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Lent 4

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John 3:14–21 NIV
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Our text today contains perhaps the most well known passage in the Bible. It is the famous which at times is written on posters and shown in the end zones of football games. For those who memorize Bible passages, this is probably the one memorized by the majority of people.
What is its appeal? It is known as “The Gospel in a Nutshell.” If you were to summarize the Good News of Jesus Christ, you would be hard pressed to find a passage which says it as succinctly and as clearly as this passage.
Our goal today is to consider the context in which it is found in the Bible and to explore how it is explained.
Question: Who said this? Since the Bible wasn’t written using modern punctuation, the editors and translators sometimes have to decide whether it is spoken by one of the characters in the story or if it is the narrator’s commentary. Opinions vary on this passage.
Is this a very personal instruction that Jesus have to Nicodemus to teach the way of salvation which was later shared with those who read the Gospel of John?
Is this a commentary by John as the heart of the Gospel message?
Regardless, it is true what is expressed here.
Context: The event in which we read this passage takes place early in Jesus’ ministry. He had gone to Jerusalem (an event not recorded by the synoptic writers). While there, he is already under investigation.
Why? Because there were those who took the word of God seriously. Not everyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God should be trusted just because they claim to be speaking on behalf of God. The Bible teaches us to investigate their claims and to compare them with the standard of God’s word.
1 John 4:1–3 NIV
1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.
Jesus himself invites such scrutiny.
John 10:37–38 NIV
37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. 38 But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.”
In this visit Jesus is being scrutinized by a religious leader. (Background on Nicodemus.)
In this visit Jesus is being scrutinized by a religious leader.

NICODEMUS (Νικόδημος, Nikodēmos). An influential Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin who showed interest in Jesus’ teaching and possibly became a believer.

Nicodemus in the Gospel of John

John is the only Gospel that mentions Nicodemus. Tenney identifies Nicodemus as “a secret disciple whose faith grew slowly” (Tenney, EBC, 186). Nicodemus’ relationship with Jesus develops over three episodes:

• John 3:1–21: Nicodemus comes to Jesus during the night and learns about the necessity of new birth. He honors Jesus by calling him “Rabbi” and acknowledges that Jesus comes from God (John 3:2). Although some scholars suggest that Nicodemus visits Jesus at night (John 3:2) to avoid being seen with him, Borchert says that the imagery of darkness represents Nicodemus’ unbelief or doubt (Borchert, NAC, 170). Nicodemus struggles to understand Jesus’ explanation that he must be born again to enter the kingdom of God: “Birth for him apparently was limited to physical birth” (Borchert, NAC, 173).

• John 7:50–52: Nicodemus somewhat defends Jesus before the Pharisees at the Festival of Booths. When other Pharisees speak against Jesus and seek His arrest, Nicodemus argues that Jesus should receive a fair trial according to Jewish law. The text does not clarify his motives. Borchert suggests that, as a fair-minded member of the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus is urging just treatment for the accused (Borchert, NAC, 294). Tenney, while acknowledging that Nicodemus’ question “was not an open declaration that he had faith in Jesus,” allows more room for the possibility that Nicodemus sympathizes with Jesus: “Nicodemus may have felt that if he championed Jesus’ cause unequivocally, he would lose his case; but if he raised a legitimate legal objection, he might prevent drastic action” (Tenney, EBC, 88).

• John 19:39–42: Nicodemus brings about 75 pounds of myrrh and aloes to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. The account identifies Joseph of Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38), but it offers no clear statement of Nicodemus’ faith. However, the surprising amount of spice indicates that Nicodemus ultimately recognizes Jesus as king. Borchert says, “it was enough spice to bury a king royally. The Johannine Death Story thus makes clear that Jesus was a King” (Borchert, NAC, 281). Tenney says the extravagant quantity of spice shows not only Nicodemus’ great wealth but also his appreciation of Jesus (Tenney, EBC, 186).

What was his goal?
What was his goal?
Seeking to discredit Jesus? Since most of the Pharisees would often try to discredit Jesus later, the fact that Nicodemus was a Pharisee may lead to the conclusion that this was his goal. However, he would later be identified as a disciple (follower) of Jesus.
Doubted his claims? This is possible but Jesus removes his doubts.
Sought the truth? If so, this is a good example for us to follow. Even teachers should consider themselves to be students. Our goal to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus should lead us to approach him with a seeking heart that wants to know the truth.
Wanted to become a follower of Jesus? Probably not yet. But he would show his faith in Jesus on Good Friday when he comes to take care of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion.
Skeptic or believer? Regardless of his motives, he seems to have had an open mind based on “the rest of the story”. Nicodemus would become a believer in Jesus and we hear several commendations regarding him.
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus began with Nicodemus stating his opinion: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” He does not ask a question He does not demand proof that Jesus is indeed from God. But the implication is this, “Prove it.” Jesus responds with one of his many cryptic statements: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” After an exchange comparing natural birth with spiritual birth, Jesus teaches that he is speaking of spiritual matters and that his testimony (or teaching) comes from heaven. (NIV)
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.
This is an important reminder for us concerning the truth. God has revealed himself to us through his own words (though in the New Testament this is rare), through the messages given to and written down by the prophets, and through his Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is stating what is confirmed in (NIV)
1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.
Here Jesus predicts that he will provide purification for sins. He prophecies about three years before it happens that he [the Son of Man] will be lifted up. In hind sight we can see that this is a clear prediction of him being lifted up on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Jesus compares this event to a well known event from the Old Testament. Or it should be well known. If you are reading this sermon, let me share with you the Old Testament lesson for this Sunday. It is the narrative of what Jesus is referring to.
(NIV)
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
In the narrative, the people were saved by trusting in the promise of God. In the case of Jesus, we are saved by faith in who he is and what he has done to save us.
goes on the emphasize that Jesus did come to save us. Regardless of who says or writes this, the message is profound for all people of all time.
(NIV)
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
The wonderful news is that our God in interested in saving up. He does not want anyone to perish.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
Salvation does not come by what we do but through believing in Jesus. However, those who do not believe are condemned regardless of what they do.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
One theme in John is that of light and darkness. We understand that light is good and that darkness is bad. Here light is associated with the truth. Those who live by the truth are blessed but those who do not abide by the truth or care little for the truth are afraid of being exposed.
How careful are we that we don’t get exposed? The following example has become somewhat of an anachronism. Before digital photography, photos were made by exposing film to light. Photographers strived to allow just the right amount of light at the right amount of time in order to produce the effects they desired. To me it was somewhat of a mystery as to whether or not the pictures I took would look like I intended. I would have to wait until the film was developed. Now the results are almost instantaneous. But the theory is the same. Overexposure can lead to disaster.
Are you afraid of over exposure? Are you concerned that if someone knew to much about you, it would have an adverse effect on your relationship with them? Do you fear being evaluated because you will be seen for who you really are?
Why is that ? “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” Just as true today as it was when it was written in John. So how do we avoid exposure?
1.Live by the truth. Then we won’t be doing evil.
2. Confess our evil deeds to God and trust in Jesus. Jesus did not come to condemn our evil but to deliver us from evil.
Result? We can live by the truth as we are lead by God.
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