Sunday, September 14, 2014

A FAMILY PORTRAIT (Part 1)


A FAMILY PORTRAIT (Part 1)

This is the genealogy of Shem: Shem was one hundred years old, and begot Arphaxad two years after the flood … Nahor lived twenty-nine years, and begot Terah. After he begot Terah … Now Terah lived seventy years, and begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
This is the genealogy of Terah: Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran. Haran begot Lot … Then Abram and Nahor took wives: the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai … But Sarai was barren; she had no child. And Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out with them from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan; and they came to Haran and dwelt there … Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, From your family And from your father’s house, To a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you And make your name great; And you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 11:10-12:3 (truncated)

Introduction
Have you ever wondered why the Bible makes such a big deal of genealogies? I’m sure most evangelicals just skim over them as they read through the Bible. I’m, of course, presuming that most evangelicals read through their Bibles! Anyhow, what do you do when you get to one of these genealogies such as the one (abbreviated) above? Remember 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

So then, what benefit to us is a family tree of a bunch of people who died thousands of years ago? Well, for one it shows that Christianity is a religion that deals with real flesh and blood people. However, more than that, genealogies in the Bible demonstrate continuity.

The Bible isn’t just a book of “wise sayings” though it is full of “wise sayings” (e.g., Proverbs). No! The Bible is also the record of the History of Redemption.

The History of Redemption begins with the First Man Adam and ends with the last Adam Jesus Christ. Luke chapter three traces the lineage of Jesus as to His humanity, from Mary through her father Heli all the way back to Adam the son of God. I’ll just mention in passing that Matthew in his Gospel tells us that the father of Joseph, Mary’s husband is called Jacob. I know it’s extra-Biblical, but the Jewish Talmud states that Mary’s father’s name was Heli. Therefore, I believe Luke’s Gospel records the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Adam!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and I could trace our roots all the way back to Adam? Then we would know where we’ve come from! But then again, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out all of us must be descended from Adam! If Adam was the first man then we must be related to him. And of course the Bible tells us that all of us are. However, I’m afraid that to look at Adam is to look at Bad News because the Bible tells us that we all died in Adam. The whole of humanity died to God when Adam our earthly father sinned against God (Rom. 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21; 22).

So, after that brief introduction, let’s get on with it. In the following we’re being introduced to Abraham, or “Abram” as he’s known here. (The LORD changed his name from Abram to Abraham later). Anyway, we’ve been given some of his family history. He’s descended from Shem who was one of Noah’s three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth). And just as an aside, the name Semitic in “Semitic Peoples” comes from the name “Shem.” The Old Testament historian Albert Edersheim says,

Regarding the division of earth among his three sons, [ie, the sons of Noah], it may be said generally, that Asia was given to Shem, Africa to Ham, and Europe to Japheth.[1]

Presumably Albert Edersheim took the Tower of Babel into consideration when he wrote that. Because, as you know, it was after that episode that God scattered man from there “abroad over the face of all the earth” Genesis 11:9b.

So, we pick up the story, His-story, the history of Redemption in a place called Ur of the Chaldeans. Abraham dwelt there with his family when the Lord said to him Genesis 12:1, “Get out of your country, from your kindred and from your father’s house, to a land I will show you.”

Let us look at a couple of things in general in the following, The Family Tree and The Family Trek. The general gist of what we’re looking at is this: It’s good to know where you’ve come from, but it’s even better to know where you’re going!

The Family Tree
A family tree lets you know where you have come from. It never ceases to amaze me the way some Australians brag about some of their ancestors. I mean everywhere else in the world they try to hide the skeletons in the closet! But not in Australia! Lots of Australians are proud of the fact that they’re great grandfather or whatever was a convict. And when you look around you today it’s not hard to see that many are trying hard to keep the family tradition alive!

Crime always seems to be on the increase. However, I don’t know if you’ve noticed that something else is on the increase. More and more people, it would seem, are tracing their family tree. I have an Australian relative who was tracing her family tree. She was in Scotland and England looking at old grave-stones and church records. I suppose knowing the history of your family gives you a sense of belonging. It’s nice to know where you’ve come from, who your family is. Just ask someone who was adopted as a child if they’d like to know who their real family was, but what’s the LORD doing with Abram here? Well, He’s going to make a new family out of him.

In fact we’re told in Genesis 12:2 that the LORD is going to make a great nation out of Abram. Before the Flood there had been two great families: The Family of Cain and the Family of Seth. One family was the seed of the serpent and the other the seed of the woman. You’ll remember the LORD said to the serpent after the fall, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed.” Genesis 3:15a.

We know that the ultimate Seed of the woman is the last Adam Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:16). However, Jesus was a long way ahead in the future. So, after the Flood nations began to form from Noah’s three sons. And through the loins of Shem eventually Abram arrived in the year 2165 BC according to one reputable scholar.

The LORD here has chosen Abram and he is going to make him into a great nation. However, we see that there’s a little snag back in Genesis 11:30, “But Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Abram’s wife Sarai was unable to give Abram any children. A slight technical difficulty if there ever was one! It makes you wonder why God didn’t choose a man whose wife could conceive. However, as the angel Gabriel said to Mary, “With God nothing will be impossible.”

I remember reading a book by a man by the name of Curtis Crenshaw. He dedicated the book to his son with these words,

Every father wants a son; God has granted Me one. Naturally he has my name. My constant prayer for him is that he will stay in the truth of God’s Word, not be side-tracked into some false gospel, and that we shall spend eternity together in heaven. He is a joy to my heart.[2]

Abraham too wanted a son and so did his wife Sarah. However, it was going to take a miracle from God for this to happen. We’ll see also up ahead that Abraham and Sarah occasionally got side-tracked. Occasionally they got in trouble by venturing from the truth of God’s Word. However, the LORD was ever faithful to keep bringing them back onto the straight and narrow. But just before we move onto our second point let me ask you this question: Those of you who have done your family tree, Have you noticed that most, if not all your ancestors have one thing in common? They’re all dead!

