God so loved the world,
There is something ominous about the word "condemn." Lots of folks live their lives expecting that God would one day condemn them to some horrifying punishment. This is not God's plan for our lives. He wants to save our life not destroy it. This is the Good News that Jesus came to proclaim: Life not death, joy not pain.
The sad news, that some un-churched folks assume, is that they are already condemned in the eyes of the Church. They are those who have never heard grasped the Good News. They sometimes assume that God is some bugger in the sky who is out to get them.
But the Good News is that God in Christ has come to rescue not condemn!
On this Fourth Sunday in Lent we begin to hear the story of the Passion of Christ, His Empty Tomb and the Glorious Resurrection. We ask ourselves again, “Was all of this necessary?”
Today’s focus is John 3: 14-21 which is sometimes called the great summary of the gospel. Verse sixteen jumps off the page because many of us memorized it in Sunday School. However, we may have missed verse seventeen which underlines the important point that Christ did not come to condemn us but to rescue us. Indeed, the whole thing is a rescue operation.
C. S. Lewis asked a boy what he thought God was like. “Oh, he sits up in the sky and watches people having fun and then comes down and tries to put a stop to it.”
Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ with the door-opener, “Have you heard that God has a wonderful plan for your life?” And lots of college students on Spring Break had never heard it put that way.
I listened to my seminary Professor Bill Mallard’s six sets of CD’s on the life of Paul. The personable and enthusiastic lecturer had recorded the CD’s from a laity course taught at Glenn Memorial United Methodist on the Emory University campus. Since the actual Christian Church had not been founded in Paul’s lifetime, baptisms could not have been done in the context of an established Church. Mallard suggested that we baptize our children still in the name of “God’s Reconciling Community.”
The name “God’s Reconciling Community” could well be applied to the community of apostles and disciples of Jesus, in the time that John wrote today’s text. Let’s look deeper as we share a few reflections on this text.
First, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and high ranking Priest of Israel, God’s Old Testament Community, came to Jesus under the cover of darkness to ask Jesus some thoughtful questions. However, Jesus refused to give any direct answers, but retorted with the phrase, “Ye must be born again.” (See vs. 3, 5)
Nicodemus answered correctly by pointing out that it is impossible to be born again for a second time, physically. However Jesus was pointing to an entirely new experience of grace that cannot be explained but can be felt.
In verse sixteen we hear an early attempt by Jesus to explain the difference between Pre-Christian physical baptism and the new spiritual baptism of the heart. In verse fourteen Jesus draws a parallel between the golden snake on a cross that Moses lifted in the camp of Israel. Everyone who looked at that cross would be healed, but some still refused to look.
In verse sixteen Jesus explains how and why God created a possible regeneration of the human soul. It is not God’s desire that any parish. However, those who stubbornly refuse to surrender will be condemned. This is not God’s desire! This was not enacted without the soul gripping story of God giving His Son to win us back. The story is so compelling that it is hard to not embrace it. God tries to keep us from condemnation; but when we choose to refuse we have brought it on ourselves. The bottom line is that it is our decision.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor