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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:For eternal life, believe in the Spirit-filled Son of God who speaks God’s words
Text:John 3:31-36 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-12-28
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 16:1,4,5

Psalm 15 (after the law)

Psalm 85:3

Hymn 28:5,6,7

Hymn 78

Scripture reading: Colossians 1:1-23

Text: John 3:31-36

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

Every now and then an airline makes the news because of their innovative safety announcements.  We’ve seen rapping or singing flight attendants, we’ve seen safety videos featuring hobbits or Men in Black, all that kind of thing.  Many airlines try to do whatever they can to get us to pay attention to the safety announcements before take-off.  You know what happens on the airlines that aren’t creative in this area.  Most people get on board the airplane, sit down, and turn off.  Especially if they’re regular travellers, they don’t pay attention to the safety demonstration.  I know I don’t.  I’ve heard it all before.  That safety demo is maybe for the first-time travellers who’ve never been on a plane before.  But I don’t need it.  I’ve been hearing these announcements all my life.

The same kind of thing can happen with the gospel.  The gospel is something we hear all the time.  Every Sunday we come to church and this message is central.  The message of what Jesus Christ has done is always there, and after you’ve been hearing it for a long time, you might start to treat it like that safety demonstration on the airlines.  You just turn off.  You don’t need it and so you don’t listen.  It doesn’t register the way that it should.

This morning the Gospel According to John puts that message in front of us again.  Again, the good news of Jesus Christ comes to us.  Some of you might be tempted to turn off and tune out.  Because we want to follow the Scriptures in our worship, we’re not going to do anything wild and innovative to make it otherwise.  All I can do is plead with you to not take this message for granted.  All I can do is remind you that what you hear this morning is not about your physical safety for a flight of two or three hours.  Instead, what you are about to hear is about your eternal safety, spiritual safety forever.  This is about eternity and where you will spend it.  A message about such things ought to grab our attention, no matter how many times we’ve heard it.

In our passage this morning, the Holy Spirit again puts Christ front and center.  We’re called to consider Jesus and what is so special and unique about him as our Saviour.  I’ve summarized our text with this theme, For eternal life, believe in the Spirit-filled Son of God who speaks God’s words.  We’ll consider his:

  1. Heavenly origin
  2. Earthly rejection
  3. Divine mission

In the verses before our text, John the Baptist was in conversation with his disciples.  Those disciples heard that Jesus was baptizing and they perceived a competition going on between their leader John and Jesus.  In response, John pointed out that his whole ministry was about Jesus.  So there’s no competition, no rivalry.  That passage ended with John’s well-known words, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  John was all about Jesus.  John was a prophet, and all Christians sharing in Christ’s anointing are also prophets.  As prophets, our calling too is to always keep Jesus central.  The purpose of our lives is not to exalt ourselves, but Christ. 

Now when we come to verse 31, we begin a section of commentary by the human writer of this gospel.  This isn’t John the Baptist speaking anymore, but John the Evangelist.  He’s called the Evangelist not because he evangelizes, but because he wrote a gospel – ‘evangel’ means ‘gospel.’  So here the disciple John is adding some further comment to what John the Baptist just said to his followers. 

He says that the One who comes from above is above all.  It should be obvious that he’s referring to Jesus, the Son of God.  He has come from above, he has come from heaven.  That reminds us that unlike all other human beings, Jesus existed before he was conceived in his mother’s womb.  He was and is the eternal Son of God.  He has always existed.  That’s part of what’s included in his coming from above.  The other part of it is his divinity.  He comes from above as God.  Because he is God himself, he is above all.  He is superior to all.  This is the same point that the Holy Spirit is making through Paul in Colossians 1.  There we read that all things were created through Christ.  He is before all things and in him all things hold together.  Christ is like the glue that holds all creation together.  He is the head of his body, the head of his church.  He is over all, superior to all, and therefore to be believed and worshipped.  There is simply no one else like Jesus Christ.  He’s one of a kind. 

And verse 31 underlines that when it compares the one who came from above to those who merely come from the earth.  Here the reference is first of all to John the Baptist.  Jesus is superior to John the Baptist because Jesus comes from heaven and John is just from the earth.  Jesus is both God and man, whereas John is just a man.  As just a man, he could only speak in earthly terms.  He had limitations as a mere human being.  John could never be the Messiah, whether in his ability to speak, or in his potential to suffer and die for sinners.  Jesus is above John, and indeed above all human beings.  Loved ones, there’s only one Saviour that God has given and it’s him that we’re called to embrace in faith.