All of Abram’s ancestors were dead and his father Terah was about to die in a place called Haran. Some of Abraham’s ancestors lived to good old ages. But nevertheless, to look at your family tree is to look at a bunch of dead rellies! And more people today are looking among their dead relatives as they search for meaning.

Some of our Asian neighbours even worship their dead ancestors. More and more today are asking the question: Who am I and where do I come from? Albeit in general terms, but the Bible answers those questions for us. You can look at all the grave stones you want as you seek to discover who you are. You can look at all the church records, all the Baptismal Rolls, all the Marriage Records, all the Obituaries, yes obituaries. You can look in all of these places but all your ancestors, like those of Abraham, are dead. All you’re doing is looking at records of a bunch of dead people in the pages of human history.

We’re all descended from Adam and we’re all spiritually dead in Adam. There’s no life in obituaries, there is no life in church records. There is no life carved on the head-stones of the graves of your dead relatives. And there’s a head-stone somewhere waiting for your name! There’s no life in these things, but there is life in the pages of Redemptive History. And that’s what the story of Abraham is all about – life! His family tree contained a bunch of dead people. He was the end of the line (or so it seemed). His family line was about to end with him (his wife couldn’t bear him any children). He knew from whence he had come, a long line of dead people, or was it? What about Enoch who was and then was not? What about your Enochs? What about your Seths? There’s something special about Abram’s genealogy. However, it wasn’t so much as to where it came from but more to do with where it was leading. It’s a good thing to know where you’ve come from but it’s even better to know where you’re going.


[1] Alfred Edersheim, Old Testament Bible History, Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1876-77, (1890 reprint in 1980), p. 58.
[2] Source reference

Sunday, September 7, 2014

"SHOULD SCOTLAND BE AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY?"


“SHOULD SCOTLAND BE AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY?”
“Should Scotland be an independent country?” In less than two weeks from now the residents of Scotland are being asked to answer this question. What do you think? Well, here is what I think. I think that this is a redundant question. I think that that this question is merely rhetorical! I think that this question is simply a device being used to awaken the residents of Scotland. I think that there is a lot of wisdom behind this question!
How so? Well, because we now see that the tide is turning on the polls in favour of independence as the question works its way into the hearts and minds of the people. The question has certainly been working its way under people’s peely-wally and freckled skin! However, the question is wise in that it is far from establishing any sort of racial superiority of Scots. For, the credentials needed to vote in this referendum are proof of current residence in the geographical region of Scotland. Therefore, ethnicity is a non-issue. However, as a non-resident I am excluded from casting a vote either way.
Perhaps the downside is that as one who was foreign born but raised in Scotland I, like many others of a similar situation, feel as if I should have a say in this referendum. Why? Well, I have been an unofficial ambassador for Scotland and all things Scottish for over a decade throughout Canada and now over two decades in Australia. I have promoted the food and drink of Scottish culture, her dance and music, her other languages, both Gaelic and Lallans. I have spoken highly of her geographical location and her topography. I have promoted the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and her attendant Ben, not to mention Loch Ness and her “monster!” I have written stories and have written and sung many songs about Scotland in clubs and at events. Alas! all this and more still does not qualify me to vote in the referendum on 18 September 2014.   
Should the current residents of the geographical region of what used to be Scotland vote against becoming a country again then I and those like me will never be able to become Scottish. I know that this must sound strange to those residents who are waging the NO! campaign. I am sure this is because they have not yet fully thought through the issue as whole. I say this because I have seen countless video clips in which those who are campaigning against Scotland becoming a country again say things like, “I love Scotland. I was born here. I am Scottish and I am British!” I have no reason to believe that these people are not trying to be truthful but they are clearly not in tune with what is going on! The whole point of the referendum is about the current residents of Scotland becoming Scottish! Clearly many in the NO! side are missing this! There is still time for the penny to drop. In for a penny, in for a pound, (Sterling that is!)
As any passport holder will attest, presently the residents of the geographical location that used to be Scotland (i.e., the place pre-1707) are British not Scottish! One cannot become Scottish unless the residents answer in the affirmative the question being put to them on 18 September: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The question answers itself. To ask it presupposes that Scotland is not presently a country and will remain as a non-country until and unless her current residents democratically vote that it should once again be a country! Until the vote and the resultant changes based on it are subsequently effected the residents of the geographical location that used to be Scotland will remain British (regardless of their food and clothing, music and languages, highlands and islands, hills, lochs and lowlands). Independence means that you become like Canada, Australia, America, New Zealand, Jamaica, ad nauseam.
I do not have the vote but Scotland I have breathed your air. I have eaten your food. I have drunk your water (and your whisky!) I have studied both your languages. I have played the side drum in your pipe bands. I have studied your bagpipes. I have walked on your hills and I have swum in your lochs. I have rowed in your rivers and lochs. I have listened to the patter of your peaty burns. As a wean I have climbed your trees. I have sledged down your snow-clad hills. I have been pricked by your thorns and your thistles. I have scars on my fingers, knees and elbows from falling off bikes and bogies going down your braes. As an adult I have drank in your pubs. I have eaten in your restaurants. I have been educated in your schools. I have worked in your industries. I have married one of your daughters. I have studied your history. I have read poetry and stories from your best writers. I have studied your philosophy and your theology. I have read about your long list of inventors. I have seen your vast and positive contributions to the (now) independent countries of Canada and Australia.
Residents of Scotland realise your greatness! Realise what you have and who you are! Then condescend long enough on 18 September to put your mark on the ballot paper where it says YES! In answer to the wise and rhetorical question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” It is almost an insult to common sense to be asked this!
(The following is a link to a wee song I wrote about Scotland while I was living in Canada. Please excuse its amateurish production. It’s called “Bonnie Scotland: Here To Stay") -   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZJCprTkhlQ

Friday, September 5, 2014

THE SNAKE & THE STAKE


THE SNAKE & THE STAKE

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-15.

