35. Life or Wrath

Short Meditations in John 3:  35. Life or Wrath

Jn 3:36    Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.

As we come to the end of this chapter, having passed through a number of verses speaking of Jesus as the unique Son of God who had come down from heaven, now the one true witness because he had come from the Father, we now come to the purpose of that coming: to create believers who can inherit eternal life in harmony with God.

Note how it starts: “whoever believes”. Now this is very important. Life with God starts with belief but it is a belief that has actions. The apostle James understood this when he wrote, You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” (Jas 2:19) Demons believe in God but they don’t have a loving relationship with Him. They know about Him but they don’t interact with Him. No, this ‘believing’ is a believing that creates a response, i.e. creates action.

This believing is of the sort that when it hears of Christ, finds something inside reaching out for more but realises it is in a state of need and so falls before God in surrender and receives His forgiveness and His cleansing and His adoption and His Holy Spirit’s presence to dwell within. This believing creates action than enables God to see our heart is true and reaching out for Him and so He gives us His Spirit and thus He gives us eternal life.

The word ‘believe’ occurs over fifty times in John’s Gospel. It is the Gospel all about believing and John is very candid about that: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  This Gospel, says John, should act as a foundation of belief in Jesus and when you see him as he is and believe you will receive a new life as you give yourself over to the Father.

But every coin has two sides and so on this particular one, on one side is belief and eternal life, and on the other unbelief and God’s anger. Please distinguish angers from hostility or revenge. Righteous anger is simply an objective emotion that responds rightly to wrong. Anger is instinctive. Anger is passionate displeasure that rises up in the face of something awful, something wrong. So what is so wrong about unbelief? Well unbelief is always wilful. If we wanted we could respond to that thing within us (see Eccles 3:11) that wants to seek for the truth – but we don’t. The evidence is all there but we either refuse to go looking for it or we refuse to believe it, as obvious as it is. This wilfulness is wrong, stupidly wrong and incurs God’s anger. Rightly!

34. The Father’s Love

Short Meditations in John 3:  34. The Father’s Love

Jn 3:35    The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.

The subject of Father and Son comes up a number of times in this Gospel. This verse obviously follows on from the previous one. Jesus speaks the Father’s words, the Son has come from heaven where he had dwelt in eternity with the Father and within that relationship, in respect of the kingdom, the Father has placed all authority on earth in the hands of the Son. The following verse shows us that He has also made him the focus and means of all salvation, the way of receiving eternal life.

In chapter 5 we are shown Jesus’ closeness to the Father: Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” For this reason the Jews tried all the harder to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.  Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.” (Jn 5:17-20) Such closeness riled the religious Jews for it was clear that he was equating himself with the Father, God. That unity was in the work that Father and Son did.

A few verses on Jesus pushes the point even more: “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him,”(Jn 5:22,23) and then a few verses on adds, “And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (Jn 5:27) Unity, honour, respect and authority are the same for both Father and Son according to Jesus. It is a powerful claim!

In response to the grumbling Jews, Jesus declared, “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: `They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father.” (Jn 6:43-46) Again this closeness, harmony and unity between Father and Son is displayed.

We find more of this sort of declaration from Jesus about the Father in 8:16-18, 27-29,38, 54, 10:14-18,29,30,37,38, 12:26-28,49, 13:1,3, 14:6-13, 28-31, 15:15,16, 16:26-28,32, 20:17.  Without doubt this Gospel is the Gospel of the Father and Son relationship.

33. Words of God

Short Meditations in John 3:  33. Words of God

Jn 3:34    ” For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.

Again there is a possible ambiguity in this verse that can make it have various possible meanings. If you are like me you will probably have read this verse many times and passed over it without giving it serious thought before. The most likely meaning is that “the one” who is referred to is Jesus. Ultimately this paragraph that starts with verse 31 and ends with verse 36 is really all about the Son. Verses 31 and 32 are clearly about Jesus as are 35 and 36, but sandwiched between those two pairs of verses are another pair that may be about another or others.

Let’s take it first of all as basic testimony about Jesus. He has been sent by the Father and so he speaks the words of the Father. Later on in chapter 14 Jesus says, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. ……… The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” (Jn 14:9,10) Jesus speaks the words his Father gives him and, because he is the Son, he has the Spirit without limit. Again and again, thus the text would appear to be confirming that Jesus words and ministry in general is both valid and unique because he alone has come from heaven and he alone has the words of his Father in heaven, and he alone speaks with the Spirit without limit. That is possibly the most likely understanding.

A second less strong possibility is that this refers to John the Baptist for he had certainly been sent by God and his words about Jesus could thus be trusted because he too had been filled with the Spirit even from before birth.  He too was a good witness to Jesus. Even if these words do not apply, this truth does apply.

Unlike the previous verse it would be more difficult to apply this to John the apostle because although he may well be sent by God to write this Gospel, essentially he is collecting together things he knew about and the words are not so much his. Nevertheless he is a good and trusted witness to Jesus and the way he writes with such thought and such insight says that we may trust him as a reliable witness.

Finally there are those who suggest that these words apply to any believer who God has called, for although on one hand we have been called, on the other we are also sent into the world (see Matt 28:19,20) to proclaim the truth about Jesus, and when we have been filled with the Spirit, the Spirit in Himself is unlimited and Christians, not only by their words but by the actions can be considered good witnesses to the truth about Jesus. Skeptics often forget this. This is all about valid testimony about Jesus. He can be believed. He is the Son.

32. Backup

Short Meditations in John 3:  32. Backup

Jn 3:33  The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.

We move in this verse into an area of slight uncertainty. Let’s take the fairly easy bit first, the word, ‘it’. The man who accepted what? The testimony of Jesus referred to in the previous verse, the testimony of the one who has come from heaven and therefore is qualified to testify to spiritual realities.  Yes, this is Jesus.

But who is ‘the man’? Is it John the Baptist or is it John the apostle or does it refer to someone else?  Well what do we know about this man? They have accepted Jesus’ testimony and so they certify that God is truthful and what Jesus says is true. How do they certify this?

Well some suggest this refers to John the Baptist and he certifies that this is true by his proclamations about Jesus, as we have been seeing in earlier verses. Others suggest that this refers to all believers who once they have accepted Jesus’ testimony ‘certify’ its truth by their lives being transformed. Others suggest that the man is John the apostle, the writer, who certifies this by actually writing about it here in the Gospel.

Whatever the truth, each one of these possibilities hold truth. John the Baptist was certifying that Jesus’ testimony was true by his proclamations. Every believer now they have come to believe in Jesus’ testimony certifies to its truth by having their lives transformed. And John the Gospel writer has certainly testified to its truth by writing this Gospel in the way he does.

Isn’t it interesting that we have been provoked to consider a variety of possibilities by the uncertainty of the writing, and yet every possibility has truth within it and all point to the key point – that Jesus testified to his Father because he had come from heaven where he had spent eternity with his Father and thus his testimony on the earth was unique.

The challenge to each one of us, I suggest, is to hunt down the truth by examining possibilities and weighing them against the evidence. Moreover once we have weighed that evidence and found the truth, to give ourselves whole heartedly to it. What danger there is in simply holding the truth up to the light and examining it and simply treating it as a piece of evidence to be put under a microscope – and be left there! The Gospels were written that we read, investigate, take in, come to belief and then submit to him and are changed. The testimonies of John, John and Jesus should be sufficient – if we come with open minds and open hearts – to create belief in us that enables to be born again and to then enter in to the wonderful life of God.

31. A Valid Testimony

Short Meditations in John 3:  31. A Valid Testimony

Jn 3:32    He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.

John, the apostle, is strong on this idea of witnesses. He lived in a period where probably all of the other twelve had now passed away and he was a lone witness to exactly what had happened with Jesus. Hence in his letter we have this sort of language of John’s own testimony:That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it.” (1 Jn 1:1,2) He goes to great lengths to say, ‘This happened in time-space history and I saw it! This is not made up.’

When he came to speak about John the Baptist, he said, “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light,” (Jn 1:7,8) and later, “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was,” (Jn 1:19) and then, “Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” (Jn 1:32)

When it came to Jesus, as he spoke with Nicodemus, he said, I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man.” (Jn 3:11-13)

Now we have just seen, “The one who comes from above is above all.” (Jn 3:31) Referring to Jesus, now the writer (or John the Baptist) declares, “He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.”  (Jn 3:32) We have already just seen Jesus chiding Nicodemus for not accepting his testimony. In the general passage following we saw, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (Jn 3:19).

Again and again we get this same thing. We should have listened to Jesus because he had come from heaven and knew what he was saying but instead, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (Jn 1:10,11)  We’ll see later in the gospel, when Jesus speaks about being the bread of life that came down from heaven, the listening Jews rejected what he was saying.


