Summary: The result of God’s love is life because of the perfect sacrifice of His Son!

Nicodemus tells Jesus that he believes, but Jesus confounds him in return: “You must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Being Jewish won’t save you; you must be born of the water and the Spirit. You must be cleansed by God and be of His Spirit” (2:23-3:6). This fact had been lost on Nicodemus and most of the Jews. They just couldn’t see how God could save anyone but the Jews, but the Spirit works according to His own will and man can’t tell His origin or destination (3:7-8).

And how can they believe? If they read the Scriptures and don’t see Christ, how can they know about anything spiritual? The tabernacle was only made of cloth. The things in it were only earthly materials. The priest was a mere man and the sacrifices were mere animals. If they can’t see Christ in these things, then they have no hope of relating the physical things to the spiritual things (3:9-12). What they need is to listen to someone with authority; they need to hear from someone who’s seen it for Himself (3:13).

And what does this One say? How does He show the heavenly substance belonging to the earthly shadow? And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (3:14-15). This, of course, refers to Numbers 21:

And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 5And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. 7Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

This little story seems so strange and it’s so abrupt within the chapter, but Jesus uses it to show Nicodemus how the earthly things are tied to the spiritual:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Now, we started this verse last week and we saw how it’s so abused by Arminian Universalism. They take “For God so loved the world” and apply it to every person in existence from the beginning of time until now despite other clear Scriptures telling us of God’s hatred for the wicked and despite the context of Nicodemus and his reliance on Judaism. God’s love is not universalism but rather the impartiality of election. He doesn’t just love Jews, but rather (as He promised Abraham in Genesis 12) all nations are blessed through him. In other words, God’s elect are not confined to those of Jewish descent. God’s love for His multi-national elect is the reason for what we read next:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

Let’s look at this in three parts: (1) God gave His only begotten Son that (2) whosoever believes in Him (3) should not perish but have everlasting life.

First, what does it mean that God gave His only begotten Son? He provided the means of salvation just as He had for Israel in the wilderness with the bronze serpent. But in doing so He had to give His only begotten Son. The Father loved the Son. This wasn’t just an animal as the Israelites offered every year at the Passover; this was the Son He loved. This is the One who had been with Him in the beginning. This is the One Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: 7But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: 8And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:6-8).

This was a real and painful sacrifice.

Second, what is meant by “whosoever”? Again we run into Arminian Universalism. “’Whosoever’ surely meaneth me.” This is obviously free-will right here, right? Never mind that those bitten and filled with the poison are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) and count themselves enemies of God (Col. 1:21). Never mind that they’re blinded by the god of this age (II Cor. 4:4) and that they suppress the truth they so hate (Rom. 1:18). Never mind that the cross is foolishness to them. Never mind that Christ is the author of faith (Heb. 12:2) and the granter of repentance (Acts 11:18; II Tim. 2:25)—“God loves everyone equally and so everyone has an equal shot at eternal life.”

What does “whosoever” mean? Think back to Numbers 21. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread (:5). The people who were bitten deserved it. They loathed God’s bread (Jn. 6:35). They would die and they should die! But God’s love for His people is not affected by our wickedness:

The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. 9He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever. 10He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. 11For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him. 14For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust. 15As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 16For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more. 17But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children; 18To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them (Ps. 103:8-18).

What does Jesus say in the New Testament?

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? 12But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. 13But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance (Mt. 9:10-13).

Think about what Paul says later:

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; 13Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. 15This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting (I Tim. 1:12-15).

“Whosoever” means the worst of sinners may come! It is not the righteous Pharisee or the descendants of Abraham who find salvation—it is all who are born again by the water and the Spirit. Pagans and heathens and idolaters are not prevented because of their wickedness. If they are loved by God they are predestined and called and justified and glorified (Rom. 8:29).

And so, when we preach the gospel we don’t look at people and say, “This one can come and that one can’t.” That would be the same thing Nicodemus tried to do. You can hear the wind but you don’t know where it came from or where it’s going. The sorriest sinner, the biggest hypocrite, drug dealers, prostitutes, slave traders, persecutors, Pharisees, drunkards, swindlers, homosexuals, thieves, and murderers all behold God’s cure for the poison by grace through faith and all are accepted equally who are saved by God’s perfect sacrifice!

This is what it means that they should not perish, but have everlasting life! Life is not the reward for good conduct or good choice. Life is the sure and definite result of God’s love.

I struggled this week with what to say about this second half of John 3:16 until I heard an old hymn which I’ll share with you now. Free Grace is the name and the subject, and free grace is our hope:

This pardon, this peace

which none can destroy

This treasure of grace

and heavenly joy

The worthless may crave it,

it always comes free

The vilest may have it

it was given to me

It’s not for good deeds,

good tempers nor frames

From grace it proceeds,

and all is the Lamb’s

No goodness, no fitness

expects He from us

This can I well witness,

for none could be worse

Free grace has paid for all my sin

Free grace, though it cost so much to Him

Free grace has freed even my will

Free grace to the end sustains me still