Introduction
Allow me to quickly paint the backdrop. The setting is this: A man has come to Jesus under the cover of darkness. His name is Nicodemus and he is a teacher of Israel. Nicodemus said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God.” It’s with that in mind that Jesus begins to teach Nicodemus that He has indeed come from God! In the clearest of terms, Jesus tells Nicodemus why He has come from God.

So, we are to notice that Jesus responds to people. His response to you will depend on how you look at Him! Nicodemus viewed Jesus as a “Teacher come from God.” So Jesus in turn responds by demonstrating the truth of Nicodemus’ statement In teaching Nicodemus “the teacher come from God” uses “concrete terminology.” He illustrates what He means using everyday terms. He reveals profound spiritual truth by using illustrations with which Nicodemus is familiar. For instance He speaks of water and wind to portray the invisible workings of the Spirit of God. He uses light and darkness as representations of truth and evil. And, the thing we will mostly be focusing on in the following, He uses Moses and the brazen serpent to illustrate the Gospel!

Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3:14-15, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Nicodemus would be more than familiar with the passage of Scripture Jesus was referring to. And we need to be familiar with it too because it perfectly illustrates the Gospel!

The Snake
To say that Israel in the wilderness had a problem with snakes is an understatement! The Lord sent fiery flying serpents among the Israelites! These were snakes with fangs full of poison! And they were injecting deadly venom into their bloodstream as they bit people! To be bitten would be like having a jolt of electricity fired into you, like a cattle prod on full power, like a police stun-gun. Not only would there be a burning sensation at the puncture marks, but the muscles would begin to ache and burn! Every joint in your body would seem to be on fire. Your breathing would be affected and your heart-rate would fluctuate. Then would come the unquenchable thirst, fire in your mouth, in your body, all over.

Why did the Lord send the snakes among His people? It was a judgment against their sin. “The wages of sin is death”! The people were speaking against God and His servant Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness” They were saying, “there is no food and no water, and our soul detests this worthless bread.” God sent them manna from heaven and Israel detested it! Thus they were blaspheming God and despising His providence.

How would you expect God to respond to this kind of abuse from His own people? The Lord sent in fiery serpents and “many of the people of Israel died” for their sin. They ought to have been thanking God for His grace and mercy toward them. He had set them free from their captivity to Pharaoh in Egypt. He had done many miracles as He released them from their bondage. He even parted the Red Sea for them to cross without so much as getting a little toe wet! He had caused the waters to fully immerse His enemies and drown all of them.

The Angel of the Lord Himself went with them in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. And all the thanks the Lord got was grumbling! So the Lord responded accordingly to them! “And many of the people of Israel died” Numbers 21:6. So as Israel looked around at all the death and mayhem they knew it had come from God.

God got their attention when He sent those fiery serpents into Israel. And the Israelites learned quickly that this was in judgment against their sin. They discovered that they were a wicked and a rebellious people. They knew that they were biting the hand that fed them, and they knew that the Lord was biting them back!

Where did all this rebellion against God begin with these people? We have to say that it began with the serpent in the Garden. Satan was the one who injected poison into the minds of Adam and Eve. He was the one who caused Eve to doubt the very Word of God, “Has God really said?”

Satan through the mouth and fangs of the snake injected His poison into the world, so to speak. As his venom began to take effect, rigor mortis slowly set into the bodies of Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve saw the serpent they should have looked to the Lord and they would have lived. However, instead they turned their backs to God demonstrating that they were unhappy with God and His providence. Thus Adam and Eve became dead in their sins, and all mankind became dead in their sins with them.

To be dead in your sins means that you don’t care about God or His providence. By “providence” here we mean that which God provides for your well-being, pro-vidence. So who would grumble and complain about God and His providence? Well, Adam and Eve as they listened to the serpent and sinned in the Garden. Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. And let’s not forget every human being who has ever lived.

Romans 5:12 says, “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men.” So we see that Satan, that serpent of old, has bitten Adam. His venom not only killed Adam but it spread to all mankind through him. To poison a river you go upstream to its source. To kill a tree you attack its roots. To kill the human race you attack the first man, Adam.

We’re all dead, dead in Adam, dead in our sins. Unless a Person trusts in God all of mankind is lost, extinct. Unless a Person appreciates His providence we’re all doomed to destruction. The trouble is that there’s nobody like this anywhere. That’s what the Bible tells us. Romans 3:11 says, “There is none who seeks after God.” Romans 3:13 says, “The poison of asps is under their lips.”

We have poison in our veins, venom in our blood. We need an antidote, an anti-venom, an antivenin. Where among the dead mass of humanity will One like this be found? One who will trust in God to provide for Him? Scripture says, “The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” Psalm 14:4. “For the eyes of the Lord run to & fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him” 2 Chronicles 16:9. Thus, the picture is of God scanning the earth looking into the face of mankind.

Where on earth is God going to find One who is loyal to Him? Where is He going to find one who trusts in God and His providence? You won’t find One like this on earth. Scripture says all earthlings are dead. The venom of the serpent has got under their skin and poisoned the lot of them. Therefore, the Person God’s looking for would need to come from somewhere else. He would need to come from God!

We’ve looked at The Snake and we’ve seen that his venom was injected into Man through Adam and has killed all mankind including you and me. Now let’s look at the stake.