Short Meditations in John 3:  30. Origins

Jn 3:31    “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all

When you look at this chapter it seems to be formed of blocks. The first ten verses are clearly a conversation with Nicodemus. This merges into a block of truths about Jesus (v.11-21) which start with “we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen.” Remember that. Then we moved into a narrative bit (v.22-24) which develops into a block about an argument about Jesus’ disciples versus John’s disciples (v.25- present) which appears to start with John the Baptist’s words, but may then develop into John the writer’s words, based on what he had heard Jesus say and knew of him.

Verse 30 is clearly John the Baptist with his “I must become less”, but from this present verse on it could be either John. He is about to refer to testimony which reflects back to verse 11 and also about Jesus having come from heaven which Jesus clearly claims in his words about being the bread that comes down from heaven in chapter 6.

It may be more likely that it is John the Baptist because it does continue the comparison between he and Jesus. Back in verse 27 he had said, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven,” and then in verse 28, “I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him,” and then in verse 29 he had made the comparison between himself and Jesus using the picture of the best man and bridegroom, and finally in verse 30 declared that, “He must become greater; I must become less.” Again and again we have had these distinctions between the two.

Now that is continued as he obviously refers to Jesus when he speaks of, “The one who comes from above” who, he says “is above all.”   He surely refers to himself (the Baptist) when he speaks of “the one who is from the earth,”  who, he says, “belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth.” Then he refers back to Jesus when he says, “The one who comes from heaven is above all.”

There is this constant differentiating between the two of them. John knows his origins are on the earth; he is a mere man. Yes, his calling and ministry are from heaven but that calling was by God of a man who was simply part of the human race.  When it came to Jesus (and this may be a revelation beyond John the Baptist and only picked up by John the writer) his origin was heaven in every sense. He was (and is) the unique Son of God, part of the godhead trinity, who had existed in heaven alongside his heavenly Father from before the origins of all things. In this he is unique.

29. Principle of Ministry

Short Meditations in John 3:  29. Principle of Ministry

Jn 3:30    He must become greater; I must become less.

In this conversation of John with his questioning disciples we have already heard him saying, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven,” and in that he acknowledged that he was what he was because of his calling and what he had been given by God in his ministry, i.e. the people who flocked to him came because God drew them. Then he referred to himself as the friend of the bridegroom, Jesus, and implied that at the wedding (and the bride is the people), the emphasis is on the coming of the bridegroom and he is the important one, not the best man!

It is thus in this context that he brings us what must be a perfect summary of any ministry that God might give us: “He must become greater; I must become less.”  In other words any ministry that we have in the body of Christ has one primary goal: to draw people to Christ – and that’s it! Christ is the end goal for every believer and anything we do in whatever ministry it is, it is to present people to Christ and leave them with him.

We need to examine this a bit more. Consider the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13) First of all note that the giver of these gifts is Christ himself.

Now look at the ministries: apostles – church planters, church builders. Who is the head of the body, the church? (Eph 4:15)  It is Christ, it is his church. Then prophets – speakers of God’s now word revealing the purpose and direction of God’s will. Where does it come from? Christ. Where does it end up directing people – to Christ! Evangelists, those gifted with bringing people into the kingdom. His kingdom! They simply lead people into it and then walk away and leave people with him. Pastors, those gifting with a caring ability. What are they doing? Looking after the flock so the flock can better know and experience Christ. Teachers, those who impart truth and understanding of God’s word, His will and His ways. Why? So the body can be built up ‘in Christ’, strong in faith, hearing and knowing him and experiencing him more and more. It’s all about him!

So in my ministry, yes, I may initially be the one the believers focuses on as they listen to me and receive me, but my goal is to take them closer to Christ and leave them with him. I can then walk away and I am little or nothing to them. He is everything!

28. The Bridegroom

Short Meditations in John 3:  28. The Bridegroom

Jn 3:29    The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete.

What a nice little picture John paints to convey the truth of himself and Jesus. It like he says, you know what it’s like with a wedding day. There’s the bride who belongs to the bridegroom and she waits for him to come. There’s also the friend of the bridegroom, or best man we would say, and he too waits for the bridegroom to come. They are the main players in the wedding and when the best man hears the voice of his bridegroom coming, he is full of joy. Implied in this is that the bride doesn’t belong to the best man; he’s just there to facilitate the coming together of the two of them.

John the Baptist paints this picture and then, speaking of the pleasure or joy that the best man has when he hears his friend the bridegroom coming, simply says. “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” How lovely, how simple, what a good way of illustrating that he knows his place and he is really happy in it.

