Believe or Perish

Recap of Last Bible Study: Last time, we were looking at the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. Nicodemus starts complementing Jesus and saying nice things about him, and Jesus responds and tells him that he needs to be born again to see the kingdom of God. We talked about how it was an impossible thing to do on your own, to be born again. We also looked at why we needed to be born again, which was because we were just by “flesh” previously, and we needed to be born “by the Spirit”. We looked at how the Holy Spirit is the one causes the new birth, and he goes around like wind. So what is our response to be, if we are not in control of that? Our response is to be of desperation.


This week, we are continuing to look at the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus. Let’s read John 3:10-17.


Verse 10: The last thing we heard Nicodemus say was, “How can this be?” How did Jesus respond to this question? He asks another question, but what he was really saying was “You are a prominent teacher, you should know this.” There are references to the spiritual cleaning in the Old Testament, but apparently, Nicodemus did not know of them.

Verse 11: Jesus then goes on to say that he is telling Nicodemus the truth. Jesus mentions a “we” and a “you” in verse 11. What do you think the “we” and “you” are referring to? The we is referring to Jesus and his disciples, those who understood & testified the truth of salvation. Note here that the NIV translates “you” to “you people” which is a reference to Israel as a whole, who did not truly believe Jesus.


Verse 13: Do you think that Nicodemus is saved at this point? Unfortunately, Nicodemus was not saved this night. His response is typical of those who reject the gospel, one of unbelief. What are some of the “earthy things” Jesus talked about in verses 1-10? Birth, talking about the regeneration that happens when you become a believer. The wind, referring to the Holy Spirit and how He works. But, these are just earthly illustrations of what goes on in the spiritual realm, which might be far more complex for us to understand.


Verse 14: So, how does Jesus know about heavenly things? Because that is where He is from! Because He is from heaven, He has true knowledge of spiritual realities.


Verse 15: What in the world? Snake in the desert? Jesus, what are you talking about? Jesus was referring to a story in the Old Testament about Moses and the Israelites. Let me give you a brief summary of what happened. I am summarizing from Numbers 21:5-9.

This is what was going on: God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, but there was a long journey before they entered the Promised Land. The people were complaining and God sent snakes a judgment on the people for not trusting God. The snakes bit people and people died. So, the people cried out to Moses, their leaders and said that they have sinned and to ask God to remove the snakes. God told Moses to take one of the snakes, and set it on a pole. When the people who were bitten looked at the pole, they lived, and were healed. In fact, that is where we get that little symbol from on ambulances.


That is what Jesus is referring to. Whoever looks away from themselves and what they can do, and looks to Christ in faith alone, they will receive eternal life. In the story about Moses, the only way to be healed was to look at the snake on a pole. The same is true for our sins. The wages of sin is death, and the only way to be saved from death is through faith alone in Christ. By believing in him, we can receive eternal life.


Last time, remember we looked at how the only way to see the kingdom of God was to be born again. We talked about how the kingdom of God refers to salvation. Now we see that by believing, we receive eternal life, which is also salvation. So, how does it happen? Is it by being born of the Holy Spirit, or by believing in Jesus? What do you guys think? The answer: Yes. Both. So, which one happens first? What do you guys think? Some people differ on this greatly. I believe that Biblically, the Holy Spirit has to regenerate you before you believe. I think there is significance in Jesus telling Nicodemus about being born-again before telling him about believing in himself. Also, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like the wind, and it blows where it pleases. In saying that the Holy Spirit regenerates you after you believe, then you are telling where the Holy Spirit goes. You are in control, not the Holy Spirit. Not only here, but in other verses, which we wont get into at this point. Let’s move on.


Now to the world’s most famous Bible verse.

Verse 16: Because this verse is so familiar, it is easy for us to overlook the weighty truths that are in the verse. What is the first thing we notice about this verse? God is love. And who’s the world? The Greek word for world here is kosmos, which has several meanings but here is referring to the human race, mankind. God loves us, a sinful, fallen world. Last time we talked about how the human race is fallen. We are part of this world. Anyone in here not human? OK, good. Do we deserve love? Are we lovable? Not much. We are sinful, lost, and unable to save ourselves. We are rebellious.


According to verse 16, there are two options for us:

a) Believe in Jesus. Now, believing in Jesus doesn’t mean that you just believe that there was a guy named Jesus and that He was good. Believing in Jesus means believing what He says. He says you have to be born again to enter the kingdom. You can’t do it on your own. The Holy Spirit will cause you to be born again. Also, to enter the kingdom, to receive eternal life, you must believe that you are a sinner, and that you need to be saved from my Father’s wrath. You must believe that I have come to save you, to take your place. Let us read from Isaiah 53:5-6:

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

God’s love for us is really, really, really great. Let us read Romans 5:7-8.

For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Would you die for a family member, a good friend? Maybe you would. But, would you die for an enemy? Would you die for a person who hated you, who was your enemy? This how much God loved us, that He sent his Son, Jesus, the Creator of the universe, to die for us. This is amazing love. How can it be?


Believing in Jesus gives us eternal life. This is, as John MacArthur refers to as the “blessed , everlasting life of Christ.” It means being able to live with God forever. Can you wrap your mind around that? Forever? Think of the wonderful things we enjoy now, like a beautiful sunset, or standing before a stunning mountain, or enjoying the lushness of a forest. If you think the things He has made as amazing, just wait until you are with Him forever. Being with God forever means we are going to be with the Creator of the Universe, and not only enjoy Him forever. Not only that, but that God who loves you so much He made a way for you to be with Him. That’s one option. This is the other option.


b) To perish. The Greek word for perish is apollumi, which means “to destroy”. Just as life is eternal to those who believe, the perishing is not a one time deal. You aren’t just destroyed, as if that wasn’t bad enough. To perish means to be in eternal punishment. Eternal. Forever. The punishment is eternal because our offenses are to an eternal being. And a finite being will pay infinitely to offenses committed to an infinite being.


Verse 17: It sounds like Jesus is being pretty arrogant and un-loving here. He says “If you don’t believe me you will perish.” Sounds like Jesus is holding a gun to everyone and saying, “If you don’t believe me, you will die.” That is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus did not come into the world to send the world to Hell if they don’t believe Him. The world is on its way to Hell. The world that has been corrupted since Adam and Eve first sinned. But, Jesus came to save us from Hell, to provide a way so that we would not spend eternity in punishment, but eternity in life with God.


Question: How can a loving God send people to Hell? If God were only loving, everyone would go to Heaven. But God is not just loving. God is holy, and God is just. A Holy God can’t even stand one sin. A Just God says you will pay for your sin. You have committed an offense against the Creator of the Universe. You will pay forever.


The goal of tonight is not to scare people. I hope I don’t scare you into accepting Jesus. The point is we are guilty before a Living God, and there is punishment for our sins, and it is eternal. I would tell the person now who is afraid of Hell, afraid of paying for their sins to embrace God’s love for you. Embrace Jesus who came, died, and rose again so we would not have to taste God’s wrath.



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