John 3:14-21: Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
John 3:16. Perhaps the most famous verse in all of Scripture, but without context perhaps the emptiest. Simple question? What does John 3:17 say, in fact what does the rest of Chapter 3 say? How do we hold it in tension with John’s Gospel? What do we know about John’s Gospel?
It is, chronologically, one of the last books written that found its way into the NT. It may be as much at 50 years after the first Gospel, Mark, was written. That leaves time for a lot of development in the church and a significant time of reflection and growth for people of faith. It shouldn’t be lost on us that most of the stories in John’s Gospel portrayed as coming from Jesus, are not recorded in the other three Gospels or in fact elsewhere in Scripture. That includes the story of Nicodemus, which makes up the first half of chapter 3, and is somewhat a mirror image of the theological statement of the second half.
Nicodemus was a Pharisee. A man of privilege and power and status. Yet he had come to recognize that the “law” as it was being practiced was not in the interests of God. He saw in Jesus the way and the truth. And so he came to Jesus in the middle of the night – in the darkness literally and figuratively, to see and question Jesus. He knows Jesus is of God, but he doesn’t understand, and Jesus, as He always does, gently shows Nicodemus the way.
And then the whole conversation is repeated following John 3:16. Affirmation that Jesus came to save the world, not condemn the world and that people must come from the darkness into the light to find truth.
This reading and the Epistle from Ephesians both call us to an understanding of belief and behaviour. We must first come to believe, but if that faith is true, then our behaviour must change and our way of life must be more closely in line with the message of Jesus. Now, I am quite confident in saying, from personal experience, that this cycle of belief and behaviour is an ongoing part of a life of faith. It is no coincidence that we find this reading in Lent when we are to be introspective of our belief and how it impacts who we are and how we live.
Let me share one story about how faith can move us into the realm of God’s desire for us. Last week, in several schools in London, students organized walk outs in support of the students in Florida who saw their classmates killed, their lives changed, and are trying to hold their government to account by calling for change rather than the status quo desired by a powerful lobby group. While the distance physically is great, spiritually there is a melding of young people everywhere. The London Free Press printed an article about a brave 13 year old who was willing to risk discipline because she felt that the statement needed to be made here. She organized the walk out at Lord Roberts School. Her name is Lily Ryan and she is a member of this congregation. I sent her a message telling her how proud I am of her. This is spirituality that is accountable to faith in God and flowing from that belief into behaviour. Many of us would not have the courage to stand up and say this is wrong. Lily shows us the way.
God does love the world and did send His Son that those who believe might have life. He did not send Jesus to condemn the world, but to save the world. Jesus calls us to recognize that belief must impact who we are and what we do. We must call ourselves and others to step from the darkness of power and control into the light of acceptable, mutual benefit and plain, simple loving of God and neighbour.
The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery