Two Christmas Seasons

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16

You can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day by hearing and believing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus talks about two Christmas seasons in one of the most familiar verses of the Bible: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16).

This verse falls in the middle of a conversation between Jesus and a religious ruler named Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Nicodemus thinks the way to heaven is by living a good life. But Jesus confronts him with the truth that he must be born again by believing in Christ alone for eternal life. It is not what you do that gets you to heaven, it is what Christ has already done for you on the cross, and simply believing in Him.

The first Christmas season is seen in the first part of the verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” No one has ever loved to the degree that God has loved. He loved the world. He did not limit His love to one country, culture, or color. God loved everyone.

Because God loves everyone, His love cannot be earned. God loves us now, not when we get better. He loves us regardless of what we have done or not done. Do you realize that nothing you do can make God love you any less? God has designed us to be loved by Him. Only His love can meet our deepest needs. Sadly, we often look in the wrong places for God’s love, don’t we? We look for love in – a cell phone, a job, money, sports, alcohol, a computer, drugs, or a brief romantic relationship. God’s love isn’t found in these things. His love is found in the Person of Jesus Christ.

How did God express His love for us? “He gave His only begotten Son.” The phrase “only begotten Son” does not mean Jesus had a beginning like a baby that is birthed by his parents. The word translated “only begotten” (monogenḗs) literally means “one of a kind.” Jesus Christ is the only One of His kind because only He is fully God (John 1:1-3) and fully Man (John 1:14).

Over two thousand years ago, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was born in a manger on the earth even though He pre-existed as God. He loved you and me so much He was willing to become a helpless baby. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, lying in the arms of a woman that He created! God sent Jesus so you could know what He is like (John 1:18). If God wanted to communicate to birds, He would have become a bird. If God had wanted to communicate to cows, He would have become a cow. But God wanted to relate to you and to me, so He became a human being without ceasing to be God.

You may be Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Mormon, or an atheist. It does not matter what your religious background is because Christ did not come to give us religion, He came to give us a relationship. Christmas is God saying, “I want to relate to you. I want you to know Me as much as I know you.”

Because all of us have sinned against God (Romans 3:23), we deserve to die forever in the lake of fire (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). But Jesus came that first Christmas season to die in our place on a cross and rise from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Christ paid for the gift of eternal life.

When you receive a gift, do you have to pay for it? No, of course not. Why? Because it is already paid for. Eternal life is free to you and me (Romans 6:23b; Ephesians 2:8-9) because Jesus already paid for it when He died on the cross (John 19:30) and rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:3-6). Jesus is alive today! So, the first Christmas season was when Christ came to us.

The second Christmas season is now when Christ invites us to come to Him. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16b). Does the word “whoever” include everyone? Yes. It includes the best and worst of people and everyone in between.

Christ invites everyone to believe in Him for His free gift. He did not say “whoever behaves…” Jesus simply says, “whoever believes…” Receiving Christ’s gift of eternal life is apart from any good works we might do.

Jesus is not asking you, “Do you do good in the community?” because He never said, “Whoever does good in the community should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking you, “Did you live an obedient life?” because He never said, “Whoever lives an obedient life should not perish but have everlasting.” Nor is Jesus asking, “Do you have religion?” because He never said, “whoever has religion should not perish but have everlasting.”

Jesus is asking you, “Do you believe in Me?” because He said, “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” What does it mean to believe? To believe simply means to trust or depend upon. It is so simple a child can do it, yet, as adults, we have made it difficult. Jesus says you “believe” and “have.” You have what you take, correct?

What do you like the most about Christmas? Most people will say, receiving gifts, right?! To enjoy a gift, what must you do? You must receive it.

Jesus Christ was born in a manger and died on a cross so we could receive eternal life as a free gift. We cannot trust our obedience to God’s commands, our good life, our religion, or our prayers to receive eternal life. Instead, we must believe or trust in Christ alone to receive His gift of eternal life and live with Him forever in heaven. The moment you trust Christ, Christmas will never end for you. What makes Christmas lasting is knowing you will live forever in God’s presence. Jesus asks us to take the eternal life that He is freely offering to us.