The Stake
I’ll never forget a dramatic scene in one of the movies about the Titanic they’re always making. All these people with life-jackets on, hundreds of them, floating in the frozen Atlantic Ocean. They’d been in the water for ages waiting to be rescued. Only one lifeboat came back to look for survivors after the Titanic had sunk. There was a light shining from the lifeboat, scanning the faces of those in the freezing water. As the light shone to and fro on each face there could be heard the cry, “Is anyone still alive?” Alas! The lifeboat had been too late in coming back. Death had clasped his icy-fingers around the throats of all of those who looked like they might survive. They all had bobbed in the freezing water with their lifejackets on. But their blood had run cold and rigor mortis set into them one by one. They all were dead, all but one person on a piece of wood. The light from the lifeboat had shone upon her, but she look just like all the rest, dead. So she was almost passed by but she took courage called out to the life-boat ever so feebly. The whole audience in the movie theater gave a collective sigh when her cry for life was heard. She was lifted up into the boat and had blankets wrapped around her. God is shining His light into the face of all human beings. “Is anyone still alive?” No! Death has claimed every last one. The whole ship has gone under and they are going down to the grave with it. “Is there anyone still alive?” Wait! There’s one person on a piece of wood calling out for life! What is He saying? He’s saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

Herein lies the vaccine, the antidote, the antivenin that cures the serpent’s bite. Paul the Apostle said to the Corinthians, “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” 1 Corinthians 2:2. He said to the Galatians, “God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Galatians 6:14. Through the cross of Christ, an instrument of death, the Lord provided the means of escaping death!

Moses had interceded on behalf of Israel in the wilderness. So God told Moses to set a fiery serpent on a pole, a snake on a stake. This is more commonly referred to as the brazen serpent. The American Medical Association has this as their emblem. God, in the Garden had placed a curse upon the serpent who deceived Eve. But here’s a serpent hanging on a pole bringing life!

So is Jesus being compared to a serpent? Only in that He too became like one who is cursed by God. Scripture says, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.” Deuteronomy 21:23; Galatians 3:13. And Jesus looked no different bodily from cursed humanity Philippians 2:7.

Jesus said to Nicodemus, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even        so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” It’s as if Jesus is saying: “There you have it Nicodemus, I can’t make it any simpler for you than that. I am the Teacher come from God. Look at Me and live! I am the One who has come from God to crush the serpent’s head, the serpent whose poison flows through your veins even as we speak. The serpent will bite Me too, but it won’t be fatal. He’ll only bruise My heel. Here’s what’s going to happen. I’m going to let wicked men place Me on a piece of wood. The serpent’s fangs will pierce My hands and My feet as they pin Me to the stake. Every blow of the hammer will have venom in it. They’ll lift Me up and hang Me between heaven and earth for all the world to see. Then they’ll circle round taunting Me as My precious blood pours out of Me. All My bones will pop out of joint and they’ll begin burn! My tongue will cling to My jaws as if on fire. My thirst will be unbearable. O Nicodemus, as Moses lifted up the serpent, the fiery serpent, so too must I be lifted up. Look at Me, Nicodemus, and live!” Essentially that is what Jesus was saying to Nicodemus.

John in John 20:39 tells us that Nicodemus went with Joseph of Arimathea after the crucifixion and took Jesus’ dead body to prepare Him for burial. As Nicodemus cut those strips of linen and wrapped the dead body of Jesus surely he’d be thinking of the words the Teacher come from God had spoken to Him? “Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish.”
“But Teacher, You Yourself have perished. The serpent has killed You too”
“Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Trust Me Nicodemus. Look at Me and live”
“But Teacher, You’re dead! Your body is limp. Your brow is covered in blood! Your face is beyond recognition from the beating you took before they crucified You. There are bloody holes in Your hands where the nails were. There’s the gash where the centurion pierced Your heart with his spear. And Your feet are bruised and covered in blood where the spike went through. Oh Teacher, all Your talk of eternal life means nothing as I look at You now!”

Can you imagine the kind of thoughts going through Nicodemus’ mind as He attended to the Master’s body? To look at a Jesus as dead as yourself makes no sense whatever! The Apostle Paul says, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” 1 Corinthians 1:18. And, “We preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness” 1 Corinthians 1:23.

How can a dead Saviour save anyone when He can’t even save Himself? That’s what Nicodemus was wondering as He handled the dead Savior. However, Jesus didn’t remain dead, did He? He was lifted up early on the morning after the Sabbath. “Nicodemus, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up.”

After His resurrection Jesus was seen by over five hundred people 1 Corinthians 15:6. Not the least of them Thomas, Doubting Thomas. What did Jesus say to Thomas? “Do not be unbelieving but believing” John 20:27. Then Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen yet believed”

Do you believe? Do you really believe? What makes you think you believe? Maybe you’re just sitting there with your life jacket on thinking that the Lord is going to come back and save you. But maybe He’s been shining His light in your face but you’ve already froze to death! Maybe it would take a jolt from a fiery serpent to thaw you out a little! Maybe you’ve been complaining about God and His providence like Israel in the wilderness.

Is your mind everywhere else when you’re supposed to be worshipping God? What are you thinking about as you sing the hymns at church? Are you really praising God or just mumbling words? Is a Bible-study the last place you’d be found? Did you go once and all they talked about was the Bible? Did you find it too hard to follow even though you’ve been a Christian for years?

What makes you think you’re a Christian anyway? Do you look into your own heart and say, “Well, I don’t smoke and I wouldn’t even put so much as a cough-lolly in my mouth in case there is alcohol in it!” Do you come to church complaining in your heart that the place is so dead? Have you ever thought that maybe it’s you who are dead? Maybe everyone else is looking at a holy and righteous God, everyone except you! The Lord wants you to look at Him and live and not at everything else and die.

Why did the Lord send fiery serpents in among His people? It was because they were complaining about God and His providence for them, wasn’t it? He got their attention. He got them to look where He wanted them to look! When Old Testament Israel discovered they were facing certain death for complaining they responded, didn’t they? They looked at the fiery serpent on a pole and were saved from the serpent’s poison.

