Sermon for Fourth Sunday in Lent, March 15, 2015
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 3:14-21
Sermon Theme: “In Christ There Is No Condemnation”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Examples; original ideas; Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s sermon text is one of those bold texts that even wakes up the pew-nappers who don’t get enough sleep on Saturday nights. They suddenly wake up and think, “What did Jesus say? Run that by again!” Jesus likes to shock us into listening, doesn’t He? He does it throughout the New Testament.
He tells us, ‘Don’t point out that speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye when there’s a plank in yours.’ He loves to say things like comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to the yeast a woman hides in the grain to make bread. I mean, the Jews considered yeast an “unclean” substance, and when you prepared for Passover, you had to get rid of all yeast-raised products out of the house. So comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to yeast was a shocker.
There are some “shockers” in today’s text, but before we look at them, let me just briefly sum up the text itself.
Our text is a continuation of the account of Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus. There is an explanation of the meaning of new birth, of being born again. Then suddenly, Jesus makes a reference to our Old Testament story about the fiery serpents. As the bronze serpent was lifted up as an antidote for the deadly bites of poisonous serpents, so Jesus would be lifted up on the cross that all who look on Him in faith might have eternal life.
Then He goes right into what has traditionally been referred to as the little gospel or the gospel in a nutshell. It shows us that God is not a god of retribution but of love and grace. To really see the Christ of the cross leads to repentance and new life. However, condemnation and judgment can be brought down on our heads when we turn our backs to Jesus.
That’s the text in a nutshell! A small nutshell.
Jesus knew that we tend to remember best those things that shock or surprise us, and He did that with some regularity in His teaching.
So first off, Jesus compares Himself to the snake on a pole that was raised in the wilderness. We’re likely to say, ‘Oh, but He is talking about the healings that took place.’ Yes, but that snake, as it was described in Numbers 21, that caduceus, was a pagan symbol from the religion of the Egyptians. A little shocking picture language would wake His audience up. Years later, by the way, this bronze serpent ended up in the Jerusalem Temple, and it was worshipped by the Jews until Hezekiah broke it into pieces and threw it out. The people had made an idol out of it. We would do the same thing if we started worshipping our bronze Jesus on the altar instead of Jesus Himself. The power had come from God, not from that piece of bronze.
Now, the next statement in the text really startles us. Before we realize the wonderfulness of the statement, it shocks us. “For God so loved the world.” God loves the world?! Have you SEEN it lately? Have you looked at the polluted water, earth and sky? Have you read a newspaper or listened to the news on TV? What do we read and hear? Drug deals, drive-by shootings, homelessness, unemployment, racism, ethnic cleansing, genocide, child abuse, starvation, rape, human slavery, murder, terrorist bombings, wars, and beheadings of innocent people. “God so loved the world”? This world?!
We take the truth of God’s love for granted, but if you really think about it, it is a very shocking pronouncement. How could God love a world like ours? And yet He loved us while we were still sinners.
You know, the cynics take all our good slogans and make them negative – “Keep looking up. I kept looking up and fell down!” Or, “Cheer up, things could be worse, so I cheered up and things got worse.” Moses said, when the people of Israel were in danger from snakes, “Look up at this bronze serpent that I have made and am holding up.”
“Sure, you want us to look up while we have all these serpents at our feet. We can’t do both! Thanks for the nice words.” But they were more than nice words. And the people who could lift their eyes from their fears and worries and the snakes found, to their surprise, that they were safe. Jesus picks up on this theme. When we are mired with worries, cares, and sins, Jesus says to look up to the crucified Son of God.
You see, what follows the statement, “God so loved the world,” is “that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
In the event the pew-nappers may be on the verge of dozing off, Jesus follows that shocker with some rather startling darkness and light imagery. Jesus says, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God.”
Christ’s judgment in the text is “people loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil.” ‘No, no, no, no, we don’t love the darkness, — look how bad it’s been this winter with the rain and cold and gray days and no sunlight. We love the sunlight.’
But there is darkness in our own souls, in our families, our churches, our schools and workplaces in the form of broken relationships, hate, suspicion, gossip, innuendo, heartache, depression and grief. Sure, you aren’t planning terrorists bombings, abusing children, beheading people, selling illegal drugs, etc., but darkness can find its way inside Christian souls, too. And it does.
Right in the middles of His statements, our Savior says, “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned.” In Christ, there is no condemnation. Considering our guilt, that’s a shocker.
If a building inspector comes to your house, he is coming to condemn it. He checks your foundation, your walls, your roof, your fire alarm systems, picking out the faults, and scribbling dire notes. You wait with your head down, envisioning your house strung with caution tape and “no trespassing” signs instead of Christmas lights and welcome mats.
Thankfully, Jesus is not our building inspector. He did not come into the world to condemn the world, despite all of our shaky foundations of rumors, our leaking roofs of pride and vanity, and our tottering walls of ignorance. Instead of a building inspector, He is a building renovator. Instead of rumor-riddled foundations, He will cement us in God’s truth. He tells us to knock out those leaky roofs and put in some skylights. Take out some of those walls and open up your life to knowledge and understanding which shore up your faith.
To be sure, the world is quick to judge and condemn us. To be sure, God sent His Son to save us, not condemn us. Since God shows us His grace, we should withhold our judgment of others. When the venom of guilt and sin strikes, look up to the Christ of the cross. To be sure, in Christ, there is no condemnation. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.