Tomorrow is Memorial Day. It is the day when Americans remember and honor those who died in service to their country. And it is fitting that we should remember those that paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy the freedoms that are ours as Americans. Jesus Himself said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends.”
Today however is another memorial day which is celebrated the world over. It is called the Lord’s Day. It is the day set aside each week to honor Jesus Christ, who laid down His life so that we might be truly free. The remarkable thing about Christ’s sacrifice is that He did not just lay down His life for His friends, but He laid down His life for His enemies. Jesus said He did not come to save the righteous, but sinners. Sinners are by definition the enemy of God who is holy and righteous.
The essential fact of the gospel that is so often missed however, is that all men are sinners. Romans 3:10 says, ”THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS;THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD,THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
The good news however, is found just a couple of chapters later in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
But a lot of people are so offended at hearing Romans 3:10 that they never get to know the benefits of Romans 5:8. In other words, they are so offended that the Bible says that all men are condemned because of their sinfulness, that they never come to know the salvation that is through Christ’s death as our substitute. The fact is, that if you do not acknowledge your need for salvation from your sins, and trust in Christ’s atonement on the cross as the propitiation for your sins, then you cannot know the freedom from condemnation that comes through salvation.
Now that is really the crux of the passage we have before us today. This exchange between the Jewish leaders and Jesus which is recorded here for us is due to the fact that they trusted in their own righteousness and rejected salvation through Christ. As a matter of review, Jesus had been preaching in the temple for a week at this point, during the weeklong celebration known as the Feast of Tabernacles. And He has presented in many different ways the truth of the gospel. That truth simply stated was that He is the Messiah, the Son of God, the eternal God come to Earth in human form, so that men might have the spiritual life that God offers to them that believe in Him.
And Jesus has used a couple of metaphors to illustrate that doctrine, which we have looked at in detail in previous weeks. In the first metaphor He says He is the source of living water which if anyone drinks of, out of their innermost being will spring up living water. Then His other incredible claim is that He was the light of the world, and that the world was in darkness, but if they follow Him, they will have the light of life. In both of those metaphors, Jesus is teaching that He is the source of life, abundant life through the Spirit of God, and He gives it to those who believe in Him.
But at every point that Jesus makes in His messages during the Feast, the Jewish religious leaders want to find fault with Him and argue over some technicality. And at the heart of their response is their fervent belief that they did not need a spiritual Savior. They believed that they were inherently good people. They were obviously very religious people. They thought that they knew what the scriptures taught. They thought that they had been given entry into the kingdom of God through their heritage and that they insured it by their adherence to certain laws such as circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.
In many respects, they were not unlike many Americans today. According to a recent Pew Research survey, 70% of Americans claim to be Christians. They believe in God. They go to church on somewhat of a regular basis. They believe in the golden rule. They have a few Bibles in their possession. They are what we would call “good people.” And the real danger for these people is that they have never come face to face with their sinfulness and as such have rejected the idea that they need a Savior.
This was the predicament of the Jews who listened to Jesus that day. He had told them repeatedly that He had come from the Father in heaven and as such had been doing the works of the Father and speaking the words of the Father, shining the light of the truth unto the world so that men might have life. But they had repeatedly rejected His claims. Therefore Jesus says in vs. 21, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.”
Their response is that of disdain, again missing the significance of what He is preaching, and focusing instead on trying to discredit Him. So they respond with dripping sarcasm, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” I think there is even a hint in their response of their intention to kill Him, but they phrase it as if He will commit suicide. Suicide by the way in Jewish culture of that period, was the most egregious sin, and they believed that the bottom level of Hades was reserved for those who committed suicide. So in effect, they are suggesting that Jesus deserved the pit of hell.
The question must be asked – why such vitriolic hatred towards Christ? I’ll tell you the answer. It’s the same answer that Jesus gave for their hatred in John 7:7, He says, “[the world] hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” It’s the same hatred we see spewed towards those who proclaim the truth today; it’s because of the conviction of sin. If you dare call anyone a sinner today, or suggest that the Bible condemns certain activities as sinful, then you are going to be the object of intense hatred. And by the way, this doesn’t just come from atheists, this comes from those claiming Christianity. I just read on the news last week that Bishop Desmond Tutu said that he would rather spend eternity in hell than a minute in a homophobic heaven. Well, he just might get his wish. Because that statement reveals his hatred towards God. Jesus said that God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. That means that God gets to make the rules, not us. We must worship who He is, and not who we want Him to be. The world does not get to define God. God has defined Himself in His word. And we must love God more than we love the world. 1John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
The essential principle that Bishop Tutu fails to understand is that God’s law is a reflection of God’s nature. It is how He reveals His holiness. I read another quote by Bishop Tutu in which he said, “We may be surprised at the people we find in heaven. God has a soft spot for sinners. His standards are quite low.” I have news for him, God’s standards are anything but low. God’s standard is absolute perfection. And there is only one person that has been able to meet God’s standard, and that is Jesus Christ. All the rest of mankind is dead in their trespasses and sin. That is why Jesus says three times in this passage, “you will die in your sins.” Unless you repent and call in faith upon Jesus Christ – that is the only way for your sin to be forgiven.
