Pentecost – 2016 LSB #545
Text – John 3:17
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.
BUT IN ORDER THAT…
A grove of scrubby black oak trees surrounded the school. When the 1st frost killed other leaves & they fell from their branches, the oak leaves clung to theirs, even though they were as dead as the leaves on the ground. The sharp winds of winter came. They too were powerless to shake the hold of the oak leaves. Later came snow, sleet & ice; their efforts – equally futile.
Then came spring; in the heart of those oak trees the sap began to rise. New buds leafed out & the old, dead leaves finally began to fall, making room for the new. So it is with the Spirit of God, who replaces our dead works of the flesh with the living fruit of the Spirit.
“The Spirit breathes where He wills, & you hear His voice, but you do not know from where He comes & where He goes. So is everyone who is begotten from the Spirit.” It is the Spirit of God who brings life out of death. Spiritual life moves spiritual death out of the way, thus creating a beachhead for the reign of God.
Saving human beings from hell is the chief purpose for which Jesus was sent to earth. He took on human flesh in order to create a beachhead for the reign, on earth, of His heavenly Father. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17 ESV)
When you or I touch something contagious we become like the diseased. When Jesus touches a leper, not only is Jesus not contaminated, but the leper becomes clean. Spiritual life pushes spiritual death off to the side, & out of the way. It is a process of division. It’s one thing to see it occurring in a tree. Among human beings it is heart breaking. One family member has a falling out with another & the impact is felt across many relationships. Those divisions are often the result of sinful actions, by self-centered human beings. Yet there are times when God does things that separate people. We struggle in seeing that. We struggle in living it.
For those who are already children of God, it is a much loved verse. It is pure Gospel as it describes what our heavenly Father has done for our salvation: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” For that reason we seldom see it in this light, but John 3:16 is a verse of division.
As the Word of God, it is a two-edged sword. It creates what it says, in those who hear the voice of Jesus. It divides human beings into two vastly different camps – those who shall not perish & those who shall. You see, John 3:16 is the beginning of a commentary on the words of Jesus given to us in verses 14-15:
“And 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.” The problem is that some do not believe. Jesus is teaching Nicodemus that the Spirit of God is at work in the world bringing new life which necessitates pushing out the old. Some people reject that new life.
It was because of the signs that Nicodemus came to Jesus: “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs (σημεῖα) that you do unless God is with him.” John’s Gospel refers to miracles with the word ‘signs.’ Nicodemus admits that in those signs he felt the presence of God, but he doesn’t seem to be convinced that Jesus is God.
After all, how could Yahweh Himself literally be standing before his eyes? It’s an earth shaking thought, & it’s turning the world of Nicodemus upside down. There are many in his party, the Pharisees, who do not believe such foolishness. Concerning Jesus there is division in the ranks. In Luke 12, Jesus Himself confirms the effect that He has: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. They will be divided, father against son & son against father, mother against daughter & daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law & daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (12:51, 53 ESV)
Nicodemus had felt the presence of God, but as to the identity of Jesus, it appears that he was still on the fence. So Jesus presented to him one of the OT events where the people of Israel are complaining against God & Moses. “Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, & they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.” (Numbers 21:6 ESV)
When those who were left repented, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent & set it on a pole, & everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’” God was confronting His people with a crisis that demanded & elicited either faith or disbelief, resulting in life or death. Those who believed God looked to the serpent & were healed. Those who didn’t – died.
In the wilderness, the Holy Spirit was using the new life that was springing forth to push death off to the side & out of the way. It was God who brought that crisis which forced the people to respond to Him. Because Nicodemus came to Jesus asking, the Son of God compared Himself to that OT crisis:
“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.” The crucifixion of Jesus would be the final & ultimate crisis. It would confront every human being, demanding faith or disbelief & resulting in ultimate life or death. Jesus doesn’t simply welcome Nicodemus. He challenges him.
If Nicodemus desires a sign of God’s kingdom & salvation, then he will need to be confronted with the cross. It is the consummation of all the signs that Jesus performed; the greatest demonstration of God’s power & glory & kingdom. That same sign confronts you & me today. New life is sprouting forth, pushing the old & the dead off to the side to make room for the new. As the Book of Lamentations tells us: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” (3:22-23)
Jesus did come to earth to bring division, but the division is not His doing. As the sermon text makes very clear, God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. The division comes from the fact that many people irrationally choose death over life.
Salvation or damnation lies in our posture toward the crucified Jesus. No one comes into this world good, or even neutral. We all came into this world under the curse of condemnation because of sin. If we refuse to look upon the crucified Jesus with spiritual eyes, we remain in that state of judgment. That is the crisis before all of us.
There is no getting close, as in horseshoes & hand grenades. There is no being in the neighborhood, no existing on the fringe. It is darkness or light, belief or unbelief & the two cannot coexist. Life is offered freely, with no cost to us, no price to pay, no work to accomplish. Jesus has done it all. It is finished. Hopefully, you are not.
You aren’t condemned to being finished. The Spirit of God is able to bring light out of darkness & life out of death. He is working even now to push out the old dead leaves within your heart that the new life of Christ may blossom in your lives. Amen.
Word of God, come down on earth, living rain from heaven descending; touch our hearts & bring to birth faith & hope & love unending. Word almighty, we revere You; Word made flesh, we long to hear You. Word eternal, throned on high, Word that brought to life creation, Word that came from heaven to die, crucified for our salvation, saving Word, the world restoring, speak to us, Your love outpouring. Amen. LSB 545:1-2
 John 3:8 Weinrich W. C., translation
 John 3:2 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet