Good News for Hopeless Sinners (That Includes You and Me!)
December 30, 2018
“For God did not send his Son into the world that he might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
This might be the most important verse in the New Testament.
That’s quite a claim to make about the verse that comes after the most well-known verse in the Bible: John 3:16. In some ways, verse 17 suffers from understandable neglect, coming as it does on the heels of what Martin Luther called “the heart of the Bible” and “the gospel in miniature.” Nothing I say about my text can take away from the glory of John 3:16. These verses go together and cannot be separated.
John 3:17 might be the most important verse in the New Testament
We can state the problem another way. A recent survey revealed that Jeremiah 29:11 was the most searched-for verse in the Bible in 2018. That’s well and good and completely understandable, but who knows (or even thinks about) Jeremiah 29:10? Most of us know only one verse from Jeremiah 29.
So it is with John 3:17.
But I still think it might be the most important verse in the New Testament.
It’s the reason we’re going to heaven, or making it more personal, if you’re going to heaven, John 3:17 is the reason. Outside of this verse, we have no hope whatsoever. No one goes to heaven if John 3:17 is not true.
With that bold beginning, let’s look at what this verse says about the purpose of Christ’s coming. It contains good news, better news, and the best news of all.
God did not send Christ to Condemn you.
“For God did not send his Son into the world that he might condemn the world” (v. 17a).
Christ didn’t come to condemn you.
If you’re not happy about that, you need to take a closer look in the mirror.
If we could only see ourselves as God does, we would understand the true meaning of “all have sinned” in Romans 3:23. The Bible says it in many different ways:
Like sheep, we have all gone astray.
We have turned to our own way.
We have missed the mark.
We ignored the God who made us.
We ignored the God who made us
We rebelled against his law.
We followed our own desires.
We turned to idolatry.
We called good evil and evil good.
We played around and slept around.
We lied and cheated and murdered.
We brazenly declared our independence from God.
We cheered on evildoers.
We denounced those who warned us.
We hated anyone who told us no.
We redefined sin so it didn’t seem so bad.
We laughed at the idea of hell.
We laughed at the idea of hell
We mocked the idea of judgment.
We dreamed of evil schemes.
We lusted after forbidden fruit.
We boasted about our sin.
If you don’t think that applies to you, well, think again because those words describe the whole human race. When John 3:17 says Jesus did not come to condemn the world, it doesn’t mean the world didn’t deserve condemnation. Jesus didn’t come to condemn us because we had already condemned ourselves!
Jesus didn’t come to a morally neutral planet.
He came to a world in active rebellion against God.
Jesus didn’t come to a morally neutral planet
When Chuck Colson received the 1993 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, he spoke to an audience at the University of Chicago on The Enduring Revolution. In describing the plight of modern society, he mentions four myths that define our time–“the four horsemen of the present apocalypse.” The first myth is the goodness of man.
This myth deludes people into thinking that they are always victims, never villains; always deprived, never depraved. It dismisses responsibility as the teaching of a darker age. It can excuse any crime, because it can always blame something else — a sickness of our society or a sickness of the mind.
To illustrate this truth, Colson told the story of Holocaust survivor Yehiel Dinur who gave testimony during the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazi “final solution” during World War II. Eichmann presided over the slaughter of millions. “The court was hushed as a victim confronted a butcher.” Suddenly Dinur broke into uncontrollable sobs and collapsed to the floor. When asked later to explain his actions, he said, “I was afraid about myself. I saw that I am capable to do this…Exactly like he.” The reporter who interviewed Dinur concluded that the most chilling fact about Adolf Eichmann was that he was normal: “Eichmann is in all of us.”
The line between us and Adolf Eichmann is thin indeed.
The line between us and Adolf Eichmann is thin indeed.
Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We are all sick because of sin, and the disease is 100% fatal. Sin has infected every human heart. No one escapes it. Whenever I quote Romans 3:23 in a sermon, I like to ask the congregation if anyone knows the last phrase of verse 22. No one ever does–at least not without looking down at the Bible. But the last phrase of verse 22 is the key to verse 23. It says “for there is no difference.” That explains the famous statement in verse 23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” No matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. No difference between rich and poor, young and old, black or white, male or female, no difference between any of us when it comes to sin. We all stand condemned by our sin and all of us are under the judgment of God. Our sins may not be exactly the same, but we are all sinners nonetheless.