Christ promises that when you believe in Him you “should not perish” in hell. When you believe in Christ, He promises you will be rescued from eternal punishment. When Jesus speaks of perishing, He is not talking about physical death, He is talking about suffering forever and ever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10; 20:15). Many people don’t believe in hell today, but they better be sure about it because no one can afford to be wrong on this issue. Everyone needs to be rescued because “all have sinned…” (Romans 3:23).

The word “but” contrasts eternal death and torment (“perish”) with “eternal life” and enjoyment. Jesus is acknowledging that there is a place of eternal ruin where people will be in agony forever. “But,” He says, “You can have the opposite of death, agony and torment – you can have eternal life.” All people exist forever, the question is where will you live when you die – heaven or hell?

When you believe in Jesus, He promises that you can be sure that you “have everlasting life.” Jesus did not say, “might have” or “hope to have.” He simply says, “have,” which expresses absolute certainty. You can be one hundred percent sure that you have eternal life because Jesus promises it to all who believe in Him. If you could lose your salvation, then Jesus just lied to us in John 3:16. Our salvation is based upon a promise that cannot be broken. It comes from a God who cannot lie.

Eternal life is described in John 17:3 as knowing God the Father and God the Son personally forever. Eternal life begins when you believe in Jesus, not when you die or after you die. What could possibly be greater than that? If you have not believed or trusted in Jesus Christ alone to give you His gift of eternal life, why not do so right now? This is how you can tell God in prayer what you are doing:

“Dear God, I come to you now as a sinner. Nothing I am or do makes me deserving of heaven. I now understand that Jesus Christ, the One born in a manger, died for me on a cross and rose again. I place my trust in Christ alone for His gift of eternal life. Thank You for the gift of eternal life I have just received. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

When you believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life, He came to live inside you through His Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39). You can get to know Jesus better by talking to Him in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7) and by listening to Him as you learn to read and apply the Bible to your life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Find a church where you can worship God with other like-minded Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). Tell others about Jesus and what He can do for them (Matthew 4:19).

To learn more about how you can experience the joy and peace of Christmas every day of your life, please go to our website at www.seeyouinheaven.life and download our free digital Pressing On discipleship materials to go through with those you care about.

Lasting Lessons from the Last Day in Jesus’ Life – Part 12

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” John 19:38

We are learning lasting lessons from the last day in Jesus’ life found in John 19. So far we have discovered…

– Like Pilate, we can avoid doing the right thing because of the cost involved (John 19:4-7).

– No one has power in this world except what is given to them by God (John 19:8-12).

– The closer we get to the cross, the more clearly we see who people really are, including ourselves (John 19:13-16).

– The cross is the total expression of God’s grace to us in Christ (John 19:17-18a).

– The two crosses teach that God gives each of us the freedom to choose (John 19:18b).

– There is no person or language God will not use to proclaim who Jesus is (John 19:19-22).

– Jesus’ garments were removed so we could wear the garments of salvation (John 19:23-24).

– Though Jesus died for the world, He also cares deeply for me (John 19:25-27).

– Jesus became thirsty to save us from an eternal thirst (John 19:28-29).

– We cannot work our way to heaven because we cannot pay a debt that is already paid (John 19:30).

– Jesus’ legs were not broken and His side was pierced so we may believe Jesus is our Passover Lamb Who died for us (John 19:31-37).

Today the final lesson is AS DISCIPLES OF JESUS, WE ARE TO OPENLY IDENTIFY WITH HIM NO MATTER WHAT THE COST (John 19:38-42). John now gives an account of Jesus’ burial to substantiate further that Jesus actually died. “After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus.” (John 19:38). We do not bury a living person. We bury a dead person. The proof that Jesus died was that He was buried.

