Story - Christ
Passage: John 3:1–3:21
0I’m going to begin this morning with a confession. I know you all love when I do that. By now its pretty clear that I like some terrible tv shows. Well one of those is Grey’s Anatomy. Now I did not watch the show from the beginning, I caught on like four seasons in. So I binged the first three seasons. That’s what you call it when you watch three seasons in like a month. And then got caught up with the current season.
Now I have to say, I don’t watch the show anymore. I just found one thing so implausible. Let me explain. At one point in the series the following things had happened to the doctors of Seattle Grace: the main character almost died due to drowning, a bomb went off in the hospital, an ambulance flipped over on hospital grounds, an active shooter was loose in the hospital, a plane carrying a number of doctors from the hospital crashes, and there’s a violent storm that leads to multiple doctors in the hospital being electrocuted in the hospital basement. And it was at that point that I was out. Now I get that it’s a TV show so I shouldn’t expect things to be realistic. But the plot devices and tragedies weren’t my real problem. My real problem was this, and it was something that once I had it in my head I couldn’t stop fixating on, if you’re a doctor in that hospital and have witnessed all these terrible things happening, how have you not gotten a job literally anywhere else?!
Now all that said, my wife has just gotten back into it and is rewatching some recent seasons on Netflix. So I’m doomed. Because guess what happens when I walk by the tv and see that Grey’s is on?
Anyways…last week we talked about the covenants that God makes with us and how they impact our story. And I’ll have more to recap from that in a minute. But when we look at the history of Israel’s attempts to live out the covenant, their attempts to be faithful to the covenant, if we read the history section of the Old Testament, it can quickly start to feel like I felt watching Grey’s Anatomy. A trip through 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, a trip through the prophets and we see Israel messing up in bigger and bigger ways. And at some point you just start thinking, wouldn’t a normal person make a change here?
That’s what we are talking about today.
But first, let’s recap where we are. We are talking about the big story that God tells us in Scripture as a way to rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. The first element of that story is creation. God creates us out of love in order to love each other and gives us all we need to thrive. However, our disobedience brings about a crisis wherein those fundamental relationships are disordered. God breaks into history, breaks into our world, to make a covenant with us in an attempt to reorder those relationships. We saw last week that the 10 commandments, which are the foundation of God’s covenant with Moses and Israel, are about reordering our relationship with God and with each other. And we said that God making a covenant with us is grace as God is giving us time and working with us to bring healing and wholeness to our lives. We ended last week by saying that God making covenant with us is a sign that God still loves the world.
And yet its also clear that these covenants are not enough to overcome the crisis. In fact, in many respects the covenant sheds a light on just how big the crisis really is. And as we find bigger and bigger ways to break the covenant, we realize we need God to flip the script. And that is precisely what God does.
Our crisis has brought about an unsolvable problem. God has attempted to restore our relationship with Him and with each other to no avail. It is clear that we cannot faithfully live up to our end of the covenant. How can God possibly cross this divide, repair the relationship between God and humanity, and bring about humanity’s faithfulness to the covenant?
This is a big problem that desperately needs a solution. Because not only was our relationship with God and with each other off, but somehow in introducing disorder into those relationships, something in the fabric of the universe became distorted. And this distortion risks the entire universe descending into nothingness.
So God does something that has never been done. God comes to be with us in Jesus Christ. God becomes one of us in Jesus Christ. God invades our world, invades our time, invades our space, invades our lives in order to redeem us and solve this unsolvable problem.
How this happens is confusing and a mystery. But the meaning of it is certain. And a story from early in John’s gospel illustrates that point. Let’s go to the videotape. Or the Bible.
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
Let’s walk back through this passage going beginning, ending, middle. So Nicodemus, a Pharisee comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. Clearly he can’t be seen seriously talking to this upstart rabble rouser during the day, so he goes under cover of darkness. He has real, serious questions for this man whose miracles have been drawing a crowd. Nicodemus makes a stunning confession, we know that you are of God. This is a claim that would have made him an outcast among his fellow Pharisees as we have numerous accounts of the religious elites of the day thinking Jesus’ work was of the devil. Perhaps it is on that basis that Jesus lets the cat out of the bag to this Pharisee.
No one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again. Hubba-whaaa?! Nicodemus is as confused as we might expect. How is that possible? Biology doesn’t work like that Jesus. Jesus says this, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” The point, I think, is this: if we are to see the Kingdom of God we must be wholly changed from the inside out.
But why is that? For that, we need to go to the most famous verse in the Bible. After talk of wind blowing and the son of man being lifted, we’ll get back to that in a minute, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus is announcing that it is possible for us to be changed, that it is possible for our crisis to be averted. The final punishment of Adam and Eve eating the apple, disobeying God and bringing disorder to creation, was that they were expelled from the garden so that they could not eat from the Tree of Life and live forever. Jesus is promising us a way to eternal life, and insodoing, saying that the crisis and disorder of the fall could be repaired.
But we know this. Most of us have memorized that verse, a number of us have heard that verse our whole lives. But what comes after it is of incredible importance for understanding what that verse is talking about. Jesus continues:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.
