Well, let me start with an apology.
Which is… that I’m not Graham Daniels – who, if you weren’t here, is the passionate
Welshman we had speaking last week, whom I could listen to all night. And he spoke on that bit from the Gospels
where Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him
deny himself…” (Mark 8.34) And, as Graham said, that means…
my self has to go out, and Jesus has to come in as my Lord and Saviour,
and one thing I have to do in the process is…
trust him to forgive me everything about my life that he should hold against me. And my job is to pick up the baton from there,
and help us look at what it means to trust in Jesus,
to have faith in Jesus. Some of you know that my Mum came to faith
in Jesus two years back, in the last year of her life.
But before that she had lots of misunderstandings about faith. So for example, one time she said to me,
‘Ian, you don’t go around telling Muslims about Jesus, do you?’
And I said, ‘Well, yes I do – why wouldn’t I?’
And she said, ‘But they already have a faith. Shouldn’t you stick to people who have none?’ And there are two really common misunderstandings
there. One is the idea that some people have no faith.
But that’s not true. So, atheists may say, ‘Look, I have no faith
because there is no God to have faith in.’ But that’s not a fact they can prove – they
haven’t searched all of reality and shown that there’s no God.
It’s something they choose to believe, it’s a position of faith. And the other wrong idea is the idea that
any faith will do – that the important thing is to have faith,
but that it doesn’t really matter what your faith is in.
So Muslims have faith in Allah. Hindus have faith in Krishna.
Christians have faith in Jesus. Any faith will do. Wasn’t that what Miss Evans was trying to
tell Geraint Jones last week? But that isn’t true, either. Because the
question is: which faith (if any) can actually bring us
into relationship with God? And the Bible says:
only faith in Jesus can – because… he’s done something to put us right with God that
no other religion offers. So other religions offer you trying to be
good, so that God will accept you.
And they offer you rituals and religious habits to do,
so that God will accept you. Whereas Jesus offers you forgiveness for how
you’re unacceptable, so that God will accept you. So we’re going to look at a Bible passage
where Jesus himself tackles some of the misunderstandings about faith,
and tells us what kind of faith he wants us to have. So would you turn back in the Bibles to page
887. That will get you to John chapter 3. And look down to
verse 1: Now there was a man of the Pharisees named
Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi,
we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs [in other words,
miracles] that you do unless God is with him.” So we know that Nicodemus…
had faith in God. And that he had some kind of faith in Jesus
– he thought he was ‘a teacher come from God.’
And the Pharisees believed the Bible – at least, the Old Testament (the New Testament
wasn’t written yet) – so we know Nicodemus had faith in that, too.
And from the few mentions of him in John’s Gospel,
it looks like he was trying to live up to its standards. So it looks like if anyone has faith that
makes him OK with God, it’s Nicodemus. But the very first thing Jesus says is…
that he’s not OK. And the first thing we need to learn here
is… 1. What faith has to admit (verses 1-8) Look on to verse 3: 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say
to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” So, being in the kingdom of God simply means
having Jesus as your King – remember last week?
self out, Jesus in as Lord and Saviour. And Jesus says to Nicodemus: that’ll never
happen… unless you’re born again. What?
Verse 4: 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man
be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Verse 5: 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to
you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit [in other words, cleaned up by God] he cannot
enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be
born again. If you’re ever here in the morning you’ll
know babies are arriving in our church family all the time.
So I’m often having the conversation that goes,
‘Congratulations. Isn’t she a sweetie? What’s her name?’
And the answer is, ‘Thomas… is his name.’ Slight cooling of relations.
So you try to recover by saying who he looks like. But imagine you said,
‘Gosh! He’s got really oversize ears.
And his eyes are too close together. And his head’s a bit asymmetrical.
He could really do with… being born again.’ How offensive would that be? And when Jesus says to us, ‘You must be
born again’, it’s equally offensive. Because he’s saying there’s something
so wrong with us from the first time we were born,
it needs a work of God to put us right. And what’s sobering is… he even said that
to Nicodemus – who was about as good as it gets.
Because he had faith in God, and some kind of faith in Jesus,
and faith in the Bible – which he was trying to live it out. And Jesus basically says to him,
‘But you haven’t. And that’s because you’re not in the kingdom
of God, yet. Under the surface you’re still saying to
God, ‘I don’t want you in my life.’ And that’s the attitude the Bible calls
sin. Now that’s obviously the problem under the
surface of the atheist – ‘I don’t want to live God’s way, so
I’ll say he’s not even there.’ But it’s also the problem under the surface
of… the sincere Muslim,
or the sincere Hindu, or the sincere church-goer,
or your sincere non-Christian family member or friend or neighbour who’s such a lovely
person. It’s that, consciously or subconsciously
they’re still actually saying to God, ‘I don’t want to live your way.’ I said that in a talk a while back.
