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March 30, 2003

TITLE:     Living in the Light

SERMON IN A SENTENCE:   Christ brings light and life to those who believe in him, but not to those who refuse to come to the light.

SCRIPTURE:    John 3:14-21    

SERMON:     This scripture passage contains what is commonly known as “Everyone’s Text.”

"For God so loved the world

that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but have eternal life."

John 3:16 -- this verse about the beloved Son is probably the most beloved verse in the Bible.  It isn't uncommon at football games for people caught in the eye of a television camera to hold up a card on which they have written in Magic Marker:  John 3:16.  That says it all, doesn't it!  Everyone knows John 3:16; repeat it with me:

"For God so loved the world

that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but have eternal life."

This text tells us some great things:

1. It tells us that that the initiative is all salvation lies with God.

2. It tells us that the mainspring of God’s being is love.

3. It tells us of the width of God’s love. It was the whole world that God so loved. It was not a specific nation; it was not only people that loved Him; it was the whole world; the unlovable and the unlovely, the lonely—who have no one else to love them, even those who spurn him are included.

But John 3:16 is just one verse, and we owe it to ourselves to see it in context.  In the earlier verses, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus.  When Nicodemus comes to Him and is unable to understand Jesus’ teaching about being born anew in the Spirit, Jesus tells him that he is failing to receive Jesus’ testimony. Nicodemus is not getting it. He is missing out on the kingdom. Jesus uses an Old Testament story to explain the necessity of the cross -- and the new life that the cross makes available to us.

On their journey through the wilderness, the people of Israel murmured and complained and regretted that they left Egypt. To punish them, God sent a plague of deadly, fiery serpents; the people repented and cried for mercy. God instructed Moses to make an image of a serpent and hold it up and those who looked upon were healed.

As the serpent was lifted up to save so too Jesus must be lifted up. When we turn our lives to Him and believe in Him we too are healed and given eternal life.


And then there is the part that comes after John 3:16.  After saying that God loved the world and sent his Son to give eternal life, Jesus goes on to say:

"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."

Of course, God didn't send the Son to condemn -- but sent him to save!  Of course!

John 9:39 says, “For judgment I came into this world.” How can both be true?

It works like this. If when a person is confronted with Jesus and the soul responds to the wonder and beauty of Jesus, salvation is at hand. If when a person is confronted with Jesus and the soul does not respond, does not see anything lovely, they stand condemned by their own action and not by Jesus.

 But then Jesus continues:

"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."

That is harder for us to appreciate.  We like it when Jesus tells us that he loves the world and came to save it.  We don't like it when he says some are condemned because of their failure to believe.  Perhaps that is true, but we would prefer not to think about it. 

We want to know that he came to save the world, but we aren't interested in hearing about people being condemned.  But Jesus is as clear about the condemned part as he was about the saved part.  Maybe I can explain it this way -- Jesus is saying that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. 

Some of us have horses, For the ones who don’t, you might never have seen a horse refuse to drink.  However, many of us do have children, and have had much the same experience.  Have you ever known exactly what your child needed -- and made it available -- and tried to persuade the child to take it -- only to have the child stubbornly refuse?  If you have been a parent more than about thirty minutes, you know exactly what I am talking about!

Jesus says that he came to save the world, but some people don't want to be saved.  He says that they love darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.  They don't want to come to the light lest their evil deeds be exposed.  Again, we prefer not to think about people like that -- but we must admit that they exist.  There are, in this world, people who prefer darkness to light -- who prefer evil to good.

All you have to do is to pick up a newspaper.  The stories are there -- all you have to do is to read them -- ugly stories about evil people -- people who love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.  And Jesus tells us that these people are condemned.  They are condemned because they will not come to the light.

This is a wonderful passage to reassure all of us that God longs for us to believe and be faithful. God wants the whole world to be redeemed. God does not want to condemn the world. God longs to be in a relationship with us; God loves us. What then should our response be to such a God? The very same response Jesus urges in this passage—BELIEF. Not just the magic words, I believe in Jesus. Belief means an assent of the heart. It means trusting that God loves you and is at work mending and healing the world. It means living a life that reflects God’s love for the whole world.

A couple of things I would like for you to take home with you from this sermon today is: first, I would like you to remember once again the beautiful verse that you already know:

"For God so loved the world

that he gave his only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but have eternal life."

That is the promise that God loves the whole world -- all of us -- you and me.  That, indeed, is Good News!

And then, I would like to challenge you in two ways:

to live your life in the light of Christ -- to examine yourself to find the dark corners that you are trying to hide from Christ -- so that you might open your heart fully to receive the light of Christ.  If you do that, it will change your life.  It won't be an easy experience, but  you will be glad you did.

And finally, I would like to challenge you to be a bearer of Christ's light -- to your family -- to your co-workers -- to your friends and neighbors -- to the clerk in the store.  I am not calling you to trap people in a corner and ask, "Do you know Jesus?"  I am suggesting something quite different -- that you open yourself so fully to the light of Christ that you become a beacon of light -- a beacon of faith -- a beacon of integrity. 

Let Christ change the way you think about people -- the way that you relate to them.  Let Christ change your language -- the way you talk to people.  Let Christ change the way you make decisions, so that you are always trying to do the right thing rather than the easy thing.  Christ shining through you will have a great effect.

While we ourselves might be overwhelmed by our own weaknesses and limitations,

we can still be so transparent that the Spirit of God, the divine counselor,

can shine through us and bring light to others."

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