God wants you to stop looking at yourself in a selfish, self-centered manner. He wants you to keep on looking at Christ and His cross so you don’t perish like those in the wilderness. Keep on looking at Christ and His cross and you’ll live forever. For Jesus has been lifted up not only on a cross, not only from the grave, but He has also been lifted up to the highest heaven. And it’s the job of the Christian to do as Moses did with the Brazen Serpent. Christians are to lift up Christ among a humanity that is dying. We are to parade Christ before the serpent-poisoned humanity as Paul did for the Galatians, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified” Galatians 3:1. This is how the church is to shine forth the light of Christ! Simply by displaying Christ in the Gospel and urging people to look at Him and live!

However, don’t be fooled. You yourself need to keep on looking at Jesus. Otherwise it’s not the Gospel you’re portraying, rather it’s hypocrisy!

Conclusion
Are you looking at Jesus during the worship service? Are you looking at Jesus in the Bible Studies and the Prayer Meetings? Are you looking at Jesus while you work and while you eat your lunch? Are you looking at Jesus with your whole life? If you are, then that means that you are lifting up Jesus! It means that you are lifting up the Son of Man for all the world to see. It means that your like Moses in the wilderness lifting up the Brazen Serpent! You’ll be like the lifeboat looking for the survivors of the Titanic disaster!

Oh! Will you lift up Jesus for all the world to see “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”?

Monday, September 1, 2014

THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD


THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD
“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17.

Introduction
I’d like to draw your attention to a verse of Scripture that perhaps has been one of the most overlooked verses of God’s infallible Word. This verse of Scripture follows directly after that most well-known of all verses, viz., John 3:16. John 3:16, as you know, goes: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”


John 3:16 is an awesome verse of Scripture, isn’t it? Let me just spend a moment reminding you of what it means (in case you’ve forgot!) John 3:16 tells us that God does not hate the world, but loves the world. John 3:16 tells us that God gave the world His only true Son. God gave the world His only begotten Son as an act of His goodness and mercy. John 3:16 tells us why God gave His eternally begotten Son. God gave the world His only begotten Son as Saviour of the world, which is to say that God the Son became also a man to save the world as a man. And John 3:16 tells us that His Son is Saviour of all those who believe in Him as Saviour, which is to say that all those who gladly receive God’s gift of His eternally begotten Son (who became also a man in the womb of the Virgin) will never perish.

God’s Condescension
In John 3:16, to perish doesn’t mean to disappear or vanish forever as in being annihilated. But rather the kind of perishing spoken of here is to remain forever in a state of mental and emotional and physical torment forever. So you can see why John 3:16 is often called the Good News in a nutshell. It is telling us that God gave His Son to save sinners from the everlasting torments of Hell.  And John 3:16 also tells us that those believing in His only begotten Son will have everlasting life. This means that all those who receive the gift that God is giving the world will enter into a state of mental and emotional and physical and spiritual bliss forever and ever. There’s a lot in John 3:16. So, it’s little wonder that John 3:16 is often referred to as the Gospel, i.e., the Good News of Glad Tidings, in one verse!

Let me repeat John 3:16 so that you can hear the Gospel in a nutshell one more time, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” So we see then that God is not hiding Himself of the planet Mars. We can see that He isn’t trying to avoid spaceships and Hubble telescopes by hiding Himself behind rocks on the dark side of the moon! Can you see that God has revealed Himself to man? Can you see that He has revealed Himself to man in the Person of Jesus Christ? God has given the world His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. Why did God give the world His only begotten Son Jesus Christ? God has given His only begotten Son to the world because He does not hate the world, but loves the world.

If God hated the world he wouldn’t have sent His Son into the world. Why did the Son leave His glory in Heaven and enter into this world by becoming also a man? Well, that’s where John 3:17 comes in. Many people overlook John 3:17 because they’re too much enamoured with John 3:16. But John 3:17 helps us to understand John 3:16 more fully. And it also helps us to understand why God gave the world His Son.

Now, if you think God gave the world His Son just to make it possible for people to be saved then you really need to read John 3:17. Somehow over the years the attention has been taken off the fact that it was God who gave the world His Son by sending His Son into the world. God is no longer the centre of attention nowadays. When it comes to the Gospel, i.e., the Good News the attention is all on man!  It’s as if man has become his own saviour and not God! That’s why it’s good to look at John 3:17.

God did not send His only begotten Son into the world to make it possible for some people to be saved from everlasting torment. For if you believe that, then you are believing that a person can be his own saviour. But that’s not what the Good News is all about. The Good News is all about God sending His Son into the world as the Saviour of the world. If you don’t believe me then grab a Bible and just look at John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” How is the world saved? The world is saved through Him, not through you or me, or you plus Him, or me plus Him. No! The world His saved through the One God has sent into the world to save the world.

Now, I’ll grant to you that that little word “might” might cause some people to misunderstand what John 3:17 is actually saying. Let’s say you asked me why I wheeled my wheelie-bin out to the kerb. I might say to you that I wheeled my wheelie-bin out to the kerb so that the bin-man might collect it. Do I mean to say that the bin-man might perhaps just possibly collect my garbage? Or do I mean that I did it so that the bin-man would definitely take away my garbage? So, God did not send His Son into the world just so that He might perhaps just possibly take away the sins of the world as a bin-man might take away our garbage. No! God sent His Son into the world so that the world through Him would definitely not perish like rotting garbage, but rather be saved.

When viewed properly, i.e., when viewed from God’s perspective, the focus is back on the action of God, isn’t it? God is the one who has entered into the muck and rotten filth of sinful humanity. Why? He became also a man to take away the sins of the world. This is what the world is reminded of each Christmas. The eternally begotten Son of God was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit and the power of the Highest in the womb of a virgin by the name of Mary, Luke 1:35. And nine months later He is born in the usual manner, but in an unusual place. He was born in a place where ordinarily where animals are kept. And He was laid in a manger, i.e., a trough from which animals eat! God the Son has entered into the muck and filth of sinful humanity. Why? He came to take away the sins of the world, which is to say that He came that the world through Him might be saved.