And someone said to me afterwards, ‘That just isn’t true.
I’m a good person and can’t see how God wouldn’t accept that.’ And so we talked about God’s standards from
the ten commandments and what Jesus taught. And then I wrote three things on the back
of a service sheet: I have not kept God’s standards.
I cannot keep God’s standards. I don’t even want to keep God’s standards. And I said, How about the first one:
I have not kept God’s standards. Would you tick that?
And he said, ‘Yes.’ So I said what about the second?
I cannot keep God’s standards. I said: have you ever consciously tried to
change in the areas you fail at, and found you couldn’t?’
And after more talking he said, ‘Yes, I’d have to tick that one.’ And so I said, ‘What about the last one:
I don’t even want to keep God’s standards.’ I said, ‘If you agree with his standards
but can’t seem to keep them, isn’t the best explanation that, deep down, you don’t
even really want to? And after more talking he said, ‘Yes, I’d
have to tick that one, too.’ That’s what faith has to admit. Or to put it another way,
To come to faith in Jesus, you have to admit that’s how things stand between you and
God. That you’ve been saying to him,
‘I don’t want you in my life.’ And that that leaves you outside his kingdom
and under his judgement. And you also have to admit: there’s nothing
you can do to put that right. Which is why Jesus talked about being born
again. Because none of us gave birth to ourselves,
did we? Our mothers, heroic women that they are, had
to do that for us. And we can’t come back into relationship
with God by ourselves. God, likewise, has to do something for us.
Which is what Nicodemus asks about next. So look on to verse 9: 9 Nicodemus said to [Jesus], “How can these
things be?” In other words, ‘How can this new birth
possibly happen in someone’s life?’ And so Jesus tells him where faith has to
look for it to happen. So that’s the second thing here… 2. Where faith has to look (verses 9-17) And what Jesus did first was…
to answer Nicodemus’ attitude – because he needed humbling before he could
hear the answer. So verse 10: 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher
of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? In other words,
‘You should know from the Old Testament… how sinful you are,
and how you need a work of God to put you right with him,
and how he promised you a Saviour one day to do that.
But you don’t seem to see that or feel any sense of need.’ A friend called Mark came to faith in Jesus
at uni. And humanly speaking, it was because one Christian
who’d talked to him a lot finally said, ‘Mark, what do you think’s holding you
back from becoming a Christian?’ And Mark said something or other.
To which this Christian friend said, ‘I think what’s holding you back is that you’re
too proud to become a Christian.’ Now you have to know someone well to be that
bold, and I don’t suggest that as a regular line
to try when sharing the gospel. But Mark said it was just what he needed to
hear. Because it really offended him.
But he realised that was because it was true. And it made him look into the Bible properly
at God’s standards and what God really wants from us.
And the more he did, the more he felt really humbled. And once we’re humbled,
we can then hear the rest of Jesus’ answer about how the new birth happens.
Look on to verse 13: 13 No one has ascended into heaven except
he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. [So that’s Jesus talking about himself – God
in heaven become human on earth 2,000 years ago.
If you’d been there you could have seen him.
Verse 14:] 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, so must the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes
in him may have eternal life. So, what has to take place for this new birth
to happen? Well, Jesus said he must be ‘lifted up’
By which he meant lifted up… to die on the cross,
and then rise from the dead and return to his Father in heaven. And in verse 14 he gave this picture of what
his death on the cross would do for us. He says: 14 … as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, so must [I] the Son of Man be lifted up So he’s on about that Old Testament incident
we had read earlier, where God was leading his people through tough
territory towards the promised land; and they were speaking against God and saying
he didn’t care about them and wasn’t worth trusting.
And as a judgment, God allowed this outbreak of snakes which left numbers of Israelites
bitten and dying. And it says: 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We
have sinned… Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.”
So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery
serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”
9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole.
And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. So Jesus was saying,
‘Imagine yourself as one of those bitten, dying people.
That was the judgment on your attitude to God.
And yet in his love, God promised to save you from that judgment…
if you would simply look to that bronze snake and trust him.’ And Jesus was saying,
‘It’s going to be like that with my death on the cross.
Because as I’m lifted up there, I’m going to save you from the judgement
you deserve… by taking it on myself instead.