“Normally the Romans placed the bodies of crucified offenders, whose bodies they did not leave to rot on their crosses, in a cemetery for criminals outside the city.” Family members could not claim the bodies of people who had undergone crucifixion as punishment for sedition.” 2 But two of Jesus’ friends intervene to give Christ a proper burial.

The other gospel writers inform us that “Joseph of Arimathea” was “a rich man” (Matthew 27:57) “waiting for the kingdom of God,” who was also “a good and just man” (Luke 23:50). Although he was a “prominent… member” of the Jewish Supreme Court called the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43), “he had not consented to their decision” to crucify Christ (Luke 23:51).

Only John tells us he was “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews,” particularly the unbelieving Jewish leaders. Despite his fears, Joseph courageously “asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission.” So Joseph “came and took the body of Jesus” down from the cross to give Him a proper burial.

But Joseph was not alone in doing this. He was accompanied by another member of the Sanhedrin. “And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.” (John 19:39). Unlike disciples of Jesus who fled for fear of the Jews, both Joseph and Nicodemus now boldly identified themselves with Jesus. But they were not always willing to do this.

John mentions that Nicodemus “first came to Jesus by night.” John emphasizes this each time he mentions Nicodemus in his gospel (cf. John 3:2; 7:50). Earlier John wrote, 42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42-43). Prior to asking Pilate for Jesus’ dead body, it appears that both Joseph and Nicodemus had been secret disciples who were reluctant to openly confess Jesus because they feared what the Pharisees would do to them if they did. Openly identifying with Christ could result in both these men “losing their seats in the Sanhedrin and, worse yet, being refused the right to worship in the synagogue (cf. 9:22; 12:42).” 4

Although they had probably believed in Jesus for His gift of salvation earlier (John 12:42), they were not willing to walk in the light of fellowship with Jesus by openly confessing Christ among their religious colleagues. Why? Because “they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43). They cared more about what people thought of them instead of what God thought of them. They were people-pleasers, not God-pleasers. They chose to walk in the darkness by refusing to confess Christ before others. They wanted the approval of men more than the approval of God.

Does this sound familiar to you? We do not want to speak up for Christ because we are afraid of what people will think or do to us. When we refuse to openly tell others about Jesus’ saving grace, we are no longer walking in the light. We are hiding in the darkness because we are ashamed of the precious cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. When we turn away from God to please people, we are telling God, “I don’t want Your praise, Father. I don’t need it!” In other words, we are out of fellowship with God (cf. I John 4:15).

But now John presents both Nicodemus and Joseph in a favorable light as they openly identify with Jesus in the daylight by asking permission to give Christ a proper burial. It took a lot of courage for them to do this. What had changed in their lives for them to have such courage? Based on John’s discipleship theme in his gospel, I would suggest that these men had grown in their relationship with Jesus to the point of caring more about what Christ thought of them than what people thought of them. “The death of Jesus so moved Nicodemus and Joseph that they cast aside their fears and boldly claim Jesus’ body, prepare Him for burial, and bury Him.” They had come out of the darkness into the light of fellowship with Jesus Christ (cf. John 3:19-36; I John 1:5-9).

The same is true for us. We may begin our Christian lives afraid of what people may think or do to us if we openly identify with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our boldness for Him will also grow (cf. John 7:26; Acts 4:13, 29-31; 9:27; Philippians 1:20-21; I Thessalonians 2:1-10; I John 4:17). The courage that the Holy Spirit gives to us will overcome our fears (Acts 4:23-31). Christ’s radical love for us will squelch our fears (cf. I John 4:18). More and more we will seek to please Jesus rather than people (Colossians 3:23-24; I Thessalonians 2:4).

John tells us that Nicodemus brought “about a hundred pounds” of “myrrh and aloes” to prepare Jesus’ dead body for burial (John 19:39). ‘Myrrh’ was a fragrant resin that the Jews turned into powder, and then mixed with ‘aloes,’ which was powdered sandalwood.” 6  “The purpose of covering a corpse with this aromatic powder was to dry it out and to lessen the foul odor that putrefaction caused.” 7

The amount of aromatic spices is significant for such a large quantity was commonly used only for kings. 8  This amount of burial spices reflects Nicodemus’ great love and respect for Jesus. Isn’t this amazing!?! Even though Christ was dead, Nicodemus’ love for Him was very much alive.