The correlations between this passage and Genesis 3 are striking. In the end of this passage, Jesus says that there are two types of people. Those who hide in the darkness so that their deeds cannot be exposed and those who come into the light and see that God already knows everything they have done. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve eat of the tree that they were not supposed to eat and God comes looking for them. Adam and Eve hear God walking in the garden and they hide out of fear for what they have done. The story they believed about God was one of fear, condemnation, and punishment. Jesus says that some will come into the light. And when they do, they will understand that God has seen what they have done all along. Instead of a punishing God, instead of a condemning God, instead of a God we should fear, they will find a God of love, peace, grace, and mercy.
So when Jesus says that people who do not believe in him stand condemned its because they still believe that false story about God. And because of that they still believe a false story about others and about themselves. They’re condemned to a story of fear and scarcity and hate. They’re condemned to a story of disordered relationships. They’re condemned to a life that ultimately spirals to nothingness and death. They can’t be saved because they can’t tell themselves a different story.
What story do you believe about God and about yourself? What story does your family believe? Your friends? Your coworkers? Is God an angry God who is waiting to punish us, hurt us, condemn us? Do we need to stay in the dark, hiding from this God?
So if God is to save us, if God is to repair our relationships with God and with one another, if God is going to fix the fabric of the universe, God must first change the story that we tell about God.
One of the most profound statements I read in all of my theological studies comes from Elizabeth Johnson who said the image of God functions. The image of God functions. What that means is that how we picture God, the story we tell about God, has a profound impact on what we believe about our world and about ourselves. If you believe that God is out to get you, God is going to punish you, if you believe that God is mad at you for what you have done, pretty soon you will believe that you are bad. That you are worthless. That you are evil. If you believe that God is out to get others, if you believe that God is out to punish others you will soon believe that others are bad, worthless, and evil. And your basic orientation to the world will be one of fear, shame, and deception. The real you can’t be known, can’t be let out. Because if people knew the real you, if God knew the real you, they wouldn’t like you. So you have to have your guard up, you have to front. You have to be someone that others will like. This image of God has left us not liking ourselves, not liking each other, and not liking God.
God wants to change this. The image of God as a loving God, a merciful God, a forgiving God functions as well. Remember the first element of our story? Creation? We found that we were created in love in order to love and thrive. An image of God as love functions to help us see ourselves as love and as worthy of love. We are loved because God made us and love us because he made us. Suddenly who I am, as I’m created, is someone who is worthy of love. And other people are worthy of love. And love is not something to be earned, it is our baseline, it is our starting point, in our dealings with other people. I can let you know who I am and I can reasonably expect that you will love me. Not because I’m likeable, but because I am a child of God. This image of God leaves us being loved by God fully and completely, loving God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and loving our neighbor as we love ourselves.
But one question remains. How does God do this? How does Jesus Christ re-author the story we tell about God and therefore the story we tell about ourselves? God comes to us in Jesus Christ, God invades our time, our space, our world and becomes a human being, namely Jesus of Nazareth. And God does this so that Jesus can show us who God really is.
God reveals who He really is to us in Jesus Christ. God reveals His love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus loves those whom the law condemns. Jesus heals those whom the law excludes from society. Jesus shows that he has power over the natural world, power over demons, power over nature, power of life and death itself. And now we come back to the stuff Jesus said in the middle of our Scripture passage this morning.
Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Jesus mentions an obscure story from the book of Numbers where the people Israel were being bitten by snakes. God made Moses a snake staff so that if an Israelite was bitten by a snake, she could look at the staff, be healed, and not die. Then Jesus says that he will be lifted up so that people will have eternal life. Salvation will come through Jesus being lifted up. Nicodemus might not have known what that meant, but we do. Jesus will be crucified. And through that we will have eternal life. This is how God changes the story we tell about God.
Jesus has power over the natural world, Jesus has power over demons, Jesus has power over life and death. By the time we get to the end of each Gospel it is clear that if Jesus wanted to, he could prevent his death. He could prevent his crucifixion. It is clear he has that power. But he doesn’t. Jesus accepts his death, an excruciating death, rather than hurt us. Jesus accepts his punishment, an undeserved violation, rather than lash out at us. Jesus is killed instead of killing us. Jesus is raised up so that we might have life.
And in doing this, Jesus shows us who God really is. Jesus shows us that our God is a God who doesn’t punish, hurt, or kill even as we punish, hurt, and kill God. Jesus shows us that our God is a God of forgiveness and mercy and love. Jesus shows us that we don’t need to fear this God. We have already done the worst thing we could possibly do to God and God still loves us. We can draw near, we can come into the light. Because God is not angry. God is not mad. God stands ready to heal us, full of mercy, love and power.
The story that Jesus tells us about God is of a God who wants to love us back into a right relationship with God and with others. The story Jesus tells us about ourselves is that we don’t need to fear being open and vulnerable before this God. The story Jesus tells us about God and ourselves is that God already knows who we are and God came to be with us anyway.
God’s body was broken for this. God’s life was poured out for this. All we need to do is believe. Believe this about God. Believe that Jesus represents the true story of God. And believe that we can come into the light, we can come back to God, to be loved and to be healed. Will you believe that? Will you believe that story about God? Will you come into the light to be known and to know that you are a beloved child of God, inside and out, forwards and backwards, warts and all?