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March 17, 2021
Midweek Lenten Worship
John’s gospel is noticeably different from the other three, not only in terms of his writing style and the history he recorded, but in terms of the themes that he uses to reveal his idea of who Jesus is.
One of the most dominant themes is that of “belief.” It’s woven throughout the gospel and through it, John communicates what it means to be in relationship with God, or not be in relationship with God.
Verse 16 in this chapter is arguably the most-named Bible verse in the world. It’s part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee who came to visit him late one night to ask questions about who Jesus was. The answers he got were more than he bargained for, and they really tested what he knew and believed.
But Jesus’ answers don’t start and end with v16. And to take it by itself, apart from the rest of John’s gospel, limits its scope and turns it into a statement of judgment, rather than a claim of assurance of God’s love.
As he speaks, Jesus invites all those who would believe in him and follow him to remember the story of Moses lifting up the bronze serpent for the Israelites to gaze upon for healing – and carries the image forward to himself. It’s a paradox. It isn’t easy to wrap our heads around just how much God loves all of creation, and it isn’t supposed to be.
But just as the Israelites were required to look upon the very thing that brought death in order to receive life, so also we’re asked to look upon Jesus being “lifted up” in a humiliating form of death, and receive it as part of God’s plan to glorify Jesus and save the world.
But to believe this Good News in a way that brings salvation requires more than belief, it requires trust – specifically, trusting in. And to trust in Jesus doesn’t mean to only believe something about what happened to him a long time ago.
It means trusting in the grace, mercy, and love we see when we look at the cross, and letting our lives be transformed by the life that it represents. And trusting that the world has been and will continue to be transformed by that same life.
Because God didn’t send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The salvation that comes through Jesus is a continuation of the covenants that God has made throughout history to love and be present in our world, no matter what. And the condemnation that John talks about here doesn’t mean spending an eternity in hell after we die.
It represents the moment of crisis when we choose whether to enter into the life-sustaining relationship that God provides here and now, or to miss out on that experience.
Because the salvation that comes through Jesus isn’t limited to some future guarantee. Salvation and eternal life in Christ begin now – we don’t have to wait for them.
It seems like a given that everyone would choose to be in relationship with God. But God’s love exposes our brokenness and our sins – all the stuff we don’t like to think about and would just rather keep hidden away.
But God already knows it’s there and we have every reason to trust that it’s okay. Because the mercy and grace we receive remind us that we’re made whole and transformed by God’s love.
And with that wholeness and transformation come the freedom and the ability to accept God’s invitation to share God’s love. To point to the places where God is, especially when it might not be obvious, and make God’s presence known to the world.
Because part of what it means to be in relationship with God is to enter into God’s imagination and to be open to the possibilities of what God can and does do. Not only in the world but also in our own lives.
It means trusting that God meets us in our imperfections and the things we’d rather keep hidden, that God is in the places of ignorance and hostility, and all the places in the world that are just messed up.
Being in relationship with God means trusting that God remains present in all of it, and continues to love and transform all of creation. Especially on the days when it’s hard to imagine and to trust.
Because God doesn’t rescue us from the challenging times in our lives. Instead, through Christ, God promises to meet us in them and stay with us.
The salvation that comes through Jesus isn’t limited to some future guarantee. It’s the promise that even though we still experience difficulties in our lives, God enters into those places with us with life-transforming love. Because God loves us that much. Thanks be to God. Amen.