Summary: God speaks through his Son to all who are willing to listen and obey.
John 3.16 may be the best known verse in the Bible, but the next one is near in significance: “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.” Jesus came to save. That’s good news. But what about when he does criticize and rebuke?
We need to answer that question because many people feel guilty and fear condemnation. Hiking in the Rockies provided a parable for this. On the way up to camp the boys paused beside waterfalls and investigated unique rock formations. Our loads felt light and the hike a joy. But after camping through torrential rain, the waterlogged equipment increased our loads and combined with the threat of more storms to quell all enthusiasm. Feeling weighed down and fearing more rain made the return a non-stop trudge.
You know the feeling — guilt weighs, grace relieves. And those relieved find they enjoy the journey. Jesus did not come to condemn, but to save. So that we can be saved and live life to the fullest, we should know when and why he does condemn. Let’s read about it in John 7.14-24. [Read John 7.14-24. Pray.]
Our family vacation this fall threw us back to an earlier time. Mackinaw Island is essentially free from motorized vehicles. As a result, we thoroughly enjoyed peddling that bicycling paradise. There was, however, an unexpected problem. You must watch your step on Mackinaw because there is a prodigious amount of…(there’s no nice way to say this): "horse-poo." The movies rarely show this dangerous side effect of the time before cars — everywhere you step is a potential land-mine. Jesus also walked carefully, though for different reasons.
The fact that Jesus carefully considered his steps may surprise you. We imagine Jesus doing what he wanted when he wanted, and with little worry about the effect. But God shows us that Jesus remains innocent as a dove while planning his movements as the wisest of serpents. As a result, he refuses to be bullied into action by family, friends, or foes.
I see a clear application of Jesus’ pattern in the ways in which we speak to one another, and to those outside the church. Christians sometimes suppose that we need not be careful how we present truth, as long as we speak it. I mentioned to you a couple of week’s ago an example of this problem.
Dr. John Frame (professor at Reformed Theological Seminary): “One slogan of the Machen movement was ‘truth before friendship.’ We should laud their intention to act according to principle without compromise. But the biblical balance is ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4.15). We must not speak the truth without thinking of the effect of our formulations on our fellow Christians, even our opponents. That balance was not characteristic of the Machen movement.” Dr. Frame then says that he dreams of a day when we “honor one another as much for character and witness as we do for agreement with our theological positions.” The way we speak is as important as what we say.
We may also fail to match Jesus’ sensitivity while witnessing to his Gospel. Some believe that the technique and methods of evangelism matter little as long as we get the message out. We can paint John 3.16 on a sign and dye our hair funny colors, or we can yell at unsuspecting customers as they climb the steps to the post office — as long as we get the message out. But Jesus does not agree. For him, teaching is both content and context.
Jesus’ brothers had tried to force his hand. Not believing in him and tired of neighbors’ scornful glares, they tell Jesus to make a public claim of his power and politics. But he does not comply: “For you guys, anytime is acceptable. You don’t care about the subtleties of discerning God’s will and doing all things well. Now is not the right time; I will not react to your agenda; God is not controlled by human expectations.”
But after a day or so delay does Jesus go to Jerusalem — not publically, but in private. Rather than risk a mob proclaiming him king, he chooses an entrance that enables him to most effectively teach. Jesus was born to die. But to give his sacrifice meaning, he must teach. Therefore, he prioritizes the context of his speaking ministry (while delivering true content). He preaches so that the most people can hear and respond.
Jesus would have us, also, listen well to his words. And in this paragraph we hear some reasons to love his teaching, to labor in knowing and understanding his preaching, to build a life on his message. The first reason…