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Sermon: John 3:31-36: The Son of God Incarnate

Reading of God’s Word

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:31–36, ESV)

Introduction

Here we are on the Sunday before Christmas and we are pressing on in our study through the gospel of John.

It is probably more obvious on this Lord’s Day than it would be on others that John’s gospel does not contain a birth narrative. That is what you expect to hear on the Sunday before Christmas, right – something about the birth of Christ? And yet John does not provide us with the material for that. John says nothing of the birth of Christ. Neither does Mark, actually. It is in the gospel of Matthew and Luke that we hear about the specific events surrounding the birth of the Savior.

Matthew and Luke tell us of the many prophesies and the appearances of angels surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is there that we learn of the immaculate conception, of Mary and Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and the Christ’s birth in that most humble place – he was wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in a manger. Lowly shepherds came to visit him and to pay respect. John chose to leave these stories untold in his gospel.

But we would be mistaken if we took this to mean that John was uninterested in the incarnation.

That is a word you should be familiar with, especially this time of year: incarnation. We use it to refer to this reality: that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh and dwelt amongst us. He was born of a virgin. He grew as you and I grow. He experienced all of the temptations and miseries associated with this life. In the end he suffered and died for our sins, and rose again on the third day. He was, according to the scriptures, God incarnate – God in the flesh – truly and fully man; truly and fully God.

John’s gospel does not contain a birth narrative, it is true. But he often speaks of the incarnation, just in another way. He reflects upon it again and again in the first three chapters of his gospel. In fact every time John comments upon the life of Christ in the first three chapters of his gospel he hones in upon the astonishing fact that the Son of God took on flesh and dwelt among us.

There are three section in John chapters 1-3 which contain John’s comments or reflections. He comments, tells stories, comments, tells stories, and then comments again in chapters 1-3. His comments are found in the prologue (1:1-18); in the section following the story about Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus (3:16-21); and in this section here (3:31-36). These are all John’s reflections upon the life of Christ.

And look at what is at the heart of each of these reflections:

The Prologue (1:1-18)

The incarnation is at the heart of what John says in the prologue (1:1-18):

John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… [Verse 14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us [the incarnation], and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1-2, 14, ESV)

First Extended Comment (3:16-19)

And then consider John’s comments after he tells the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus. In 3:16 he says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son [incarnation], that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world [incarnation], but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world [incarnation], and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:16–19, ESV)

Second Extended Comment (3:31-36)

And notice that John does much the same thing in his second extended comment found in 3:31-36:

He writes, “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31, ESV)

The incarnation is at the heart of John’s gospel. The eternal Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us; the light has come into the world; God loved the world in this way, by giving his Son, that all who believe might have eternal life. For John, the incarnation is the most significant event in human history. Nothing is more important than this: God took on human flesh and dwelt among us. He lived and died and rose again that we might have life by believing in his name.

So, though it is true that John does not tell us of the details surrounding the birth of the Christ in the way that Matthew and Luke do, he certainly provides us with wonderful material to reflect upon, especially during this time of year.  It is only right that we think deeply upon the incarnation during this season. We ought to marvel over this reality, that the word became flesh and dwelt among us.

We could truly spend days reflecting upon the significance of this event in human history. But for the sake of time we will allow our consideration of the incarnation to be limited by the text that is before us this morning.

There are three truths stated in John 3:31-36 which will help guide us in our consideration of the Son of God incarnate:

I. When considering the incarnation one should remember that Christ was from above and, therefore, is above all. (31)

First of all, we are reminded in this text that, Christ was from above and, therefore, is above all.

Look with me at verse 31: “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” (John 3:31, ESV)

John the Apostle is here agreeing with and reinforcing the statement made by John the Baptist as recorded in 3:30. The last word that we hear from the Baptist is this: “He [Jesus]  must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, ESV) John the Apostle is essentially saying amen to that and also explaining why this right.

Why is it that Jesus Christ deserved central place? Why was it right for the Baptist to decrease and for the Christ to increase? Well, there are many reasons, but John simply reminds us that Jesus is from above and, therefore, is above all.

This concept is actually stated twice in verse 31. John is obviously concerned that we get it. He repeats himself, saying, “He who comes from heaven is above all.”

The teaching is that Jesus came to this earth from above; he came from heaven.  He is, therefore, above all things. He is superior to all, to be respected and honored above all. The Baptist was right to say, “he must increase, but I must decrease.”

One should remember, when considering the marvel of the incarnation, that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh really and truly and fully. In other words Jesus Christ was really a man. He was born in the way that men are born. He grew in the way that men grow. He learned. He knew what it was to be sick and tiered. He knew what it was to be hungry and thirsty. He knew what it was to be filled with sorrow and to be overwhelmed with the troubles of life. There was nothing about his appearance that would make someone think, this one is different from us.

This is all very clear in John’s gospel. It is true that Jesus was the eternal Son of God, the light of the world – but no one knew it. No one recognized him as such. The Baptist had to say, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, and even then most were hesitant to follow him, even after hearing his testimony.

The point I am making is this: by the appearance of things, the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were no different. They looked similar. They said and did similar things. But they were altogether different in this regard: one was of the earth, the other from above.

That is what the Apostle says concerning the Baptist: “He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.” This was true of the Baptist just as it is true of all of us. We are of the earth. Adam was formed of the dust of the ground and we come from him through the natural process of procreation.

We are of the earth and we, therefore, speak in an earthly way. The meaning is this is that even the prophets of God – John being the greatest of them – possessed only a limited knowledge and understanding of God. It is true that God used men like John the Baptist to reveal wonderful truths to the world, but the Baptist, like every other man, woman, and child, was limited in his perspective and stood in need of revelation from above.

Whatever he knew concerning God and his plan of salvation came to him because God chose to reveal it to him. He, like we, was of the earth and, therefore, spoke in an earthly way. He could call people to repentance. He could baptize with water (an earthly substance). But he could not reveal the secret things of heaven. He could not provide the birth from above and the cleansing of the Spirit promised by the prophets in ages past.

Jesus was different. He was far superior to John (and to all). Why? Because he came from somewhere else. He was not of the earth. He was not the product of the natural process of procreation. No, he was from above – from heaven – and therefore, he was and is above all – he is superior to all. Therefore, the Baptist was correct to say, “he must increase, but I must decrease.”

Application: As we consider the incarnation during this season it is right that we marvel at the fact that the eternal Son of God took on human flesh. But we should not forget where he came from. Jesus was truly and fully man – marvel at that! But do not forget that he was God incarnate. He came from above.

I think of Philippians 2:5-8 which famously reflects upon this reality, saying, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8, ESV)

We should remember that Christ was from above and, therefore, is above all. He is superior.

II. When considering the incarnation one should remember that Christ, being from above, came to testify to what he has seen and heard. (32-34)

Secondly, this passage reminds us that, Christ, being from above, came to testify to what he has seen and heard.

Look with me at verse 32: “He [Jesus] bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:32–34, ESV)

The Son Reveals the Father 

We have spoken often about the purpose for which Christ came. Why did the eternal Son of God come in human flesh? It really is a strange doctrine isn’t it? It is an incredible thing to claim that the Son of God walked in the midst of his creation for a time. But why would he do this?

John’s gospel has already made it clear, saying, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that [in order that, or for this purpose] whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV) 

Christ was sent by the Father, who acted in love towards this fallen and rebellious world, for this purpose: to earn salvation for all who would believe in him. Christ came to save the believing ones.

But here in 3:32 something else is emphasized. Here John tells us that Christ came revealing that which he has seen and heard. He, being the eternal Word of God – existing with God in the beginning – indeed, being God himself – came to this earth to reveal, to testify, to witness to that which he had seen and heard in the presence of God from all eternity.

This theme runs throughout John:

In John 15:15 Jesus speaks to his disciples, saying, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, ESV)

Christ came to reveal truths from the Father to those who belong to him.

Consider also the High Priestly prayer of Jesus found in John 17:24, where Christ prays, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:24–26, ESV)

These two purposes of Christ – the accomplishment of salvation, and the reveling of truth from the Father – are not two separate things. It is true, Christ came to save and he came to reveal the Father to us. But do not forget that salvation comes to men and women by way of revelation. Salvation comes to us as we believe in that which Christ has revealed.

Christ came in human flesh to reveal, to testify, to witness, to make plain and clear, truths that he has seen and heard in heaven in the presence of the Father.

