“For God so what?”
Grace and peace…
In our Gospel text this morning,
we read the second half of the story of Nicodemus’ late-night visit to Jesus.
Nicodemus, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, the temple leadership, was a scholar and he wanted to know more about Jesus’ teachings.
While he may have begun his conversation thinking he knew most of what there was to know,
he soon was to find out: that in Jesus’ perspective,
everything seemed upside down,
and he seemed not to know anything at all.
In Jesus’s words: a humiliating death was a victory,
a God wasn’t a wrathful narrow-minded God,
but a God who loved all.
And a simple Rabbi, a teacher,
could be the Son of God himself.
Everything seemed turned on its head for Nicodemus.
And for us as well,
when we encounter the living God in Jesus,
we are confronted with some ideas where we will have to make a choice.
Do we believe and live the truth that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son?
One of the key themes in the Gospel of John is the concept of truth.
How do we know what we know about God, Jesus and the world?
How do we know what we know is the truth?
For the writer of John,
we can only know these things because of who Jesus is.
Jesus is the only one who reveals the Father.
Because only Jesus knows.
How do we know these things are true?
Because Jesus came from the Father and returned to the Father.
Of the Father’s Love begotten,
Jesus is the source of all truth and he is all truth.
And the first and greatest truth we have to contend with
is the truth of the cross.
For John, the cross is foremost an object of glory,
not an object of humiliation.
It’s meaning is turned upside down.
The truth of the cross is that it is a symbol of exaltation, of victory.
In the lifting up of Jesus on the cross,
we have death, resurrection and ascension all in one.
In John, crucifixion is exaltation.
The cross is a glorious, glory-filled symbol.
The purpose of the Son of Man’s exaltation and lifting up on the cross is the salvation of those who believe.
Jesus is lifted up so that he can be seen and believed.
Jesus is lifted up so that he can save the world.
As it states in John 12:32: when Jesus is lifted up,
he will draw the whole world to himself.
Everyone can look up;
action is needed to be taken,
but fortunately it’s not too difficult.
Everyone is invited: “Look up, not down!”
See, observe that
suffering and pain gets redeemed!
Just like the serpent on the pole Moses raised in the wilderness
brought healing and restoration of life to the Israelites,
so in Jesus’s exaltation on the cross,
the world will be brought healing and restoration.
However, to most people this is crazy stuff.
It’s pretty weird and wacky.
The world sees a cross, an instrument of torture and humiliation,
while believers see salvation.
Unbelievers see a perverted symbol of indignity,
and Christians put it at the front of their worshipping assembly.
John would say it’s the difference between seeing things with
heavenly perspective as opposed to earthly perspective.
To us it’s a mystery to be sung joyous songs about.
Others, just can’t begin to comprehend.
But there is a deep truth to it.
If we believe God really and truly became fully human,
took on completely our human existence,
then that has to include death,
and even a horrific death,
to completely identify with the suffering that goes on in our world.
Only in that way,
can we know that our God became fully human.
The cross was necessary!
It was unavoidable.
But why did Jesus have to die?
We find the answer in John Chapter 3 verse 16.
The summary of the Gospel.
The most famous verse of the Bible,
put on handmade signs at American Football games and wrestling matches.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whoever believes,
will not perish, but have eternal life.
God’s love is a thread which runs throughout the Bible,
from Creation till today, till the last days.
God’s love is a given,
and a central article of the Biblical witness.
God’s love is a selfless, self-giving love that wants to bring us all together.
But while there are passages in the Bible that suggest God’s love is only directed at his people Israel,
in this verse from John, it states God’s love is for the whole world,
for all people,
for you and you and me.
God’s saving purpose is that he wants people not to perish but have life.
Not just a few people
but the whole world
through the coming of Christ.
The saving activity is Jesus’ revelation of the Father
which starts in Jesus’ coming into the world, the incarnation.
The Son doesn’t come to judge,
but to save.
By saving us, Jesus reveals who the Father is… a God of love.
And Jesus’s saving begins at his birth and extends all the way to the cross.
In the Gospel of John: It’s a basic truth: God first loved us.
Before there was anything, before Creation,
there was God’s love for humans, and all that God made.
Yet the truth for the writer of John is not something to know intellectually,
it’s something to do.
Truth is an active, loving way of life.
Truth is a lived reality, not a doctrine to be memorized.
What does “to be born again” mean?
It means to live the truth as presented by Jesus.
It means you grasp with your mind, body and soul the salvation story as presented in John 3.16.
That you live the truth of that famous verse:
“For God so loved the world”.
We are now into week 4 of the Season of Lent.
Lent is a time of repentance and decision-making.
And what are we to decide, according to our Gospel passage?
Believe and you’ll be saved.
Don’t believe, and you won’t be saved.
As C.K. Barrett writes:
“While God loves the world,
his love only becomes effective among those who believe in Christ.
For the rest love turns,
as it were to judgement”.
For John, Love must be reciprocal.
Love must be answered with love.
We are told:
The Father loves the Son,
and the Son loves the Father in return.
The Son loves his own, and his own love the Son in return.
If you don’t love the Son,
you must live with the consequences.
If you don’t love the Son in return,
you’ll have to face the facts.
But if God is love and loves the whole world,
how can anyone perish?
If God is all love for all,
how can anybody be excluded?
It’s because condemnation follows from people’s action, not God’s!
God offered us life.
But some choose not to take it.
It’s a self-determined end.
You get what you want.
There’s free will after all:
You don’t want God, you don’t get God!
Your choice to reject God will be accepted.
In John Judgement Day is now.
God gives a gift:
Accept it? OK you get it.
Don’t accept it? OK you don’t get it.
So, according to John,
it is possible to get cut off from God.
It is possible to cut yourself off from salvation.
But only by your own choosing.
Only by failing to reciprocate that original saving love which originated in God the Father.
Believing is more than just a response to Jesus’ message,
it’s an affirmation of Jesus’ identity.
It’s affirming that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.
Living the Christian truth is knowing and living that Jesus is God’s love made visible and enfleshed in the world.
It’s not enough to look at the Son of Man,
you need to believe,
it’s something you do,
not just a cognitive affirmation to a proposition.
To believe, you need to follow, and live the life of Truth.
To believe, you need to obey.
There’s no middle ground in the Gospel of John,
it’s impossible to be Switzerland and be neutral and straddle the fence.
There’s a crisis that demands a decision,
even not to decide is to decide.
In these remaining weeks of Lent,
take this opportunity to consider your response to the sending of Jesus.
Do you believe?
God loves you.
God sent Jesus.
Live the Jesus life.