God’s Condemnation
Let’s read that verse again, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Now, I once belonged to a congregation that had printed this verse of Scripture on many sheets of paper, along with an invitation to come to their church. We then placed those many sheets of paper (with this verse written on it) into over five hundred letter boxes around the community. I don’t know about the rest of the congregation, but when I was delivering my lot of leaflets, I was pondering that verse over and over in my mind.

Notice that John 3:17 begins with the word “for”. This tells us that it is attached to the verse that comes before it, i.e., the famous John 3:16. Therefore John 3:17 is given to explain John 3:16, which is to say that God’s action of sending His Son into the world should not be seen as God’s condemnation of the world. Sometimes a person’s actions can be misread and taken as hostile. However, God’s action in sending His Son into the world should be viewed as the expression of His love for the world. But most importantly His action of sending His Son into the world ought to be seen by all the world as His actual saving of the world.

So, why wouldn’t God save the world seeing as He is the One who created it in the first place? The very first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” And we know that the God who created the heaven and the earth is Triune, which is to say that God is the Trinity – the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three Persons are One God. So, God the Father sent God the Son into the world. How did the Son come into the world? He came into the world by clothing Himself in flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And He was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

Now, notice that John 3:17 does not say that God sent Santa Clause from the North Pole to bring the world presents. No! It says that God sent His Son into the world that the world through Him might be saved.

Now, as we’ve already noted, this saving of the world is contrasted with condemning the world. Put negatively, God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world. Put positively, God did sent His Son into the world that the world through Him might be saved. What does it mean to be condemned? And what does it mean to be saved? Well, to be condemned means that you are as good as being in the wheelie-bin at the kerb-side. To be condemned is to be awaiting transportation to the world’s dump – “Hell” the Bible calls it. But the Good News is that that’s not what God’s Son Jesus Christ came into the world to do. No! He has come into the world to salvage, i.e., to save the world!

Now then, this is where we need to find our thinking caps and put them on. If God sent His Son into the world to save the world, then God must believe that the world needs saving? So, let me ask you: Are you with God? Do you believe the world needs saving? If you look through the eyes of the same God who, in the beginning created the heavens and the earth and all therein and declared it to all be very good then you’d agree with Him. The world is no longer very good – therefore the world is in need of saving. Well, that’s what the birth of Jesus Christ is all about. It’s about God sending His Son into the world to save it because it’s no longer very good. And when something is not very good, then what is it good for?

What is a broken toy good for? What is a broken lawnmower good for? What is a dead goldfish good for? What is a rotten apple good for? What are human beings who won’t stop sinning good for? What is a world full of sin, misery, and death good for? After all the Christmas presents are opened, all the wrappers go into the wheelie-bin, don’t they? And so do all the broken bits and pieces of toys. So do all the apple cores and half chewed chocolate bars, leftover turkey bits and bones. Well, John 3:17 is saying that God did not send His Son into the world to throw the world in the cosmic wheelie-bin like so much broken and rotting rubbish. But rather God sent His Son into the world to repair and restore and renew the broken and rotting world.

Have you got the picture? The world was already in the cosmic wheelie-bin sitting at the side of the road with all us in it! But God has sent His Son into the world to save it, to rescue it from final destruction. So, this must mean that the world is condemned already, mustn’t it? And that’s exactly what the verse following John 3:17 says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18).

So, it’s simple then, isn’t it? If you want to know whether you’re still in the cosmic wheelie-bin or not, you just ask yourself whether you believe in God’s only begotten Son or not. By not believing in the God’s only begotten Son you are proving you are condemned But if you are believing in God’s only begotten Son, then you are no longer condemned. As the Scriptures says elsewhere, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Romans 8:1.

You’re either in Christ Jesus where you’re saved and safe or you’re in the cosmic wheelie-bin where you’re condemned and ready for the cosmic dump. The cosmic dump is Hell, a real and permanent place, a place where real people perish forever! But the Good News is that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Conclusion
The sad fact is that some would rather perish than believe in Jesus Christ! However, I would urge all of you to give glory to God by thanking Him for sending His only begotten Son into the world, not to condemn it, but as Saviour of the world.

Is Jesus your Saviour? If He is, then rejoice in the good news that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”

Sunday, August 31, 2014

JOHN 3:16 ("For God so loved the world")


JOHN 3:16

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Introduction
John 3:16 is probably the most well-known verse of Scripture there is. Every young man who fancies himself as a preacher heads straight to this verse for his text. Martin Luther says that John 3:16 is the Bible in miniature. John 3:16 is the Gospel in a nutshell, isn’t it? However, I’ll let you into an open secret. John 3:16 is not the easiest verse in the Bible to preach. It’s not the easiest to preach because it’s not the easiest verse to understand.

On the surface John 3:16 looks as smooth as a baby’s – face! But under the microscope it’s full of hidden valleys and crevasses.  However, be that as it may, I thought we might have a wee look at John 3:16 from two perspectives, viz., contextually and covenantally.

Contextually
Let’s begin by looking at the immediate context of this verse. It’s part of Jesus’ speech to Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a ruler of the Jews and he is the teacher of Israel. He has come to Jesus under cover of darkness. Notice what Nicodemus has already said to Jesus back in verse 2 of John 3, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.”

So Nicodemus is off to a good start. He’s recognized something special about Jesus on account of the signs. The Holy Spirit has already descended like a dove and remained upon Jesus, John 1:32-33. Jesus has already told Nathaniel that He saw him under the fig tree, John 1:48. Jesus has already turned water into beautiful wine at the wedding in Cana, John 2:9. Wine, as you know, is a picture of the Gospel, (e.g. Isaiah 55:1).

