December 15th, 2019 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
[Jhn 8:21-30 ESV] 21 So he said to them again, “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” 22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” 23 He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. 24 I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” 25 So they said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning. 26 I have much to say about you and much to judge, but he who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” 27 They did not understand that he had been speaking to them about the Father. 28 So Jesus said to them, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father taught me. 29 And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
I. INTRODUCTION – We are not merely spectators of death
There is a phrase which Jesus repeats (with some variation) 3 times in our passage today. We must therefore key in on these words:
1. “I am going away, and you will seek me, and you will die in your sin.”
2. “I told you that you would die in your sins”
3. “for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Jesus is here again speaking to the Pharisees. And because they had dismissed his testimony and even openly opposed him Jesus now declares their doom.
It is sadly fashionable in some theological circles today to deny the Biblical teaching of hell. The view is called annihiliationism, and its proponents believe that those who do not go to heaven are merely “annihilated” — they cease to exist. But when Christ warns the Pharisees that they will die in their sins he is not merely saying that their end is coming; he is clearly saying that punishment awaits them. God’s judgment awaits. There is death and then there is hell for the Pharisees and all who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Those who deny hell are pernicious; they are a deadly disease that ravages the church, for they teach contrary to the Scriptures and promote a message that sinners will not be punished! There is no justice in the false God of annihiliationism.
Like the annihilationists attempt to hide hell, so our culture likes to disguise death. [REPEAT: Like the annihilationists wish to hide hell, so our culture likes to disguise death.]
Death is hidden away. Covered up, disguised. Wars are not fought here, but overseas. The elderly die in rest homes, not in family homes. Some even make funerals a time for celebration, when they are nothing of the sort. Death is always the enemy. And while we can praise the Lord for the life of a person who has passed, the overall feeling of a funeral is never one of joy, and we should not pretend it to be.
Death is the enemy, and Jesus warns “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Death is a reality that we must all face. And ultimately, we are not merely spectators in this. We see others die. It is a refrain in life. Ever year or so, throughout your whole life, you’ll attend a funeral. The refrain is there too in the Old Testament genealogies. With each person we have not only that they were born and that they had such-and-such children, and how long they lived, but we also have “and he died.”
Death is inevitable. At some point each of us will experience death, not merely be a spectator of it.
II. Pascal’s Wager
Now, this is as good time as any to bring up what is called “Pascal’s Wager.”
Now, I actually don’t “buy in” to Pascal’s Wager, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But first I want to explain what it is.
Pascal’s Wager is named after a French theologian, Blaise Pascal. The general idea of it is quite simple, and is perhaps part of the presentation of many a minister. The idea is – you can give up many enjoyments in this life and instead follow the Lord and attain heaven! And in doing so, the infinite value of the joys of heaven outweighs the lost joys on earth!
In business or statistics this might be called an “expected value” problem. That is, the goal is set to be “to maximize value” or “to maximize joy.” So, supposedly you add up all the joys one decision will bring and compare it to all the joys that another decision will bring, and chose the better of the two. And, so says Blaise Pascal, choosing heaven is far superior!
Now, there are some major logical and theological problems with Pascal’s Wager.
For one, how do you measure joy? How do you measure happiness? What are the units? A cheeseburger brings 5 happiness units? But heart burn is negative 10?
Then, we know as Bible-Believing Calvinists, that we do not truly choose heaven, but God rescues us from hell through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
And then, Pascal’s Wager makes the mistake of thinking that our PRESENT life is somehow worse in being a Christian. But being a Christian is better BOTH for the AFTERLIFE and for the present LIFE! It is all positive gain for the Christian. Yes, there are many difficulties in life that we must go through as Christians, but the point is that even our earthly lives are more joyful as Christians. Joy or Happiness cannot be measured in units, but can be compared qualitatively. We can say “overall” I’m much happier as a Christian than when I was in the domain of darkness.
So there are these problems with Pascal’s Wager. But maybe it has some value nonetheless. It sets the mind on to the eternal.
III. Not convinced
Arguments for the Christian faith, like Pascal’s Wager, are valuable at times, but not sufficient in themselves to convert an individual.
Jesus in fact says in Luke 16:31 – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
That is, no argument, no evident, no proof is sufficient to convince a hardened opponent of the Lord.
Man is stubborn, and cannot believe unless the Holy Spirit works faith into his heart, giving him a new life.
Thus Jesus says to the Pharisees “you shall die in your sins.”
