Are you looking to Jesus for your hope?
An interesting thing happened to me this week. I tend to struggle with sermon introductions. I struggle with the best and most appropriate way to introduce you to the topic or question that we’re going to be addressing, and this past week I had a dream in the middle of the night, and it was a dream about Star Wars. Now, I do not typically like to use popular culture movies to introduce a sermon, but I tell you this because of just how impactful this was. I was dreaming about the very first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, where Princess Leia sends a message, and it says, “Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope.” And I woke up and my sermon was on my mind after that dream, and I was like man, that’s it, because they viewed Obi Wan Kenobi as their only hope. The only way that their little band of rebels was going to avoid utter destruction was if a Jedi, and I know some of you have no idea what I’m talking about, but a Jedi, the hero, shows up and saves us. He’s our only hope!
And I got to thinking about the text, and I didn’t go back to sleep. I opened my Bible. I was looking at the text again, and last week we saw this conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus begin. Now remember, Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He’s the teacher of Israel. He’s like the perfect, most godly man in the whole nation, and he has just been told, “Hey bud, you ain’t getting into heaven unless you’re born again.” Now, for him, an ethnic Jew who has followed every single one of God’s commandments and the commandments that they created to help them follow – I shared some of that with you last week – this would have been, “What do you mean? I’m not going to get in unless I’m born again?”
And we saw last week how Jesus began to explain the new birth using a passage from Ezekiel that Nicodemus would have known about, about the water and the wind, but Nicodemus is still having trouble understanding it, because in his mind, he’s thinking all Jews get in, especially the ones who keep the commandments like him. He has put his whole life, his hope, in salvation in his religious works and in his background.
And just to expand a little bit from last week, a lot of people do that. They think, I’ve been to church every single Sunday since before I was born. I’m getting in. There are some people – I know I have used this before, but I like it – some people they think they’re going to get to heaven, and that song The Roll is Called Up Yonder means the church roll or the Sunday School roll. It’s talking about the Lambs Book of Life. Is that where your name is at?
Other people think, well, my parents have been Christian their whole life, and I’m from this Christian family, so I’m going to get to heaven. So, they’re putting their hope and faith in people and in anything and everything but Jesus.
And as Jesus talks to Nicodemus, his mind is just racing, and there’s a little bit of pushback and maybe a little bit of argument. But in John Chapter 3, verse 9 where we pick up today, it says
John 3:9 – “How can these things be?” asked Nicodemus.
Now a lot of people will tell you that Nicodemus is arguing with Jesus, that he’s pushing back. He’s debating. But what I hear in the tone of this message and the tone of this voice is a man who is searching for hope. He’s like, wait a minute. How could I be born again? If my hope cannot be placed in my religion or in my family, where is my only hope? And then Jesus continues. He rebukes Nicodemus gently.
John 3:10 – “Are you a teacher of Israel and don’t know these things?” Jesus replied.
Now this is important. This is really kind of a side note from the main idea of the text. This hit me hard this week, and I’ve just got to point this out to you. Jesus is at a point in this conversation where He has recognized Nicodemus isn’t going to get it. Nicodemus’s initial reaction has been to continue to ask questions, to continue to push back, and in a way, Nicodemus is rejecting what he is hearing, even though he’s realizing he needs something more than what he has had.
At this moment, Jesus could have said, you know what Nick, you’re just not one of the guys. I’m done. You’re not going to understand it. I can talk until I’m blue in the face, and this night, you’re not going to get it. Jesus could have said I’ve got this group of people over here. I know they’re going to get it. I’m going to go spend time with them. But I want you to notice something very important. Jesus did not turn his back on Nicodemus.
The conversation continues. This is very important. Jesus does not turn his back on anybody in this room. He does not turn his back on anybody in your family. He doesn’t turn His back on anyone, anywhere. Jesus loves people. He loves you. He cares for you. He wants to engage with you. He will not turn his back on anybody. We may turn our backs on Him. He would never turn His back on us. He will never abandon us. He will never stop pursuing a relationship with us. And as Christians who are following Jesus, we should never turn our backs on anybody who is seemingly rejecting the Gospel completely. We should continue at the very least to pray that God would open their heart.
I understand there are times, there are circumstances, where it is beneficial for us to walk away from relationships, but that’s not turning our back on their hope or their need for Christ. We pray for, and we pray that God would send somebody in their lives to speak truth to them, that their hearts would be softened.
But I imagine while Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, He’s praying. God soften his heart, open his eyes. Let him hear the Truth. Again, that’s not the main idea of this text, but it’s something that hit me hard this week that Jesus never abandons any of us. And we should never abandon anybody else, no matter how far they have strayed from God or the Gospel. Don’t give up hope that God can reach them no matter how long it takes.
And with that kind of understanding, Jesus continues to engage Nicodemus, and I’ll just start reading in verses 11 through 15.
