Lost World

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John 3:16-21

INTRODUCTION: The first verse in this passage is one of the most familiar verses in the whole Bible. Most people in our country have heard John 3:16 before. And even if they haven’t heard the actual verse, they have seen the verse reference on TV or on a poster or bumper sticker. John 3:16 is a wonderful verse and a great summary of the gospel, but it is also part of a larger passage of Scripture that focuses on the lostness of this world in which we live. And so this morning we are going to look at this verse in its wider context and see what it tells us about the lostness of the world. (Read John 3:16-21 and pray.)

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We live in a lost world. Now when you hear those words, “Lost World,” if you’re a movie fan you might immediately think of Stephen Spielberg’s movie sequel to Jurassic Park. Our kids loved dinosaur movies when they were kids and “Jurassic Park” and “Lost World” were two of the best at the time.

But have you ever stopped and let those two words sink in — “Lost . . . World” — There is an eternity of sadness and hurt and suffering wrapped up in those two words. And I’m not talking about dinosaurs. I’m talking about the world in which we live, which the Bible also describes as a lost world.

When Jesus came into this world he was moved with compassion for this lost world of sick, sad, sinful and suffering people – people who were separated from God, lost and confused, like sheep without a shepherd. He mourned the lost condition of this world and came to bind up its wounds. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost.

You might wonder, in what way is our world a “lost world?” The verses before us tell us three things about the lostness of our world. We will look at them in reverse order this morning, working our way backwards through the text. And as we do so, it’s important to understand that the word “world” here refers to people without Christ. Jesus is not talking about the planet or the universe that God created, but rather the world of lost people outside of Christ.

So why is this a lost world? Three reasons: 1) the world is lost because people love darkness rather than light (19-21); 2) the world is lost because people are under God’s condemnation (18), and 3) the world is lost because people apart from Christ will perish (16-17). So let’s look at all three of these.

I. People without Christ love darkness rather than light (19-21)

First of all, the world is lost because people without Christ love darkness rather than light. Look at verse 19 where Jesus says: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light.” (John 3:19) This is the verdict, this is the judgment – people love darkness rather than light.

   A. Jesus is the light of the world
      – John 1:1,4-5,9, 8:12

When Jesus said that light has come into the world, he was talking about himself. Jesus is the light of the world. In John 1 we read: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. In him was life and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it…. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” (John 1:1,4-5,9) Jesus later said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

So yes, light has come into the world, because Jesus came into the world bearing the light of God’s truth and life for all people. And yet people still loved darkness instead of light. Why is that?

   B. People love darkness because their deeds are evil
      – Job 24:13-16; Proverbs 4:19

John 3 provides the answer. People love darkness because their deeds are evil. Back to John 3 now verses 19-20: “Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

Light exposes sin for what it is, and so people prefer darkness. It’s a known fact that more crime occurs at night than during the day. When a crime occurs during the night we don’t think much of it, but it shocks us when we hear of a crime committed during broad daylight.

Now this is not anything new. It’s been going on a long time. For example we read in the Old Testament book of Job: “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths. 14 When daylight is gone, the murderer rises up and kills the poor and needy; in the night he steals forth like a thief. 15 The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed. 16 In the dark, men break into houses, but by day they shut themselves in; they want nothing to do with the light.” (Job 24:13-16) And that’s the way it is with people today when it comes to Jesus, the light of the world. Sadly, they want nothing to do with the light.

Rosi and I lived in Homestead before, during and after Hurricane Andrew. It took two months after the storm to restore power to our home. You have never seen such darkness come over a community as when the sun went down during the weeks after the storm. It was frightening. People put up signs saying, “You loot, we shoot.” And you heard gunshots at night. Landlines were down. No one had cell phones back in 1992. You had no lights, no power, no communications, no contact with the outside world. You felt like you were at the mercy of the darkness and those who did evil by night. Fortunately the government knew this tendency of people to do evil by night, and so they imposed a curfew over the entire region. The ACLU was battling to lift the curfew. They said it violated our civil rights, but believe me, we wanted it! We needed protection from the night.

Jesus said that people love darkness instead of light because their deeds are evil. Not only that, he also said that they hate the light and will not come into the light. In the original Greek the wording is even stronger. It says they will not even “come towards the light” for fear that their deeds will be exposed.

And so the world is lost first of all, because it loves darkness rather than light. Or as Matthew Henry put it: “Christ is hated because sin is loved.”

Now a person might say, “But the Bible says I have sinful nature. So why am I condemned? It’s not my fault.” But the Bible does not say you are condemned because you have a sinful nature, even though you do. You are not even condemned because you have sinned many sins, even though you have. No, this is the verdict. People are condemned because they love darkness instead of light. They prefer their sin to God’s salvation. Why will people not come to Christ? Ultimately, it’s not an intellectual problem, but a moral problem. The answer is simple. They love darkness rather than light.