Think of that for a moment. Think of how great the revelation of Jesus Christ is even in comparison to others instances of revelation in human history. The prophets spoke in ages past, but even they were limited. The revelation that we have in Jesus Christ is greater because of his uniqueness – he alone was at the Fathers side – he alone was from above. The revelation that was given through Christ is, therefore, supreme and most final.

The writer to the Hebrews begins his teaching on this very point. Hebrews 1:1: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets [truth was revealed through the prophets], but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1–2, ESV)

The Son of God has revealed truth to us in a most supreme way. He has revealed the Father to us most fully. He has come testifying to what he has seen and heard in heaven at the Father’s side.

No One Receives His Testimony

That makes it all the more astonishing that, according to John, “no one receives his testimony”. This was (and is) the response to Christ, generally. He was (and is) dismissed and rejected by man.

This says a lot about our condition as human beings apart from Christ. It makes clear that, one, we are in need of truth from above. Two, Christ came from above to reveal truth to us. And three, in our fallen and sinful condition, we do not naturally receive truth from above – we reject it.

John has already spoken to this in 3:19, saying, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.” (John 3:19, ESV)

Why do men and women reject Christ’s testimony? Is it because he is unclear? Is it because he is inconsistent? Is it because men and women lack the mental capacity to understand his testimony? No… according to John men and women reject Christ’s testimony because their works are evil. It is a moral problem which underlies the rejection of the Christ. Men and women are in love with the darkness and therefore the hate the light. They have darkness in their hearts and despise the light. We reject Christ because we are fallen and do evil things.

Those Who Receive His Testimony Confirm That God is True

Notice that, according to verse 33, this rejection of Christ is not total or absolute. Thankfully, there are some who do receive him. Verse 33: “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.” (John 3:33, ESV)

The reason why some receive Christ is not stated here. That is dealt with elsewhere. It has to do with new birth, regeneration, the wooing or drawing or calling of the Holy Spirit. Whatever you call it the scriptures make it clear that people only respond to the gospel in faith if God moves upon their hearts and minds.

But notice what those who receive Christ are ultimately saying. By receiving Christ they are ultimately confessing that God is true. Verse 33: “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this [shows clearly, or confirms], that God is true.”

This is a very important little statement. It is a strong statement, especially to the ears of the the Jewish people who say they believe in the God of the Old Testament but reject the Christ. I suppose this statement would be equally powerful to a Muslim who claims to believe in the God of Abraham, and yet rejects the Christ.

According to John, to receive the testimony of the Son is to say that God is true. It is not only to say that Christ is true, but that God is true. To reject the testimony of the Son is to call God a liar. The Father and the Son, you see, are perfectly united in truth.

John fleshes this out more in verse 34: “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34, ESV) Christ came to testify to what he has seen and heard in heaven and at the Fathers side. To receive Jesus Christ is to receive God. To reject Jesus’ testimony is to reject God.

He Gives the Spirit Without Measure

The phrase found here in verse 34, “for he gives the Spirit without measure”, has been interpreted in one of two ways. This phrase is either saying that Christ gives the Spirit without measure to those who believe, or the Father gives the Spirit without measure to the Christ the Son. The question is, who gives the Spirit to whom without measure? Grammatically – that is, if we were to consider only the words by themselves – either interpretation would work.

It is possible that this verse is referring to the fact that Christ will baptize those who are his with the Holy Spirit and give it without measure (without limit or restraint). But when you take into consideration the context of this passage and the broader context of the whole Bible, the second interpretation fits better. What is said here, I believe, is that the one sent by God (that is, Jesus) utters the words of God because God has poured out the Spirit upon him without measure, without limitation.

The prophets of old were anointed by the Spirit but not in an unlimited way. They were given a measure of the Spirit in accord with what was needed to accomplish their task.

Similarly, believers are filled or baptized with the Spirit but not in an unlimited way.

For example Ephesians 4:7 says, “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:7, ESV)

But Christ was unique in that he was filled with the Spirit most fully and most completely – without measure or restraint. John the Baptist testified in 1:32,“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him [Jesus]. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’” (John 1:32–33, ESV) Isaiah 11:2 spoke of the coming of the Christ, saying, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isaiah 11:2, ESV)

And so Christ, being from above, came to testify to what he has seen and heard in heaven at the Fathers side. He was unique in this. No one who has ever lived could ever claim such a thing. Christ revealed the Father most fully having the Holy Spirit without measure – without limit.  

