Lesson 15: John 3:19-21 – Going to Hell in a Handbasket

by Pastor Ricky Kurth

You're listening to Lesson 15 from the sermon series "The Gospel of John" by Pastor Ricky Kurth. When you're done, explore more sermons from this series.



If a condemned man in France did something worthy of the guillotine, it was assumed he was going to hell, and since they caught his head in a basket, he was going to hell in a hand basket. The point? After telling us the whole world is “condemned” spiritually and going to hell (John 3:18), John tells us why (v.19). Light had come into the world, i.e., the light of Christ (John 8:12), “and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (3:19). Men rejected Christ because drunkards love to drink, fornicators love to fornicate, etc.

If you are thinking that not all men love darkness and evil deeds, think again. Proverbs 21:4 says that even the plowing of the wicked is sin, which tells us that everything the unbeliever does is sin (cf. Isa. 64:6; Mt.7:21). This is because good works done by unbelievers are done in self-righteousness, and God hates self-righteousness. But self-righteous unbelievers love their form of darkness as much as drunkards and fornicators love theirs! Self-righteous people love to think they are going to heaven because of their good works.

This is also true of religious people. When John says that “the darkness is past, and the true light now shineth” (IJohn 2:8, he is referring to the darkness of the religious Jews of his day, who thought they could sin all they wanted as long as they brought an animal sacrifice to atone for it. They loved their darkness as much as fornicators, drunkards and self-righteous men! All of these kinds of sinners hated the Light (John 3:20) because people who don’t engage in these sins make you look bad if you do.

Of course, religious unbelieving Jews hated Him “without a cause” (John 15:24,25) because He did miracles “which none other man did” (v.25 cf. John 9:32). If the Lord hadn’t done these works, “they had not had sin” (15:24), i.e., it would look like they weren’t sinners. Before He came, they brought a sacrifice that atoned for every sin, and so looked sinless. But when the Lord came and helped people with His miracles, it made them look bad by comparison.

It is just like in John 15:22 when the Lord said “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not sin.” Before He came, if a man hadn’t committed fornication, it looked like He had no sin. But when the Lord came and spoke the words of Matthew 5:28, it took away the “cloke” that covered their sin (John 15:22). Similarly, once He did the miracles that helped people, it turned up the “light” that exposed the religious man’s lack of love for his neighbor to a million candlepower. It was a sin not to love your neighbour (Lev.19:18)

So unbelievers hated the Light, “neither cometh to the light” (John 3:20). Notice it doesn’t say they didn’t come to church. The unsaved religious Jew loved going to temple and synagogue. But he wouldn’t come to Christ, “lest his deeds should be reproved.” If he didn’t come to the Lord, he didn’t have to hear Him talk about his thought life, and he didn’t have to see Him helping and loving His neighbors, making him look bad by comparison.

But who was “he that doeth truth” (John 3:21)? The man who was a true believer in Israel’s God before the Lord came. The one who realized that sacrifices were not a license to sin, and the one who agreed men shouldn’t think lustful thoughts. Such a man “cometh to the light” (v.21).

But when such a man came to Christ, how were his deeds “made manifest, that they are wrought in God” (3:21)? Well, before the Lord came, all Jews sacrificed when they sinned. When unbelievers did it, it was wrought in themselves, i.e., wrought in men. But when believers did it, it was wrought in God. Of course, you couldn’t tell the difference by just looking at them! But when true believers followed the Lord, it “made manifest” that his deeds were “wrought in God.”

Picture two men walking along with a dog. The dog, of course, is scurrying around, and you can’t tell to which man he belongs. But when the two men part ways, it makes manifest to whom the dog belongs. In the same way, when the Lord came, it made manifest to whom men belonged, for true believers came to the Light.

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