This one Saviour reveals himself as such.  He “bears witness to what he has seen and heard,” according to verse 32.  That’s referring again to his heavenly origins.  When Christ came to earth, he came with testimony of what had seen and heard in heaven.  That’s about the plan for our salvation.  The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit had together planned for the salvation of sinners.  The three persons of the Trinity decided how it would go.  When Jesus came to earth, he came to reveal that plan.  He came to reveal that there would be salvation for all who see their need for him and entrust themselves to him.  Christ came with the revelation of good news for sinners like you and me!

Today we continue to benefit from that revelation.  The witness he gave has been written down for us in the Bible.  We can read that witness for ourselves.  We not only read his witness when we read the words that literally came from his lips.  Everywhere in Scripture, we receive his witness.  The whole Bible is the word of Christ to us, witness from Christ about what he has seen and heard concerning our salvation.  This is why our Heidelberg Catechism speaks about Christ being our chief Prophet and Teacher, “who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption.”  So the Bible contains that revelation, and we encounter it whenever we read it, and also whenever we hear it preached.  Christ is continuing to bear witness to us. 

The question is:  what do we do with that witness?  Well, the Holy Spirit tells us at the end of verse 32 what typically happened when Jesus gave witness during his three years of earthly ministry.  He encountered wide-spread rejection on the earth.  “Yet no one receives his testimony,” it says.  Now we need to stop here and consider a couple of things.

First of all, when it says “no one” it doesn’t literally mean no one.  We can say that because the very next verse tells us that there are some who do receive his testimony.  But John uses this language to indicate the general pattern.  This is what typically happened.  When Jesus revealed the plan of salvation, most people weren’t interested.  That happened historically during his three years of ministry, and it continues to happen today.  For a lot of people, the gospel of Jesus Christ just doesn’t strike them as something they need or want.  It’s a general pattern.

The second thing here is a question:  why?  Why does hardly anyone receive his testimony?  For the answer to that, we have to look elsewhere in the Bible.  We need the broader context to give us the answer.  The reason has to do with a sin-encrusted heart of stone.  When a human heart is in its natural state it’s hardened, calcified.  It takes the miracle of regeneration to make that heart of stone become a heart of flesh, so that the person does receive Christ’s testimony.  The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 2:14 that without the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ’s message is just foolishness [read that passage].  “What me, a sinner?  I do some bad things maybe, I’m not perfect, but I’m still pretty good compared to others.  I don’t need Jesus.  When I die, I’m probably just going to disappear anyway.  Or if there is a heaven, and God is good and loving, then he’ll accept me the way I am.  What do I need Jesus for?”  That’s the way unbelief reasons.  Unbelief says that the salvation offered by Jesus is maybe okay for other people, but I don’t need it for myself.

We can look out there at the world and point fingers at the masses who don’t receive Jesus’ testimony.  But let’s also look at ourselves here in the church.  Our own confession says that there are those who don’t receive Jesus’ testimony even though they are outwardly members of the church.  Are you among them?  Do you believe the message of salvation that Jesus speaks about in his Word? 

As verse 33 says, there are those who do receive his testimony.  There are those who do believe the message that Christ came to bring from heaven.  They accept it and receive it, not because they’re better or more worthy than anybody else.  No, it’s only through God’s grace.  Remember:  regeneration is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and so is faith.  The Bible says that in Ephesians 2:8.  There are people on the narrow road leading to life because God graciously put them on that road.  He gets all the credit for it, not the people. 

The people who believe give their own testimony.  They too speak of what they have seen and heard.  In Acts 4, Peter and John were dragged before the Jewish rulers of the Sanhedrin.  They were told to stop speaking about Jesus Christ.  Then you get a remarkable response from Peter and John in verses 19 and 20.  Acts 4:19-20, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”  Did you get that?  Peter and John were inwardly compelled to speak of what they had seen and heard from Jesus.  They didn’t do out of duty, they couldn’t help themselves.  They just had to tell people.  They were driven to tell people of what they had seen and heard.  In so doing, they were setting their seal, giving their confirmation that God is true.  They were telling everybody that what has God said through Jesus Christ needs to be listened to, because it’s true.  God speaks the truth through Jesus Christ. 

