Called to the Light - John 3:11-21

Sometimes we pay attention to the wrong thing. We get used to a certain way of addressing an issue and fail to look beyond where we have been led to look in the past. It may take an outside influence to shock us into a new perspective. That could have been the script for Jesus' and Nicodemus' conversation. Nicodemus came asking questions believing he understood the basic realities of spiritual life and relationship with God. Jesus shocked Nicodemus with several of his responses.

This was rather pro forma for Jesus. He was always calling people into new understandings of life, of God, and the realities of life. In conversing with Nicodemus Jesus kept him disoriented along the whole course of their conversation. Nicodemus came seeking answers in regard to Jesus' message from God, but Jesus' responses did not follow the line of reasoning he expected. Symbols of new birth and a distinction between the spiritual and material were difficult for him to process. Eventually, Jesus shifted to a symbol Nicodemus knew from Hebrew history.

Jesus turned the conversation to an event in the life of Moses. The people had sinned against God and were suffering under a barrage of attacks by poisonous snakes. When they cried out to Yahweh for help, Yahweh told Moses to cast a bronze serpent and place it on a high pole in the middle of the Hebrew encampment. All those who were bitten by snakes were to look at the bronze snake and trust Yahweh for healing. Yahweh called for no sacrifice. Yahweh demanded no repayment for their sin. Yahweh simply instructed them to turn and expect that Yahweh desired to offer them life in the midst of certain death.

Instead of condemnation to death for their sin, they were to expect Yahweh to care for them and overcome the threat on their lives. This was completely unexpected for the Hebrew people. They did not expect to find grace in God. They fully expected condemnation and death as a direct result of their failure to measure up to God's demands of faithfulness.

not registered on the national religious conscience. The people were still immersed in an understanding of Yahweh as the Great Punisher. They fully expected God to act in accordance with the Greco-Roman myths of Zeus killing people with bolts of lighting for misbehavior. They fully expected God to mete out death in payment for sin, for condemning all who failed to measure up to the many demands of the Law given through Moses with all the ensuing traditional interpretations added onto those regulations over the generations since the Babylonian exile.

Jesus came offering a different take on God. Rather than ascribing a message of blame and the blanket condemnation of all sinners, Jesus presented Nicodemus with this picture of God's surprising redemption offered in the simplicity of unadorned grace.

Salvation in Numbers 21 was devoid of rite and ritual. It was not dependent upon sacrifice. It did not require the recitation of any special words, the intonation of hymns, or the repetition of any prayers. They were simply to look at the bronze serpent and know that it was Yahweh's desire to heal them, to protect their lives, to allow them to live.

Jesus took this image of redemption and made it central to his conversation with Nicodemus. Jesus would be lifted up on a pole so that whoever likewise trusted in him would be granted salvation in the face of sure death. Trusting in Jesus would be sufficient to grant one the life of the ages, spanning into the Messianic age of God's reign.

John goes on to describe the meaning of this interaction in verse 16, speaking of how God's love is what prompted Jesus' coming to the world. We have often quoted this verse, to the point of seeing placards help aloft with the simple reference of “John 3:16.” We so easily recite, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son....” What we often miss is what come after. God did not send Jesus in order to condemn the world. God sent Jesus in order to reconcile and redeem humanity from the many ways we stray from the life we should live.

Like Nicodemus, we are often caught up in one part of the message and miss the rest. We focus as many were taught to do on the fact that this verse means that God loves each one of us individually. Many were taught to substitute their own names in this verse, “For God so love Chris... that if Chris should believe....” That is one aspect of the message and true enough as it goes, but this text means much more than that. John declares here that God loves the world, all of humanity, not just you and me as individuals. God loves all of humanity, including people from nations we would rather ignore or consider irrelevant to our lives.

This is not all John says here, however. God does not simply love the world in such a manner that Jesus was compelled to come. John declares that it was not God's intention to condemn the world, at all. Jesus did not come because God was in the process of condemning the world. Jesus did not come to rescue some and shove others beyond the reach of God's love and reconciliation. What John declares is actually quite the opposite, in fact. Jesus came in order to redeem. Jesus came that the world might be saved through him.

If we want to look for condemnation, that is all too easy to find. John reports that the world does indeed already stand condemned. That is our normal state. We fall way too short of God's will for our lives. We are woefully inadequate in regard to what God desires or requires of us. The good news of Jesus, however, is that what matters is something entirely different. In Christ Jesus, God has entered time and space to offer us redemption and a way forward despite our failure.

While we love the darkness in order to hide the quality of our deeds and attitudes, God has entered our midst calling us into the light of Jesus' presence. It is here that we are granted to understand God's character of grace. It is here that we understand how far we have to go in learning to allow love to guide our actions. It is here in the light of Christ that we learn to let go of condemnation in order to put on love and grace in its place.

God did not send Jesus to condemn. Jesus came in order that we might be encouraged to come to the light of God's presence and healing. We are called to this light that we might be transformed to be more like God. We are called to the light to step beyond our self-condemnation and accept the path to a full reconciliation with God and God's purposes.

into God's light, however, that we not only see who God is more clearly but we become more clearly revealed as well. It is in this light we can become who we were created and called to become.

This requires a new beginning. This requires putting off our old attachments to condemnation and legalism. It requires rebirth into a new relationship with God. It requires the confidence that as we come into God's full presence we will not be condemned. We will instead be reconciled and remade. Rather than focusing on condemnation, we should be focusing on new life created and offered by God's grace.
©Copyright 2018, Christopher B. Harbin 


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