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Feb 25, 2018

“A Great Sermon, in Red or Black” 2-25-18

John 3:16-21
February 25, 2018

One of the things most taken for granted by Christians today is the Bible.  All of us have copies of it in our own languages.  This was not the case before the reformation and it is still not the case for everyone in our world today.  When you read the bible in your own language it is proper to be thankful for it and to be grateful for the sacrifices of others in the past that made it possible.  The translation of the bible into various languages was not an easy task.
In this  room are many people who know more than one language, and so many of us understand that translating documents like the bible into another language is difficult because the words of languages are not always equivalent.  One language may have several words to describe the various aspects of a thing which is described by only one word in another language.  For instance, as most of you know, there are 4 words in Greek that mean love, where there is only one word in English.
Then there is another problem; that of punctuation.  None of the ancient documents of the bible, whether in Greek or Hebrew, have any punctuation marks.  Most of us who have written important documents, whether they be text books or course descriptions or even a love letter, know that the placement of a punctuation mark can change the meaning of a sentence.
The placement of quotation marks is very important to us as we look at the portion of John that is our second lesson today.
Quotation marks tell us whose words we are reading, which is of the utmost importance when we are reading a gospel.  It is so important that some of the translators have sought to make it easy by making Red Letter editions of their translations.
As Scott pointed out in a Children’s message a few weeks ago, in such editions of the bible, words that are printed in red ink are the words of Jesus.  At least that is the intent, but in some passages, especially in the gospel of John, it is difficult to determine where the words of Jesus end and where the words of John begin.  That is because John liked to make his own editorial comments on the sayings of Jesus.
As far as I know, all of the red letter editions of the Gospel of John have the words of our text of John 3:16-21 in red, as if they were the words of Jesus.  But I and many Scholars of the New Testament think that they are actually the words of John. 
Whoever spoke them, I think they need to be seen as a mini-sermon about the previous passage, the one we looked at last week.
Chapter 3 begins with a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. And in the first 15 verses it is easy to tell who is talking because the changes in the conversation are marked with phrases such as “Jesus Answered” or “Nicodemus said to him”.  Nearly all of the Scholars agree that somewhere between verse 13 and verse 21, the words of Jesus end and comments by John begin.
I know it might upset some of you, but I think that the comments of John begin at what might be the most well-known verse of the bible.  I think that John 3: 16 contains the words of John and that they are the beginning of a mini sermon by John based on the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus.
If I am correct, the statements of Jesus end with his declaration that the Son of man would be lifted up, like Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the wilderness, for the same reason, that people might have life.  In Moses’ case, those who had been bitten by poisonous snakes would continue to live if they looked at the bronze snake in faith.  In Jesus’ case, those who believed in Jesus, and his death on the cross, would have eternal life.
These seem to be the words of Jesus because the words “Son of Man” are used to describe Jesus, and that was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to himself.
So, this morning I want to approach this passage as being a comment, or mini sermon by John about the statements that Jesus made in John 3: 1-15, especially on the 14th and 15th verses which read “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
But as we look at verses 16-21 as being composed by the Apostle John, we need to remember that the Bible itself testifies that it contains the writings of men who wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So these are the words of God, even though they might not have been spoken by Jesus himself.
So, as John began to comment on Jesus being lifted up to bring eternal life to those who believe in him, he wrote “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.”
God gave his son because he loved the world.  The world and its people and even its nature had been scarred and thrown into upheaval because of the sinful natures and the sins of the descendants of Adam and Eve, who had chosen to defy God rather than obey Him.
The people of the world had by and large turned away from God, but God still loved them.  He loved them so much that he sent his son to become one of the people of the world through Mary, a woman in this world.  He sent the Son to teach the people of the world about God and what he expects of people.  He sent the son into the world to be rejected by many.  He sent the son into the world to be killed as a sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe in Him.  He sent the son to overcome death for those who would believe in him by coming back to life after he was killed.
When I used to read the next verse during the last quarter of the last century, and as I read it now in the first quarter of the present century, it occurs to me that the Holy Spirit may have had John write verses 17 & 18 more for us than for his contemporaries.  Because in our time, religions are opposed because they seem to be making judgements, they seem to be condemning innocent people to death because they do not believe. 
Who in this room has not heard people defend their non-belief because they see God as being unfair, judgmental and harsh?
Through his writings, John informs all generations that God, as he sent Jesus was not being condemnatory, but loving.  In fact, it was the people who were condemning themselves because they did not reach out to Jesus as the one who could rescue them from the condemnation they were already sentenced to as those who had disobeyed God.
God sent Jesus into a world full of the dead and dying to bring some of them to life.  So his judgments, when they come, will be based on the sins of a person, which will not be good, or their faith in Jesus, which will give them a sentence of eternal life.
But there is a judgment or condemnation that came with Jesus.  Jesus came bringing the light of God into this dark world.  Those who were happy in the darkness, satisfied or complacent in their sinfulness, fled from the light.
In the late autumn of 1962 my Father moved his family to a place on the edge of Baltimore that was 2-5 feet above sea level depending on the tides in the Patapsco River and Back River. 
Because of its moist sandy soil, it was a home of particular types of insects and spiders like the Black Widow, and the Water bug a bug similar in appearance to cockroaches but generally larger.  They lived in the dark places on cool dark floors and in cracks nearby.
My Father’s first experience with water bugs was in the basement of the church he pastored. He went downstairs without turning on the lights and when he got to the bottom of the stairs, and started walking on the tiled concrete floor, he heard and felt crunching.  He stopped and turned on the light and for a mini second, the floor was black, then immediately turned green and tan as the water bugs covering the floor scurried into the crevices between the walls and the floor.
John is saying that the people of this world were like those water bugs, they preferred the darkness of their sinfulness to the light of God that Jesus was.  And thus they became their own judges in not embracing the light and forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus brought.
But then John wrote of another group of people.  There are those who wish they could do what is true and are sorry that they have been unable to.  They search for the true ways of living and behaving, they know that they fall short of being good, upstanding, moral people, even though they may be mistaken as such by those who live in the darkness.  Some of them have been involved in great darkness and are looking for a better way.  These are the ones the Spirit brings to Jesus, so that they might have life, and so that, more and more, their new deeds can be done in God, according to his leading and with his blessings.
Jesus gives us eternal life
Jesus gives us forgiveness
Jesus gives us a light to see by.
Jesus gives us new works, works that we can now do that are approved by the Father’.
This is good news for us, and for all who are seeking the light.  May our lives and our deeds shine the light of Jesus onto them.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906