Love: God Loves the World
3/23/2018 3:46:02 AM
March 18, 2018
Welcome and Announcements:
Scripture: John 3:1-21
Think back to a time you really screwed up, a time you really blew it. How did you feel then? How do you feel now? Did you know that even when you really blew it, God still loved you?
Think about a sin you continue to battle. Think about an indwelling, recurring, entrenched behaviour you keep finding yourself in that is inconsistent with life in Christ. How does that make you feel? I know some of us here are battling ongoing, entrenched sin in our lives. Partly because I talk with some of you about it, but mostly because I know we’re all human beings! We all have deep-rooted sin in our lives, even as Christians!
I was talking to Christine and Peter at our last elders’ meeting and Christine talked about the cognitive dissonance that happens when we are engaged in regular sin. While we all experience it, it seems to really affect kids who’ve grown up knowing all about God. When we find ourselves engaging in entrenched sinful activity, we feel the dissonance, the contradiction, between that behaviour and our faith in God. That tension often leads young people away from God. They give up on God because they know their lifestyle is inconsistent with God and, instead of battling the sin, instead of repenting and turning to God, instead of reaching out for help, they give up faith, give up on God, because of activity in their life. What a shame! What a victory for Satan! Just what he wants – to let sin drive a wedge between us and God!
But God loves you, even in your sin! He doesn’t want to give up on you or let you go. Don’t let your favourite sin come between you and God! Don’t choose sin over God.
There’s an old movie now, Good Morning Vietnam. In it, Robin Williams plays a controversial, but funny and energetic radio host for the army. He is stationed in Vietnam and struggles to figure out the nuances of a war zone. While funny, I can’t give this movie my “pastor seal of approval” because of the language in it. But at the end of the movie, there’s a powerful montage set to the song, “It’s a Wonderful World” sung by Louis Armstrong. With this sweet, happy music going in the background, there is scene after scene of violence in Vietnam, protests, soldiers deploying, bombs exploding, etc. It’s a moving scene because of the powerful contrast, the dissonance, between the music and the images.
The message of the gospel is one of such dissonance. On the one hand, there is the beautiful music of God’s love. On the other hand, there is the terrible scenery of sin going on all over the world. There is brokenness, sin, abuse, anger, murder, gossip, slander and all the rest going on in the world, but the gospel says God loves the world. How do these things reconcile? How does evil coincide with God’s love? If I’m the perpetrator of sin, what does God’s love mean for me? If I’m the victim of another’s sin, what does God’s love mean for me?
Every day, we tell Megan we love her. Even when we have to correct, discipline or punish her, we tell her we love her. Now, we often hear Megan say, “Do you love me?” to which we reply, “Of course!” Then she asks, “Even when I’m sinful?” And we answer, “Of course! Even when you’re sinful.” We want Megan to grow up knowing that although her sin is not good, not ok, we still love her. We don’t want her to feel that dissonance between love and sin, because love is the very solution to the problem of sin!
We are going to read a beautiful text today that examines the problem of sin and its solution. Please turn to John 3:1-21.
What It Says
John is an amazing writer. Even though he was only a fisherman, and probably didn’t get a lot of formal education, John is a great writer who uses many literary devices in his Gospel. We’re going to see some of those as we go. There are lots of things going on in this text, including double meanings, themes introduced in Chapter
1, etc. We came across one of the most famous verses of the Bible, John 3:16, as well as an important concept- being born again! But we will see more about that in a moment.
The passage begins with Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. What’s happening here? It is significant that Nicodemus comes at night because in John light and dark, or day and night, are important, recurring themes! That Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night could mean he just wanted to have a private, uninterrupted chat with Jesus. He may have been afraid of being seen with Jesus too. But in John, there is another, hidden or double meaning going on here. Nicodemus, at this point, is not a believer in Jesus, so he comes from the dark or in the dark to see Jesus. But notice that he is at least coming toward the light! Jesus is the light of the world! Verse 21 speaks of those who live by the truth- that they come to the light! Here is Nicodemus coming to the light. [Frederick Dale Bruner, John, p. 166] Interestingly, by the end of John, Nicodemus is one of Jesus’ followers. He helps get Jesus’ body from the cross.