We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking.
If God doesn’t do something, the whole human race will go down to destruction.
That’s where John 3:17 becomes so crucial in our thinking. Jesus could have come to condemn us because we deserved condemnation. But he didn’t do that.
The boat is going down!
Our words condemn us, and rightly so.
Our thoughts condemn us, and rightly so.
Our deeds condemn us, and rightly so.
Jesus did not come to add to our condemnation.
He came because we were “condemned already” (see John 3:18).
He came to offer us life instead of death, hope instead of despair, and light instead of darkness. He says, “All who are weary, come to me, and I will give you rest.” Horatius Bonar wrote these words in 1846:
We are condemned already
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest;
lay down, thou weary one, lay down
thy head upon My breast!”
I came to Jesus as I was,
“so weary worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
and He has made me glad.
So there is great hope in this verse, but we must start where Jesus starts. If we make excuses and pretend we aren’t so bad off, we’ll never find the rest Jesus promises. You can’t be forgiven until you admit you are a sinner.
Only the sick need a doctor, and only sinners need a Savior.
That’s the good news of our text: Jesus did not come to condemn you. But there is better news straight ahead.
God sent Christ to save you.
“But that the world might be saved through him” (v. 17b).
Jesus was a man on a mission.
Luke 19:10 tells us “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” What is our Lord like? He is like the woman who lost a coin and searched her house until she found it. He is like the man who lost one sheep and went out into the wilderness to find it. He is the like the father who welcomed his prodigal son home again.
He came seeking sinners up a tree, at midnight, and by Jacob’s Well. Jesus came seeking those caught in adultery, blind beggars, lepers, and wild men living in the tombs. He even came seeking self-righteous Pharisees who thought they didn’t need him. He came seeking fishermen, politicians, radicals, physicians, tax collectors, rich men at the top of the heap, and poor folks no one else would touch. He sought the prostitutes and drunkards, and they loved him for it. When he was dying, he came seeking one hanging on a cross beside him.
Jesus was a man on a mission
This means the worst among us can be saved. Do not put limits on the grace of God! As Corrie Ten Boom liked to say, “There is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.” God has more grace in his heart than you have sin in your life. Jesus is a better Savior than you are a sinner. You don’t have to be a prisoner of your past. In Christ you can rise above your past to live a life that brings great glory to God. The gospel song To God Be the Glory contains this encouraging line:
The vilest offender who truly believes,
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe that.
Who among us would be the first to say, “Play back the unedited transcript of my life”? No, there are things better left unsaid and thoughts better left unspoken. We all labor under a sense of sins committed this very week. Of duties left undone. Of careless, cutting words we wish we could take back. Of deliberate greed. Of foolish choices made in haste.
But it is the glory of the gospel that no matter how bad your sins may be, you can be saved right now. Your past does not determine your future when Jesus enters the picture.
If you qualify as lost, then you are an excellent candidate for salvation.
If you are a sinner, Christ came seeking you.
You can be saved through Christ.
If we study this verse word by word,
If we translate it from the Greek,
If we read what the commentators say,
If we spend hours checking all the cross-references,
If you are a sinner, Christ came seeking you
If we do all of that, and yet do not make it personal, we have missed the point of Jesus’ words. This is not just a general statement about why Jesus came to the earth. We need to ask what these words have to do with us personally.
Let’s see if we can get at that personal part by looking at two aspects of this verse. First, the word “world” is used three times in John 3:17. That’s a striking fact if you think about it.
Christ has come into the world.
He did not come to condemn the world.
He came that the world through him might be saved.
This suggests the universality of Christ’s mission. He came to a world that was in rebellion against God. He came to a prodigal planet that decided to go its own way. The word “world” in this context means something like, “A world gone bad.” An old gospel song says that Christ came
“Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe.”
Imagine a sign over the entrance of heaven that reads, “For Sinners Only.” If you qualify, come on in because Jesus died for sinners and only for sinners.
