Summary: Jesus tells us there are real consequences in our lives. He tells us this so that we can see the contrasts, look clearly at our lives, appreciate the gracious gift of God as a gift of love and live in fearless confidence of that love.
John 3:14-21 “The Gift of Love”
Traveling in foreign countries it becomes apparent to the observant tourist that there are basically two different types of travelers. There is the traveler who packs his or her country in the suitcase and brings the country on the trip. Everything is seen from the perspective of the homeland. The customs are strange, no one speaks the correct language, the food is different and not quite so good, and the plugins don’t fit. Another traveler leaves his or her country behind and becomes immersed in the country that he or she is visiting. Everything is an adventure. The food is different but good. The perspective of the people is a counterpoint to the one back home. The culture is appreciated and the customs accommodated. The traveler might even learn a few words of the countries language.
I mention this fact because it is all too easy to visit the community to which the Biblical message was first written and assume that is just like our community and culture. When we do this, the messages sometimes get distorted. We say that something is lost in the translation. Our journey into the lesson for the day is much richer and more insightful if we seek to understand the early Christians and see the world from their perspective.
FULL OF LOVE
The Christians to whom John was writing understood that the God they worshipped loved his creation. The creator didn’t limit his love to humankind. Rather God’s love was limitless and included all of creation—flora and fauna, land and sea, animate and inanimate. All of God’s actions were motivated by that love.
Because of God’s love, Jesus took on our form; and became incarnate. Because of God’s love Jesus became the path to life. Jesus was the demonstration of God’s love for humankind and for creation.
The concept of an angry judgmental God was not central to this community of early Christians, nor was it even strong. Condemnation was not the will of the father but rather the choice of the people. The rejection of light and the attraction of evil was again the decision of the people.
The result of seeing God as a loving God was life lived in gratitude and thankfulness. The early Christians to whom John wrote were too busy celebrating God’s love and grace. They did not have time to issue judgments and condemnations. The only invited those around them to join them in the light and in the celebration.
BLACK AND WHITE
The world of the early Christians was a world of contrasts and distinctions. We would say that they viewed things as either black or white; there was no gray. A person was either of the light or of the dark, either saved or condemned.
This is a difficult perspective to translate successfully into our culture. Many churches and congregations have tried, but they have come off judgmental and intolerant. In some ways, the early Christians didn’t have the diversity to address that we have. They were brought up in a world of Jew or gentile, clean or unclean, good or bad.
Another reason why they may have been more successful in dealing with black and white than we are today is that they used the distinctions to understand who they were. They were believers, saved and people of the light. This distinction did not give them a privileged status, but rather increased their responsibility. They were to live and act as the people they claimed to be. Who they were did not decrease God’s love for others nor their calling to love all people as God loved them.
The writer of John, in recording these words of Jesus, is reminding the early Christians that they are called to be a people of action. The word believe doesn’t mean intellectual ascent. When translated it is closer to the idea of living in the truth. Believing for them is living in the truth that they are saved through the work of Jesus Christ. Believing that they are children of the light meant that they were called to act like they were the light.
The people the writer of this gospel places in the harshest light are those who do not live out their faith or beliefs. Nicodemus slinks over to Jesus to ask him questions in the middle of the night. This is not a very honorable thing for a leader of the people and a religious man to do.
People are called to let their light shine and not hide it. In verse twenty-one, the early Christians are the ones who, “Do what is true come [and] to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Through their actions the gospel of Jesus Christ shone, and people were attracted to the light. Early Christians were known as a people of love. They were the ones who would care for the sick when no one else would. They were the ones who shared their possessions.