Proverbs 4:19 says: “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Proverbs 4:19) This is the tragedy of the human condition. People in darkness have so lost their way that they do not even know what makes them stumble.

One of the stranger artifacts of modern culture is the celebrity talk show. Have you ever thought about that? Why do we love to turn on the TV and listen to celebrities talk about current events? Why does an actor or singer suddenly become an authority on various life issues simply because they are an actor or a singer? We’re often disappointed when we tune into one of these interviews. We say, “They’re not anything like I thought they would be. Their morals are horrendous.” Well, what did you expect? This world is lost. It’s in the dark. Don’t expect someone to know or speak the truth just because they are a celebrity.

Why are we surprised when the culture treats divorce or homosexuality or living together as normal, acceptable actions in society? Why are we surprised by a culture of abortion in our country? Why are surprised when we hear on the news of horrible crimes committed? We should mourn these things, but we should not be surprised. “The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (Proverbs 4:19)

Sometimes the lost person cries out in despair. Sometimes they realize they are caught in something bigger than themselves, whether alcohol, or adultery, or some other vice. They realize they are destroying their life, and yet they feel powerless to change. But it all began with a choice. They chose to love darkness rather than the light.

   C. Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light
      – Romans 10:13

But there is an alternative. Jesus says in verse 21: “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” The person who lives by the truth of God’s word, the person who lives by the truth of the gospel comes into the light, not to boast of what they have done, but to demonstrate the power of God to deliver them from the darkness – “so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done through God.”

I remember when our kids were little and we were on vacation. Ramon was in a dark room. The room was unfamiliar to him, and he could not even find the door. He was scared and needed someone to come, so he cried out “Dad!” Well, I came running, and once I turned on the light for him he was fine, but it was nothing for him to boast about. He didn’t turn on the light. Someone else did.

It’s the same way with us. The lost person needs to realize that they are lost, that they are in deep darkness, that they need to cry out for help. It is not enough just to cry out in despair. They must call upon the name of the one who can save them. Romans 10:13 says: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13) They cry out to God, and then God turns on the light for them. They come into the glorious light of God’s love and truth.

What’s sad about all this is the world is so lost it actually prefers the darkness to God’s light. In fact the world is so lost, it doesn’t even know that it’s lost!

A young girl named Mary was lost in a large auditorium. The announcer asked the girl to please raise her hand so they could find her but she didn’t respond. Later when they eventually found her, her mother asked her, “Didn’t you hear the announcement? Why didn’t you raise your hand?” “I heard it” she replied, “but I thought he couldn’t have meant me, because I wasn’t lost. I knew exactly where I was!”

That’s what our world is like today. People say, “I’m not a sinner, I’m not lost.” The world is so lost, it doesn’t even know it’s lost. So that’s the first reason the world is lost. The world is lost because people without Christ love darkness rather than light.

II. People without Christ are under God’s condemnation (18)

Secondly, the world is lost because people without Christ are under God’s condemnation. Look at John 3:18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

   A. Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned (now)
      – Romans 8:1

This verse tells us several things. First of all, whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned. The phrase translated “whoever believes” in the original language is literally “the one believing.” Notice that the action of believing is mentioned three times in this one verse. It is mentioned 98 times in the gospel of John alone.

This is an essential teaching of Christianity. The difference between condemnation or freedom from condemnation all comes down to believing. It is not based on your good works or your religious deeds or your personal efforts. It all comes down to faith. Are you trusting Christ alone for your salvation?

Jesus says that the one believing is not condemned. Notice that this sentence is in the present tense. The one believing in Jesus is not condemned, right now, right here in the present. Romans 8:1 says something similar. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

Praise God! What a wonderful gift from God! You don’t have to wait until you die to be free from condemnation. Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned – right now! And we receive this gift by faith, simply by trusting Christ.

   B. Whoever does not believe stands condemned already (now)
      – John 3:18

However the opposite is also true. Whoever does not believe stands condemned already. Back to verse 18: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

Whoever does not believe – literally “the one who has not believed,” the one who has never placed their faith in Christ – the person who does not believe stands condemned already. The sentence has already been passed. The person who does not believe lives under a condemnation of death. In other words, you don’t wait for the end of your life for God to pass judgment. God doesn’t wait until you breathe your last breath and then add up all your good deeds and weigh them against all your bad deeds and then make his judgment. No, the one who does not believe stands condemned already.

Think about a court room situation for a minute. There’s still hope for the defendant until the final verdict comes in. Right? Think of the look of relief on the defendant’s face when the jury reads the verdict, “Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty.”

There is no such hope for the person who does not know Christ. That person stands condemned by God already. This judge doesn’t need a jury, because he already knows all the facts. He is perfectly righteous and just, and he has already passed the sentence – “This is the verdict: Light came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, but people loved darkness instead of light.” Whoever does not believe stands condemned already.