And listen, your sin is not forgiven because God just decided one day to get with it – just go along with the culture and forget about all that sin stuff, just live and let live. No, God still counts sin. God did not do away with the requirements of the law. Jesus kept every law perfectly so that He might be the blameless, spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. No, God didn’t stop counting sin, He just counted it against Christ. He transferred our sin upon Jesus and beat Him for it with a whip within an inch of death. He transferred our sin upon His Holy Righteous Only Begotten Son, and pounded nails into His hands and feet and let Him hang on a rough cross for hours bleeding to death. He transferred our sin upon Jesus and let Him die and descend into Hades to pay the penalty for sin. He transferred our sin upon Jesus so He could pay the price of our sin, and then and only then could He transfer Christ’s righteousness upon us. God’s standards are anything but low. No one comes to heaven, to the Father, except through Jesus Christ and dressed in His righteousness alone.
So in spite of the unbelief and sarcasm, once again Jesus shows compassion by restating His warning to the religious leaders. In vs.23 He says, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
Now what Christ has done is give a litmus test of sorts for belonging to the kingdom of heaven. That was the primary message of Christ. He was preaching about the kingdom of heaven. And the Jewish leaders recognized that the requirement of citizenship was righteousness. So Jesus is in effect giving a litmus test for righteousness. He says they are of the world, and as such they are still in their sins, and they will suffer the consequences of that sin, which is death. How do you know whether one is of the world or of heaven? How do you recognize those belonging to the kingdom of darkness, and those belonging to the kingdom of heaven? I mean, anyone can claim to be of the kingdom of heaven, can’t they? People all over the world claim to be of the kingdom of heaven. We already said that 70% of Americans claim to be Christians, that is, belonging to the kingdom of heaven. So how do you know? What is the evidence?
Well, to find out the truth, I’m not going to quote Desmond Tutu, but instead quote the Apostle John once again. As we read earlier, 1John 2:15-16 says, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”
And Paul says virtually the same thing, that those who are of the world set their mind on worldly things. In Phil. 3:18-19 he says, “For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
That’s the litmus test. If you love the world, if your focus is on the world, if your passions are in the world, if your love is towards the things of the world,if your pride is in the things of the world, then you are of the world. You cannot serve God and mammon. That’s why James says, show me your faith by your works. Show me. Don’t tell me. You say you have faith, but show me your faith. Faith is not an intellectual exercise, by which we gain heaven. Faith is an exercise by which the will of heaven is worked out on earth. Where God’s will supersedes our will. Faith is praying, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
That’s the litmus test. That is why Jesus was able to point to His works as the litmus test that proved He was sent from God. Three times in this little passage He says that He does the works of God, as evidence that He is not of this world, but of God. Look at vs.26, “the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” Then again in vs.28, “I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” And third, vs.29, “I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”
It’s noteworthy that Jesus categorizes things in threes. Three times He says “You will die in your sins.” And three times Jesus says He does the works of God. The principle is clear; if you are of the world, then you will die in your sins. If you do the works of God, then it’s evident that you are of the kingdom of heaven.
Now I hope no one here today tries to weasel out of this principle of your works being evidence of where your heart is by saying that Jesus did the works of God, but grace makes us free to do whatever we want. Grace is the means by which our guilt and punishment are expunged. And grace is the means by which we are given the Holy Spirit to lead us in paths of righteousness. But all through the New Testament we are told to imitate Christ. Peter said in 1Peter 1:15-16 “but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” And again in 1Peter 2:21 he says, “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” We are to follow the pattern that Jesus laid down for us. That is what it means to be a disciple by the way. We follow the pattern of Christ. As He did, so do we. That’s what Jesus is saying in vs.31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” To continue in His word is to continue in obedience to His word.
And Paul also makes it clear in Ephesians that we are saved to do the works of Christ. Eph. 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” So the principle that Jesus is teaching is clear, how you live illustrates where your citizenship is. Is your citizenship in heaven? Then you will be about your Father’s business. A ceremonial tip of the hat once every couple of weeks is not indicative of where your citizenship is. Jesus said in Luke 12:34 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
You know what disturbs me very much though is when Christians, who have been set free from the enslavement to the world by the death of Christ, try to keep one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom of God. They claim to be all about heaven, but their priorities are all about the world. Everything seems to take priority over the things of God. I worry about such people.
That reminds me of the prophet Elijah, who seeing the double mindedness of the Israelites, who worshipped the idols of the world while claiming to be the people of God. And so he cries out to them in 1 Kings 18, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” If you say you are the Lord’s people, then serve the Lord with your whole heart. But if you are people of the world, then continue to serve the world. But don’t think you can live in two places at once.