Application 

This all becomes very practical when the question is asked: Are you listening to Christ’s words? Have you received the testimony of Jesus Christ? It’s enjoyable, of course, to think about Christ this time of year – to think of him as a babe laying in a humble manger, and to marvel over the incarnation – but we should not forget that he came from above to reveal truth to us. How could we not also ask the question, have I listened to him? Have I received his words and believed in him?

You say, well yes Pastor. Of course I’ve received the testimony of Christ. I believe that he is the Son of God, that he lived and died and rose again. That he paid for sins so that I might live through faith in him. I would not be here if I hadn’t. 

I do hope that is the case. But I’m also aware that it is possible for someone to gather with the church and to sit under the preaching of the scriptures for a long time and to remain in a state of unbelief. And so the question must be asked (even of you), have you received his testimony? Have you believed in his name?

But I might also press further and ask the person professing faith in Christ another question, namely, have you received Christ as he has been revealed according to the scriptures? True faith, you see, is not just a random and vague trusting in some random and vague person or thing. True faith involves trusting truly in the true Christ, as revealed in the scriptures.

You see many profess faith in Christ and yet know little about him. Their perception of Christ may be warped and inconsistent with what he has revealed concerning himself. The question needs to be asked, do you know him, really? Is the Jesus you are trusting in the same Jesus revealed in Holy Scripture?

And I might ask yet another question, pressing even further, saying, have you received the testimony of Christ in such a way that the whole of your life has been impacted by his words?

You see the gospel of Christ – the testimony and revelation which come from Christ – are to impact the whole of life. Many profess faith in Christ and yet go on allowing the gospel of Christ to affect only a small portion of their existence. Christ is given the 10-11:30 time slot on Sunday mornings, for example, but the rest of their life remains unaffected.

No, to receive Christ’s testimony is to have the whole of your life transformed by him. The truth of Christ, if it is received truly, affects every part of us. It affects the way that we look at everything in the world – God, family, friends, money, work, politics, education, entertainment, the arts, life, death, eternity – to receive the testimony of Christ fully is to receive him in such a way that whole of life is transformed. Christ changes everything.

III. When considering the incarnation one should remember that Christ, having finished his work, has been given authority over all things. (35-36)

And that is where John ultimately takes us. He reminds us that, while it is true, Christ was born of a virgin and placed in a lowly manger, he did not remain there. John reminds that, Christ, having finished his work, has been given authority over all things.

Look at verses 35-36: “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:35–36, ESV)

Christ  is Lord of all!

I read Philippians 2:5-8 earlier, emphasizing that Christ came from above. Though he was equal with God he humbled himself and took the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man. But Paul, in his consideration of the incarnation, does not leave off there. Listen to where Paul goes with that thought in verses 9-11. He says, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)

You see, that is where our contemplation of the incarnation should ultimately and finally take us – to consider Christ high and lifted up! We must not end our consideration of the incarnation with Christ in the manger, but with Christ enthroned in heaven, with all things in subjection to him.

He came from above, and is therefore to be honored above all.

He came to reveal truth to us, truth that he has seen and heard in heaven in the presence of God the Father. His testimony is to be received.

And, having accomplished his work through his life, death and resurrection, he has been given authority over all things. He is to be received as Lord of all.

In reality, many prefer the Jesus of the manger. There he is, meek and mild. There he is – unthreatening, unassuming, undemanding. The Christ of the manger is the Christ that many are willing to accept. But he is more than that. All authority has been given to him – even the authority to judge.

Conclusion

John concludes his consideration of the incarnation with these words: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36, ESV)

Do you see how significant Jesus is, according to the scriptures? He is the pinnacle of God’s revelation to man. He is the only one in whom salvation is found. To believe in him  (that is, to confess that he is who he says he is, to trust in him, to obey him) is to have life eternal. To reject him is to reject life and to have the wrath of God remain.

Prayer: Father in heaven, we thank you for your love. We thank you for sending the Son from above. We thank you for revealing yourself to us as you have. We confess that apart from your revelation we would be left to walk in darkness. Jesus, we thank you for coming humbly; for living and dying for all who believe that they might have eternal live in your name. We rejoice that you rule over all even now and we look forward to your return. Until then, would you bring many into your kingdom. I pray that many would come to have eternal life even now. Amen.

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