(This is an edited version of the sermon preached in the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday July 10th)
This week we are looking at the spiritual condition of the unbeliever in the Lord Jesus according to John 3v18 – ‘Whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son’ (NIV).
We saw last week that these words in John 3 come after Jesus’s dialogue with the Jewish religious leader Nicodemus. We saw that because New Testament Greek does not have quotation marks it is difficult to determine whether these are the very words of Jesus in conversation with Nicodemus, as recorded by the Apostle John, or whether they are John’s own spiritual reflections. But we saw that because this statement is in the Bible, it is God’s absolute truth, whether they are the very words of Jesus or John’s own theological comment.
These words in v18 follow on by way of explanation and expansion from a key statement in John’s Gospel about the Cross of Christ (John 3v14&15) – ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man (the Lord Jesus) must be lifted up that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.’
That vital statement refers to our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Numbers (21v4-9). The people of Israel were condemned by God in the Sinai Desert for their rebellion and grumbling against him. As his judgement upon them, God sent lethally poisonous snakes among them but in answer to Moses’s prayer God provided a remedy. Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a venomous snake and was about to die looked at the bronze snake which Moses had lifted up on a pole, that person lived.
Drawing on that incident in Numbers, John’s Gospel affirms that the person who looks to the Lord Jesus, who was lifted up on the Cross to bear the punishment our sins deserve, will live. The person who looks in faith to Jesus is not condemned for the sins they have committed but is allowed to live eternally in God’s glorious Kingdom.
How dare anybody refuse to believe in the Lord Jesus for the salvation they desperately need? But they do and when they do they stand condemned already. They’re like the person who has been bitten by a venomous snake as in that Old Testament story but refuses to look to the remedy God has provided. They look away from the bronze snake on the pole and so they will die.
So will the person who looks away from the Lord Jesus when he invites them through his gospel message to believe and trust in him for salvation. They will die. They will face eternal death because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Let’s be under no illusions and let’s not be blinded by niceness. Being a nice moral person does not save anybody – only the Lord Jesus who was lifted up on the Cross can save us. No-one and nothing else can.
So, God willing, understanding more deeply these Holy Spirit-inspired words in John’s Gospel will enable to see what a wonderful thing it is to be believer in the Lord Jesus and what a terrible thing it is to refuse to believe in the name of God’s one and only Son.