And all you’ll need to do is… look to what I’ve done and trust in it. So what’s the picture of faith there? It’s that faith is looking away from myself
– away from thinking there’s anything I can
do to make up for my sin, away from thinking there’s anything I can
bring to make myself acceptable to God and looking solely to what Jesus did for me
on the cross, and trusting that that was enough…
to pay for the forgiveness of every sin I have ever committed or will ever commit,
and to make me acceptable to God forever. Here’s how the hymn Rock of Ages puts that
kind of faith into words: Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill your law’s demands; Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow, All for sin could not atone;
You must save, and You alone. Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling; Naked, come to You for dress;
Helpless look to You for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die. And if that’s what we’re saying in our
heart of hearts to the Risen Lord Jesus, then we have the kind of faith he wants us
to have in him – faith that looks solely to what he did for
us on the cross. And if that isn’t you, yet – but you’re
asking, ‘Could God love me?’
then the cross is the place to look for your answer.
Yes he could. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. But even if that is you, you’ll find yourself
asking, ‘Does he still love me?’
Does he still love me despite the fact that I’ve done what feels like this enormously
sinful, unforgivable thing? Or…
does he still love me despite the fact that I keep doing the same sinful things even as
I’m trying to change with his help?’ And the answer is: yes he does.
Because, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that
whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send
his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved
through him. So what we see as we look to the cross is
God’s love for us at our very worst – before we’d even given him a thought,
before we’d made any kind of response to him,
before we were even around. And yet we were in his mind and he was loving
us – you, me – as he gave his Son to die for us. So if he loved us at our very worst,
how would he possibly stop loving us, given that we can’t get worse than our worst –
even though your sensitive conscience might think you have? So if you’re asking, ‘Could he love me?’
or ‘Does he still love me?’, the cross says loud and clear, ‘Yes, yes,
yes.’ Will you believe that tonight?
Or start believing it again? That’s where faith has to look. The last thing is… 3. What faith has to believe (verse 18) And it’s the first half of verse 18: 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned In other words, has no judgement from God
hanging over him or her. And verse 18 is saying: that’s true always
if you’re trusting in Jesus and his death. Right now.
And tomorrow. And next week, and next month, and next year,
and in ten, twenty, thirty – how long have you got? – years. It’s saying: our standing with God never
changes, whatever the ups and downs of our obedience. And that’s because when Jesus died on the
cross, he and his Father foresaw our whole lifetime’s
sin – past and future sin – and paid for the forgiveness of it all. So there are future sins of yours and mine
that will take us by surprise, and even shock us.
You know, ‘How could I have been a Christian for this long and still do that?’
But there’s no future sin of yours or mine that’s going to take him by surprise,
and leave him thinking, ‘Oh, help, I didn’t see that one coming – how am I going forgive
that?’ No, he foresaw it all, and paid for the forgiveness
of it all. And it’s so important to get this – and
yet in my experience a lot of Christians haven’t. So for example, a group I lead was doing John’s
Gospel. And we came to Jesus’ final cry from the
cross – ‘It is finished’,
literally, ‘Paid’ – like a mortagage finally paid off and never hanging over you
again. And I said to the group,
‘Isn’t it amazing that Jesus paid for our whole lifetime’s sin – past and future
sin – so that we can be sure that God’s acceptance
of us is never going to change. And to one member of the group, who’d been
a believer for years, it was a revelation. Because she said,
‘I suppose I was sure when I became a Christian that my past sins were all forgiven.
But to be honest I’ve always been unsure about my sins since.’
And she said, ‘But now it seems so obvious that he saw
my whole lifetime’s sin coming, and did everything it took to deal with it.’ And it was a game-changer for her sense of
security with God when she really began to believe that.
And maybe you need to, as well.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned That’s what faith has to believe every day
of the Christian life. Which isn’t easy.
Because Satan is busy condemning us for our failures.
And many of us are good at condemning ourselves for our failures.
And we often project all that onto the Lord and think that he’s condemning us too. But if we’re trusting in Jesus he’s the
one person who isn’t, ever. Because the last and final time he expressed
his condemnation of our sin… was at the cross.
And he’s saying, ‘If only you’ll keep looking there,
you won’t find my condemnation, you’ll find my unchanging love and forgiveness
and acceptance. But we can’t finish without the second half
of verse 18: but whoever does not believe is
condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And that’s the sobering and dark other side
of this coin. The top side is that God in his love has provided
this extraordinary way for us to be put right with him. But the flipside is…
that it’s the only way. Which means that if someone doesn’t put
their faith in it, they stand condemned already,
whatever their relative goodness or badness, whatever religion they’d tick on a census,
whatever else they put their faith in. I know that sounds a hard thing to think of,
let alone say to… a Muslim or Hindu friend,
or a lovely non-Christian family member or friend or neighbour. But if God has brought us to see our sin and
need of Jesus, then we need to remember that under the surface,
they really are no different in their sin and need. And we need to remember that God would never
have given his Son for them and for us, if any other way of putting us right with
himself would have done.