How good are you at memorising information? Probably better than you realise. I suspect over the years you have memorised hundreds of messages without realising it. Let me test you. How many of these messages you can complete? And for a bonus point, can you remember who said it.
To our members we’re the fourth…emergency service: AA
Bread wi’ nowt …taken out: Allinsons.
Vorsprung durch… technik: Audi
The United Colors of… Benetton: Benetton
The taste of… Paradise: Bounty
The World’s Favourite… Airline: BA
Go to work on… an egg: Egg Marketing Board
A glass and a half in every… half pound: Cadburys
And all because the lady loves… Milk Tray
A pint a day helps you… work, rest and play: Milk Board
The man from Del Monte he… say yes: Del Monte
Put a tiger in… your tank: Esso
Hands that do dishes can feel… soft as your face: Fairy Liquid
No FT… no comment: Financial Times
The best a man… can get. Gillette
Guinness is… good for you. Guinness
Refreshes the parts other… beers cannot reach: Heineken
Beanz Meanz… Heinz
Graded grains make… finer flour: Homepride
Have a break. Have a… Kit-Kat
Never knowingly… undersold: John Lewis
Because you’re… worth it: L’Oreal
It does exactly what it says… on the tin: Ronseal
Diamonds are a girl’s… best friend: De Beers. And lastly…
Toilers in Agriculture… Strengthen the fodder basis of animal husbandry! Raise the production and sale to the state of meat, milk, eggs, wool and other products: Who came up with that catchy phrase? The Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
How many did you get right? OK, so we all watch too many TV adverts, but do you see the power of a well-constructed message? Why do we remember these messages? Because they are simple, memorable, visual, sometimes humorous, but most important, they are convincing, or they are true – mostly. All except the last one perhaps. What is the Christian message? Can it be summed up in one sentence? Yes it can. In our gospel reading today we find what is probably the most memorised and the most quoted verse in the whole Bible.
“For God so loved the world that… he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). If only evangelism were as simple as putting a verse like John 3:16 on a banner outside every Church. But marketing agencies know it takes more than a memorable slogan to sell a product. Marshall McLuhan once said, “The medium IS the message”
McLuhan proposed that the medium itself, not the content it carries, determines the credibility and effectiveness of the message. That is never truer than in gospel ministry. In John chapter 3, we listen in on a conversation between Jesus and the most senior teacher in Israel called Nicodemus. I want us to focus on three dimensions to Jesus’ message. The way to new birth, the joy of new birth and the necessity of new birth.
1. The Way to New Birth
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Can you remember the day you first heard it? How did you feel when you realised it was written for you? What does it tell us about God’s love? A great deal. At least five things.
1. The Height of this love “For God so loved”. It is unlimited.
2. The Breadth of this love “so loved the world”. It is universal.
3. The Depth of this love “that he gave his only son”. It is unbelievable.
4. The Extent of this love “that whoever believes”. It is unconditional.
5. The Duration of this love “but have everlasting life”. It is unending. An unending, present possession.
Jesus did not say “may have everlasting life” but “has eternal life.” What does this mean? You cannot be too sinful, or too far away from God, for his love not to reach you. In one sentence, Jesus speaks of the height, the breadth, the depth, the extent and the duration of God’s love. It is unlimited, universal, unbelievable, unconditional and unending. The way to new life.
2. The Joy of New Birth
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)
To reinforce his point Jesus restates his message from the opposite perspective. Can you remember as a child in your class at school the feeling of panic as you heard the warning, “teacher is coming”. You knew what that meant as the paper aeroplane you had just thrown was in full flight and was never going to land in time before she turned the corner. Condemnation. That’s what the ancients thought must be the reason God would come to earth. To punish his unruly children.
But Jesus says, “God did not send his son to condemn the world.” Just the opposite. John Calvin put it this way, “The Son of God became the Son of man that the sinful sons of men might be made the sons of God.” Have you ever wondered why we sing so much in Church services? Because the heart of the Christian message is pure joy. When do you sing to yourself, or hum a tune or whistle? When you are sad or when you are happy? I took a wedding a while back.
We sung the hymn, “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder…” There were about 150 people present. I couldn’t tell who were Christians. But I could tell who were NOT Christians. How? Because they had their mouths closed when we sung,
“And when I think that God his son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, that on the cross my burden gladly bearing he bled and died to take away my sin…then sings my soul, my saviour God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art…”
That is when you can tell the difference. There will be a deep joy in the hearts of those who have understood who Jesus is and why he came. To rescue us, to live with us and in us, to forgive our past, and give peace of mind about our future. The way to new birth and the joy of new birth.
