Summary: I need the light of Jesus in the dark cavern of my heart.

First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

March 30, 2003

Fourth Lord’s Day in Lent (B)


Isaac Butterworth

John 3:14-21 (NRSV)

14/ And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15/ that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16/ “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.

17/ “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.” 18/ 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. 19/ And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20/ For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21/ 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.”

It was at night that Nicodemus came to see Jesus. This was fortuitous, because it gave John the opportunity to talk about one of his big themes -- the darkness in which all humanity is trapped. Remember how John begins his Gospel, back in chapter 1? Speaking of Jesus, he says, “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). Even from the start you can see this conflict between the darkness and the light.

So, Nicodemus came to Jesus “in the dark.” And what I mean by that is, yes, he came after hours, but also he came benighted by another kind of darkness. There were some important matters that Nicodemus did not understand, couldn’t understand, really. And they were not just important; they were essential. Jesus had said to him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” and Nicodemus couldn’t get his mind around that. It’s not a little ironic, either, because Nicodemus was a leader of the people, a teacher, and teachers are in the business of dispelling darkness by shedding light. Aren’t they? Even Jesus was surprised. “Are you a teacher of Israel,” he asked Nicodemus, “and yet you do not understand these things?”

Of course, it isn’t just the darkness of ignorance that John wants to talk with us about. It is the darkness of sin. A moment ago, we read verse 19, where John says, “This is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” Evil, you see, is the problem. And, under cover of darkness, spiritual darkness actually, evil enlists the human heart in its battle against the light. “All who do evil,” John says, “hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (v. 20).

We all nod our heads in agreement with this. We look around at our society, and we observe the darkness at work everywhere. “It’s a shame,” we say, “the way other people do.” “Ain’t it awful?” we concur. But we need to be careful. It’s all too easy to see the darkness out there in other people and not in ourselves. When we think about sin as darkness, we want to think of really dark sins -- the kind of which other people are guilty: criminal acts, embezzlement, murder, that sort of thing.

But I want to show you something. When John talks about brazen sin, perpetrated by obvious sinners, he doesn’t use the image of darkness. When he wants to show us bold-faced sinners, he uses a different image. In fact, he does it in the very next chapter, chapter 4, where he introduces us to the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. Here was a woman who had had five husbands, and, as Jesus points out to her in the account, “The one you have now is not your husband” (4:18).

But notice that neither John nor Jesus uses the word darkness in chapter 4. No, the image there is different. Instead of darkness, it is one of thirst. Jesus tells the woman, as he points to the well where she has come to draw water, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty” (4:13-14). When it comes to the hard sins, the really notorious sins, Jesus, in the words of an old hymn, “looks past the sin and sees the need.”

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