A Gospel Sermon (John 3:36)
It may seem a strange thing to say, but I have no doubt it is just as true as it is strange, that had sin not come into this world we never would have had the Creator here in the way in which we have had Him. It appears certain He would have visited man had man remained an innocent being, for our first parents heard His footsteps walking in the Garden in the cool of the day. But this was not until man was fallen. Still He comes into the Garden, giving no indication that He knew the true state of His creature, but apparently taking it for granted that everything was just as it should be. And this gives one the impression that there would have been these visitations of God. Alas, instead of man being found at the feet of his Maker rejoicing in the unspeakable blessedness of such a glorious visit, he is found in a state of abject misery, and crouching behind the trees of the Garden from the eye of his Creator.
To Abraham He appears in angelic form, and though in a sense it was incognito, still the guise assumed was not beyond the penetration of the holy Patriarch, for in one of the three men who came to him he recognizes the supreme Being. And the intimacy into which he is drawn by the grace of the Lord gives him a boldness that is astonishing (Gen. 18).
But it has been often noticed that as time goes on and the world becomes older, the drift of the human race is steadily and rapidly away from God, and the visitations of God become less frequent, until for centuries before the coming of Christ neither angelic nor human messenger breaks the monotony of man’s sinful existence with a message from God. The pathway between earth and heaven seems utterly forgotten by angelic feet.
But the advent of the Son of God into the world puts an end to the silence of centuries, and in John’s Gospel we have the Creator come into His own creation, and come in the likeness of man, not merely as a messenger who is entrusted with a message from God, though a Messenger He surely was, but in Jesus we have both the Messenger and the Message in One.
This Gospel opens with the statement; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him: and without Him was not anything made that was made.”
Such a Person never was in this world before. Angels had spoken the word in past times, and so thoroughly were they the representatives of Jehovah that some of them could be said to be Himself (Ex. 3:2, 6; Acts 7:53). Prophets had spoken the Word of God, and what they were given to say was faithfully delivered; but none of these was Himself the Word. They were messengers, but they were not the message. They spoke the Word, but they were not the Word.
But in this Gospel we have One set before our souls who was the perfect expression of all that God was in His approach to men. He was the Word of God; and the word is that by which one person makes known to another all that is in his heart and mind.
And Jesus was that in regard to God. It is not only what He said, not was it only His wonderful works, but it was words, works, ways, all that came to light in Him here upon earth. He was not, as I have already said, a mere Messenger entrusted with a message; He was both the Messenger and the Message. In Him the Invisible, and hitherto unknown God, comes openly before the vision of the creature. He could say, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.”
And “in Him was life.” Life had been thought to be in the law, but not life but death was there. Not because the law was an evil thing, but because man was a sinner in his very nature; this was why death, and not life, was in the law. Man was not subject to it, and therefore it killed him.
But now it had come into the world in the Person of Jesus. Life for man lay in the revelation of God, in the way in which He was now making Himself manifest. The light that shone in the Son of God down here was the light of life. Here the Godhead glory was shining through the human veil, and men were being confronted with the very nature of Him who dwelt in light unapproachable: and “God is Love.”
The power of this was life-giving. No curse of law proceeded from His ups, no consuming fire laid in ashes His tormentors; not wounding but healing went before His face, and not death but life accompanied His footsteps. When reviled He reviled not again, and when He suffered He threatened not. In Him God was telling men what He was; and by Him men were coming to the true knowledge of God.
In His presence men felt themselves to be sinners such as they had never felt themselves to be before; but this did not drive them away from Him, but rather the opposite; they drew all the nearer to Him in their distress of soul. They felt themselves unfit for His holy presence, but they would not, could not, leave Him. Who else had the words of eternal life? The more sinful, the more wretched, the more helpless they felt themselves to be, the more they needed Him. The sanctitude of the Pharisees, the dictum of the Scribes, the traditions of the elders, the ritual of the priests: what had it done for them? They were weary and heavy laden, and these physicians of no value, did nothing but increase their burdens.
Here was One, like an Island in the midst of a turbulent and treacherous ocean, inviting them to come to Him, and assuring rest to all who came. No wonder Peter, in answer to the challenge of the Lord, “Will ye also go away?” could only say, “To whom shall we go?” No one else inspired confidence.
How blind were those with whom He came into contact! How terribly mistaken they were in His mission! They thought He had come on account of the righteous that might be found here, but He has to tell them, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13, R.V.). It was the need of the creature that brought Him here. He had come with light into the midst of this darkness, and with life into this valley of death. He was also “full of grace and truth.” He was here in this world of sin and disorder to show us all things in their proper relation to one another, and He was here with grace sufficient to give us a place in the truth in new relations with God. He was here to reveal the Father, to put away the sin of the world, to baptize with the Holy Spirit, and to be the Centre of gathering for all.
His servants had been here before Him, and they had spoken His Word faithfully; but, as I have said, here was the Word itself. They could not direct attention to themselves. They could not say, Believe on me. They could only say, “Thus says the Lord.” Jesus says, “Very, verily, I say unto you.” He spoke with authority, and not as the Scribes. He could say, “He that believes on Me believes not on Me but on Him that sent Me,” and, “He that sees Me sees Him that sent Me.” He was here to divert our attention from ourselves, and to centre it upon the living God.
It is not that He did not tell us a good deal about ourselves, but what He tells us about ourselves is only told us in order that we may altogether abandon any hope we might have regarding our own ability to arrive at life on the ground of our own efforts. He tells us we must be born again, and that unless this takes place we can neither enter, nor even see, the kingdom of God. This rings the death knell of all the hope we may have had in ourselves. We are utterly lost and undone.
But He tells us more than this. If He has told us the truth about our own lost condition, and if in the light that He has brought we see every avenue of escape from the death that threatens us closed for ever, He does not hide from us the terrible pass to which our lost estate has brought the living God. He says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whosoever believes on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Here we learn that the One in whom there was life for man must himself undergo the judgment that rested upon man, in order that that life might be righteously available for man. There was no getting over this. He tells us it must take place.
But if such a sacrifice was demanded by the justice of God, the love of His heart was equal to the demand made upon it. His presence here on earth was the witness of this. He was not here to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. In Him the love of God was presented to the world, and that especially in His death upon the cross, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” This love shall be the wonder and the delight of our souls for all eternity. It is beyond all understanding. Thank God, it is not beyond belief: for “we have known and believed the love that God has to us: God is love.”
Now we come to the result, as far as man is concerned, of the presence and work of Christ upon earth, and of the going out of all in gospel testimony, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and be that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” For all it must be either the life or the wroth. The blessing cannot be had without faith in the person in whom the blessing is.
It is no longer merely believing what the person says, for the Person here is the Object of faith. In Him God has been set forth. In Him I see the One who formerly dwelt in the thick darkness revealed. Does my hearer approve of Him? What reply does your heart make to this manifestation? Has it been light to you that has dispelled all your darkness? Has it been life to you who were under the judgment of death? a death which would have meant to you the lake of fire, the eternal wrath of God?
“The Father loves the Son.” Do you love Him? You cannot love Him if you do not believe in Him. Are the Father and you in agreement or at variance regarding Christ? You have certainly good reason to love Him if you only knew it. He has died that a way of salvation might be opened up for you, and are you going to despise that way, and in spite of all He has done go headlong to destruction? Do you prefer the wrath to the love?
The Father has given all things into His hand: do you wish it to be otherwise? Do you say, “We will not have this Man to reign over us”? How can you reject such infinite love? You have no other that so truly cares for you. There is no other who has your blessing so truly at heart. His love has not been in word or in tongue, it has been in deed and in truth. To make a way of escape for you He has suffered the abandonment of God. How can you treat such love with indifference? How can you despise such infinite grace?
Perhaps you say, What can I do? How am I to be a partake of that life that is in Him? This is not hard to tell, The answer to your questions could not be more simply and plainly given than it is in the Word of God. But let that Word have a place in your heart. Do not reason about it. As a little child receive it. God has spoken: it is your place and privilege to believe Him: to say, “God is true.”
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” The sons of Jacob were dying in the desert from the poisonous bite of the serpents, just as you are from the bite of sin. A serpent of brass was made and lifted up upon a pole, and it came to pass that when one who was bitten beheld the serpent he lived (Num. 21:6-9). In the lifted up Son of Man you have that which was foreshadowed in the serpent of brass. Now you look to Christ. On that cross He was bearing the judgment of all who believe on Him, “That whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
How can you see Him there for you without seeing that you can never be under that judgment for yourself? He has been there, and has exhausted the judgment, and the proof of it is that He is at the right hand of God. Turn away from yourself, and let your own thoughts go to the winds, and let the thoughts of God fill your soul.
“He that has received His testimony has set to his seal that God is true.” This is surely not a great thing to do. How can you think He would deceive you? He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. You may be perfectly sure that God will honour His own Word. Get your own thoughts out of your mind altogether. Do not attempt to judge of the Word of God by what you may find in your own heart, but let that Word rule in your soul and heart and mind. Look away from yourself to the lifted up Son of Man, and say in the language of faith, “He loved me, and gave Himself for me”; and look again to the throne of the Father and see Him sitting there in the place of acceptance and power, and be assured that payment God will not twice demand, once at thy bleeding Surety’s hand, and then again at thine. And be fully persuaded that whether God speaks in grace or in judgment, as He does in the words of this text, He will faithfully carry out to the letter every Word He has at any time given utterance to.
Look again at the text, and ask yourself the question, “Which is my portion, the life, or the wrath?” “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”