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John 3:14-21 Study Guide: Jesus High and Lifted Up

Community Group Study Guide — Jesus High and Lifted Up
John 3:14-21

Main idea:
God shows his love for us that while we were still sinners he sent his son into the world to save and not condemn. This calls us out of the misplaced comfort of darkness and into his light which exposes our sin but at the same time cleanses us from it. 

Study Information:
Jesus continues his conversation with Nicodemus by talking about the heart of God to save the world rather than condemn it. We see that the plan of salvation was something the Triune God authored. God does not love us because Jesus paid for our sin; Jesus was sent to take our place on the cross because God loved us. It is important to get that order correct in our minds, God’s love is what sent Jesus to the cross so that we could be reconciled. This is why God can call us out of darkness, not so that we’d be punished but so that we could be saved from our sin. 

The Bronze Serpent
John 3:14-15
We saw in the last study guide the variety of Old Testament promises that Jesus fulfilled and our passage points to another one that explains to us how salvation works. Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of Man be lifted up so we can look to him and believe and have eternal life. This is a reference to Numbers 24:1-9 where God provided salvation from physical death for the people of Israel from venomous serpents by looking at an image of a bronze serpent that Moses put onto a pole. The serpents were sent because of rebellion and sin among God’s people, but they could find salvation from death through an act of faith by looking at the bronze serpent to live. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that this event foreshadows his own death where he’d be lifted up. We can look back and know that this is talking about Jesus’ crucifixion. The main idea though is that God provides a way of salvation that is completely dependent on faith where one can look to Jesus and live. Jesus describes this as believing and having eternal life, which is not a static faith, or just affirming some truth about God but a faith that is rooted in following and being united with Jesus. All this is possible though because of God’s heart towards the world.

Saved, not Condemned
John 3:16-18
It is so important for us to understand what these verses teach about the heart of God. No one had to twist God’s arm or force him to love sinners in this broken world. Jesus did not convince God to show us mercy or to send him for our salvation. John 3:16 tells us that God loved us and therefore sent his son so we should not perish but have eternal life. God’s disposition towards his people did not change from anger to love when the Word became flesh, rather the Word became flesh because of God’s great love for us. His response to our helplessness and our sin was to make a way for us to be saved. Likewise, Jesus’ primary motivation was not come to condemn the world, even though verse 18 tells us that some will be condemned because of lack of believing in Jesus. However, some of us deep down believe that God is looking for a way to condemn us and really wants to display his anger towards us. It could be that before you started following Jesus you thought of God in that way, yet these verses show us God’s heart and it is important to get this right in our theology - God’s love motivated the incarnation and Jesus’ arrival was primarily an announcement that a pathway back towards reconciliation with God was available in him. 

God has every right to be angry with us and give us the judgment we deserve. Our sin is real and it is rebellion against God in action and attitude. Yet, he knows our struggle and our inability to follow him without his help. He knows that we’re separated because of our sin and we are unable to save ourselves and only he can reconcile us back to him. John will say in 1 John 4:10 that God loved us by sending his son to be a propitiation (removal of wrath) for our sins. God is the first mover, the one who seeks out reconciliation even though he did nothing wrong he bears all the cost of what it takes to bring us back to him and he will pour out the judgement and wrath we deserve on his son Jesus. 

Nicodemus probably did not understand all this during this evening conversation, but all of what Jesus says here points to the cross and helps us understand what was happening when Jesus took the sin of the world on his shoulders. 

Out of Darkness, into Light
John 3:19-21
Jesus is the light of the world, and light has come into the world to expose our need for God. These verses do not give the world a pass on being judged. Jesus indicates to Nicodemus that most people will try to find darkness to hide away from God because they fear the light. When we step into relationship with Jesus, into the light, we have our deeds and even the motives for our actions exposed. Our need for salvation will be clear and visible and sadly many people would rather hide than be in that situation. The light exposes our sin, yet light is the thing that we need to be healed and restored to God. Light is a great disinfectant and can purify physical things in this world through the UV rays and the heat. Likewise, the light of Jesus can reveal our need for God and bring about a response in us to turn to God. Jesus will tell his followers that they are to be light in the world and that their deeds are to be done so that people can see and give glory to God. Verse 21 hints at this same idea; as we walk in the light, we too show the world the holiness and glory of God. 1 John 1:5-9 tells us that to have fellowship with God is to walk in light and that we can freely confess our sin and he is faithful and just to forgive us. This is a huge gift. Followers of Jesus should not fear the light, we should rather hate the darkness that allows us to hide away our sin. There is freedom and forgiveness in going to Jesus and experiencing fellowship with him because he came to seek and to save the lost. 

God loves the world and sent his son as a way for us to be reconciled to him. Do not hide in the darkness, instead go to the light and experience forgiveness and freedom from your sin. 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Does God love us because Jesus died for our sin or did Jesus die for our sin because God loves us? Use John 3:16-17 to help you answer that question. Explain the significance of this question.

What does it mean to be condemned? Why is it important that God’s motivation for sending his son was based on saving rather than condemning?

Why are we tempted to love the darkness rather than the light? Read 1 John 1:5-9, what freedom do we have through walking in the light?

How does a follower of Jesus walk in the light?