“Then they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in strips of linen with the spices, as the custom of the Jews is to bury.” (John 19:40). Because it was almost the Sabbath (which began at sundown) the burial had to take place quickly. Jewish burial customs did not involve mummification or embalming, which took out the blood and body organs. Their normal process was to wash a body and cover it with cloth and aromatic oils or spices.” 9

John mentions the “strips of linen” wrapped around Jesus’ body to emphasize that Christ was truly dead. The use of “strips of linen” argues against the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin, which is often associated with Jesus’ burial. 10  As long as there were no graveclothes, no tomb, and no coroner, there was hope. But the arrival of the graveclothes signified the departure of any hope. 11

This is amazing to think about from Joseph’s and Nicodemus’ perspective. Earlier in the week, Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem with shouts of joy from the great multitude. The people who praised Jesus as their King days earlier then called for His death on Friday. These linens were a physical reminder that their Friend and His future were wrapped in graveclothes and sealed behind a rock. These two brave men did not know on that Friday what we now know. They didn’t know that Friday’s calamity would become Sunday’s celebration! 12  Yet, they remained loyal to Jesus even in His death.

If that had been you or me, what would we have done? After all, the crowds were pleased with Jesus’ crucifixion. What was to keep the religious leaders from calling for more executions? Let’s be honest. If we were in Joseph’s or Nicodemus’ sandals, we would have left town as quickly as possible!

But Joseph and Nicodemus did not flee. Why? Because Jesus was their Friend and they loved Him. You don’t abandon a dear Friend, even when He is dead.This seems to be what these two men are thinking. The manner in which Jesus lived and died deeply impacted their lives.

Next John tells us, “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41). Jesus’ body was placed in a new tomb in a private “garden,” not in a public cemetery. 13

“In Palestine, bodies were buried in natural caves or tombs that were carved out of the limestone. Niches or shelves were prepared where the bodies could be laid. The tomb was customarily sealed with a disc-shaped stone that could be rolled across the entrance. The tomb was usually a family tomb, and the niches would be reused as necessary. The bones of the previous occupant would simply be collected and placed in a bone-box, or ‘ossuary,’ that remained in the tomb.” 14

John is the only gospel writer to mention that Jesus was buried in a “garden.” “Why would he mention this? This may well be an illusion to the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden and away from the tree of life. But Jesus, the second Adam, dies on a tree to redeem man and re-open paradise (cf. Rev 2:7).” 15

Matthew tells us that this tomb belonged to Joseph. He laid Jesus’ body “in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.” (Matthew 27:60). The placement of Jesus’ body in Joseph’s tomb fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy about the Messiah, Who would be “with the rich at His death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

John includes a very significant detail when he writes, “a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.” (John 19:41b). When Jesus’s body was gone after His resurrection, “no one was able to point to any bones in the tomb to claim them as Jesus’s remains. His was the first corpse to lie there.” 16

John concludes this section when he writes, “So there they laid Jesus, because of the Jews’ Preparation Day, for the tomb was nearby.” (John 19:42). Christ’s burial was somewhat of a hasty measure because the “Jews’ day of preparation” before the Sabbath (i.e., Friday) was about to end with the fast approaching sunset.

Joseph and Nicodemus were not expecting the resurrection, yet they were willing to risk their riches, their reputations, their religious privileges, and possibly their own lives out of love and respect for Jesus. Their sacrifices will be greatly rewarded in eternity.

For the Bible promises that when we invest our riches in what is eternal while we live here on earth, we will store up permanent treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). When we risk our reputations and even rejection for Christ by publicly confessing Him before our enemies, Jesus will give us a good confession before God the Father and His holy angels in heaven (Matthew 10:32; Luke 12:8; Revelation 3:5b). When we sacrifice religious privileges and even our own lives here on earth for Christ, He will give us greater authority and privileges in heaven (Mark 10:29-31; Revelation 2:7, 17, 25-27; 3:11-12, 21).