3. The Necessity of New Birth
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)
Let me ask you the same question Jesus asked Nicodemus: “Have you been born again?” Do you know for sure that you are forgiven because Jesus died for you? Do you know you have eternal life because Jesus rose for you? If you are not sure, make sure today because there may not be another. “Human destiny”, Jesus is saying, “is ultimately determined by how people respond to me.” With a single exception, God will forgive a person absolutely everything. Whatever is on your conscience today, God will forgive it.
The bottom line is this. God loves the world and does not wish to see a single individual perish. The gospel is as unlimited and as personal as that. But there is one thing he cannot and will not forgive. That is the refusal to receive his free gift of forgiveness.
You may not yet be a Christ follower. If you are, you will certainly have non-Christians in your family or circle of friends. Have you ever asked them why they are not a Christian? Have their intellectual questions gone unanswered? Are they waiting for a spiritual experience to zap them? Or are they just too busy or can’t see the relevance? I would not wish to question the sincerity of anyone’s reasons for remaining an unbeliever. I would not be so rude. But Jesus would. Jesus is blunt enough to question our excuses, and sift out motives. And he does so right here.
In these closing sentences of this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, just as the credits are about to roll and the studio lights begin to fade, Jesus says that all the popular excuses for avoiding Him are really just a smoke screen. Jesus insists that the real reason people do not believe in him is not because they have intellectual issues; it is not because they have not yet had a religious experience; it is not because they are too busy or because of their upbringing. It is not because they cannot believe. It is because they won’t believe. The real reason is sin. People do not want to become Christians for one reason, and one reason only. Because they realise following Jesus requires a change of direction. And they do not want to change.
People would rather sacrifice their integrity than lose their pride. They would rather stay in the dark, says Jesus, than move into the light. Jesus insists gently but firmly that such excuses do not hold water. Spiritual blindness is culpable. It is not that people cannot see the light but will not come into the light to see. This is the verdict on our world today. The light has come into the world but people prefer the darkness because their deeds are evil.
We don’t know how long Nicodemus stayed to chat with Jesus after John put away his parchment. I expect it went on much longer. Could it be that they talked all night? Nicodemus arrived in the dark in more ways than one. Could it be that as they parted the first glimmerings of dawn were hovering over the eastern horizon? And did he smile, I wonder, at the rising sun – as the light dawned on him. Or did he turn his back on it, gluing his eyes to his own shadow?
The shining of the sun inevitably casts shadows. To turn our backs on the son is to deepen the shadows. To refuse life is to choose death. To reject salvation is to invite condemnation. The issue is really quite black and white. The believer is not condemned, but the unbeliever is. What people think of Jesus Christ divides our world in two. There is no middle way. There can be no compromise. Such a choice confronts us all. We have listened in on this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, between the teacher of Israel and the Teacher. We have seen how Jesus explains the way to new birth, the joy of new birth and the need for new birth.
The Lord Jesus came into the world to save it from destruction. Now he insists a verdict will be given. Jesus is not asking us to understand everything. He is simply asking that we trust in him. This is the only way to be separated from our sin. The only way to escape the wrath of God. The only way to experience the love of God. The only way to be born again. This is the Christian message. Remember what Marshall McLuhan said? “The medium is the message” Where did he get that idea from? Empirical research? No, the Apostle Paul wrote to those he had led to Christ in Corinth to explain how they too could become contagious Christians,
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)
We have considered the way to new birth, the joy of new birth and the necessity of new birth. If the medium is the message, what is the Christian message? Or rather should I say, ‘who is the message’?
Questions for Personal Reflection and Group Discussion
- What was right and what was lacking in Nicodemus’ assessment of Jesus? (John 3:1-4)
- How did Jesus’ answer correct him? (John 3:3, 5-8)
- What is involve ed in being ‘born of the spirit’? (John 4:5-8)
- What does it mean to ‘be born again’? (John 3:7-8)
- What is unique about Jesus? (John 4:13-15)?
- What was the significance of the bronze snake? (John 3:14-15, Numbers 21:8-9)
- Why does Jesus compare himself with the snake?
- Why was the ‘lifting up’ of Jesus necessary? (note ‘must’ in 3:14)
- On what basis are people judged by God? (John 3:16-18)
Bruce Milne: The Message of John, The Bible Speaks Today (IVP)
Andrew Page: The John Experiment (VTR)
St Helen Bishopsgate: Read, Mark, Learn: John’s Gospel (Zondervan)
Merrill Tenney: John the Gospel of Belief (Eerdmans)
If you have been blessed by this message and would like to help me provide more, please consider making a contribution to our charity, Peacemaker Trust. You can do so here: https://peacemakers.ngo/give/
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)