2018 04 15 am God’s Wonderfully Mysterious Plan of Salvation John 3:11-18

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

The other day I was looking at a fish tank that contained some absolutely beautiful, brightly coloured, tropical fish.  Now, when you look at such beauty, you cannot help but think about why these fish exist.  Most people, today, would say, They are the product of evolution; they are just the result of random, natural selection that evolved from cells and slime.  A few though, who take Genesis 1 at face value, would answer that question by saying that God created tropical fish.  Indeed, one brother who was there with me at the time said he could not help but thinking of the tropical fish as God ‘showing off’!  And of course, that was not meant in the sinful way that you and I show off, but as a way of emphasizing God’s creative majesty.

Well, wondering why tropical fish exist is really part of a larger question that we all ask at some point in life, which is: Why am I here?  Why do I exist?  Why do human beings exist?  Why does the universe exist?  And you know, in a way, that is the question that Nicodemus asked in v9: “How can this be?”  You see, Nicodemus had a view of the world.  And Nicodemus was trying to fit Jesus into his view of the world.  But Jesus has responded with a declaration of truth about the kingdom of God and the need to be born again that was straight out of God’s view of the world.  And all that Nicodemus can come up with in response is, “How can this be?”

Well, we do not hear anything more from Nicodemus in this chapter.  And you will see in v11 that Jesus is speaking now to “you people.”  So Nicodemus has now become part of a larger group who Jesus will now instruct in this the first of the seven major discourses in the Gospel of John.  As I have mentioned to you previously, John tells us about seven great miraculous signs of Jesus and seven major discourses or sermons or talks of Jesus in the Gospel.  And this is the first of those discourses.  And this discourse is about God’s eternal plan of redemption.

Last week we saw that though Nicodemus seemed like the ideal candidate for conversion, humanly speaking, it is God who converts, and He converts whomever He chooses.  We will see that emphasized throughout this Gospel.  But that is God’s perspective.  Our perspective/our responsibility, as Jesus will make clear in this discourse, is to choose to believe; we must put our faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord.  So in this discourse, Jesus unfolds the magnificent and mind-bending truth about God’s eternal plan of redemption.  It will stretch us, wonderfully!  But at the end of the day it will all boil down to a simple question: Have you or will you put your faith in Jesus?


  1. So we begin with vv11-12 where Jesus Introduces God’s Eternal Plan of Redemption. And you will have to listen closely here because some of the things that Jesus says in these verses can be interpreted in a number of ways.


  1. Back in v2, when Nicodemus began to talk with Jesus, He said, “Rabbi, we know you are…” This means that Nicodemus was speaking on behalf of others, probably the Jewish leaders.  Well, in v11, Jesus says, “We speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen.”  So Jesus is now also speaking on behalf of others.  So our first question of this passage is: Who is this ‘we’?
    1. Well, this could be a reference to the Trinity, as some commentators suggest, but the most natural understanding of this “we” is John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples – those whom Jesus had been with in recent times. “We (John and the disciples and myself) speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen.”
    2. And this would help explain and fit well with what Jesus goes on to say about “earthly thingsandheavenly things.” You see, Jesus has been talking about the kingdom of God and being born again.  He illustrated this with the wind – just as you cannot see the wind but you know it exists because tree leaves move, so you cannot see the kingdom of God and the Holy Spirit giving a person new birth but you can see the outward signs of it when a person’s life is changed.  So even though the disciples and John the Baptist would not have been able to fully explain the kingdom of God and new birth and exactly how Jesus fitted into it – the heavenly thing – they had heard and seen the signs of the new kingdom; Jesus’ miracles and preaching and lives changed as a result – the earthly things.  And just this convinced them that they were witnessing something never seen before – the new kingdom.  So while they still had much to learn, they believed that the kingdom of God was about Jesus.
    3. And I think this would be true also of a good number of us here today. How many of you would find it hard to define the kingdom of God and regeneration?  But you know it is real because you have seen your life changed and the lives of others changed because of Jesus Christ!  You have heard and seen the earthly things!
    4. Let me illustrate it this way: An evangelist was once preaching on a street corner. When he finished, a man approached him and gave him a note that read, “Sir, I challenge you to debate with me the question, ‘Atheism versus Christianity’ in the Academy of Science Hall on Tuesday afternoon at four o’clock.”  Atheism is the belief that there is no God.  The evangelist said, “I accept your challenge on one condition, which is that you prove to me first that you have something worth debating.  And you can prove this by bringing along a man who was once homeless because of drunkenness and gambling, and a woman who was once a drug user and prostitute, whose lives have been changed after hearing you preach about Atheism.  Prove to me that Atheism changes lives and builds true character and I will come and debate you.  Because I can bring with me as many people as you would like whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ.  Well, needless to say, the debate did not happen.
    5. But do you see the point? Lives changed – the earthly thing – was enough to convince John the Baptist and the disciples to believe in Jesus.  But while Nicodemus and many others of that time were hearing and seeing the same things, for them, none of it added up to kingdom of God.  At best they were prepared to accept that Jesus was a “teacher from God,” another in a long line of prophets, maybe.  They were OK with Jesus fitting in with their ‘normal,’ but nothing more.  So Jesus is saying, If you are not convinced by what you can hear and see – these outward evidences – the earthly things – then how will you believe what I have to tell you about what is way more mysterious – God’s eternal plan of redemption – the heavenly things?