Well, back in our text, the Jews respond to Jesus’ words with more sarcasm, more condescension, saying “Who are You?” In a more modern way of speaking they may have said, “Who do you think You are? We have to believe in You or we die in our sins? Just who do You think You are?” That question was obviously intended to be sarcasm as well, but nevertheless, Jesus patiently, compassionately responds to them by saying, “I am that which I have been saying to you from the beginning.”
What had He been saying from the beginning? Well, let’s remember what Jesus has said so far; that He was the Messiah, He was the Son of God, He was the resurrection and the life, He was the Temple of God, that God has given Him the power to execute all judgment, that He is the source of eternal life, that He was the one of whom Moses wrote, that He was the bread of life which came down out of heaven, that He has seen the Father, that He had the words of eternal life, that He was the supply of the water of life, and that He was the light of the world. I think it’s pretty clear who He was.
But since they asked, Jesus gives them another clue. In vs 28 He says, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.” Now what is Jesus referring to in this statement? I believe that He is speaking of going to the cross, being lifted up as the serpent was lifted up on the pole in the wilderness. Jesus is saying, when you see Me lifted up on the cross, then you will know that I am He.
What a tremendous statement. Not only was His life indicative of His deity, and not only was His words indicative of His deity, but His sacrifice for sinners was the ultimate indication of His deity. The crucifixion was the expression of God’s love for the world. And the magnanimity of that act revealed a love that could only be that of God. I’m reminded of the centurion who seeing Jesus give up His Spirit on the cross said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
But sadly, many of those who were debating with Him would still not recognize Him even when He was lifted up. They should have seen the parallel with the serpent in the wilderness which Moses lifted up for the healing of sting of vipers upon the Israelites. And they should have understood that the serpent on a pole symbolized that there would come One who would be lifted up on a pole for the healing of the sins of the world. And perhaps some did make that connection during the crucifixion such as the centurion. But as I have pointed out before, I believe that by the time of the crucifixion, the scribes and Pharisees and the priesthood not only knew that He was the Son of God, but they deliberately, purposefully put Him to death because they hated Him so much by that point that their hatred had blinded them.
And that is born out by the fact that He says, when I am lifted up, then you will know that I am He. Now in the Greek there is not the pronoun He. It is simply “that I am.” And I suggest that is a direct reference to the same “I AM that I AM” which spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. This is the name that God gave Moses to tell the Israelites and Pharaoh who it was that gave him his authority. It was the name of God that refused conventional definitions. So in answer to the Jews question of “Who are You?” Jesus has just answered, “When you see Me lifted up, then you will know that I am the I AM.” He is telling them who He is in terms that they were very familiar with. See, for the Jews, Moses was their guy. He was the greatest prophet. In fact, the Sadducees only recognized the writings of Moses, nothing else. So it’s interesting that in every evidence that Jesus gives to His deity He uses something that happened during the life of Moses. He was the source of water from the rock. He was the manna from heaven. He was the pillar of fire over the tabernacle. He was the serpent lifted up on the tree. And He was the I AM from the burning bush. Yet these champions of the law of Moses would not accept what He was saying, because they believed that they were justified by the law of Moses.
But Paul tells us that the law was not given to be a stepladder to heaven. But the law was given to be a tutor to lead us to Christ. The law was given so that our sin became even more sinful. Even more apparent. But when Jesus showed them that, in the Sermon on the Mount for instance, then they became indignant, and rejected the idea that they were sinners. And that spurning of the need for forgiveness would condemn them to die in their sins.
From our perspective though it should be clear, that Jesus was not only sent from God to be all the things that we stated earlier like the light of the world, and the source of eternal life, etc, but the characteristic that really completes the picture is that He is the Savior of the world. This is the basis for John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus is the exact representation of God. So Jesus declares that He is Savior, it completes the picture. It completes the picture of God. God is holy, righteous and just. God is the judge of the earth. God is the source of life. And God is also the Savior of the world because God loved the world. He loved His creation. But for God’s love to be enacted, His justice had to be satisfied. God’s law had to be upheld. And so God sent Jesus to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God through Christ.
Well, for a few people in Jesus’ hearing that day, the light suddenly came on. They saw the light of the truth. So it says in vs.30 that as He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him. I can only pray that someone here today has suddenly had the light of truth dawn in their hearts. You recognize that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. And perhaps you have come to believe that Jesus Christ is the sinless Son of God who gave Himself in your place on the cross so that you might be saved. If that is you, then simply call on Jesus to save you, believing in all that He says He is, and God promises that He will transfer you from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of heaven. You will become a citizen of heaven, but even more than that, you will be made a son of God by adoption. And as the result of that adoption, you are guaranteed an inheritance in glory and eternal life. I pray that today will be the day of your salvation.