God so loved the world

Lent 4

John 3:13-22

Marian Free

In the name of God who offers life in him and with him for all eternity. Amen.

Sometimes, when I am driving, I catch the Book Reading on the ABC. It is just as frustrating to join the programme mid way as it is to reach the destination before the programme has finished. Not knowing the beginning leaves one wondering why the characters behave in a particular way, leaving before the conclusion creates lots of loose ends and unanswered questions. So it is with today’s gospel. While most of us know John 3:16 off by heart, the passage we have been given to read this morning seems to require a context. Where does this section belong in the story? How do the different components fit in to the gospel as a whole? Where is the author taking the discussion?

I am sure that most of you are well aware that the Gospel of John is quite distinct from the other three. Most notably John includes material that is found no where else – for example, the changing of water into wine, the discussion with the woman at the well and the raising of Lazarus. At the same time much that the Synoptic writers include is excluded – for example the parables, exorcisms, the institution of the last supper and more. John’s gospel is less concerned with historical fact and more concerned with theological interpretation. Written for contemporary readers, it only includes what it necessary to bring them to believe in Jesus. For the community from which the gospel emerged, it is the relationship with Jesus which is paramount. That means that for them, it is the encounter with Jesus in the present which is important NOT the words and actions of the historical Jesus limited as they are by time and place. The writer is concerned to present the gospel in such a way that those who have never met Jesus, might never-the-less be brought into a life changing relationship with Jesus – the Son of God.

Given this intention, it is not surprising that one of the techniques used to build this relationship is to present intense dialogues between Jesus and others – the woman at the well, Mary and Martha, Thomas and others. Often an initial misunderstanding of what Jesus has said provides an opportunity to elaborate on the topic, sometimes with the result that the conversation leads to understanding. The immediate context of this morning’s gospel is Nicodemus’ discussion with Jesus. Nicodemus affirms that Jesus has come from God to which Jesus replies that no one can have that understanding without having been born anew. This confounds Nicodemus as it is intended to. How can one be born again? He fails to see that Jesus means that he must be born of God, as Jesus is. At the same time, Jesus means to disconcert, to open Nicodemus to the revelation of the spirit. Jesus concludes that if Nicodemus cannot understand what is before his very eyes, that he will be unlikely to understand that Jesus, who has descended from heaven is the revealer of God and of heavenly things.

This revelation will take place when the Son of man is lifted up. Using a word which can be interpreted in two ways, the author indicates that it is on the cross that Jesus is lifted up, or exalted. He finds a precursor to this positive view of the cross, in the report of the bronze serpent of the exodus.

Jesus is lifted up (that is crucified) to demonstrate God’s love for the whole world God loves the world so much that he gave Jesus – in the Incarnation and he gave Jesus to die, in order that all who believed in this revelation could have eternal life. That is that they would understand that Jesus was the personification of God and having believed would share with Jesus in the divine life that he shares with God. By believing in Jesus, disciples are united to him and thereby become participants with him in the infinite life that he shares with God and the Holy Spirit. This is the life that Jesus had with God from the beginning and will have to the end. As God cannot die, so this life which Jesus gives is so powerful that it will triumph over death. The life that the believer shares with Jesus is eternal life. God’s gift of Jesus is the gift of God’s love which extends to the whole world.

God’s intention is not to condemn the world, but to save it. This intention does not mean that the world is saved, rather that the possibility exists for it to be saved. The choice to believe or not to believe is not imposed, but belongs to the individual. However, though the offer of eternal life seems too good to be true, there are those who refuse the gift as must be clear to the readers of the gospel. Those who do not believe are those who are unwilling to allow their true selves to be exposed to the scrutiny of God’s love and goodness. In John’s words, they choose darkness over light so that who they are will not be revealed. God does not judge them – they have already judged themselves. Because God has not judged them, the door remains open for them to enter into a relationship with Jesus.

It all depends on accepting God’s love, believing that that love extends to us in all our weakness, understanding that a relationship with Jesus is a relationship with God and that that relationship creates a union with God such that we share in the infinite, eternal life of God. For God so loved the world – the whole world not just part of it – that he gave his only Son – sent him into the world as a revelation of himself and allowed him to die – so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life – give up their old life so that they might share in the life of heaven that has no beginning and no end. In order to participate in that life, a person has to believe that Jesus is the revelation of God, to reorder one’s way of thinking (be born anew), to open one’s life to the brightness of God’s gaze and to enter into a lasting relationship with Jesus which leads to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and life that never ends.

To resist God’s love is to put our lives in peril, now and for eternity.

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