Jesus Saves the World – March 11, 2018
Jesus Saves the World
A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
March 11, 2018
Main Idea: Jesus saves the world.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When I was a girl living in Texas, my parents sent me to a Southern Baptist Sunday School where, among other things, we memorized John 3:16. I remember racing to see how fast I could say it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” (KJV) This verse is probably the most famous verse in the whole Bible. It has been put up on billboards, bumper stickers, and T shirts. For a while you would see it at sporting events and other public gatherings. It has been called the Gospel in miniature and it certainly contains profound truth about the nature of God and of Jesus. But somehow, along the way, this beautiful and profound verse has been reduced and simplified by some to a fast pass ticket to heaven, a magical “get out of jail free” escape from the troubles of the world. This morning we will place this verse within the greater context of Jesus’ discourse. We will ponder what it means that Jesus was lifted up, what it means that God so loves the world, what it means to believe in Jesus, and what it means to have eternal life. What we will discover is that Jesus saves the world.
The beginning of our text references the strange story found in the book of Numbers which we read this morning. The Israelite people, sick of wandering in the wilderness, were complaining, again. “There is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” (Num 21:5b) The “miserable food” was the manna from heaven! God was fed up. So God sent “poisonous serpents” among the people. Now they really had something to complain about! The people repented and asked God for relief. God told Moses to make an image of a snake and put it on a pole. When those who had been bitten by a snake looked up at the snake on the pole they were healed. They had to look up at what they feared, not as punishment but to recognize the consequence of their sin. And in this way they were healed and restored to right relationship with God.
Comparing Jesus to the snake on the pole seems ludicrous, yes? But John, the Gospel writer, focuses on the idea of “lifted up”, giving the term a double meaning. Jesus will be physically lifted up onto a cross, but at the same time he will be lifted up, exalted, as he defeats the powers of sin, death, and evil through his resurrection and ascension. Just like the snake on the pole, Jesus is lifted up so that we might look up at what separates us from God; so that we might recognize the consequence of our sin, and be healed and restored to right relationship with God. To compare Jesus to the snake on the pole is to understand that Jesus brings us healing, not punishment from God’s wrath. Jesus saves us from our brokenness with God’s unending love.
Right relationship with God is what eternal life means in the Gospel of John. Eternal life is not only the pearly gates after death, it is a reality that we can experience right here, right now. Just as the Kingdom of God is here among us if we would but recognize it, so is eternal life available when we let go of the fear and sin that separates us from God. We live in God’s love here and now, and we will live in God’s love after our body’s physical death.
Most of us can recite John 3:16 but who knows 3:17? “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” (KJV) In these two verses the world is mentioned 4 times! Usually in the Gospel of John, “the world”, kosmos is used in a negative sense to mean that which is against God but here Jesus says that it is because of the world, the whole world, good and bad, that he has come to reveal God’s purpose and love. The point is not to escape the world nor to reject the world but to save the world! Everybody! Everything!
This is great news, yes?, So how do we participate in this world saving? Jesus tells us that we participate through our belief. But what does it mean to “believe” that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son? It means more than simply agreeing with what we have been told about Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to choose to be in relationship with him, to experience the love of God. “Those who believe that God is love are saved; they look to the One lifted up for healing. Those who cannot imagine that God comes bringing love rather than punishment are lost, lost to their despair, sin, and confusion.” (David Lose, inthemeantime.org).
Jesus says that “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (3:19). This judgment is not that God rejects and punishes the world but that God in Jesus comes to us with love and light and we choose to ignore him. This is not a condemnation of the world but a description of the world as we know it. ”When God sent Jesus into the world, God presented the world with a critical moment of decision. God sent Jesus to save the world, but each person must decide whether to accept that offer of salvation.” (Gail O’Day, New Interpreters’ Bible; John p. 555) God’s love for the world is not conditional upon people’s belief. God loves the world and everyone in it, unconditionally. But, in freedom, everyone is given the choice whether or not to accept this love and to choose to live accordingly. When we look around we see that many, ourselves included, choose to cling to our self interests and our fears instead of embracing the expansive, inclusive, challenging love that Jesus offers to us.