John 3:11-15 – “Truly I tell you, we speak what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except the One who descended from heaven —the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
Many of you, which we will get into next week, have memorized John 3:16. It is probably the most famous verse of the Bible, but I think John 3:14 and 15 may be the most important because they give a clear explanation of John 3:16 and a clear picture of what Jesus came to do.
In verses, 11-13, Jesus is kind of asserting his authority, and He uses that phrase “Son of Man.” Now remember what Jesus is doing. He’s already used an Ezekiel passage. He’s talking to a Pharisee that had the whole Old Testament memorized. He’s using the Old Testament to point Nicodemus to the Gospel. This phrase, Son of Man, is used in John, Chapter 1, verse 51. It is very interesting. You see, Nicodemus would have recognized that phrase immediately. He would have immediately in his mind went to a passage in Daniel, Chapter 7. Daniel 7 talks about the Son of Man that is coming.
Daniel 7:13 – “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came One like a Son of Man, and He came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before Him.”
This is the prophecy.
Daniel 7:15 – And to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him; His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.
Nicodemus hears Jesus call Himself the Son of Man, cause that’s what He’s doing. Jesus is now talking about Who He is. He says the Son of Man, and Nicodemus is like, whoa! Son of Man? Daniel 7 Son of Man? They didn’t have chapters and verses, but Daniel 7 Son of Man? The Son of Man Who God is going to give a Kingdom to? The Son of Man Who God is going to give all authority under heaven and earth to? And Jesus is like yeah, that’s Me.
Now, Nicodemus would have been just awed. This is just a mind-blowing experience for him. But Jesus continues to talk about the basis of the new birth. He continues to talk about what the Son of Man has to do. I’m going to read again verse 14: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so too the Son of Man has to be lifted up.
I very rarely do this, but if I could have you to turn to Numbers 21. Jesus is quoting Numbers, Chapter 21, starting in verse 4. This is like my favorite passage of all the Bible. I mean, I love the Bible in its totality, but this is one of my favorites. OK, John 3 and then Numbers 21, verse 4. This is what Jesus is talking about. The Israelites are wandering in the desert. They have experienced God getting them out of Egypt, 10 plagues, they’ve experienced God parting the Red Sea and crossing on dry land, they have experienced manna from heaven to feed them and sustain them. They have experienced a cloud of smoke and fire and God leading them and directing them every step of the way. They have seen God move in mighty ways, and here’s what happens.
Numbers 21:4 – Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.
Anybody ever been impatient because of the journey? It happens. Don’t be hard on them. They’re impatient because they’ve got a long way to go.
Numbers 21:5 – The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”
Before we’re too hard on them, this is what we need to see about this passage. The people of Israel are rebelling against God. They’re impatient; they don’t know what God is doing. They want results now. They want steak and potatoes instead of manna. The word “manna” literally means “what is it?” So, I get it. But do you hear what we’re saying, and they say this other times as well. They want to go back to Egypt. They want to go back to bondage. They want to go back to slavery all over steak and potatoes. That’s not what they ate, but you get my point, right? Just because it’s hard, they want to go back.
I want you to hear me very carefully. You and I have probably been through that many times in our life where we’ve been heading on the path that God has us and the enticement, the pleasure, or the comfort of the past life is drawing us back. You understand? We get this. Sin, the pleasures of sin, the enticements, and the comfort of our sin, draw us back to it. It is so hard for Christians to move forward. We say this isn’t what I want. I’m going back. I’m going to go back where I was comfortable. I’m going to go back to where it was fun. I’m going to go back to where everything was…I mean, it was slavery. I don’t understand it. It wasn’t that fun for them, but the enticement to go back away from God is so strong in their life. It is so strong in our life.
And they rebelled, just like we oftentimes rebel. And because of that rebellion, there’s going to be consequences.
Numbers 21:6 – Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.
This is a picture of God’s wrath. It is a picture of the consequences of rebellion, and people died when they were bit. We don’t know what kind of snake it is. I imagine it’s a sand viper or a pit viper or something that’s got horns on it, just because that’s like Satan to me. They’re all snakes or Satan. But you think about a sand viper buries itself, and the Israelites just walking and then out of nowhere, they die. Quickly, painfully. All because they sinned. All because they rebelled, and we can think to the New Testament. The wages of sin is death, right?
The wages of sin is death. Well, this gets their attention, as God often does. And the people came to Moses in verse seven.
Numbers 21:7 – The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.” And Moses interceded for the people.
Here’s repentance. Notice the prayer – take away the snakes. That is a good prayer. It’s a noble prayer showing repentance. They want a restored relationship, but here’s what happens.
Numbers 21:8-9 – Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole. Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.
Did God take away the snakes? No. Moses made a snake, an image, on a pole, and when someone was bitten, they looked at it and recovered. We need to understand this. That is belief. For God so loved the world He sent His One and only Son, so that whoever would believe – this is belief defined.
John 3:15 – so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.
