“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (ESV)
Charles Spurgeon wrote about meditating on the Word of God. “Meditation and careful thought exercise us and strengthen the soul for the reception of the yet more lofty truths. . . . We must meditate, brothers. These grapes will yield no wine till we tread upon them.”[i]
Ray Rhodes Jr. explains that Spurgeon meant, “Meditation was treading on the words of Scripture—pressing out from them the truth about everything that God taught for the purpose of knowing and walking with God.”[ii]
What if we took a familiar Scripture that many of us learned from childhood and squeezed it until the sweetness of its truth caused us to know and walk with God in a much deeper manner?
In John 3:16, Jesus reveals His purpose to Nicodemus, a respected rabbi, a ruler of the Jews, and a Pharisee.
In his first encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus came to see Jesus “after dark one evening,” – what would the other Pharisees think if they saw Nicodemus asking Jesus honest questions? Nicodemus, a teacher and scholar of God’s Word … he thought he understood God’s Word, but he didn’t. Jesus’ teachings were different than what he had learned. Nicodemus was spiritually in a dark place when he encountered the Living Word and was perplexed. He saw the light of Jesus and was intrigued.
Nicodemus approached Jesus with respect. “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” John 3:2 (ESV)
You must be born from above.
Jesus answered Nicodemus by telling him that only those who were born again or “born from above” could see the kingdom of God.
Have you noticed that Jesus always gets to the point of a person’s need? No small talk here.
Born again? Born from above? Nicodemus doesn’t understand. “How can these things be?”
The Old Testament pointed to Jesus.
Jesus points Nicodemus to Numbers 21:4-9, a passage that Nicodemus would be very familiar with. Moses was leading the Israelites in the wilderness, and they grew impatient with Moses. They complained against God and Moses. They grumbled that there wasn’t food or water for them, and by the way, we hate this sweet-tasting worthless manna!!
God sent snakes that bit them, and many Israelites died. Those still living went to Moses and confessed that they had sinned. They asked Moses to pray to the Lord to take away the snakes.
“Then the LORD told him [Moses], ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!”’ Numbers 21:8-9 (NLT)
Jesus used this example from the Old Testament to lead up to John 3:16. We need to examine this a little closer to understand John 3:16.
Snakes are generally representative of Satan and sin in the Bible. Bronze is a symbol of judgment.
Let’s think of the snake as sin for a moment. Think of when we’re bitten by our sin. Imagine that we look at the bronze snake where sin is judged and we are healed of that bite. Take it a step further. When we look at Jesus who took our sins upon Himself on the cross, we are healed from our sin because Jesus took it away, just as the Israelites lived when they looked at the bronze snake, the judged sin, on the pole.
David Guzik comments on this verse. “If the serpent lay horizontally on the vertical pole, it is easy to see how this was a visual representation of the cross as well. However, many traditions show the serpent being wrapped around the pole, and this is the source for the ancient figure of healing and medicine – a serpent, wrapped around a pole.”
Isaiah 45:22 says, “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (NKJV)
Belief is trusting God to the point of obeying and turning to look at Jesus on the cross … Jesus paying the price for your sins, my sins, and the world’s sins.Tweet
What are you turning to look at for healing … for forgiveness … for life? The cross? Jesus? Are you gazing upon your sins, my sins placed on Jesus on the cross? Are you seeing your sins, my sins judged?
Jesus knew His purpose. Jesus came to be lifted up. He came to draw you and me to Himself. To make it possible to spend eternity with Him. He took our sins upon Himself on the cross. God judged that sin placed on Jesus. Jesus died on the cross. He was buried, and three days later, He rose from the grave. Jesus took away our sins and conquered death.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (ESV)
I wonder if Jesus exhaled a deep smile and then continued in verse 17.
“God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through Him. There is no judgment against anyone who believes in Him. But anyone who does not believe in Him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.” John 3:17-18 (NLT)
God’s love permeates the world, even this fallen world.
Remember, Jesus is speaking of Himself to Nicodemus. One man in darkness comes to the Light. I don’t know about you, but when I memorized this verse as a child, I did not realize the depth of this verse. I don’t think that I even put it together that Jesus was speaking this verse. I just understood it as biblical truth.
Pause to ponder this truth. Jesus spoke this truth about Himself early in His ministry to a person who thought he had it all figured out – a Pharisee!
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (NKJV)
Anyone who believes will have eternal life. Those who don’t believe are like the Israelites who were bitten by the snakes and refused to look at the bronze serpent on the pole. They died.
Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, the Father whose thoughts about you are more numerous than the sands. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, loved you before the foundation of the world. This loving Father knew that you and I would sin. That Nicodemus would sin.
God is holy and righteous. Sin has no place in the presence of holiness.