  1. And then Jesus begins to declare the more mysterious “heavenly things” in vv13-18 as He Explains God’s Eternal Plan of Redemption. And I hope you are ready, brothers and sisters, young people and boys and girls?  What we are about to consider is, as I described earlier, magnificent and mind-bending truth.  But it is also the most wonderful truth there is, for believers.  So here we go!


  1. Jesus starts off by saying, “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven– the Son of Man.” And already we are scratching our heads.  What?  But Jesus’ simple point here is that we can only know about an eternal plan of redemption that existed before the world was created from someone who was there when the plan was put together!
    1. Two popular movies of recent times are Dunkirk and Darkest Hour. Both of them are about Operation Dynamo.  Operation Dynamo was a plan to use regular ships to rescue nearly 400,000 allied troops from the beach at Dunkirk.  And the only reason we know about Operation Dynamo is because men who came up with the plan have told us about it.
    2. Well, in the same way, Jesus has come to earth from heaven; the Second Person of the Trinity has come to live as a human being. That is why He refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.”  But as the Son of God, He was there when the Father, the Spirit, and Himself came up with the plan of redemption.  And He has come to tell us about it and to be the Redeemer!  So Jesus is uniquely qualified to tell us about God’s wonderfully mysterious, eternal plan of redemption.


  1. And He begins to do this by referring to the snake episode that we read earlier from Numbers 21. Because the Israelites were grumbling to God, He sent poisonous snakes among them that killed many of them.  But when the people confessed their sin to Moses, Moses prayed to the Lord and the Lord told him to make a bronze snake and to put it on a pole and to lift it up so that anyone who looked at it would live.
    1. Now, by itself this is kind of an interesting and curious story, but that’s all. But as Jesus says what He says, this episode takes on a much more significant meaning: When we connect the snake account with Jesus being lifted up on the cross and then being ‘lifted up’ out of the grave in His resurrection, and then being ‘lifted up’ as He was exalted to heaven in His ascension, then the bronze snake episode is revealed to about so much more than just the way that a few Israelites were healed; it was a foreshadowing or a symbol or a pointer to how God would save the world.
    2. Now, as a side point, these words of Jesus give us the interpretive key for the Book of Numbers (but also for the whole OT). There are studies that show that many Christians begin reading through the Bible with great enthusiasm until they get to Leviticus and Numbers.  Genesis and Exodus are fascinating, historical accounts, but then you get long lists and ceremonial laws that just seem so boring and irrelevant for how we live as Christians today.  Perhaps you know what I mean?  But Jesus reveals here that even Numbers is ultimately about Jesus; it too is a part of how God reveals His eternal pan of redemption.  And that is how we have to read it.  Let me quickly illustrate this for you:
      1. Numbers opens just after God has given the Israelites the Law at Sinai. The first 10 chapters of Numbers are lists of tribes and priests – basically a description of all God’s chosen people at that time.
      2. And then the people leave Sinai to head to Moab, which is their last stop before entering the Promised Land. And chapters 10-20 are a record of sin and failure and defeat as they journey to Moab.  It is awful reading.  And the climax is what we read in Ch. 21 and the snakes and the people dying.
      3. But then God provides the snake on the pole and if people look up at the snake, they live.
      4. And then the rest of the Book is about blessings and victory! And then the people enter the Promised Land.
    3. Do you see the gospel symbolism? The story of humanity is a story of sin and failure and defeat.  What we deserve is death.  But God has graciously provided a remedy!  And that remedy is His Son being lifted up on the cross.  Our responsibility is to look at Him and believe.  And if we believe, we receive eternal life!
    4. So even way back in OT Numbers, the message that was being broadcast to the people of Israel and to any who read that book today is the same message being broadcast here in v15: “Everyone who believes in [Jesus] may have eternal life.”
    5. So again, though it is not the major point of this passage, when you are looking for a Bible study on an OT book, by all means look for one that gives you practical lessons from the life of Joseph or Esther or Job or Ruth, but make sure it does that around the central truth of how the people and places and events in this Bible book reveal the Gospel of eternal life in Jesus.