Maybe you saw that news story recently about the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year.  In case you missed it, the word of the year is “post-truth.”  It’s an adjective, a word used to describe nouns. So you have post-truth politics, for example.  What “post-truth” means is a situation in which objective facts don’t matter any more.  Instead, appeals to emotion are what determines the situation.  People don’t care about facts, only about feelings.  “Post-truth” says something about the world in which we live, doesn’t it?  We live in a world where feelings matter more than facts, emotions mean more than objective truth.  We live in a world where people even question the existence of objective facts and truth.  But the Bible speaks differently.  In the biblical worldview, there is such a thing as real objective truth outside of ourselves.  And we’re called to hear it, to study it, to believe it.  In the biblical worldview, there are lies.  There are things that our human nature tells us that are simply not true.  Things like:  we’re all basically good people who should go to heaven no matter what.  There are lies told by the world.  Things like:  if there is a God, he is irrelevant to the choices you make in life.  You just go and live life by your own rules and don’t worry about God.  There are lies, and there is truth.  And truth is found written in God’s Word.  Christians are those who affirm that.  We are those who reject lies and affirm objective truth that exists outside of ourselves.  It really doesn’t matter what anyone feels about it at all.  If it’s true, then it’s true and then it’s true not just for us, but everyone.  When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are those who say, “God is true.  His Word is true, and we must all believe it.  I believe it.” 

Verse 34 reminds us that Christ is the one who came and spoke God’s words on earth during his ministry.  Jesus was sent by God.  He had a divine mission.  That was not only to do what was necessary to make salvation happen, but also reveal what it all involved and why it was necessary.  As I mentioned earlier, Christ is our chief Prophet and Teacher.  And he came filled to over-flowing with the Holy Spirit.  “For he gives the Spirit without measure” – that means that Christ has a limitless anointing with the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit fills him like no one else.  Thus when he speaks, he speaks truth.  Because, as Jesus says later in John 16:13, the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.  If Jesus is super-filled with the Spirit of Truth, you can be sure that everything he says is fully trustworthy.  Brother, sister, you can take him at his word. 

The last two verses of our text tell us some of the most important things that the Son of God has seen, heard, and then revealed to us.  The first thing has to do with authority.  “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”  There is a relationship of love between the One who sent the Son and the Son who was sent.  Love implies trust and God shows his trust for his beloved Son by giving him rule over everything in the universe.  In other words, Christ is Lord.  He is Lord over absolutely everything.  Not everyone currently recognizes his Lordship and authority, but Christians do.  We are those who confess that Jesus is Lord.  He is the Master, the King, the one who calls the shots.  He’s a good Lord and when he calls us to follow his teachings and his example, it’s good for us.  Now it’s a sad fact that our lives don’t always reflect our confession that Jesus is Lord.  There are frequently times when we seem to think that someone else is lord.  Even as Christians, we have those times where we act like we are lord and master, and not Jesus.  But we recognize that that’s wrong and sinful, and we hate it, we fight against it, we repent of it.  Loved ones, let’s be those who acknowledge that all things have been given into Christ’s hand.  He is therefore our Lord.  And let’s also pray and strive that our lives more and more reflect that confession.  Jesus is Lord.  It’s something to say with our lips but also reflect with our lives. 

The second thing that the Son has revealed that’s mentioned here is the good news.  This is verse 36 and what a way to close off this passage and this chapter.  Christ revealed that there are two types of people. 

There are those who receive his testimony.  There are those who believe in the Spirit-filled Son when he speaks God’s words.  There are those who rest from their own efforts at salvation, and transfer their trust to Jesus.  They do that, not just once, but constantly.  John says that these can be “whoever.”  It doesn’t matter how old you are, male or female, rich or poor.  Your ethnic background doesn’t matter.  All that matters is that you believe and keep believing in the Son of God, you put your trust in Jesus Christ and you have eternal life. 

There’s something interesting there in verse 36.  It doesn’t say that you will have eternal life, as if it’s something just for the future.  The Holy Spirit says that whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, has it as a present reality.  When you believe in Christ as your Saviour, you really are spiritually alive right now and you will be forever.  At this very moment, you already have living communion and fellowship with the Triune God.  You have been reconciled to him and he relates to you in a friendly way.  Already now, you can experience the joy, peace, and comfort of having Christ as your Saviour, God as your Father, and the Spirit as your Encourager.  Eternal life is something present tense for those who believe in the Son.  So, loved ones, as you look to Christ in faith and keep on doing that, know that his benefits are already yours.  Yes, the fullness of your redemption is still coming.  We still wait for Christ’s return and the resurrection and life in the new heavens and new earth, but what we have right now already is nothing to sniff at.  We have already now been richly blessed in Christ!  Let’s see that, appreciate that, and love and praise him for it.

