Keeping it simple

John 3:1-17

Have you ever felt that the all of the teachings of the Bible and the doctrines of the church are a bit much to take in at once?  Ever found yourself pondering some passage and just getting increasingly frustrated?  I know I have.  There’s a lot to take in isn’t there?   Well it’s OK!  You’re not the only one, the discussion that took place between Jesus and Nicodemus tells me so.

Here we have a learned scholar, one of the top teachers, a Pharisee who knew his Torah inside out, he knew all of God’s laws and how to keep them.  He held one of the seventy one seats of the Judean Supreme Court.  Yet when he comes and talks to Jesus, he gets stumped on Jesus’ first statement.  The kingdom of God is too much for him to work out, no wonder I sometimes struggle!

After a fair bit of somewhat confusing discussion Jesus realised that Nicodemus just wasn’t going to get it.  So he used the KISS principle, you know the one don’t you.  Keep It Simple, Stupid.  Perhaps a better formulation is Keep It Short and Simple (which describes me quite well!).  He gave Nicodemus one sentence, just one verse.

Some have called that verse, John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell.  When you think about it though a nutshell is a bit ugly, well at least a walnut shell is.  But the verse itself looks much better to the eye and sounds better to the ear; we all know it so well.  “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.”

I’ve had this verse on my bedroom wall since October 18 1981, the day of my confirmation.  From time to time I read it and it reminds me of my confirmation day and also the incredible gift that our loving God gave us through his Son.  We see it at sporting events around the world perhaps painted on piece of cardboard, just those three numbers; for a large part of the population it needs no more explanation.  We see it and we know the verse by heart.

It seems much easier to believe a seemingly straight-forward verse like that than to make sense of the whole of the rest of the Bible, no wonder it’s a verse that many of us cling to.  Yet even that verse requires some unpacking and putting into context.  The well known author Max Lucado released a book late last year titled, 3:16, The Numbers of Hope.  A whole book unpacking just one verse!  I hope to read it one day soon, but I haven’t bought a copy yet, I think it might be an interesting read.

I think its disappointing though that when we read verse 16 we don’t very often include verse 17.  This verse is important to the one before it.  “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.”

Why is this verse so important? Because it reiterates what the preceding verse is saying, but goes a step further, it’s more specific.

We can’t help ourselves, when we read 3:16 we start thinking about all of us believers and how we’ve been saved and all that other mob are condemned, lucky us.  But by reading 3:17 we are firmly reminded that God didn’t send his Son into the world to condemn it, he wanted the whole world to be saved by him! 

Pretty simple stuff isn’t it?

Why then do we struggle to with it?  We build things on to it.  We decide that we need to DO stuff to be saved.  But our best efforts won’t cut it!  The only criterion that Jesus puts on receiving eternal life is that people must believe.  And where do you think that believing comes from?  Does it come from us?  No it comes from him.  He gives us the ability to believe in the first place, because he wants us to have eternal life, us and EVERYBODY in the world.

To receive that faith, that believing, we must first be born again.  Just like Jesus said to Nicodemus at the start of their conversation.  In order to see the kingdom of God, you must be born from above.  It’s an interesting concept.  WE ask, “How can that happen?”  Nicodemus asked the question too, “How on earth is a grown person supposed to be born again?”  I like the analogy of being born again.  Unfortunately, the term has got some baggage hanging off of these days from people’s perception of ‘Born again Christians’, but the way Jesus uses it here makes sense. 

What did we do in order to be born the first time around?  Did we yell out and say, “Hey Mum, I reckon it’s time, I’m gunna get out now”.  Of course we didn’t.  Our mother’s bodies decided when the time was right, and then (at least those who didn’t have a C-Section) they did all the work to get us out of there.  They bore the pain; they did all the work, made all the noise and pushed us out into this world.  We had no power over it; it was something that happened to us by default.

That’s very similar to our rebirth as Christians, when we are born again from above, in our Baptism.  God does all the work, though water and his Word, by the power of the Holy Spirit we are reborn, washed clean, by the blood of Christ.  He bore the pain, he did all the work.  He gave us new life, by water and the Spirit, eternal life, which began on that very day, we live in it now.  We already have eternal life.

Why?  Because 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. BUT God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

The Gospel in a nut-shell.

Amen