To believe in Jesus, to accept God’s love, is to “do what is true… so that it may be clearly seen that [our] deeds have been done in God.” (3:21) To do what is true is to act in accordance with Jesus’ teachings about loving God and loving neighbor. This requires us to focus our lives on caring for others as Jesus cared, to speak the truth, to live humbly and gratefully, and to be aware of the blessings with which we are showered.
To believe in Jesus is to take the cross seriously. Evil and sin exert tremendous power over us and the world but God on the cross takes the worst we can do and transforms it, revealing the power of Love. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we recognize the victory of love over evil. With this knowledge we can challenge the evil and sin which still linger in our lives and our society.
To believe in Jesus is to recognize our brokenness and to let our lives be transformed by Jesus. We cannot save ourselves; whenever we try we get caught in the illusions of self-sufficiency, self-help, and selfishness. But when we look up to Jesus, when we welcome him, then our lives are more open, more hopeful, and more connected. This is not an easier life but it is a life sustained and empowered by God’s love.
To believe in Jesus is to participate in the salvation of the world. This means more than converting everybody to our brand of Christianity. It means sharing the Good News of God’s love known to us through Jesus our Christ. It means speaking truth to power and actually working to restore the world to God’s vision of peace and justice for all, to welcome the stranger and care for the vulnerable.
The fact that Jesus saves us is extraordinary, amazing, and worthy of a life time of praise and thanksgiving. The fact that Jesus saves the world and invites us to participate in that salvation is beyond extraordinary. As we continue this journey with Jesus toward the cross, may we live out our belief in God’s love “in order that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17b)
Let us pray,
Loving God, we thank you for Jesus who was lifted up for our salvation. Empower us to lift up our eyes, our hands, and our feet as we participate with you in the salvation of the world. Amen.
Notes and Quotes
Lifted up – snake is lifted up to save the people, just as J being lifted up saves the world.
spoken as explanation to Nicodemus
condemnation or not?
What is believing?
trusting?, assenting? conforming?
Baptist are non-creedal
“To believe in Jesus is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that God loved the world so much that God gave the Son as a gift. If one receives the gift, one receives eternal life, because one’s life is reshaped and redefined by the love of God in Jesus.” (Gail O’Day, NIB, Vol 9, p. 555)
What is eternal life?
“To have eternal life is to live life no longer defined by blood or by the will of the flesh or by human will, but by God (cf. 1:13). “Eternal” does not mean mere endless duration of human existence, but is a way of describing life lived in the unending presence of God. To have eternal life is to be given life as a child of God…. Eternal life is not something held in abeyance until the believer’s future, but begins in the believer’s present.” (Gail O’Day, NIB, Vol 9, p. 552)
Light versus dark
As we approach Holy Week both the light and the dark grow.
The greek word for lifted up; hypsoo also means to be exalted. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross, he will be exalted through his death, resurrection, and ascension. This action of Jesus being lifted up/exalted reveals God’s will and purpose for the world and makes eternal life possible. Eternal life does not mean the pearly gates when we die. Eternal life means life in relationship with God.
Connection with Numbers text – “As the venomous snakes make the deadly consequences of sin manifest and the bronze snake offers only life, we might similarly conclude that the consequences of sin abound in our daily lives while the cross itself is the agent of our salvation and healing.” (David Lose, inthemeantime.org)
kosmos – world “almost everywhere else in John “world” is used negatively — to refer to an entity that is at enmity with God (see John 17:14-18) — it’s rather remarkable in 3:16 to find Jesus profess that God loves this God-hating world so much that God is willing to give God’s only son.” (David Lose, workingpreacher.org)