But we’re sinners. All have fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one.
God sent Jesus to take away our sin. To cleanse us from our sins.
God sent Jesus to announce the kingdom of God was at hand. God sent Jesus to tell Nicodemus, the disciples, and the multitudes the Good News. Everyone who believes in God’s one and only Son, Jesus, will not perish but have eternal life.
And what is eternal life? At the end of His ministry, Jesus prayed to the Father these words,
“And this is eternal life, that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” John 17:3 (ESV)
What if we applied it to our lives today?
Maybe we’re a little bit like Nicodemus. He knew the Old Testament inside out. He thought he was applying it to his life. After all, he was a teacher of Israel, a Pharisee … a Pharisee who became a believer. Later, we learn that he brought costly myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial. A rich Pharisee who believed.
When he came to Jesus in the night, Nicodemus had head knowledge and was curious. That head knowledge penetrated his heart, and he wanted more. He looked to Jesus and believed. When? We aren’t told.
Jesus beckoned Nicodemus to look to the coming time when Jesus would hang on the cross and be judged for the sins of the world—just like the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent on the pole.
We can look to the cross and believe that our sin is judged through Jesus. We can enjoy eternal life now. We can know God and grow in the knowledge of Him with each moment. And one day, we’ll see Jesus face-to-face.
You may be like Nicodemus. You’ve studied the Scriptures and perhaps you can recite them, but you’re wondering if there’s more. Like Nicodemus, you are curious.
Maybe you acknowledge Jesus is God’s Son Who came into the world to take your sins upon Himself to give you eternal life, but something is missing. Has it traveled to your heart? Is your heart engraved with the mercy, grace, and love that only our loving and gracious God can give?
Jesus is speaking to you. He’s telling you of God’s great love for you. He’s assuring you that God sent Him to you. Jesus is asking you – do you believe He is your Savior? Jesus is urging you to trust Him. Jesus is offering mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. Mercy and grace. Grace is getting what we don’t deserve … eternity in His presence, beginning now.
Has God’s love flooded your heart, your mind, your soul, your actions?
Jesus waited for Nicodemus. Jesus shared the promise that Nicodemus needed … that we need today … the promise of forgiveness … the promise of cleansing … the promise of living forever in the love of God … the promise of living love.
Can You See Jesus?
Pause for a moment. Close your eyes. … Can you see Jesus speaking to Nicodemus? … It’s early in Jesus’ ministry, but Jesus sees the culmination of His ministry on earth. … Can you see Jesus and His love for Nicodemus? … Can you see Jesus’ eyes as He pictures Himself as sin – judged on the cross … Can you hear Him say, “It is finished”? … Can you see Jesus rise from the dead? … Can you see Jesus greet His followers?
Sin judged … Nicodemus’ sin, your sin, and my sin, the world’s sin … judged … paid for forever. Why? So that you and I would not perish (perish … eternity in darkness, eternity away from all that is good, eternity in the lake of fire).
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish …
Can you see Jesus pause?
But have eternal life. Knowing God. Living in His light forever.
Can you see Jesus watch Nicodemus enter the kingdom of God? Can you see Jesus watch you enter the kingdom of God? He is smiling.
You Can Have Eternal Life
Through Jesus, you can have eternal life … peace with God … everlasting life in the presence of God Almighty … love that lives forever.
You can live out that love beginning today. Do you possess that deep love that lives forever? Do you want to live in that love? Do you want to live out that love … every day … every hour … every moment?
Have you noticed your love growing cold? You may have asked Jesus to come into your heart before, but like Nicodemus, you’re wondering if you’re missing something. You’re not sure you really gave your life to Jesus. Or maybe there’s a part of your life that you’re holding onto. Release your grasp and look at your sin judged on the cross.
For God so loved the world –— that’s you, your neighbor, your friend, the world — For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus] so that whosoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus did not come to condemn you but to save you—to bring you peace with God. Do you have that peace? Are you sure? Do you have eternal life? Do you want to be sure? Do you want to rededicate your life to God?
Pray with me.
God, I want to have peace with You. I have sinned. Thank You for sending Jesus into the world to pay the price I owe for my sins. I look to my sin placed on Jesus, my sin judged. Death conquered when Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. I believe. I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I want to spend eternity in Your presence. I give my life to You. Come into my life and teach me your truth. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Dear reader, if you said that prayer, please let me know so that I can pray for you.
For a fuller version of this teaching, watch the YouTube teaching.
[i] Spurgeon, C.H. (1923). The Letters of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. London: Marshall. P. 39.
[ii] Rhodes Jr, R. (2021). Yours till Heaven: The Untold Story of Charles and Susie Spurgeon. Chicago: Moody Publishers. P. 51.