world and its judgment. Though the time will come when this world will accept the ultimate phony, the ultimate counterfeit from the phony factory of Satan, yet the believer in Christ can be assured that the eternal Son of God has come, has taken the sins of the world upon his shoulders and has taken them away for our eternal salvation.


Be ready to confess your faith before the world no matter how you anticipate the world may react to the plain confession of Jesus Christ, and be ready to live like Jesus in the face of the rejection of this world. This is a strong reason to walk more closely to Jesus, to experience his power to live the risen and changed life; his power also to be able to testify with holy boldness to the change which he has made. And understand that this is the Jesus who died on the cross for you. His love was there for you for now and to eternity, and this is the love which you need to receive to experience truly. So then receive him now through repentance and faith as Lord and Savior.