The first time is in the singular – “you shall die in your sin”
And the next are in the plural – “you shall die in your sins.”
These are both true. Man dies in his sins, but it is especially the one sin — of unbelief — that is at the root of the problem. John Calvin says “Unbelief is the one sin that is the source and cause of all evils. It is unbelief alone which subjects us to the condemnation of eternal death before God.”
The message of this passage from John’s Gospel is the same as I preached on some months ago from Luke’s Gospel. There, Jesus said,
“Except ye Repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”
Now he says
“unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”
Except ye repent, unless you believe. No other way is offered. There is no sufficient number of good deeds that will secure your salvation. Nor is there any hope in anything at all, but in the shed blood of Christ and the blessed new life of the Holy Spirit. This is where OUR hope lies.
IV. The Pharisee’s Response
But what is the response of the Pharisees to Jesus’ warning?
22 So the Jews said, “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?”
They figured THEY were going to heaven, because they were sons of Abraham. But Jesus, if he is going where they cannot go, then Jesus must not be going to heaven! They might be thinking that he intends to commit suicide. They probably believe that suicide damns a person to hell. (which it doesn’t necessarily do.) But it was a common belief among the Jews in that day that the souls of those who committed suicide would go to hell.
The Pharisees simply do not understand Jesus. Their hearts are hardened. And Jesus truly declares that they will die in their sins.
V. When you have lifted up the Son of Man
Though they will not believe in Jesus, he says they will come to recognize that he speaks the truth.
Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he.”
Again now in John’s Gospel we have a foreshadowing of what is to come. Christ’s death. This is on Jesus’ mind from the beginning. From that first miracle at Cana where Jesus says “my hour has not yet come.”
The text concludes in saying “many believe in him.” [REPEAT: “many believed in him.”]
How many times have we now seen this? (Four times now we are said that “many believed”)
[Jhn 2:23 ESV] 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.
[Jhn 4:39 ESV] 39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”
[Jhn 7:31 ESV] 31 Yet many of the people believed in him. They said, “When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”
[Jhn 8:30 ESV] 30 As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
The phrase comes 3 more times in John’s Gospel in the material ahead of us:
[Jhn 10:42 ESV] 42 And many believed in him there.
[Jhn 11:45 ESV] 45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him,
[Jhn 12:42 ESV] 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue;
Is this intentional? This makes for 7 times that it is said “many believed,” Just as there are 7 “I AM” statements. A common number in the Scriptures often said to refer to completeness or perfection, like that of the 7th day rest during creation. But we cannot press this too far as it is difficult to know if the statements here being 7 is just a coincidence or not.
But what can know is that this phrase is not about true belief. Throughout John’s Gospel when it is said “many believed” we find that there is belief in Jesus as the messiah or a prophet or something else. There is belief in his miracles, the sign. But there is not yet salvific belief, saving faith in Jesus as the Son of God!
And this is who Jesus truly is!
He is from above.
He is not of this world.
The Pharisees ask “who are you?”
And Jesus says,
“Just what I have been telling you from the beginning.”
From the beginning he has been declaring himself to be very God of very God. There should be no mistaking who he is at this point. Over and over he tells them whom he is.
The Son of Man
The Son of God
Sent of the Father
Written of in the Scriptures
The Bread of Life
The I AM
The Light of the World
And now he declares that he is sent of the Father, of His authority, and speaks just as the the Father taught him. He brings to the world the very Word of God.
Yet they do not believe.
We recall earlier in the John’s Gospel it is said:
“The light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
They do not believe. And they shall die in their sins.
As we think about death, and its inevitability for all of us, we must think of the only possibility of salvation – salvation through belief Jesus Christ by his death in our place and the work of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts.
We are not mere spectators when it comes to death. We shall each participate. And thus this is a call for all of us to set our sights on heavenly things. Not to die in our signs but to repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
If this section from verses 21-30 is “negative” then the next verse, John 8:31-32 are positive. If today’s passage is more about the law, then these coming verses are about the Gospel.
Next week, God willing, I shall preach on those verses. That while death is inevitably and we are warned not to die in our sins, we read also
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
What is the truth?
A better question might be:
Who is the truth?
John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and THE TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
And Jesus says “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
Not, “If you set yourself free.” But if THE SON sets you free.
Though all shall still still, those who believe in Jesus Christ shall not die in their sins, but because of the Son have been set free.
If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
Praise the Lord. Amen.