90 Days With Jesus, Day 10: John 3:9-21: Believe in the Crucified Lord

(I’m sorry this is so late. This is Sunday’s meditation. Number 11 soon!) 

John 3:9-21

9″How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10″You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 16″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. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

There is a book I have enjoyed by a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a Lutheran preacher in Germany during the tulmultuous times of the 1940’s. He was hanged in April 1945 after vigorously opposing the regime set up by the Nazis. The book is called The Cost of Discipleship. This is no book for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. In it Bonhoeffer makes perfectly clear that there is no room in the disciples’ life for what he calls ‘cheap grace.’ Cheap grace is, in Bonhoeffer’s words, ‘the deadly enemy of our Church,’ (page 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1!). “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 45). In Bonhoeffer’s writing, discipleship is directly linked to the cross of Christ. In fact he writes, “Here the call to follow is closely connected with Jesus’ prediction of his passion” (86). He then goes on to describe this Passion for his readers:

“There is a distinction here between suffering and rejection. Had he only suffered, Jesus might still have been applauded as the Messiah. All the sympathy and admiration of the world might have been focused on his passion. It could have been viewed as a tragedy with its own intrinsic value, dignity and honor. But in the passion Jesus is a rejected Messiah. His rejection robs the passion of its halo of glory. It must be a passion without honour. Suffering and rejection sum up the whole cross of Jesus. To die on the cross means to die despised and rejected of men. Suffering and rejection are laid upon Jesus as a divine necessity, and every attempt to prevent it is the work of the devil, especially when it comes from his own disciples; for it is in fact an attempt to prevent Christ from being Christ. It is Peter, the Rock of the Church, who commits that sin, immediately after he has confesed Jesus as the Messiah and has been appointed to the primacy. That shows how the very notion of a suffering Messiah was a scandal to the Church, even in its earliest days. That is not the kind of Lord it wants, and as the Church of Christ it does not like to have the law of suffering imposed upon it by its Lord” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 86-87).

In John’s Gospel scarcely a conversation goes by where Jesus does not allude to or flat-out say he is going to be crucified. This conversation with Nicodemus is certainly no different. Nicodemus, however, just did not understand all this talk of being born again, being born of water and Spirit, being born from above; none of it made any sense to Nicodemus and the last words we hear from him are: “How can this be?” He’s incredulous. I sense him saying something like, “Jesus, what are you saying? You are talking about things that no one is going to believe. You are making demands that no one can meet. Who then can be saved?” Or, maybe he understood it and was saying, “You mean to tell me that being a good Israelite is not enough? If what you are saying about the Spirit is true, then anyone can get into this Kingdom! They won’t even have to be Jewish! How can this be!?” Of course he did not say all that, but he came close. How can this be? And after a good ribbing from Jesus about his inability to understand simple things like birth and water and wind, Jesus lays it all out for Nicodemus. Jesus says it boils down to belief in the Crucified One: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” Belief, thus, is tied to the crucified Lord; salvation is tied to the cross; eternal life is fixed in His death.

I think what this means, then, is that it matters what we believe about Jesus. It matters whether or not we serve a crucified Lord or not. It matters whether or not we believe he came from God and was sent by God. It doesn’t change the fact of it being true if we believe or not, but John seems to be making a connection between who Jesus is (and why he came, and what he did) and our salvation, our eternal life. Everyone who believes in the Son of Man who must be lifted up will have eternal life. Whoever believes in him, the one God gave—God’s one and only Son—will not perish but have eternal life. Note this: Whoever does not believe in him stands condemned already because he has not believe in the name of God’s One and Only Son. It is impossible to not make a decision for Christ. You either actively decide for Him or you passively choose against Him. Those who refuse to actively believe in Jesus—the One from God, God’s Only Son, God’s Crucified Son—already stand condemned. There’s no waiting until the end; they are already over and done. I wonder if they can be rescued? Do you realize that there are people who are walking around this earth right now and for all intents and purposes have this giant sign flashing above their heads that says, “Condemned! Condemned! Condemned!”? And, I wonder, will they be rescued? Can anyone help these condemned folks? Yet they refuse to come to Christ to be healed.

This is the message of the Gospel. There is only one hope: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. These last few verses teach us essentially one thing: You are either walking in the light or you are not. You either hope to conceal your evil deeds by hating the light or you come out into the full blaze of his glory that your deeds may be seen—that they have been done through God. Sadly, many in this world still cling to evil. It’s hard to fathom; difficult to comprehend. Men revel in their evil deeds and love darkness. All the while darkness enslaves men, holds them hostage, makes them mere puppets and here’s what’s worse: Evil does not take men and women captive because evil has an agenda for evil’s sake. No, evil takes hold of men and women in order that men and women will continue to reject God and be condemned. Evil is just a means to an end not an end itself. The end is to have people reject light, hate light, reject God’s One and Only Son. The ultimate evil is the ongoing rejection of Jesus Christ.

Here’s what we know. God sent his Son, His one and only Son, into the world to save people who, despite God’s demonstration of love for them, choose to perish, choose to do evil, choose to be condemned, and choose to hate the light. This is our argument: We’d rather live in utter and complete misery than to submit to the Crucified Lord. And here’s the irony, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. But not humans, we are far too content with our misery, with the darkness, with our condemnation. Bohoeffer’s words are ever true: He was a rejected Lord. Folks think Jesus is here to make life difficult and complicated. Jesus came to make life simpler by removing the burden of our slavery to the flesh. This is exactly why the cross must be at the center of our proclamation. Until people see in the cross their utter failure, their utter lostness, their utter condemnation, all their sin, they will never be united to God. The cross must be preached, and this is why Jesus preached it (in verses 14-15). People must be confronted by the cross because only in the cross are people confronted with the darkness and suffocating nature of their sin and their slavery to it. If people do not see the crucified Jesus they will never recognize themselves for who they truly are apart from him.

What’s ironic here is that Jesus says this: For God so loved the World that He sent His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. The irony? God knew all about man: His rejection of the Light, his condemnation, his persistence in loving darkness, his hatred of the light—indeed, God knew all this about man, and sent His One and Only anyhow. He sent His Son despite what He knew about man; He sent His Son precisely because of what He knew about Man. Even more ironic is tha tall He asks from us is Belief.

I hope your 10th Day of 90 was Blessed!

Soli Deo Gloria!

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