   C. Why? Not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son
      – John 14:6; Acts 4:12, 16:31; Romans 10:9,13

Why? Look at the end of verse 18 now. “Because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

Notice the reference to the name of Jesus here. The name of Jesus is essential for salvation. We read in Acts 4:12: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 16:31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Romans 10:9,13: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved … for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

Why is the name so important? Because the name refers to the person. Salvation only comes through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That’s why John says that he who has not believed in the name of Jesus stands condemned already.

   D. The whole word is lost apart from Christ
      – Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:22; 1 John 5:19

And the Bible tells us the whole world is in this condition. The whole world is lost apart from Christ. Romans 3:19 says the whole world is “accountable to God.” Galatians 3:22 says the whole world is “a prisoner of sin.” 1 John 5:19 says that the whole world is “under the control of the evil one.”

It is a lost world. And this is the second reason why the world is lost. People without Christ are under God’s condemnation. “Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18)

III. People without Christ will perish (16-17)

Why is this a lost world? 1) People without Christ love darkness rather than light. 2) People without Christ are under God’s condemnation. And 3) People without Christ will perish. Look at
John 3:16 with me now: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

This is one of the most loved and recognized verses in all of Scripture. It is a verse that speaks directly and plainly of God’s great love for the world that he would send his own Son to die for sinners. D.A. Carson says of God’s love in this verse that it is astounding not only because the world is so big but because the world is so bad! Why would God send his own Son for such a rebellious world? What purpose could he have in sending his own Son to die?

   A. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life
      – Matthew 8:12; Mark 8:36, 9:7; Luke 12:5; Romans 6:23; Jude 13

And the answer is simple. He did it for us. He sent his own Son to die so that whoever believes in Jesus – there’s that word “believe” again – whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life. God loves us. He does not want us to perish, and so he sent his Son for us.

That word “perish” is perhaps one of the saddest, most frightening, most final words in our vocabulary. What does it mean to perish? It means to die without hope. It means to be utterly destroyed beyond remedy. It means eternal separation from the God of love and life and light.

How does the Bible describe what it means to perish? It uses words like death (Romans 6:23) and suffering and hell. (Luke 12:5). It speaks of a place of outer darkness, of wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12) It speaks of losing your soul (Mark 8:36), which is as frightening an image as any. It speaks of a place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. (Mark 9:7) It speaks of the blackest darkness. (Jude 13) Apparently those who love darkness instead of light will get their wish fulfilled. They will live in the darkness forever. That’s what it means to perish. It is beyond our ability even to comprehend.

   B. God did not send his Son to condemn but to save
      – Ezekiel 18:23,31-32; 2 Peter 3:9

But as Leon Morris writes: “Fortunately we are not called upon to understand it, but to escape it.” And escape it we may, for as we read in verse 17: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17) God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn the world. Remember, the world was already condemned! The world was already lost and without hope. No, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

The Bible tells us that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. 2 Peter 3:9 says: “The Lord is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) We read in Ezekiel 18:23: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23) Or hear God’s impassioned plea in Ezekiel 18:31-32: “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31-32)

Just as there is great rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents, so there is great sorrow in heaven over a single sinner who dies. God grieves over sin. He is not willing that any should perish. And it is completely unnecessary for anyone who has heard about Christ. Hear God’s voice again: “Why will you die? Why will you die? “

      “Thorns on his head, a spear in his side
      Yet it was a heartache that made him cry.
      He gave his life so that you would understand
      Is there any way you could say no to this man?”

God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

CONCLUSION: In closing, let me just say a few words of application. First to the unbeliever. If you do not know Christ as your Savior, realize that apart from him you are lost. You have chosen darkness instead of light, you stand under God’s condemnation, and you will ultimately perish. But you don’t have to. God calls you to trade the darkness for the light, condemnation for salvation, and perishing for eternal life. Why will you die? Christ died for you! Come to him and be saved. If you have been trusting in your own works, or your own goodness, or your own efforts to get close to God, understand that the way to salvation is through faith alone. Remember the words of John 3:16: “whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Now for believers in Christ, let me leave you with four words of application.

1) Don’t be led astray by this world. Jesus spoke of blind guides trying to lead the blind. Realize that this world is lost. It is in darkness, and it cannot give you reliable direction.

2) Mourn for this world. Take time to reflect on the lostness of this world and to grieve. Don’t be surprised by the evil, but don’t get callous either. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

3) Pray for this world. Let your mourning for this world prompt you to pray. Don’t simply be overwhelmed by the darkness. Let your tears be tears of prayer

4) Shine God’s light into this world. Jesus is the light of the world, but so are you as you shine his light into the darkness. Jesus Christ is the only hope for this lost and dying world. Take the good news of Jesus Christ and shine it and share it with those around you.

So when you hear those words, “Lost World,” don’t just think about dinosaurs. But I pray that every time you read or hear those words, you will be reminded of this message. It is a lost world, but we can share Christ and shine his light in the darkness.

© Ray Fowler

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