When I ran track in high school, I trained hard because I wanted to win a medal in my race. Even though I had failed to win a medal in previous races, I still prepared for the next race thinking I could win. Keeping the thought of winning a medal in the front of my mind as I trained and eventually competed in the race, motivated me to do my very best and not give up.

The same is true in our Christian lives. There are certain eternal rewards that require us to live faithfully for Jesus to the end of our Christian lives. To do this, it is important to train our minds to imagine Jesus rewarding us at the Judgment Seat of Christ, saying to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21). Like an athlete who visualizes himself winning a race, visualizing ourselves remaining faithful to Christ and receiving this reward from Him will actually create new neurological pathways in our brain. And our brains respond the same way to mental rehearsing of a task and actually performing the task.

I believe Isaac Watts captured the impact that God meant for the cross to have on our lives when he wrote the song, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” The first stanza reads:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of Glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.

Prayer: Precious heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Joseph and Nicodemus who sacrificed so much to ensure that Jesus received a proper burial. Even though their sacrifices were costly, dangerous, and without personal gain, they did this out of love and respect for their dear Friend, Jesus Christ, Who deeply touched their lives. They started out hesitant to associate with Jesus, but the more they grew in their relationship with Him, the more their boldness grew. The same can be true for us. Help us to focus on the cross so that no sacrifice will seem too great for us in light of the wondrous love of Jesus my Savior. In His matchless name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2017 Edition, pg. 363 cites Josephus, Antiquities, 5:1:14.

2. Ibid., cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

3. Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach. The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 562. 

4. Ibid., pg. 561.

5. Ibid., pg. 562.

6. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363 cites Donald A. Carson, The Gospel According to John (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991, pg. 629.

7. Tom Constable, Notes on John, pg. 363.

8. Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000), pg. 121.

9. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. 694.

10. Ibid., pg. 695; cf. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John: Revised Edition, New International Commentary on the New Testament series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), pg. 730.

11. Adapted from Max Lucado, He Chose The Nails, pg. 121.

12. Ibid.

13. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, pg. 695.

14. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 354; cf. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody, 1987), pp. 72-74).

15. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition, pg. 562.

16. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1826.

How do I share the gospel with a religious person? Part 3

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

In addition to confronting a religious person with the truth about his need for new birth (John 3:1-8) and the origin of Jesus Christ (John 3:9-13), we must also confront them with Jesus’ grace (John 3:13-15).

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:13). Jesus had authority to teach about heavenly things because He lived in heaven. No one has ascended to God. Instead, God has come down to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus knows best how to get to heaven because He lived there. No one knows better how to get to your home than you. To find out how to get to heaven ask the One who lives there, Jesus Christ. What does He say?

 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15). Why do you suppose Jesus used Moses and the serpent illustration from the Old Testament? Perhaps Nicodemus had just finished teaching the passage in the synagogue? Whatever the reason, Jesus turns Nicodemus’ attention to Numbers 21. The people of Israel were on the way to the Promised Land. They were complaining against God and were dissatisfied with the manna He sent them. To discipline them, God sent poisonous snakes among the people, resulting in many physical deaths (Numbers 21:4-6). Moses then asked God to remove the snakes. God told Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten when he looks at it, shall live.” (Numbers 21:8).

In a similar fashion, all of mankind has been struck down by sin. Sin has sunk its fangs in our spiritual souls and the venom has made its way to our hearts and we are dying in our sins. But God saw our hopelessness, and lifted up His Son on the cross to die for our sins. To be born again and experience eternal life, Nicodemus needed simply to “look and live,” just as in Numbers 21 one had to “look and live.” Jesus explained their “look” as simply believing in Him. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15).