But who was Nicodemus? We are told that he was a Pharisee, a member of the ruling council called the Sanhedrin, and a “teacher of Israel.” The Sanhedrin, or ruling council, was dominated by Sadducees, so the fact Nicodemus was on it means he was in the minority, but probably speaks to his standing even among Pharisees.
So we can surmise that Nicodemus was a good, religious, educated, wealthy, faithful man of the people of God. As a Pharisee, he would have been careful to follow all the laws in the Old Testament, as well as many traditions added to it so that nobody even came close to violating the law. Nicodemus was a holy man! He was the best of the best. He was a righteous man. Of all the people in Israel, of all the good people today, even, Nicodemus has great reason to believe he is in a right relationship with God and that he’s a sure bet to enter the Kingdom of God.
Nicodemus says that “we” know Jesus is a teacher from God. We’re not sure who the “we” refers to. Maybe Nicodemus represented a small group of seekers within the Pharisees? It is interesting, though, to note that Nicodemus began with Jesus being a teacher. Today, many liberal theologians make this where they end off! Nicodemus began where liberal theology ends! [Bruner, p. 167]
Suddenly, Jesus brings up the Kingdom of God. And he even says something startling to Nicodemus, the righteous, holy, faithful Jews. Jesus brings up being reborn! How does that work?!? Nicodemus had already been born a Jew- a descendant of Abraham. What else could he ask for from his birth?
But what is the Kingdom of God? WE must remember that the Kingdom of God is not a reference to a region, or a place, or even a people over whom God rules. No. Kingdom of God means the authority of God to rule. It is also a reference to the future Age, the Age to Come. Remember our helpful diagram with the 2 lines… The Kingdom of God, the rule of God, refers to the coming age after the return of Christ.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that to enter the Kingdom of God, to enter the rule of God, to enter the future age, one must be born again. What does that mean?!? Actually, this is one of John’s double meanings in the Gospel. Again in Greek is the same word as “from above.” So Jesus is actually saying, “you need to be born from above to enter the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus to be saying, “You have to be born again.” The irony is that in English we have continued the mistake! We talk about being born again Christians, but what Jesus was actually talking about was being born from above!
When Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus, Jesus goes on to make a comparison with the wind. But again,
this is a double meaning. In Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic, the word for wind is the same word as spirit! Jesus says you must be born of water and Spirit both. This could either mean born of water- like being physically born, or is could be a reference to baptism. While it is unlikely Jesus would have been talking about Christian baptism at this point in his ministry, water and baptism would have immediately brought to mind the ministry of John the Baptist who was baptising Jews who were repenting of their sin! John and his teaching, as well as his baptism, were soundly rejected by the Pharisees, maybe even including Nicodemus. But the point is that Jesus may very well have been joining repentance with the Spirit!
The Spirit is like the wind- it blows where it wants to and you cannot see where it comes from, you can only feel its effect. So the Spirit brings rebirth in those he chooses, not necessarily Jews or Pharisees. But Nicodemus doesn’t get it. Jesus is exasperated! Hasn’t Nicodemus preached on the famous Ezekiel passage about the Valley Of Dry Bones? Doesn’t he remember that God’s Spirit brings new life, even to the dead?
OK, if Nicodemus doesn’t get that OT reference, how about another one? Jesus brings up the events in Numbers 21. The people of Israel had been grumbling about the Manna God had been sending for food. So, because of their grumbling, God sent poisonous snakes to bring them to repentance. When they had seen the error of their ways, when they repented, God instructed Moses to construct a bronze snake on a long pole. Moses held up the snake for the people to see, and those who looked were healed. Looking at the snake was a sign of repentance after rebellion and it lead to healing and restoration.
Jesus says that just as Moses lifted up the bronze snake, Jesus, the Son of Man, must be lifted up, for the healing of the people- that they will inherit eternal life. (We will look at eternal life in a moment!) When Moses lifted the snake, the people had to look on it and simply trust. In the same way, when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, all people need to do is trust in him to be healed from their sin. There is another double meaning here too! Lifted up, in John’s Gospel, can mean both lifted up literally, like on the cross, or figuratively as “praised” or exalted.
Benediction: “Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Timothy 1:17]
Communion: [1 Cor 11:23-26]
23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."
25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
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