This is what it looks like to believe. Because they were bitten by a snake, they have poison running through their bodies. We are bitten by sin. And that sin is running through our bodies from the moment we are born. The serpent, the pole is not preventative. It’s not going to prevent them from being bitten. It’s not going to prevent the poison from entering into their body. It is going to restore them and save them from the poison, and all they have to do is look.
Now you can read into this text and as you kind of study it a little bit, you come to the understanding that even after this, a lot of Israelites died. And you’re like, what do you mean they died? All they had to do is look. Well, not everyone had enough belief and enough faith to look. Not everyone had the willpower or the desire or the ability. They didn’t look.
And you’re like wow, how? Can I pose this question? All we have to do is look to Jesus. And yet we all know people who don’t. We all know people who would rather have that poison running through their bodies than look. And all you got to do is look. And when Jesus says this in John 3:14, He says so too, the Son of Man has to be lifted up. You know what He’s talking about? The cross. He’s talking about the cross. We’re going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper today where Jesus was lifted up on the cross, where His blood was shed, so that we could be restored, so that we could be saved from that poison that are the results, the death, that poison causes in us. That is what He’s talking about.
Jesus is the source of our rescue. Jesus gives life. Have you received life? Have you put your hope in looking to the Cross of Christ. All you gotta do is look. Have you looked to Jesus? Have you came and saw and experienced that life changing, lifesaving Savior Who hung on a cross.
Doctor Charles Spurgeon – great, great pastor in the 1800s. His testimony and the way he came to Christ is powerful. I’d like to read some of it from his biography. He says, I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now, had it not been for the goodness of God sending a snowstorm. One Sunday morning while I was going to a certain place of worship, when I could go no further, I turned down a side street and came to a little primitive, Methodist Chapel. In that Chapel, there were half a dozen to 15 people. The minister did not come that morning. He was snowed up and could not get there. At last, a very thin looking man, a shoemaker, a tailor or something of the sort, went out to the pulpit to preach. He was obligated to stick to his text for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was this from Isaiah 45:22 – “Look unto Me and be ye saved all the ends of the earth.”
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was a thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began, “Thus, my dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now looking don’t take a deal of pain. It ain’t lifting your foot or your finger; it’s just look. A man need not go to college to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth $1000 a year to be able to look. Anyone can look. Even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Many of you are looking to yourselves, but it’s no use looking there. You will never find comfort in yourself. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by Jesus. Christ says look unto Me. Some say that we must wait for the Spirit’s work. Well, you have no business with that, just now look to Christ. The text says look unto Me. The grace of the new birth is our seeing Christ lifted up on a cross.”
Then the good man followed up his text this way. “Look unto Me, I’m sweating drops of blood. Look under Me. I’m hanging on the cross. Look under Me. I’m dead and buried. Look under Me. I rise again. Look unto Me. I ascend to heaven. Look unto Me. I’m sitting at the Father’s right hand. Oh, poor sinner, look unto Me. Look unto Me.”
And when he had gone to about that length, he managed to spend about 10 minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me sitting under the gallery, and I dare say with few present, he knew me to be a stranger, just fixing his eyes on me as if he knew my heart. He said, “Young man, you look miserable.”
How many are you going back to that church?
Well, Spurgeon continues, I did. But I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow. It struck right home. The stranger continued, “and you will always be miserable, miserable in life, miserable in death, if you don’t obey this text. But if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted as only a primitive Methodist could do. “Young man, look to Jesus! Look, look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”
And that’s how Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in the history of the world got saved.
My question to you today – are you looking to Jesus for your hope? Are you looking to Jesus to know that you will spend eternity in heaven, that you can have a restored relationship with God the Father? Are you looking to Jesus? Young person, old person, middle-aged person? The next Charles Spurgeon might be sitting in this room. But the first thing you have to do is to look to Jesus. Look to Jesus! As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper in just a few minutes, I want us to look to our Savior. As the conversation with Nicodemus begins to wrap up – verse 15: “So that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” Look and live.
Let’s pray together. Father, it’s a powerful Word. And we’re grateful that Your Son was lifted up on that cross, that He endured so much pain, so much suffering, so much sorrow, so much agony. But He did it for us. He died for us.
And all we have to do is look to be saved from that poison that’s running through our bodies, the poison of sin. We just need to look. Soften our hearts this morning like You softened the heart of Nicodemus. Soften our hearts so that we may humbly look to the Cross of Christ, so that we can live.
Father, if there’s anyone in this building who has never made a decision to look, maybe they’re like Spurgeon, maybe they’re just miserable for whatever reason. Father, help them today to come and look and give their life, surrender their life to You, make You the Lord of it all. During this invitation, I pray that You would speak so deeply to their hearts, that You would just pick them up and lift them up, so they would come here and that You would change their life.
Father, if there’s anyone here who needs to take that next step into the baptismal waters. They’ve been following You. They love You. They surrendered their lives, but they’ve never gone the next step. Father, soften their hearts to step out on faith to make that decision today. Help them to be encouraged to go public that they have looked to Jesus.
We ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.