  1. OK? So back to the major point.  What was there in shadow form in the OT, Jesus has come to make crystal clear.  And He does this in v16, “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.”  In a moment, we will think about the mysterious aspects of God’s eternal plan of redemption, but our focus here is on the wonderful aspect of God’s eternal plan of redemption.  And the wonderful comes out in the words “so loved.”  “For God so loved the world …”
    1. You see, v16 could have simply said, “For God gave His one and only Son, that whoever…” That would have been enough to explain how it is that we may be saved.  But it would have left us without the reason why God did this – His infinite, glorious, tender, majestic, vast, and wonderful love.
    2. One of the most difficult books in the Bible is the Book of Hosea. Do you know the story of Hosea?  Hosea is told to marry a whore named Gomer.  And he is told that she will continue to prostitute herself as his wife and that each time he must go and find her in another man’s bed and bring her home.  Eventually she goes and ends up being sold in a slave market.  And slaves in that time were always sold naked.  So Hosea has to outbid all the other bidders to buy back his wife, and then he clothes her and takes her home.  And this is a picture of God’s great love for sinners.  How do we know this?  Because God said to Hosea, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress.  Love her as the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods.”  Hosea’s love for Gomer was to reflect God’s love for His sinful people.  You see, like Gomer and Israel, we are idolaters; we don’t give God the exclusive devotion that He deserves; we don’t find the totality of our joy and meaning in God, as we should, because we seek it in the good and bad things of this earth.  So what we deserve is condemnation.  But “God soooo loved the world that he gave us His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  The eternal plan of redemption has its origins and its unfolding in the love of God.  That is why it is so wonderful!


  1. But it is also wonderfully mysterious. And here we are looking at the words “the world.”  “For God so loved the world.”  You see, the thinking of Nicodemus and most of the Jews of his day was that God loved the Jews.  And so, Messiah would come and rule in the Temple of Jerusalem and condemn the Romans and all the other nations that had oppressed Israel.  Life would pretty much carry on as it was but with the Jews in charge!  Everyone else would get what was coming to them.  Yippee!  That is how they understood the Day of Judgment or the Day of the Lord.  They were waiting for Messiah to come and condemn the world.  And we know this because the OT prophets rebuke this way of thinking.  But their words fell on ears with hands over them; the people refused to hear them.
    1. So now Jesus gets very explicit about this mistaken idea in v17: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.” Do you see?  Jesus did not come to punish the Gentiles who had oppressed Israel.  He came, in fact, to save them, if they would believe in His Son.  In fact, He came to save anyone, Jew or Gentile, who believes in His Son.
    2. So, “the world” in vv16&17 means not just Jew but also Gentile. Jesus came to save people from every nation and tribe and language.  In the OT, God’s plan of redemption was to work, savingly, apart from the odd exception like Rahab and Ruth, just with the Jews.  But now His plan of redemption will extend out to include people from all over the world.  Have a look at Ephesians 2-3 this week and you will see the Apostle Paul rejoicing that he came to understand this mystery of Gentile inclusion in salvation.
    3. But for most of the Jews of Jesus’ day, who knew exactly what Jesus meant by “the world,” this is precisely the reason they came to hate Jesus to the point of killing Him. To them, this was not a wonderfully mysterious eternal plan of redemption, this was blasphemy!


And that is why we have to end with v18.  You see, while Jesus came the first time to bring salvation, He will come again to bring condemnation (judgment).  Salvation has a time limit – the Day of Jesus’ Second Coming.  The key point of v18 though is that you do not have to wait until that Day to find out your eternal destiny: “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.”

  • If you believe in Jesus, you are free of condemnation now! What does Romans 8:1 say? “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  The moment you choose to believe in Jesus, you become one who is not condemned.
  • But those who reject Jesus are condemned already.
  • The Day of Judgment is when God will make all this public. Those who believed in Jesus He will declare free of condemnation; justified; His children; citizens of heaven.  Those who rejected Jesus He will declare condemned to eternity in hell.


And on that day the whole point of God’s eternal redemption plan will be plain for all to see.  For that is when the Father will present to His Son the bride they together chose before the creation of the world.  Back then they chose a certain number of human beings to redeem out of the mass of sinful humanity.  And Jesus agreed to go down to earth and die on the cross for the forgiveness of the sins of those chosen ones.  And now the Father presents them all to live forever with His Son in the glories of eternal life.


So if you ever find yourself wondering, Why am I here?  Why do I exist?  Why do human beings exist?  Why does the universe exist?  Well, the answer is that the universe exists to provide the Lord Jesus with an eternal bride.

That is the “heavenly thing” that Jesus reveals here.  You can’t see it.  I can’t put in a test tube for you and print out the results.  The question is, Do you believe it?  And it is the most important question you will ever answer: Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of your sins?

I hope so!  I hope so because it is only those who say, Yes, I believe, who will live with Him in heaven.  Amen.