4th Sunday in Lent – B LSB #’s 435, 424, 422
Text – John 3:21
But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.
DOING WHAT IS TRUE
Dearest Marie, no words could ever express the great unhappiness I feel since breaking our engagement. Please say that you will take me back. No one can ever take your place in my heart, so please forgive me. I love you! I love you! I love you! Yours forever, Brian. P.S. Congratulations on winning the state lottery!
That letter leaves a lot of room to doubt that Brian was “doing what is true.” It’s fairly easy to pick up on the untruth in a letter like that. What is not so easy is to clearly define what the Holy Spirit meant as He inspired the Apostle John to write those words, “…whoever does what is true…”
We encounter the same sort of problem when we try to clearly explain what heaven will be like. It’s much easier for us to define heaven by saying what it will not be like. Has your life been one of doing what is true? Would you be able to explain how that’s been accomplished? Hopefully this sermon will help you to see the light, because we struggle with defining truth.
Pontius Pilate is infamous, among Christians at least, for his reply to Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate said that in response to the claim made by the Son of God in the verse just prior: “For this purpose I was born & for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37c ESV)
That last sentence is very similar in structure to the sermon text, “But whoever does what is true comes to the light…” If you are of the truth you listen to the voice of Jesus. If you are doing what is true you come to the light. In other words, if you are in tune with the truth you are drawn to Jesus, & you may remember that two of the things Jesus describes Himself as are the Truth & the Light. The Gospel of John records both of those teachings of Jesus.
Truth! How do you get connected to it? That’s important, because all of us can see that our culture is increasingly filled with lies. That’s a reality, even though lying has been around since Adam & Eve. Today, even the lie which says that Adam & Eve were never real is mass produced across our entire culture, in the name of science.
With radio, then television, then the Internet, the speed of communication, & the ability to reach an audience, has grown exponentially over the past 100 years. It used to be, if you told a lie, you had to tell it in person, & how many people could you tell at one time? Now, a person can communicate lies to millions of people at one time, & they can do it instantaneously.
Since people you have never met, or even heard of, can now be telling you lies, how are you able to know what is real & what is not? That is where the Bible becomes so important to our lives in this twisted world. It is the only direct source of truth that we have available to us, & God gave it to us specifically so that we can know the truth.
But more than that, in His prayer, at John 17:17, Jesus asks this of the heavenly Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus is asking God the Father to set us apart from the unbelieving world for our protection & ultimately for our salvation. And did you catch how the Father will do that? He will do so in the truth, & His word is truth.
The lies that we hear, & even the lies that we tell ourselves, they change from year to year, from day to day, & at times, from moment to moment. For example, when we’re young, like age 6 or 7, we tell ourselves that life would be better if we were older, like adults. Yet, when we’re 86 or 87, we tell ourselves that life would be better if we were young again.
Now, whose life are we trying to improve by telling ourselves even those little white lies?
It’s our own lives, isn’t it? What that says is this; we are not satisfied with the life that our heavenly Father has given us. We’re too old, or too young, or too busy, or we have nothing to do. And that dissatisfaction with the gift of life from our heavenly Father ties in all the way back to the choice Adam & Eve made to eat the fruit they were told not to.
Adam & Eve were not satisfied with the gifts that God had given them. And that dissatisfaction sprouted from the lie that Satan told them, “God doesn’t really have your back. He’s holding out on you! You can be like God.” So we tell lies, & we believe lies, because we’re afraid that we’re missing out on something, even if we never know what that something is.
And the lies we tell obviously have to change in order to fit the circumstances, as we see them. When we’re young we think we’re too young. When we’re old we think we’re too old, so the lie needs to change as the circumstances do, but the truth has eternal reality. It does not change from year to year or from day to day.
The biggest problem we have with the truth is that, by our very nature, we are not true. Rather, we are corrupt & twisted at heart, twisted inwardly to ourselves. That fact is always part of our own truth & it makes us very uncomfortable. So, we’re tempted to tell more lies to cover up our uncomfortable truth.
Moments into the service today we spoke these words, “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves & the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8 ESV) Many churches today eliminate that very awkward part of the service, because people find it to be depressing. Yet, if we eliminate that part for that reason, aren’t we again saying, we’re dissatisfied with what God has given?
And, if we eliminate the confession of our sins, then we miss the opportunity to hear this truth, this life & joy giving truth, from the eternal Word of truth, “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful & just, will forgive our sins & cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)
Hearing those words & believing them is to do what is true. If we, who are anything but truth, come to accept & believe in Jesus as Savior from our sins, then our soul becomes part of eternity. When the final resurrection arrives, then our physical body will also become part of eternity. And once we believe this, then we come to the light & gladly confess our sins.
But that is the saintly nature at work in us, a nature which God has to create in us before we can believe. Jesus had to make Lazarus alive, before Lazarus could walk out of the tomb. On the other hand, “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light & does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
That is the sinful nature at work, leading & directing a person’s life. It is uncomfortable to openly & publicly confess our sins. Faith that Jesus has saved us from those sins enables us to overcome our sinful fears. In that sense, the very confession of our sins is another way of ‘doing what is true.’ Believers want others to see what God accomplishes through them.
People who come to the light willingly allow the evil in themselves to be exposed & they reject that evil that lives within them. People who reject the light will not willingly allow the evil in themselves to be exposed, but rather they hold on to & make excuses for it & even defend it. The only “truth” the world will accept is what they want to be true.
Our culture is inherently wicked, profoundly deluded & systemically diseased. It exploits every available political & religious subterfuge to sustain the sin that infects it. John 3:19 “This is the judgment – that the Light has come into the world & men loved the darkness rather than the light, so their works were evil.”
In the OT reading, the lifting up of the bronze snake in the midst of the wilderness people presented them with a crisis. This crisis demanded & elicited either faith or disbelief. The crisis resulted in life or death. The very same event that saved those who believe also condemned those who rejected it. When Jesus, the Son of God, also became a Son of Man & entered into the world, His heavenly Father placed in the midst of the world the perfect & ultimate fact of His fatherly love in the crucifixion of His only Son, Jesus, and the Lamb of God.
In this fact the reality of the final & ultimate crisis has entered God’s fallen creation & confronts us, & every other human being. The cross also, like the bronze serpent, demands & elicits either faith or disbelief. The cross also, like the bronze serpent, results in life or death. The lifting up of the Son of Man is the form & the very content of God’s love.
To do what is true is nothing other than believing the words of Holy Scripture – “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” To do what is true is to live the life that God gives to you. Doing the Truth is to conform one’s life to the truth.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, & you will know the truth, & the truth will set you free.’” (John 8:31-32 ESV) Notice, it is not winning the lottery that will set you free. It is knowing the truth. It’s in the truth that we find rest for our souls.
Doing the truth is simply a reflection of the life that already lives within us. Doing the truth is not something that we accomplish, but something that Jesus works within us. Lord, help us each day to come to the light that it may be clearly seen that our works have been carried out in You. Amen.
O Christ, You walked the road our wandering feet must go. You faced with us temptation’s power & fought our ancient foe. When lures of easy gain with promise brightly shine, Lord, help us seek Your kingdom first; our wills with Yours align. Amen. LSB 424:1, 4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet