This message is based on John 3:10-21 and was given at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, Pennsylvania on May 15, 2011
On Monday, June 11th, 2001 convicted Oklahoma City Bomber, Timothy McVeigh was executed at a Federal Prison inTerre Haute, Indiana. McVeigh issued a final statement in which he identified himself with the words of 19th century British poet, William Henley. The closing words ofHenley’s poem, “Invictius” stand as a chilling epitaph to McVeigh’s time on this planet. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”
His words stand in contrast to the words of Israel’s great king, David. David wrote in Psalm 25, “To thee O Lord, I lift up my soul….Make me know Your ways, O Lord. Teach me Your paths, Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation. For you I wait all the day.” Every day we are given an important decision. Who will be the captain of our soul?
Our recent sermon series suggests looking outside of ourselves to the Lord Jesus. We’ve been studying the Apostles’ Creed, of which each section begins with either a stated or implied: “I believe.” That is what the term “creed” means: “I believe.” This is a confession or a response to God, as we learned from our first message in this series. You will notice that the Apostles’ Creed is an endorsement of the Trinity; that Christians believe in one God, in three persons: that of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today, we are introduced to the largest section which pertains the life and ministry of Jesus. So what does it mean to believe in Jesus Christ, God’s Only Son, Our Lord…?” For that, we turn to the most well known passages in the New Testament, John 3. Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save.
In our passage, Jesus has been carrying on a conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. This one came by night to visit with Jesus and find out if He, in fact, was the Messiah, the One promised from God. He said in 3:2: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” In elaborating what is necessary to enter into God’s kingdom, Jesus compares His mission to the account of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, which comes from Numbers 21:5-9. Here, the people were grumbling, wanting to return toEgypt. God had already delivered them from slavery; now the people were having second thoughts. They complained against God and His provisions in Numbers 11 and 16; they refused to enter the Promised Land in Numbers 14. They were filled with discontent. So God judged them for their complaining, ingratitude and lack of belief. Notice verses five and six of Numbers 21. “They spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out ofEgyptto die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.”
Moses prayed for the people and God, in His mercy, made a way for salvation. God instructed Moses to construct a serpent on a staff; that whoever would look upon the serpent would be healed of the poisonous snake bites. By Jesus’ own words, this is a prefigure of Christ. As we look to Him, we are saved, as Romans 10:13 states: “…for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
There is an ongoing formula found in the Scriptures which is this: God gave, we are to repent and believe, and we receive eternal life. Notice Jesus’ words about Himself in John 3:16: “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.” Many of us are more familiar with the King James Version which states: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” But what does “begotten” mean? It is the Greek: ” monogenes” meaning: only begotten, unique, only one of His kind.
If we are not careful to understand the ministry of Jesus within the context of Scripture, He can appear as just another religious leader on the scene of history. In recent years, there has been a surge in the interest of Jesus, not all of it with good intentions. Some make Him out to be no more than a religious sage. But we cannot get around the fact that He claimed to be God’s unique Son, the Lord of heaven and earth. By virtue of His resurrection, he proved to be God’s unique Son and worthy of the title “Lord of heaven and earth.” C.S. Lewis once said: “Either we must accept Jesus for who He said He was, or label Him as crazy; a madman. But Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save.
But the Bible states that we must understand the ministry of Jesus in the context of God’s love being sent into this world! Take for instance, Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Or 1 John 4:9: “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” And finally, Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all– how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Understanding Jesus without the idea of God’s love is like understanding a computer without electricity!
The Nicene Creed, written in 325 A.D. and approximately 150 years after the Apostles’ Creed, gives clarification on this word when it says that we believe: “…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made. Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…” This elaboration gives a full disclosure of who Jesus is. You cannot understand Jesus from a human, outward perspective. You can only appreciate Jesus and His ministry by learning who He is from a divine perspective, why He came to this earth. He was God’s unique Son, of which there was no other like Him. And that He came to this earth so long ago to save us.
So let’s apply this idea. What is our greatest ambition in life? You can accomplish a lot in this life whether it be degrees, promotions, awards, even be well thought of. But if you have not looked to the Son, you are missing the boat! And people miss this central point of faith all the time! Jesus said in Matthew 16:26: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
From the very early testimony of the church, we understand that the orthodox understanding of Jesus was challenged. And still today, the idea of Jesus as the world’s only Savior and Lord is seen as out of touch, uncompassionate and narrow-minded. And yet, that is precisely the testimony of the martyrs. Romewould not have persecuted the church to such the extent if they would have just accepted Jesus as one of several ways, including Caesar as a way or the Roman pantheon as a way. But it was the early church’s relentless loyalty to Jesus as the only Savior and Lord that spelled martyrdom for many. Historian and Professor of Christian Spirituality Gerald Sittser writes: “Modern pluralism resembles Rome’s; modern rejection of Jesus’ lordship repeats Rome’s rejection of Jesus. In the academic world, for example, Christian exclusivity- the idea that Jesus is the only way to God- offends the pluralistic assumptions of the day, just as it did two thousand years ago. Now, as then, the idea that there s one religious truth runs contrary to the spirit of the age. It is assumed that religious belief could be and often is valuable for any number of reasons, but there is no way of knowing which religion is actually true. Christians challenge this cultural assumption when they claim that Jesus is Savior and Lord. Christians have been causing such offense for two thousand years.” Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save.
Why did Jesus have to do this? Because that is what it took to pay the price for our sin. Consider the following from Josh McDowell’s book More Than a Carpenter. An incident that took place several years ago inCalifornia illuminates what Jesus did on the cross… ‘A young woman was picked up for speeding. She was ticketed and taken before the judge. The judge read off the citation and said: “Guilty or not guilty?” The woman replied, “Guilty.” The judge brought down the gavel and fined her a steep amount or ten days in jail. Then an amazing thing took place. The judge stood up, took off his robe, walked down around in front, took out his billfold, and paid the fine. What’s the explanation of this? The judge was her father. He loved his daughter, yet he was a just judge. His daughter had broken the law, and he couldn’t just say to her: “Because I love you so much, I forgive you. You may leave.” If he had done that, he wouldn’t have been a rigouts judge… But he loved his daughter so much he was willing to take off his judicial robe and come down in front and represent her as her father and pay the fine.’ Jesus was sent by God, sent in love and sent to save.