So the good news is there at the beginning of verse 36.  And the second half of verse 36 reminds us of why the good news is so good.  It’s good news because the bad news is so bad. That has to do with the second type of person.  “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life…”  Again, note that word “whoever.”  It doesn’t matter who it is we’re talking about.  It could be any human being regardless of social status, family background, gender; regardless of how nice they might be, regardless of how funny they might be, regardless of whether you’re related to them or not.  “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life.”  Obeying the Son here means the same thing as believing in him.  If you believe in the Son you have eternal life.  But if you do not believe, like he calls you to, then you shall not see life.  Anyone who does not believe in the Son of God, the Saviour God has given, will not see life.  Instead, that person will see the opposite:  death.  By death here is meant eternal death.  What is meant here is hell. 

That becomes evident from the last part of the verse, “the wrath of God remains upon him.”  Those are weighty words, aren’t they?  We cannot escape them.  The Bible is clear that those who don’t turn from their sin and turn to Christ remain under the wrath of God.  They are what Paul calls later “children of wrath.”  God is justly angered and offended at them.  Why?  Because of sin.  And because God is holy.  And because God notices and sees every sin committed in this world by every person.  He takes every sin personally.  Every sin committed is an affront to him, because he created people and he created them with a purpose.  That purpose was to reflect him and bring glory to him.  But when people sin, they are rebelling against God’s purpose and design.  They are spitting in God’s face and that rightly provokes his wrath.  Notice that the present tense is used here too.  Just like eternal life is a present reality for Christians, so also the wrath of God is a present reality for unbelievers.  It won’t be fully experienced until after death, but it is still there.  “The wrath of God remains on him.”

Now what we are supposed to do with this?  First of all, when we hear about the wrath of God and the hell that sinners deserve, we should tremble at the thought.  Hell is terrible and we should never underestimate it.  It’s an awful thing and we shouldn’t be glib or casual in speaking about it.  We should also then be thankful that, if we believe in the Son, this is what we have been saved from.  Christ has rescued us from the wrath of God that would otherwise remain on us.

But second, let’s never deceive ourselves into thinking that anyone will be saved from God’s wrath apart from believing in the Son.  Hell is real.  God’s wrath is real.  It is the danger that everyone faces who does not have a living and true faith in Jesus Christ.  If you have a family member who does not believe, the knowledge of this should drive your prayers for that loved one.  Keep on begging and pleading with the Lord to use his Holy Spirit to make that dead heart come to life.  Because God’s wrath against sinners is real, don’t give up in your prayers – and also in whatever opportunities he gives to still speak about these things with your loved one.  The same thing is true for our unbelieving friends, co-workers and whoever else we care about.  “Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  That’s reality.  It’s true of all unbelievers and realizing that should motivate us to care, to pray, and to speak.

Have you really heard anything new this morning?  Maybe, but probably not.  A lot of this we already know, but we need the constant reminder, don’t we?  Knowledge of the gospel sticks to us far less than, say, knowledge of airline safety.  What’s in our text are things that we easily lose sight, that we easily forget.  God has graciously brought it to your attention again.  In his love, he’s reminded you that you need his Spirit-filled Son who speaks his words.  You believe in him, and you will have eternal life.  AMEN. 

PRAYER:

Father, we thank you for giving us your Son.  We confess that he is above all.  He is our Lord.  We want to submit to his Lordship and follow him.  Please help us with your Spirit to do that.  Help us also with the Spirit to receive what he says and to believe it all as your very truth.  We pray especially that would help us to place all our hope and reliance upon him alone for eternal life.  We pray again for those whom we love who don’t believe in your Son.  We pray for those whom we care about who have your wrath remaining on them.  We beg you and plead with you to have mercy.  Let your Spirit do his mighty work of regeneration in their hearts.  We pray for your Spirit to give them hearts of flesh so that they might take hold of Christ by faith.  We are so thankful that we have been delivered from your wrath.  We’re glad that we’ve received your grace.  We worship you for that, but we also want to exalt your name more as we see others also rejoicing in your grace, mercy and love in Christ.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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