Thursday, March 17, 2011

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

- John 3:16-21

In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught Nicodemus about baptism, and about being reborn again with water and the Spirit in order to enter the heavenly spiritual realm. He said, "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." As they spoke, Jesus told Nicodemus that no one knows of the deeper mysteries of heavenly things except He who has come from above. He added, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." In today's reading, Jesus continues His teaching to Nicodemus.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The power and beauty of this statement permeates through the many layers of meaning in the teachings to Nicodemus. First, there is the sense in which we cannot enter into a heavenly kingdom unless we first are a part of that realm or that currency; we must be reborn in Spirit in order to do so. There must be something in ourselves that can live in a such a realm. And further, He will be "lifted up" as a sign to defeat that which is against that heavenly kingdom, and active in the world, and keeps human beings from being able to find the entrance to the kingdom for themselves. Finally, the "lifting up" is a true sign of eternal life in this kingdom, and done "so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." It all comes full circle with this statement above: the love of God is absolute and the beginning of all. It is so powerful and so overwhelming of all other things that God has sent His Son in order that we may have eternal life, and rest in Him and His kingdom. The spiritual reality of this mission is so that we may live with Him, in eternal reality.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." The full meaning and purpose of this mission is for salvation, for all of us to fully live - to have life as an eternal gift and reality for ourselves. It is so He may keep us all with Him, and lose none.

"He who believes in Him is not condemned, but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." A complex and difficult saying, but in some sense clear in the understanding of what has come before. Unless we become "like" that kingdom, how do we dwell in it? And how will we dwell in that spiritual reality if we have rejected it already? How do we become a part of its eternal life? The "name" here is very important, because it gives us a sense of belonging to a kingdom, the same way that any king or emperor or earthly kingdom of power may stamp its "name" on something and claim it as a part of its reality. If that "name" is rejected, how then does one belong to that kingdom, or how can one live as a part of it? Faith, or trust, is a sign of our acceptance of that authority.

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God." My study bible says here: "A profound insight: Goodness and a pure heart welcome the light, whereas evil deeds and malice resist the light and seek to hide in the darkness." I think the phrases here touch on an even deeper reality, that of the experiential nature of real faith and its power working in us. There is a kind of recognition that happens within ourselves that sparks faith. It depends upon what we love. If the "plank in our own eye" is so great that we are stuck in love for that, and it becomes an obstacle to spiritual sight, then we have in effect rejected the good. If we continue to act against what is good, then this is what we have embraced, put first, in our choices. It depends upon what our treasure is, where our heart is.

What we learn from today's lesson is manifold: we are a part of kingdom if we are reborn in Spirit, like meets like. But it depends also upon our choice: what do we love? Can we see the act of love in Christ's great sacrifice, and understand the sign of God's love as He is lifted up? Can we know who we are in this kingdom, in Christ, and find our way toward Him through love and trust? Or do we reject it all, and remain outside of it? Whatever way you look at today's reading, one thing is clear: He wants us with Him, in an eternal embrace and in love and trust. Which do you choose? What obstacles stand in your way?