No, I did not out of a morning fog get that “6” up-side-down. As I did yesterday with a youth group, I choose to talk about John 3:19. It is odd this verse is not well known coming so soon after the famous John 3:16. But you shall soon see why.
We’ll start with 3:16 (And I use the English Standard Version here.)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Yay! Oh sorry. I got carried away with that verse being plastered everywhere, even (especially) at football games. And we all love that verse. And it is good news we all desperately need. So . . . YAY!
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
We do not hear that verse quite as often as verse 16, but we do hear it a lot. And no wonder – it is very encouraging, too. I am certainly glad Jesus came to save people, particularly your humble blogger.
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Now we do not hear that verse quite so often, do we? Talking about non-believers being condemned does not make for a pleasant sermon or Sunday School lesson. Aversion to such unpleasantness is not just a liberal affliction. I’ve run in more orthodox church circles most of my life, and I’ve heard this verse much less than verses 16 and 17.
But people need to know that rejecting or ignoring Jesus has awful consequences, and that not because God is eager to condemn – the previous verses teach the opposite – but because the natural consequence of foolishly rejecting the Giver of life is death.
Now John gets even more unpleasant.
19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
These verses are even more unpopular. I have heard these verses taught before, but not often, even though these come so soon after John 3:16. I am somewhat familiar with these verses anyway; yet, to be honest, a few days ago I was not aware that they came just after John 3:16.
I was made aware while reading John 3 during my daily office. And one of the strengths of using a good lectionary, as I was, is that virtually the whole Bible gets read in context. That is also a good reason to read whole books and the whole Bible through. Both the context and the unpleasant bits are less likely to be overlooked.
The timing of my being made aware was providential as we have been reading John Stott’s Basic Christianity in the aforementioned youth group. Stott wisely warns early in his book (where the group is now) against the response of most people to Christianity – to not seek the truth about Jesus and about the Christian faith at all. And he notes that one reason many do not seek is that they are afraid that if they find, there will have to be changes in their lives.
It is interesting that that many non-Christians instinctively know that if they come to faith that there will indeed have to be change, particularly a rejection of pet sins. They are correct! Salvation is a package, and rejection of sin is part of the package.
Nonetheless the fact that many choose not to even seek the light and the truth because they do not want to give up their dark deeds is neither pleasant to hear nor to teach. So I am very thankful that I was reminded of verses 19 and 20 so I could use them to teach this. I’d rather St. John take the blame instead of grumpy Mark.
But is it not interesting that John 3:19-20 is heard so much less often than John 3:16 just three verses before. Orthodox or not, we just do not want to hear or teach that our own attachment to sin can keep us from seeking Jesus. Better to be more uplifting, not to mention polite.
But politeness neither saves nor sanctifies.