To Nicodemus, the admonition to look and live would have been both personal and effective. Having fasted, prayed, faithfully attended the synagogue, observed the feasts, and honored the Sabbaths, he was tempted to look at what he had done to give a him a right standing with God. Instead, now he discovered he must look to Christ alone for eternal life. He must believe in Him. Being born again is all about a personal relationship between a holy God and a sinful people. How can this be? How can a holy God have a relationship with a sinful people? Because GOD came down to earth (John 3:13). And why did He come down? That He might be lifted up on the cross (John 3:14) to die for our sins so that those who look up or believe in Him, should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:15). Faith alone in Christ alone gets you to heaven.

Have you been born again? Is there anything keeping you from trusting in Christ now as your only hope of heaven? Four hindrances almost prevented Nicodemus from coming to Christ. These are four obstacles that can prevent any religious person from coming to Christ:

1. Pride. A religious man was told he must be born again. Religious people don’t like to be told this because they want to look to what they have done, not what someone else has done to get them to heaven. When I tell a religious man all he must do to get to heaven is believe in Jesus, he says, “But I’ve lived a good life.”

2. Tradition. We often hear a religious person say, “What will my family and friends think if I go against what we have been taught and trust Christ for eternal life?”  Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews, a teacher, a religious leader. He couldn’t trust in this miracle-worker. His colleagues would reject him.

3. Ignorance. “No one ever told me this before.” Many religious people have not been told that all they must do is look to Christ in faith to get them to heaven.

4. Misunderstanding. Many religious people have said, “Don’t you think I’ll get to heaven if I believe in Christ plus my good life?” The only condition for eternal life is belief or trust in Christ (period), not plus something else.

I think we underestimate Satan’s strategy. Satan is a deceiver. You won’t recognize him by his dress or conduct. He might even wear the suit of a preacher. He’ll probably encourage you to be as much like God as possible without being related to God. Satan is on the side of religion; he’s not opposed to it, as long as religion leaves out a Christ-alone salvation. That way, he can deceive people into an eternal hell.

Nicodemus reminds us that the best of people is not so good they can earn their way to heaven. God takes us to heaven on the basis of His Son’s performance, not ours. He offers eternal life only on the basis of grace – favor we do not deserve. Grace with anything added to it ceases to be grace (Romans 11:6). If we trust in anything in addition to Christ for salvation, then we’ve fallen victim to Satan’s deception. Christ and Christ alone saves.

When presenting the gospel to the religious, confront them with the truth of their need for a Savior – they are sinners who deserve eternal separation from God. Then share God’s grace with them – that Christ died for them and rose again and they can have eternal life simply by believing in Christ for it.

Do you have religion without Christ? Why not turn from religion to a relationship with Jesus?  Jesus invites you to believe in Him for eternal life. The word “believe” means to trust or depend upon Christ. Several years ago, a friend of mine visited the Houston Astrodome. Suspended three hundred feet above the playing field was a twenty-seven thousand-pound gondola. That gondola was held in place by five cables which are each 5/8 of an inch thick. When a newscaster sat in that gondola, he was trusting the cables to hold him. Everything he has done and everything he is means nothing. He must depend on them to hold him.

Christ paid for our sins by dying on the cross. God now comes to you and asks you to depend upon Christ as your only way to heaven. It doesn’t matter if you are a child who is nine or an adult who is ninety. It matters not if you are a morally good person or if you’ve spent more time inside a jail than outside, you must trust in Christ to save you. Perhaps you can identify with Nicodemus – you’ve always believed the way to heaven was by living a good life or by believing in Christ plus something else. But now you understand you were mistaken and you want to trust Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Again, the promise is “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15). If you are now believing in Jesus alone for His gift of everlasting life, you can tell Him through prayer.