But there is a second truth we must face. Salvation is only “through him.” This suggests the exclusivity of the gospel. There is only one way to heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). That verse is not popular with many people because it sounds too narrow in these politically correct times. We would be comfortable if Jesus said, “I am a way, but not the way.” We would be happy if he had said, “I am the way, but it’s okay if you decide to find your own way.” I remember watching a TV talk show in which the host described his idea of who will be saved. He said it was something like this: “I believe God is so loving that when he looks at my life, he’ll shake his head and then say, “Awww, Come on in.” Certainly that TV host speaks for multitudes today who hope against hope that somehow, some way they will make it to heaven in the end.
John 14:6 is not politically correct
But we must not deceive ourselves on a topic of eternal importance. While getting my hair cut several days ago, the stylist asked rather casually if I had any plans for New Year’s Eve. It was something to talk about while she cut my hair. She wanted to know if we were going to a party or having friends over. Before I could answer she commented that she was planning on staying home and making something special for dinner. Then she hoped to stay up to watch the big ball drop in Times Square. I told her Marlene and I have no special plans, but we would probably not last until midnight. It was just a casual conversation.
Here’s the point. Many people discuss “Where will you spend eternity?” about as casually as they talk about “What are your plans for New Year’s Eve?” But New Year’s Eve is just a few hours out of a lifetime, while eternity is forever.
These words of Jesus are both an invitation and a warning. God invites the whole world to be saved. That’s the Good News of the gospel. But the invitation has a condition. Salvation is only through Christ. You cannot rewrite the invitation to read “through good works” or “through being nice” or “through being religious” or even “through church attendance.”
God offers salvation through Christ and only through Christ.
It’s easy to put off deciding, isn’t it? I read about a pastor who went to the service station at the start of a holiday weekend, intending to fill his tank with gas. But he discovered a long line of people waiting to do the same thing. When he got to the pump, the attendant said, “I’m sorry, pastor, but it seems like everyone waited until the last minute to get ready for a trip they knew they were going on all along.” The pastor smiled and said, “I know what you mean. I’ve got the same problem in my business.”
Christ stands at the end of the road for all of us
Jesus came that the world through him might be saved. That certainly includes you and me because we are part of the sinful world for which Christ died. At some point you have to do business with the Son of God. You can’t put it off forever.
C. S. Lewis framed it this way:
Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
Jesus stands at the end of life’s road for all of us. There can be no middle ground. To ignore him is the same as to hate him because you end up without him either way. But no one can ignore him forever. We all have an appointment with Christ sooner or later.
What This Means
Let me suggest what John 3:17 should say to us today. First, it means we will never meet a hopeless sinner. To be sure, we will meet men and women who feel their situation is hopeless. They are like the man I spoke with on the radio who feared he had committed the unpardonable sin. In a fit of rage, he had cursed God and said he no longer believed. But now, deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit, he sought to find peace with God but feared all hope was gone. I told him that even a man who had blasphemed God could be saved because Christ did not come to condemn him but to save him. In a sense, this man proved the truth of John 3:17. Because he had already condemned himself by confessing his foul blasphemy, he was now an excellent candidate for the grace of God. We all know the night seems darkest just before the dawn. So it was for this man. But I told him that if he turned to Christ and asked for mercy, he would be saved and all his sins, including the sin of blasphemy, could be forgiven in one shining moment.
Even blasphemy can be forgiven!
Let us take this truth to heart as we share Christ with others. You never met a “hopeless sinner” and you never will. As long as there is life, there is hope because Christ died and rose again. Anyone, anywhere, in any situation can be saved if they will only turn from their sin and trust Christ as Savior.
There is a second truth equally glorious. The gospel that saves others saves us also. If the truth be told, apart from Christ we are all “hopeless sinners” because our sins have condemned us already. Our sins stand like a mighty mountain, separating us from God. It’s too high to climb over, too deep to tunnel under, and too wide to walk around. Only a supernatural miracle can remove that mountain of sin.
We are all “hopeless sinners”
But that’s what the gospel does!
It removes the mountain, not just some of it but all of it, not over time but instantaneously, and it happens the moment we trust Christ.
Let’s tell the word this amazing news:
God did not send his Son to condemn you.
He sent his Son to save you.
You can be saved through Christ.
There’s enough gospel in John 3:17 to save the whole world. It’s the verse that explains why John 3:16 is true:
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.
He did not send his Son to condemn the World.
He sent his Son that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.
These two verses fit perfectly together. Let’s believe them both and share them both because this is the Good News the world needs to hear.