In John 2:11 we’re told that the “water into wine” was the beginning of the signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. Jesus has already cracked the whip by driving the moneychanger’s out of the Temple. He upended their tables and scattered their sheep and oxen. So, Nicodemus has come to Jesus under cover of darkness knowing these things. Jesus has been talking to Nicodemus about the kingdom of God. He’s been telling Nicodemus that he must be born again, born anew, before he can enter or even see the kingdom of God. Jesus has told Nicodemus about the work of the Holy Spirit in relation to regeneration. It’s the Holy Spirit who enables people to be born again. He regenerates.

So, that’s some of the immediate context of John 3:16. It’s part of a conversation Jesus had with a teacher of the Jews. Still looking at the context, let’s now look at the words of John 3:16 in the context of the actual conversation.

The verse opens with the word “for” – “For God so loved the world…” That little word “for” immediately alerts us that this verse doesn’t stand alone. That little word tells us that this verse is part of what has been said before it. However, before we look more closely at the preceding verses we should note that in the original Greek the very first word of this verse is “so”. Literally it’s “So, for loved God the world…” That little word “so” is so very, very important to our understanding of this verse. It’s not “For God loved the world…” It’s for God so, i.e., in this manner God loved the world. Or thus God loved the world, or, this is how God loved the world.

So the question immediately springs to mind: In what way did God love the world? Is that word “so” referring to what precedes it or what comes after it? Well, we’ve already taken note of the little word “for”. That little word “for” forces the reader to take the preceding verses into consideration. So the question is this: In what manner does God loves the world?
Has it to do with Jesus being lifted up like Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness? Or is it to do with God the Father giving His Son? Well, from what I can see it’s to do with God giving His only begotten Son. However, this giving is to be understood in the context of the preceding verses.

John 3:14-15 are the immediate preceding verses, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Of course the New International Version misses out the “should not perish” bit. However, in the Received Text all of verse 15 is repeated word for word in verse 16. The word “eternal” and “everlasting” are exactly the same word in the original Greek. We can see therefore the manner in which God loves the world. It is in the giving of His only begotten Son who will be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. So that’s how God loved the world. He loved the world by giving the world His Son. Therefore God’s love is a practical love, it’s a doing love, a giving love. God’s love is a sacrificial love.

What is meant by the word “world” in this verse? Well, surely it’s speaking of people in this context. It’s not necessarily talking about birds and bees and trees and seas. It’s primarily talking about people – all kinds of people, rich, poor, old, young, Jew and Gentile. However, it’s talking about fallen people, sinful people, people in need of salvation. We know this because we know why God gave the world His only begotten Son. God gave His Son so “that whoever believes in Him [His only begotten Son] should not perish but have everlasting life.”

So, right about now we and Nicodemus should be making the connection with Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness. Numbers 21 records a time during Israel’s wilderness years when the Hebrews began to complain against Moses and God. They were complaining about the food God was providing – the Manna. Numbers 21:6, “So the LORD fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people and many of the people died.”

However, the people came to Moses confessing their sins to God. So God being God provided them an out – an escape from this temporal judgment. The LORD had Moses make a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. The idea was that whoever was bitten could look at the brazen serpent and live! As God gave the Hebrews in the wilderness a brazen serpent to cure them from snakebites, so He is giving the world His only begotten Son. Those who looked at the snake on the stake escaped temporal judgment of the fiery serpents. Whoever looked at the snake on the stake escaped physical death.

But why has God the Father given His only begotten? So that those who look unto Jesus can escape eternal judgment, even eternal death God gave the whole world, and not just the Hebrews, His only begotten so that the world might not perish everlastingly, but rather have eternal life.

Covenantally
Let’s look at this in terms of God’s Covenant. Covenantally, there are God’s blessings for obedience and God’s curses for disobedience. The Hebrews were grumbling and complaining against God in the wilderness. Grumbling and complaining about the providence of God is disobedience. So God at that time sent them a temporal curse – fiery serpents.

Now, as you know, there are only two Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Sacraments are signs and seals of God’s Covenant of Grace. The Lord’s Supper by its very nature is a clear picture of God’s providing for His people. It is God who provides the bread and wine. And it is God who provides the reality of what the bread and wine represent. In other words: A sacrament is a holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers. That’s how our Catechism puts it.

Now, what happened to some of the Corinthians who treated the Lord’s Supper as a common meal instead of a holy meal? Referring to the Lord’s Supper, we’re told in 1 Corinthians 11:29, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” So, what happened to those who didn’t discern the Lord’s body in the Holy Meal? What was God’s judgment on them? 1 Corinthians 11:30, “For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” So, even though the Manna from heaven was not an Old Testament Sacrament, it was part God’s provision for His people in the wilderness. And those who treated it in an unworthy manner received God’s temporal judgment, as did the Corinthians regarding the Lord’s Supper.

However, the escape from the penalty was to look to God’s covenantal provision for their sin – Christ! God is ever faithful to His everlasting covenant. He provided those in the wilderness an out, an escape from the temporal punishment or chastening. Look at the brass serpent on a pole and be healed from the curse. All of mankind knows in its collective heart and individually that we grumble and complain against God’s providence, Romans 9:20. Therefore all mankind has a sense of guilt for its sin, Romans 2:15-16. All of mankind knows that there is to be a Final Judgment on the Last Day, Romans 1:18-19. But God has provided a means of escaping from remaining eternally cursed. That escape is in the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! However, just as the wilderness Hebrews needed to look at the brazen serpent, so must the world look at Christ on His cross!

The brazen snake on a stake was a reminder of God’s curse as well as His blessing. For the LORD God said to the serpent in Genesis 3:14, “You are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field.” So, the serpent of the pole was a picture of the most cursed creature there is. But didn’t Christ on the cross become the curse? Didn’t He become the curse for us? Didn’t He become the curse to remove the curse from us? Paul says to the Galatians in Galatians 3:13, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’”)

Now, I’ll try not to have us jumping all over the Bible. But keep in mind that Jesus is talking to a man who knows the Old Testament Scriptures. Nicodemus knows all about the LORD sending the fiery serpents in the wilderness. And he also knows what is written in Deuteronomy 21:22-23, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

We see Nicodemus a little later in John’s Gospel upholding God’s covenant stipulations regarding a man who was accursed by being hung on a tree. John 19:38-39 says, “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.”

