Believe and Obey

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So Familiar, Yet So Radical

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Linking Old & New

The Gospel reading for this Fourth Sunday of Lent is John 3:14-21.  This contains arguably the most famous passage of all Scripture, John 3:16.  The complete passage provides much needed context around the 16th. verse.

First, this text is clearly foreshadowing the fate of Jesus upon the Cross.  Yet, it is also linking it to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, specifically Numbers 21:4-9.  In that passage God had sent venomous snakes amongst the Israelites as a punishment for speaking against the Lord (not having faith in His plan for them). Then the Lord told Moses to “Make a snake and put it on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Num 21:8).  If anyone trusted the Lord, enough to look upon what would seem to be a repulsive image they would be saved.

This is a clear link to the revulsion that most, if not all, saw in Jesus upon the Cross.  Executed as a criminal in the most painful, shameful manner.  Yet to look upon that Cross and trust in God’s word and plan is to be saved.

Explaining the Why of God

Of course, this passage does a great deal more than simply link the Old Testament with the New Testament.  It helps us understand the why of what God is doing.  At least it explains it as much as our limited human minds can understand.  John 3:16 lays it out perfectly, “For God so loved the world…”  Duh!  It is the reason for all that God does for us.  The reason why He called Creation into existence and gave it to us.  It is why He made the earth and all that is in it, and gave it to us.

Let us not forget as well the radicality of verse 16.  God so loved the world.  Not just us as followers of Jesus, but the world.  Not just us as white, or Americans, or as whatever we are that we think is so good.  Yes, God loves all of these as well, but never forget that He loves the world!  It is an all-encompassing, never-ending love that is absolutely without limits.  That is what is so radical about a passage that is so familiar.

The Trust God is Seeking

The takeaway for us from this familiar, yet radical passage is that God is making it clear that He wants us to trust Him.  That is, to believe in Him.  We are to believe in that totally unconditional love.  A love that saw Him allow His own Son to be lifted up in such a repulsive way as a sacrificial servant.  That He sent Jesus to live, love and serve and die amongst us is a testament to that love.  We need simply to trust in that love.

Trusting in God’s good and gracious word; looking upon Jesus lifted up, as the ancient Israelites did with the serpent, can make us confident in our salvation.  All that we need to make us right with God is present in our faith.  Our salvation is assured.  Then we can go out and do good works because we now stand in the light.  This is the point of verses 19-21.  “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.  But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light”. 

Our faith has set us free to live in the light and proclaim that light to all in our lives.  We will try as best we can (imperfectly to be sure) to do good things in response to God’s saving grace, given us freely by our faith.  That is to say this passage teaches us to believe, then obey.

Praise Be to God

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