The light has come into the world…

March 18, 2015

So we get a classic this morning. John 3:16. We see this passage on bumper stickers, innumerable church websites, occasionally even on football players, but I’m glad to see that trend appears to have ended. It makes it into our Rite I service as one of the Comfortable words that we hear after confession. It’s a good one. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s a classic because it captures the truth that God is the one saving us, and he saves us from ourselves simply because he loves us. But there is a lot more to this passage. The readings this morning bring our focus back on us – and more specifically on our sins. This is a message of good news, but we’re going to have to work to get there. And don’t worry, Lent is almost over. In the passage we’ve just been given, Jesus describes the reality that we do not always choose to walk in the light. And as we wrestle with the rest of the passage, we’ll need those comfortable words at the end.

John’s gospel is full of powerful images. There is the image of the serpent in the wilderness, the image of the world, and of course, there are the images of light and darkness. The frame for this whole discussion with Nicodemus is the image of the serpent. Luckily we heard this passage from Numbers or else this would seem even more strange. The Israelites were grumbling again. God got angry and sent poisonous serpents among them. They repented and asked God to take the serpents away. But instead, God tells Moses to make the bronze serpent on the stick. And if they get bit, they can look at the bronze snake and be healed. We need to notice the detail. God doesn’t take the serpents away, but he provides a way to be healed. The Israelites live with the consequences of their sin, but God provides a path for redemption. This sets up the rest of what Jesus is teaching Nicodemus.

I’m going to skip over 3:16 for just a moment. The rest of the passage talks about condemnation and judgment – the tough stuff. The upshot of this whole passage is that God doesn’t have to condemn us; we condemn ourselves by our actions. He says, the judgment is this, ‘that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light.’ There is so much truth in that one comment. I don’t know about you, but there have certainly been times in my life where I would absolutely stand under that judgment. Jesus goes on to point out that so often we live our lives in secret, in the darkness because we really don’t want people to know what we’re really doing.

The end result of this is that we are ‘following the course of the world’ as St. Paul puts it. This affects our daily lives. It affects our relationships with friends and family, whether we choose to offer mercy and forgiveness to those who hurt us. It affects how we do our jobs whether we try to eke out some advantage over another or not. But it also affects our life together. All of this adds up to how we live together as a society. Walking in darkness leads us to ignore the poor and vulnerable among us, it leads us to turn a blind eye to suffering and injustice, it even affects decisions of war and peace. Left to our own, we would choose the darkness over the light.

But there is hope for us. Because God so the world… God took the initiative and provided a way for us to be saved, to choose the light. He sent his Son and he gave him to us. If we gaze upon him and choose him, we can walk in the light. We still live with the consequences of our decisions and our sins, but God provided a way for us to turn away from those sins and follow the path that leads to eternal life, a life lived fully and abundantly. God loves each of us deeply and intimately and the he is willing to give us everything in order to save us from ourselves.

– Michael Tuck

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