14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 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. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John. 3:14-17)
In Numbers 21, there is an account of the children of Israel traveling through the wilderness. As usual, they were rebelling against God, angry with him, and constantly complaining. God sent poisonous serpents among them and many of them were dying.
Moses made intercession for the nation, and God told him to do something rather strange:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.” (Num. 21:8 NKJ)
Moses made the serpent, put it on a pole and walked through the camp. Everyone who looked at the serpent lived.
Jesus reminded Nicodemus of this story. Jesus was teaching this highly educated and respected bible scholar something about the kingdom of God that was impossible for Nicodemus – or any of us – to see, unless we are born again by the spirit of God.
It is natural for us as image-bearers of God, to ask the question, “Am I right before God?” We all seek to determine whether we are worthy to enter the kingdom of God – or, to put it in our modern terms, whether we are saved and will enter the new heavens and the new earth when Jesus comes again. Especially those who have been brought up in the church, as Nicodemus was.
Those of you who were raised in the church, who attended Sunday School and sat through sermons, have you asked that question? “Will I be ready to meet the Lord when he comes again?”
Do I belong to him? Or, as Nicodemus would have put it, “Am I worthy to enter the kingdom of heaven?”
Naturally speaking, we look to ourselves to answer that question. Am I holy enough? Have I done enough good things? Do I know the answers to the questions? Have I had a “Christ experience in the heart?”
Early in the history of our country, the Congregationalists of New England focused on regeneration. People were taught to look at the regeneration experience to determine if they were born again. This led to the abuses of the Revivalists and eventually to the heretic Charles Finney – looking for bigger and better experiences. Finney made the excitement of the revival a means of grace, and denied the necessity of atonement.
Nicodemus would have looked to his law-keeping.
But Jesus cuts through all of that. He reminds Nicodemus of the rather strange account in Numbers.
Do you remember Nicodemus? How did our fathers live through that and not die of the poison? They looked outside of themselves to a serpent that God provided. It was put up on a pole.
You could look to your heart, but all that was there was poison and death. Life is outside of yourself.
And Jesus went on. In the same way that God loved his nation Israel, God also loved the world. The same way that God told Moses to lift up the serpent, the Son of Man will also be lifted up.
“That whosoever looks to him would not perish of the poison that is destroying them – sin – but have life without end.”
The point is this: salvation is outside of ourselves. It isn’t in our hearts, in our good intentions, in our good works, in how much we desire God, in how much we love God or love one another –
In fact, it isn’t in ourselves at all. Certainly, new life will affect behavior. But new life isn’t found in how well we behave or how we feel.
Are you cast down and anxious? Look to Christ.
Are you doubting and fearful? Look to Christ.
Are you struggling with sin? Look to Christ.
Do you doubt whether it is possible to be saved if you have done too many horrible things? Look to Christ.
Do you see him with the eyes of faith? He is nailed to the cross and dying. He is bearing your poison and will die from it. Your crimes are nailed above his head in the sight of God. Your doubts and fears, your sins and crimes, your thorns and thistles – all of your poison – is nailed to his cross.
And when he rises from the dead, do you see him? Do you see how he left all your sins in the tomb? All of your fears and doubts are buried with him. The old dying man of greed, hatred, unbelief, is buried with him. And his sacrifice was accepted by God. He rose from the dead! The Holy One of God did not see corruption, so that you might know for certain that in him is life.
Look to him and live. Quit looking to yourself.
Your hope of salvation is not in whether your faith is strong enough, whether your experience was spectacular enough, whether your works are good enough. All you will find there is poison. Your savior is not found in your heart or in your faith or in your experience, or in your works. Your savior is found in heaven at the right hand of God. He was crucified, dead and buried for us. He rose from the dead for us. He ascended into heaven for us. And will come from there to judge the living and the dead. Look to him where he is, and live.
Believe the record of the apostles, and live. Look to him in the word and sacrament, and live. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and be saved.
Look to Christ and live.
10 responses to “God so loved the world”
My early adulthood was influenced by Keith Green along with it was YWAM, Charles Finney, , Leonard Ravenhill and Wi nkie Pratney. All part and parcel with Keith Green. I had no idea Charles Finney was a heretic!!
Besides that shock the article is very interesting. I wonder why a snake was used?
Finney was a Pelagian. He denied original sin and taught that the death of Christ was to show us how to live a self-sacrificing life, and that we don’t need atonement, we just need to make better choices.
He denied substitionary atonement among other established doctrines.
I am confused about reformed churches in the states.
Are you or your church like our Dutch Reformed churches in Canada?
I was reading Wikipedia and the Dutch still do cling to the Heidelberg catechism.
Hi. Good question. I belong to the Reformed Church in the United States. We are a NAPARC denomination, and in a very close relationship with the Canadian Reformed Churches and the United Reformed Churches of North America
We confess the same confessions – we call them the “three forms of unity” – the Canons of Dordt, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession.
Theologically, we are identical. There are some differences in history and practice, but they are minor.
On another note, I am Reformed not because of the “purity” of all those who claim to be Reformed, or the “purity” of the denominations that are Reformed. I know that every denomination, including my own, have their own struggles and their own difficulties. I am Reformed because I believe from the heart that the Reformed Confessions are the most accurate summary of the plan of salvation taught in the scripture.
I do not make up my theology as I go along, but hold to the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
This comment isn’t related to the above post but rather is about your Twitter post on October 10, 2018.
“Statistically, most rape allegations are true”, he said….
And everyone lost their minds…
[It shows a cartoon character with its head exploding]
Most rape allegations ARE true. This is easily available, fact based truth. The FBI estimated something like 2 percent to 8 percent were withdrawn or not true and of that 2-8 percent, I want to say that contact with the legal system is traumatic, intimidation happens, and some victims don’t have a choice but to withdraw their allegation and others are forced, threatened, and coerced into ‘recanting’.
So even that 2-8 percent range is really 2-8 percent, but less than that.
Then factor in the reality that most rapes are never reported. It’s understandable, given this woman-hating culture, all the trauma, shame, embarrassment, and humiliation involved. And let’s not forget what hell is inflicted on victims in the courtroom with rapists and their attorneys putting the victim on trial, along with the woman-hating, general public. And all the endless antics and intimidation, harassment, etc. that take place outside the courtroom to force the victim to recant, to capitulate, to have a complete breakdown, or to withdraw due to fear for her life, safety, etc.
And with this upcoming porn-filled generation (thanks to online porn), I’d expect a bumper crop of rapists in the making, soon to be committing all the more rapes, sexual assaults, sex abuse, sexual harassment, etc. as porn creates more and more calloused, rapey, predatory, assaultive, misogynists. Research proves the harms.
Anyhow, I just wanted you to know that alleging rape is an overwhelming, special hell of its own.
I agree totally.
Maybe I misread that post on Twitter. I was triggered and thought you were implying that to speak the reality and truth that almost all rape allegations are indeed true, that the people lost their minds and were furious about such ‘falsity’ being spoken.
Yeah, ok, so good to know that you agree with the above. I had been severely taken aback in thinking — Pastor Powell?! — he is spouting such?! Back into your Internet flock I go. Whew!
Sorry for the confusing tweet. I am on your side on this.
It’s the drawback with Twitter, and why I don’t use it much. I find it difficult to communicate accurately with a few characters….
Sorry for the confusion, again.