So, Nicodemus would most certainly make the connection between the brazen serpent hanging on a pole and the Son of Man hanging on a tree. For God so loved the world that He gave, (not a brazen serpent this time), but He gave His only begotten Son. As Aaron’s rod swallowed up the sorcerer’s rods, so the rod of God, which is Christ’s cross, swallowed up death.

God loved the world. The manner in which He loved the world was by giving the world a gift. The gift of God is Jesus Christ. The purpose for God giving His Son is that whoever looks believingly to Him should not keep on perishing forever, but rather keep on having life.

So, what we see then in John 3:16 is God’s everlasting Covenant revealed. We see that God eternal plan of salvation unveiled. The mind of God is visualized for us in this verse. Those in the world who look to Jesus Christ will not perish along with the cursed Serpent and his demons, but will receive healing from their sins. For, to look at Christ’s cross is to look at the removal of God’s curse. For Jesus Christ is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world! It was our sin that brought the curse in the first place. And it was Jesus Christ who removed our sin from us in the last place.

The cross is the place where the curse is exchanged for blessing. The cross is the place where death is transformed into life. The cross is the place where light conquers darkness, where life conquers death. Death is swallowed up in victory at the cross!

It’s covenantal. God blesses obedience. God curses disobedience. Christ was obedient unto death. He was obedient for us. Therefore His life brings all the blessings of life for those who believe in Him. And His death brings all the curses of death to those who hate Him.

God’s love is a covenantal love because the God who is love is in eternal covenant with Himself. Therefore God’s love for the world is a covenantal love. As those who refused to look to God’s provision for healing in the wilderness perished temporally, so those who refuse to look to Christ and His cross will perish eternally. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that the people of the world see the manner in which God loved the world.

God’s love is covenantal. His love for the world is in the giving of His only begotten Son. This giving of His eternal Son was planned in eternity past. In other words, the Father had covenanted with the Son to do this before the foundation of the world. Revelation 13:8b speaks of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” Which Lamb is that? The Lamb that takes away the sin of the world.

Now, just one last, but important thing under the heading Covenantally. It’s to do with the words in John 3:16, “that whoever believes in Him.” Always keep in mind the context of these words. Jesus is speaking these words to Nicodemus, a man well-familiar with the Old Testament Scriptures. Keep in mind that Jesus has been telling Nicodemus that he must be born again to see the kingdom of God. John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” Now jump ahead to verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’” “‘Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” “‘Unless one is  born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’”

Being born again is the same as being born of the water and the Spirit. It’s the Spirit that gives birth to spirit, flesh can only give birth to flesh. In other words, it’s the Spirit of God who must, if you will, do the work of a spiritual midwife. You can’t deliver yourself, God must do it! Flesh gives birth to flesh, those who are spiritually dead. But the Holy Spirit gives birth to those who are spiritually alive – those who are able to see and to enter the kingdom of God. 

Some have looked at the “water and the Spirit” there in verse 5 and have concluded that the water is speaking of baptism. Now, keep in mind that Jesus is talking to Nicodemus. And keep in mind that He is speaking to him Covenantally. Nicodemus knows that John the Baptist has been baptizing in the wilderness. If you need a verse for that try Mark 1:4, “John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”

Now, Nicodemus knows that the Holy Spirit is likened to water. He knows this because he knows the Old Testament Scriptures. E.g., Ezekiel 36:25-27 is a place that speaks of God’s Covenantal promise regarding His Spirit. Ezekiel 36:25-27, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

Notice the cleansing action being spoken of. “I will sprinkle clean water on you and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you…” The Holy Spirit is the one who does the cleansing – “I will put My Spirit within you.” Therefore the “water and the Spirit” Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus in verse 5 is simply a reference to the Old Testament Covenant promises. And, keep in mind that Jesus is rebuking Nicodemus “the teacher of Israel” for not understanding these things. So, the “water and the Spirit” in verse 5 is simply referring to the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in bringing people to new life. And, of course, Covenantal baptism beautifully pictures this. As John the Baptist says in John 1:33, “I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’”

So you see the connection between the water and the Spirit. The sprinkling of water in baptism is a picture of what the Holy Spirit will do. According to God’s Covenantal promise, “The Spirit will cleanse you from all your filthiness.” Therefore the water in verse 5 is not so much the water of water baptism, rather it’s the Spirit who is pictured by the water in water baptism.

Anyway, meanwhile back at John 3:16. The “whosoever will” – the “whoever believes” – must be read in light of what we’ve just looked at. In other words, to be properly understood it must be read in context and Covenantally. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that a person must be born again before he can see the kingdom of God. He’s saying that he must be born of water and the Spirit before he can enter the kingdom of God. He is telling Nicodemus that only the Spirit can make a person born again. He is not saying that a person with the assistance of the Spirit can be born again. No. It’s all of God because that which is flesh can only give birth to flesh. Therefore if a person is going to believe unto everlasting life he must first be born of the Spirit! That is God’s Covenantal Plan of Salvation from all eternity.

God’s love for the world is demonstrated in the gift of His only begotten Son. His purpose for the gift of His only begotten Son is to have those He is saving believe in Him who takes away their sin. But they must be born again, born of water and the Spirit before they will truly believe. So, we might read John 3:16 periphrastically thus, “For God the Father loved the world by giving the world His Son, so that those born of the Spirit should not perish but have everlasting life.”

John 3:16 is Trinitarian, isn’t it? Our salvation is the work of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Therefore Jesus taught Nicodemus the Pharisee that man is not saved by his own works, rather by the triune God, i.e., the Triune God alone saves by His grace alone.

Conclusion
We’ve seen that in order for John 3:16 to be properly understood must be looked at contextually and covenantally.