A long time ago, in a land far, far away, two men were having a conversation. The wiser one, JC, was attempting to explain to his new friend Nick how the Kingdom of God works. He had begun the conversation by stating that one had to be ”born again” to attain the kingdom, and Nick was thoroughly confused as he tried to imagine his adult self being birthed again from his mother’s womb. So JC took another approach, and shifted the conversation to God’s activity in the process.
He explained that God’s love for the world was so ginormous, he sent a begotten son to save it. That perked Nick’s ears up, as the phrase ”begotten” harkened back to his Jewish roots. Every Jew knew the story of the sacrifice Abraham was willing to make of his begotten son. Every Jew knew the surprise ending to that story. It turned out that the God of Love gives, and does not require, sacrifice. A ram was provided for the offering and Isaac returned home with his father. So Nick was onboard with the notion of a substitute begotten Son being given in sacrifice as an offering. Perhaps this JC fellow was on to something.
John 3 (The Message)
13-15 “No one has ever gone up into the presence of God except the One who came down from that Presence, the Son of Man. In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.
16-18 “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son.
At this point Nick is beginning to realize that the Son of Man is the one who has come to offer eternal life to God’s people. But in his way of thinking, it was just another sacrificial sin-offering that would probably have to be repeated, just as all sin-offerings did. After all, the whole offering system was designed to expiate sinful actions, which of course were going to happen again and again. But JC went on to explain that THIS offering was different:
And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.
Nick was amazed to think that God SO loved the world that he offered up his only son as a once-and-for-all sin offering, whose sacrifice at the altar would put the entire world right again. This life, once taken, would be proof of God’s grace, not his condemnation. God’s love was so great, he created a way out.
Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.
JC told Nick one more thing before he turned to leave. It all hinged on belief. Those who believe would never eternally die, but instead they would eternally live. Those who refused to believe have already condemned themselves by their unbelief.
The condemnation comes not from God, but from their unbelief.
Little did Nicodemus realize that this conversation would be recorded by a man named John, and would be repeated millions of times throughout history. It would appear on signs and posters, and become a mantra for believers. It even would show up at sports stadiums with the simple designation ”John 3:16.”
It all hinges on belief. Do you believe?