Remember, this is all happening because John’s disciples, and maybe others, have come indirectly grumbling about Jesus’ ministry which is detracting from theirs. The bridegroom is obviously Jesus and the bride is clearly all the people who respond to Him. John himself is simply the best man or the friend of the bridegroom and he’s simply there to herald the bridegroom and once he hears his voice, sees Jesus in the full flow of exercising his ministry, John is happy and in fact is delighted because his role is now completed.

Again we see that John is quite clear about his role, about his ministry. When, later on we find, When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:2,3) it leads us to suppose that either the negative circumstances of being in prison had dented John’s assurance of their respective roles, or he was simply sending his disciples to encounter Jesus. Jesus’ response is to either reassure John or provide these disciples with grounds for them to believe in him as well: “Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (11:4,5)

John’s present assessment of himself and Jesus is spot on accurate for his ministry had simply been one of proclamation whereas Jesus’ ministry was one of demonstrating the presence of the kingdom of God and in that sense was radically different.

27. Right Perspective

Short Meditations in John 3:  27. Right Perspective

Jn 3:28    You yourselves can testify that I said, `I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him

When God blesses a ministry, the great temptation is to begin to thing we are Someone. When God uses us and uses us, how easy it is to fall into deception and think we are really someone great. Yes, of course it was the Lord but He has used Me because I am someone special, I have got it right, I saw the truth as others didn’t, and I stepped out as others didn’t and so, yes, I am someone special!  My ministry proves it.

Moses had to warn Israel against this pride: The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers.” (Deut 7:7,8)  They were who they were, not because they were great in number but because God had chosen Abram and then Isaac and then Jacob and set His love on them.

Similarly Jesus had to pick his disciples up over this issue: “They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.” (Mk 9:33,34)  This competitive spirit – for that is what it is, setting yourself up against others – was seen more than once in the disciples, for instance it had been there in John himself: “Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” (Lk 9:49) It is a basic insecurity in not realizing who you are and who it is who has called you and the measure and extent of your calling.

When it came to John, when his disciples came with this same insecurity, and this same sort of competitive spirit that flowed out of it, John was able to say to them, “You yourselves can testify that I said….” i.e. you will remember and you know the truth of this, that I told you beforehand that I am not the Christ, I am not the one for whom Israel has been waiting al these past centuries. I told you that and made it clear, so you don’t have to bang the drum on my behalf, I don’t need defending. I am not the Messiah, that is not my role. My role was simply to go ahead of him and prepare people to receive him. I am resting in that and so should you (implied).

This principle of knowing who you are and knowing the extent of your calling by God is absolutely vital for anyone called to a public ministry in the body of Christ. Only in this confidence can we minister and expect to be fruitful and be resourced by him. Going beyond our boundaries takes us outside that resourcing and invites weakness.

26. The Origin of all gifting

Short Meditations in John 3:  26. The Origin of all gifting

Jn 3:27    To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.

John understands his ministry and, to be more precise, he understands where it has come from. He was called by God and anointed by God to be the forerunner of the Messiah – and that’s all.  He has done what he was given to do and any ‘success’ that he had had came from the Lord. So when his disciples, or maybe even other Jews starting to stir up competition with Jesus and his ministry, come with questions about his ministry, his basic answer is, I have got what I have from God and do what He gives me to do – and the same is true of the Messiah!

In many ways this is the clearest statement of this principle in the Bible: we do what God calls us to do, and no more. Other people have different ministries and we are not in competition. The apostle Paul wrote in respect of gifts, Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Cor 12:27-30). In this he makes clear various important things. First, it is God who appointed these ministries. Second, the ministries are quite clear and distinct. Third, there are only limited numbers of them and not everyone is the same. This sounds very obvious but in practice it is not. Suppose I am called to be a teacher, say. That means I am a teacher and not a prophet and if I have not been given the prophet’s gifting, I should neither hanker after it nor pretend I have it (even if I have the gift of prophecy).

The key to being at peace in serving God, is knowing what He has called you to and what He has gifted you with. This avoids all temptation to envy or jealousy and enables us to be blessed by other people’s ministry and blessed in exercising our own gifting.  This may all sound very obvious but I wonder how many square pegs there are in round holes in the church – men or women ‘performing’ tasks that they have not been given by the head of the church, but just because they think it is expected of them or wrong ambition pushed them to it? It is a vital subject in the kingdom of God, knowing the calling and the gifting of God and not going beyond it, recognising that real gifting comes from God alone and is not something we stir up. John the Baptist rested in this knowledge, it was his disciples who were slow to come to understanding of it.