God Loved the World in this Way... Reflections 3-11-21

Texts for Sunday March 14, 2021
4th Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21

This is the second Sunday that we have used a reading from the of John instead of Mark. Last week
 we found Jesus, who had gone to Jerusalem for Passover, angrily turning over tables in the temple in chapter two of the Gospel. Please note that the other three gospels place that incident in the temple during the last week of his life. In those Gospels, it serves as one of the final provocations of the religious leaders before they arrest and kill Jesus.

In John however, the cleansing of the temple, as it’s called, was one of the first acts of Jesus’ ministry. It is a prophetic challenge to the current way things were being done. That challenge then is an undercurrent flowing through the rest of the Gospel.

That’s where we are for this Sunday’s story. Jesus is still in Jerusalem for Passover after having disrupted its rituals at the temple. Jerusalem is abuzz with rumors and speculations about Jesus. A leader among the Pharisees named Nicodemus slips in to see Jesus during the night when the darkness covers his visit. I suspect his visit was related to all the chatter going on in Jerusalem, but he didn’t want the religious establishment to know what he was doing until he had a better sense of Jesus. He acknowledges to Jesus that he seems to be from God. They proceed to have a theological discussion. Our text for today is the wrap-up of that discussion.

Jesus starts with a reference to the connection between today’s text from Numbers and Jesus’ death (more in a minute). Then he moves on to say one of the best known, most quoted, often-used bumper sticker and sign at a football game or protest. I had to memorize it in Sunday School very early in life. You can get it on pens, mugs, bags, silicon bracelets, and paper fans. It is known in shorthand as John 3:16. The verse stands alone in Christianity. 

It is lifted out of the context of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus. He is just not getting what Jesus is saying about God's kingdom and the Spirit at work in it. Jesus moves to the central message of the Gospel. So central that centuries of Christians memorize it. Will Nicodemus see the light that has come into the world?  That question is not answered for us until close to the end of John.
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.
A couple of notes:
- We often interpret “so” to mean “so much”; the Greek word means something more like “in the way of”. It is not measuring the extent of God’s love; it describes in what way God loves the world.
- The “world” in the gospel of John is the place of opposition, chaos, and sin. But  God does not condemn or destroy the world. Nope. God loves it.

Back to that bronze serpent. The snakes brought death to the Israelites because of sin and disobedience. The poisonous snakes were a consequence of their refusal to trust God. During their time in the wilderness, t
he Israelites failed again and again to trust and to live in the loving community that God had growing among them. That way led to death. The people had to look at at the serpent on on the pole, they had to look at the consequence of their sin, to look at death to be healed and live. All of the people had that opportunity – not just the good ones - to look to the bronze serpent lifted up and live. One of the lessons of the wilderness was that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. 

In the same manner, the cross represents the sin that separates us from God, resulting in death. We too must look at violence, hatred and death to be healed and live.  Eternal healing is extended to all the world when the Son of Man is lifted up.

We fail again and again to trust God and to live in the loving community that God has provided. We do not love God with our whole heart and mind, and strength. 
We do not love our neighbor. We do not forgive others. We shut our ears to the call serve as Christ has serve, and we grieve God's Holy Spirit.  Our sinful rebellion separates us from God. And separation from God is death. We turn our eyes to the cross. We see the consequences of our sin and are given healing and new life instead of death. We too learn in our wilderness that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. 

God loved the world in this way: he gave his only Son in order that everyone who believes will have eternal life.

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245