019. John 3:1-17. To Perish Or To Have Eternal Life?

The speaker at the small mission hall finished his sermon and asked those present (mainly alcoholics) to come to the front if they wanted to let Jesus come into their lives to change and heal them. One man, John, came forward in tears and kneeling gave his life to Jesus. The speaker was really chuffed that God had apparently used him to bring John to Christ. In his excitement he later asked him, “What part of my message was it that got through to you.”  He was duly humbled when John replied, “Wasn’t nuthin’ you said guvn’r. It was the text on the wall behind you”.

The speaker turned to see the text, John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” The word of God is powerful when it is preached (or read on a wall). God had used the text to invisibly touch John’s life and to open his heart to Jesus.

In many churches throughout the world there will be sermons based on readings from the Gospel of John during 2011. Just a quick look at one such passage from John 3:1-17. Some points to consider:-

1).  Every Human Needs To Be “Born Again”.  We see this in John 3:1-8. It is needed in order to understand the gospel and to enter into the Kingdom of God.  That’s what happened to John. He read the text on the wall. The Spirit of God made the words come alive to him. He was “born again” as he put his trust in Jesus.  Even Nicodemus as the teacher of Israel needed to be born again in spite of his great knowledge of the Old Testament scriptures. He wondered how it was possible to be born again. Did it mean another physical birth?

Jesus in reply described the 2 births. John 3:5  Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6  That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. That birth “of water” is common to all humans.  However to get into the kingdom of God one has to be also born of the Spirit. Jesus compared the hidden nature of this new birth “of the Spirit” with the hidden nature of wind. One can’t see wind in operation but one can see and hear the effects it produces, John 3:8  The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The birth of the Spirit is hidden from human eyes, but one can see the effect in the life of the person who has been born again.

Jesus challenged Nicodemus,  John 3:11  Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13  No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. Nicodemus had been unable to grasp what Jesus was saying about the wind and the new birth. Heavenly realities don’t come naturally to humans. However Jesus as the Son of Man who had descended from heaven in His incarnation could reveal “heavenly things” to those who would receive His teaching.

2).           Jesus Came To Save.  God made provision for people to be saved.  Jesus came to save sinners. Joseph had been told by an angel about the child to be born to Mary, Matthew 1:21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”  How would it happen? Jesus Himself tells us, John 3:14  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15  that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. The lifting up would be the “lifting up” of Jesus on a cross. As the Israelites turned to look at God’s provision (the bronze serpent) in order to be saved (the story is in Numbers 21:5-9) so humans needed to look in faith to Jesus (God’s provision) as the crucified One to be saved.

3).           God’s Gift. The Human Choice. Perish or life?  John 3:16  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The love of God was so great towards humans that He gave them a gift. The gift of His Son! A gift that was meant to be received! However it was possible for humans using their freewill to reject the gift.  But there were consequences if they did!  Here were the two choices God gave.

a).           To believe and to gain eternal life.  There are 43 references to the term “eternal life” in the New Testament. The apostle John records its use 23 times in his gospel and first epistle.  The verses showing that eternal life is gained by believing in Jesus are verses 15, 16 in this passage and also John 3:36, 5:24, 6:40, 6:47 and 1 John 5:13. The same truth is seen in what St Paul wrote in 1Timothy 1:16, But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.

b).          To not believe and to perish.   Perish? Perish the thought! But a little reminder might be helpful. God as the creator of the whole universe sets the rules for life on this world. We don’t. He does! He tells us about reality as it really is in His sight.  From this passage we see that until people trust in Jesus they are “perishing”. Verse 18 states that until people trust in Jesus they are “condemned”, John 3:18  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already… . Why are they condemned already?  John finishes the verse saying, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The God who “so loved” is the God who tells us in love that in His sight we are perishing and already condemned.  Would Jesus Himself actually say that people could perish? Yes, He would and He did, in these verses in Luke 13:3-5, No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Some had been asking Jesus why some people had suffered in persecution and in a building disaster and others hadn’t. He used the opportunity to warn them that they had to get right with God in case disaster struck at any time. They could be prepared by getting right with God by repenting of their sin and trusting in Jesus as the One Whom He had sent to deal with sin.

 The human choice. They had a choice. To trust in Jesus and gain eternal life or to ignore or reject Him and perish.  What did God want them to do? Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 

That’s what God wants people to do. To repent of their sin and to trust in Christ for salvation. What if they don’t do that? Perishing? Condemned already?  It doesn’t bear thinking about! Wait a minute! If that is the choice God offers to all of us, it DOES bear a LOT of thinking about. And ACTING on!

A Personal Note

Over 50 years ago I was faced with a choice as I read these words in the Bible. I could ignore them as most of my friends had done. I could rubbish them by saying that I had no intention of trusting in a God who would allow people to “perish”, whatever that meant.  I could hide my head in the sand and say I hadn’t seen them, so therefore I couldn’t be seen to be guilty of not acting on them.  OR I could take them seriously as coming from a God who really did love me (because He sent His Son to die for me). Not only that but who went to the trouble of telling me in His word that He didn’t want me to “perish.”

I chose life by choosing to trust in Jesus as the One Who died on the cross in my place. Only later did I come to appreciate the graciousness of God in opening my eyes to understand these things as I turned to Him. Only then did I come to understand that though the words,  “perish” and “condemned”  may seem to be a bit upsetting to some people, they are nothing compared with the reality behind the words.  I was glad, humbled and relieved I had made the right choice. The new birth gives rise to a whole new life lived in a living relationship with Him, who loves us and wants us to love Him in return.

Jim Holbeck. Blog No.19.   Posted on Sunday 20th March 2011

About Jim Holbeck

Once an Industrial Chemist working for the Queensland Government but later an Anglican minister in Brisbane, Armidale and Sydney. Last position for eighteen years before retirement in 2006 was as the Leader of the Healing Ministry at St Andrew's Cathedral Sydney.
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One Response to 019. John 3:1-17. To Perish Or To Have Eternal Life?

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