Prayer: Lord Jesus thank You so much for abandoning everything in heaven to come to earth to offer Yourself as a sufficient sacrifice for all of my sins. I am simply amazed that You would love me that much! I am now trusting in You Jesus (not my good life or my religion) to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You for Your grace that gives me what I could never deserve. Thank You for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How do I share the gospel with a religious person? Part 2

“Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.” John 3:11

After Jesus confronts Nicodemus about his need to have two births, both physical and spiritual (John 3:1-8), Nicodemus is still confused. Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’” (John 3:9). Nicodemus wants to know how this spiritual transformation takes place. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?’” (John  3:10). Jesus says, “Nicodemus, you are one of the main guys. You have given your life to the study of the Scriptures, and yet, you can’t wrap your mind around this very basic spiritual truth? You don’t know what it means to be born from above?”

Jesus continues, “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.” (John 3:11).Nicodemus had begun his conversation with Jesus by humbly referring to himself as one of many authoritative figures who believed that Jesus had come from God when he said, “we know.” (John 3:2). Now Jesus describes Himself as one of several authoritative Figures who was speaking the truth, when He says, “We know.” (John 3:11). Jesus states that His teaching about new birth can be relied upon because it is based upon what He knows and has seen with His Father and the Holy Spirit in heaven. Jesus claimed to be speaking the truth as an Eyewitness along with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, but Nicodemus was rejecting Their witness at this time (“you do not receive Our witness”).

John’s purpose in this gospel, similarly, was that his readers would accept his witness that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:30-31). Nicodemus had rejected this witness at this time, and Jesus saw him as representing many other Jewish religious leaders who also did as the word “you” in John 3:11 is plural. Nicodemus had failed to understand (John 3:9), but his more serious error was his refusal to believe Jesus’ testimony at this time about the new birth. It reflected a refusal to acknowledge who Jesus really was, the Christ and the Son of God, which His signs and insight into Scripture revealed (John 20:30-31).

What about you? Do you receive Jesus’ witness about your need to be born from above spiritually? Or do you think your own goodness and religiosity is enough to get you to heaven? Please do not make the same mistake that Nicodemus did at this time. You will regret it for eternity.

Jesus goes on to say, “I should not be shocked, Nicodemus…” If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12). In other words, it should come as no surprise that your sinful mind does not grasp this spiritual truth. Only the one born from above can understand God’s truth.

Jesus had authority to teach about heavenly things because He lived in heaven. He said to Nicodemus, “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.” (John 3:13). Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus why He could speak authoritatively about heavenly things. No human teacher had “ascended into heaven” bodily and returned to teach about heavenly things.

The reason no human had ascended to heaven was because believers did not ascend to heaven until Jesus ascended to heaven after His resurrection (Ephesians 4:8-10; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-23; Revelation 4:1-4; 19:7-9, 14). Before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, believers went to Paradise or Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22; 23:43). They could not ascend to heaven until Jesus’ blood was shed and removed their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9-10).

In John 3:13, Christ was referring to being personally present in heaven since, obviously, many prophets had received visions of heaven (e.g. Isaiah 6; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4; Revelation 1:10-20). However, the “Son of Man . . . descended from heaven” so He could teach about heavenly things. The apostle John is contrasting no human who could have ascended bodily into heaven, with the God-man who really did descend from heaven. Jesus claims to be the Messianic “Son of Man” (Daniel 7:13-14) who had come “from heaven” to reveal God to humankind (cf. John 1:18, 51). Throughout this his gospel, the apostle John insists on Jesus’ heavenly origin. This is one way in which he brings out his point that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:31). Here, His heavenly origin marks Jesus off from the rest of humanity as the Messiah-God.

Because Jesus is from heaven, He alone can get those who believe in Him to heaven (John 14:2-3, 6). When sharing the gospel with a religious unsaved person, we need to confront them with the truth of their need for two birthdays (John 3:1-8) both physical and spiritual – and confront them with the truth about Jesus’ heavenly origin (John 3:9-13). Jesus is God who descended from heaven to share with us how to get to heaven. Next time, we will focus on what Jesus says we must do to get to heaven.

From Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, we learn the following:

Being born again is not about human efforts. If anyone “deserved” eternal life, it would appear that Nicodemus had all of the right qualifications. He was a “Pharisee” (John 3:1), who was extremely devoted to studying and applying the Scriptures to his life. He seems worthy of eternal life. But this conversation reminds us that salvation is not about human effort or merit. We are also reminded that:

Position does not get you to heaven. Nicodemus was “a ruler of the Jews” (John 3:1), one of the seventy-one who comprised the Sanhedrin – the Jewish Supreme Court. He was a part of the religious elite. He had a distinguished religious position. But a certain position does not get you to heaven. Being a pastor, a Sunday School teacher, a member of the board at a non-profit organization, an imam, a priest, or a monk does not save you. Being born again is not about human efforts. It is not about positions.

Popularity does not get you to heaven. The name “Nicodemus”  means “a conqueror or victor of the people”. Nicodemus was well liked or popular. Here was a man who won the approval of the people. He was well known and respected in the community. He was popular. He was recognized as a spiritual leader. Mothers pointed to Nicodemus and told their children, “There is a good man. You grow up to be like Nicodemus.” He was extremely popular. But popularity does not save you. Being recognized as a “Christian” person or as a spiritual leader does not save you. Being born again is not about popularity.

Prestige does not get you to heaven. Jesus identified Nicodemus as “the teacher of Israel” (3:10).  He was the one to whom people turned for spiritual answers. He was recognized as the spiritual adviser, the religious guru, the one who spent his life studying the Scriptures, but he did not possess eternal life. He knew the Scriptures, but he did not know the Author of the Scriptures. Nicodemus was “the” man when it came to religious matters but he was not saved. He was not born from above because prestige does not save you.

Piety does not get you to heaven. Nicodemus possessed great religious knowledge. As a member of the Pharisees, he knew and lived what was considered right and wrong. His first words to Jesus, “we know” (3:2) express a certain level of spiritual knowledge. Yet the reality is that Nicodemus did not know Jesus personally nor did he possess eternal life. He was ignorant of spiritual truth, yet he was religious to the core. The Pharisees went to drastic measures to make sure they obeyed the letter of the law. They fasted and prayed and studied the Scriptures. They lived spiritually disciplined lives, but they were lost. Why? Because piety does not save. You can go to church, to a mosque or to a temple, and practice spiritual disciplines daily and still be without Christ. Piety does not save. Why?

Because all of us have disobeyed God with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. The Bible tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Regardless of how good we are, we have still sinned against God. You may not agree with this, but God is the One we must answer to and His Word says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6a). Each of us has gone astray from God and His Word. We have all chosen our own way instead of God’s way.

Even though we have rebelled against God, He still loves us and paid the penalty for all of our sins when He died on the cross. “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6b).  Three days after Jesus died on the cross, He rose from the dead (I Corinthians 15:4-6) and He is alive today. Jesus invites you right now to trust Him alone to save you. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47).

So being born again is not about human efforts. It is not about position, popularity, prestige, or piety. It is about recognizing your own sinfulness and inability to save yourself and then believing in Christ alone who died for your sins and rose from the dead to give you everlasting life and a future home in heaven. If you just trusted in Jesus for His free gift of everlasting life, you may tell Him this in prayer.

“Dear Jesus, I realize that I have sinned against You in so many ways. I did not want to admit it before because I thought I was good enough to get to heaven on my own. My human efforts, my position, my popularity, my prestige, and my piety do not change the fact that I am a sinner who needs a Savior. Lord Jesus, I believe You died for me and rose from the dead. I am now trusting You alone, Jesus (not my human efforts, position, popularity, prestige or piety), to give me everlasting life and a future home in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and the future home I will have in heaven. I want to thank You by living for You now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus Christ, please explore www.seeyouinheaven.life or www.knowing-Jesus.com or www.evantell.org.

Jesus does not want you to keep this good news of new birth to yourself. He wants you to “testify” or share what you have “seen” and now “know” (John 3:11) with others who do not know Jesus as the only Giver of everlasting life. So if you found this article to be helpful, please share it with those you want to see in heaven. Thank You and may Jesus richly bless you as you make Him known to others.