(for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2015)
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
‘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. 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. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’ (John 3:14-21, NRSV).
John 3:16 is a wonderful summary of the Gospel message: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’
It is no wonder these words hold the prominent place in the Christian world that they do. They cross traditions. They are often and widely quoted.
God is in love with the world.
During the season of Lent the church remembers her sin and that of the world around her. This can be a painful annual process. None of us can authentically approach this season of repentance simply pointing to others. Each of us is part of the world’s problem.
And it is that problem that the loving Son of Man addresses.
This is no a cosmic mission to ‘condemn’. That, according to this passage, is already the case for all who do not ‘believe’ in this divine act of love and salvation. This is a mission to save. Mercy and compassion are its core.
Mercy and compassion are at the core of God.
Of course, the church is learning this radical reality as much as anyone else. Our natural response to sin is to condemn. It turns the focus from us. It allows us to look at the other rather than at ourselves.
It makes this passage so very important. God is different to us. We want to point and highlight the shortfall of others. God wishes to save us from ourselves.
And still this holds no suggestion that God is willing to ignore our sin – allowing it to remain the world’s worst-kept secret. Uncomfortably, Jesus is a shining light. It is we who hide from its exposure. It is we who are convinced that secrecy is the best, perhaps the only, option.
It is not. Jesus’ light is the alternative.
The term ‘believe’ can be used to connote simple, even irrelevant knowledge. It can also be used to convey deep hope, genuine trust, an expression of the core values that steer our lives.
It is the latter that is expressed in this passage. Trust. Hope. Believe. These are the ways we are invited to relate to God.
To believe is a following into Jesus’ light that exposes. But this is not to condemn. It is to enable us to see ourselves clearly enough to begin the process of learning to live lives brimming with ‘deeds…done in God’.
Ours is a faith that transforms.