Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Theme: Mid Lent, Exaltation of Cross
Volume 7 No. 404 March 21, 2017
II. Lectionary Reflections

Homily on John 3:12-16 by John Chrysostom

by John Chrysostom

Gospel: John 3:12-13

If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.
-  John 3:12-13

1. What I have often said I shall now repeat, and shall not cease to say. What is that? It is that Jesus, when about to touch on sublime doctrines, often contains Himself by reason of the infirmity of His hearers, and dwells not for a continuance on subjects worthy of His greatness, but rather on those which partake of condescension. For the sublime and great, being but once uttered, is sufficient to establish that character, as far as we are able to hear it; but unless more lowly sayings, and such as are near to the comprehension of the hearers, were continually uttered, the more sublime would not readily take hold on a groveling listener. And therefore of the sayings of Christ more are lowly than sublime. But yet that this again may not work another mischief, by detaining the disciple here below, He does not merely set before men His inferior sayings without first telling them why He utters them; as, in fact, He has done in this place. For when He had said what He did concerning Baptism, and the Generation by grace which takes place on earth, being desirous to admit them to that His own mysterious and incomprehensible Generation, He holds it in suspense for a while, and admits them not, and then tells them His reason for not admitting them. What is that? It is, the dullness and infirmity of His hearers. And referring to this He added the words, If I have told you earthly things, and you believe not, how shall you believe if I tell you of heavenly things? so that wherever He says anything ordinary and humble, we must attribute this to the infirmity of His audience.

The expression earthly things, some say is here used of the wind; that is, If I have given you an example from earthly things, and you did not even so believe, how shall you be able to learn sublimer things? And wonder not if He here call Baptism an earthly thing, for He calls it so, either from its being performed on earth, or so naming it in comparison with that His own most awful Generation. For though this Generation of ours is heavenly, yet compared with that true Generation which is from the Substance of the Father, it is earthly.

He does not say, You have not understood, but, You have not believed; for when a man is ill disposed towards those things which it is possible to apprehend by the intellect, and will not readily receive them, he may justly be charged with want of understanding; but when he receives not things which cannot be apprehended by reasoning, but only by faith, the charge against him is no longer want of understanding, but unbelief. Leading him therefore away from enquiring by reasonings into what had been said, He touches him more severely by charging him with want of faith. If now we must receive our own Generation by faith, what do they deserve who are busy with their reasonings about that of the Only-Begotten?

But perhaps some may ask, And if the hearers were not to believe these sayings, wherefore were they uttered? Because though they believed not, those who came after would believe and profit by them. Touching him therefore very severely, Christ goes on to show that He knows not these things only, but others also, far more and greater than these. And this He declared by what follows, when He said, And no man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.

And what manner of sequel is this? asks one. The very closest, and entirely in unison with what has gone before. For since Nicodemus had said, We know that You are a teacher come from God, on this very point He sets him right, all but saying, Think Me not a teacher in such manner as were the many of the prophets who were of earth, for I have come from heaven (but) now. None of the prophets has ascended up there, but I dwell there. Do you see how even that which appears very exalted is utterly unworthy of his greatness? For not in heaven only is He, but everywhere, and He fills all things; but yet He speaks according to the infirmity of His hearer, desiring to lead him up little by little. And in this place He called not the flesh Son of Man, but He now named, so to speak, His entire Self from the inferior substance; indeed this is His wont, to call His whole Person often from His Divinity, and often from His humanity.

John 3:14

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

This again seems to depend upon what has gone before, and this too has a very close connection with it. For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins.

2. But wherefore did He not say plainly, I am about to be crucified, instead of referring His hearers to the ancient type? First, that you may learn that old things are akin to new, and that the one are not alien to the other; next, that you may know that He came not unwillingly to His Passion; and again, besides these reasons, that you may learn that no harm arises to Him from the Fact, and that to many there springs from it salvation. For, that none may say, And how is it possible that they who believe in one crucified should be saved, when he himself is holden of death? He leads us to the ancient story. Now if the Jews, by looking to the brazen image of a serpent, escaped death, much rather will they who believe in the Crucified, with good reason enjoy a far greater benefit. For this takes place, not through the weakness of the Crucified, or because the Jews are stronger than He, but because God loved the world, therefore is His living Temple fastened to the Cross.

John 3:15

That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Do you see the cause of the Crucifixion, and the salvation which is by it? Do you see the relationship of the type to the reality? There the Jews escaped death, but the temporal, here believers the eternal; there the hanging serpent healed the bites of serpents, here the Crucified Jesus cured the wounds inflicted by the spiritual dragon; there he who looked with his bodily eyes was healed, here he who beholds with the eyes of his understanding put off all his sins; there that which hung was brass fashioned into the likeness of a serpent, here it was the Lord's Body, built by the Spirit; there a serpent bit and a serpent healed, here death destroyed and a Death saved. But the snake which destroyed had venom, that which saved was free from venom; and so again was it here, for the death which slew us had sin with it, as the serpent had venom; but the Lord's Death was free from all sin, as the brazen serpent from venom. For, says Peter, He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth. 1 Peter 2:22 And this is what Paul also declares, And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it. Colossians 2:16 For as some noble champion by lifting on high and dashing down his antagonist, renders his victory more glorious, so Christ, in the sight of all the world, cast down the adverse powers, and having healed those who were smitten in the wilderness, delivered them from all venomous beasts that vexed them, by being hung upon the Cross. Yet He did not say, must hang, but, must be lifted up Acts 28:4; for He used this which seemed the milder term, on account of His hearer, and because it was proper to the type.

John 3:16

God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What He says, is of this kind: Marvel not that I am to be lifted up that you may be saved, for this seems good to the Father, and He has so loved you as to give His Son for slaves, and ungrateful slaves. Yet a man would not do this even for a friend, nor readily even for a righteous man; as Paul has declared when he said, Scarcely for a righteous man will one die. Romans 5:7 Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, so loved, and that other, God the world, He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He loved. Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He says, that He gave His Only-begotten Son, not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants.

His Passion then He sets before him not very openly, but rather darkly; but the advantage of the Passion He adds in a clearer manner, saying, That every one that believes in Him. should not perish, but have everlasting life. For when He had said, must be lifted up, and alluded to death, lest the hearer should be made downcast by these words, forming some mere human opinions concerning Him, and supposing that His death was a ceasing to be, observe how He sets this right, by saying, that He that was given was The Son of God, and the cause of life, of everlasting life. He who procured life for others by death, would not Himself be continually in death; for if they who believed on the Crucified perish not, much less does He perish who is crucified. He who takes away the destitution of others much more is He free from it; He who gives life to others, much more to Himself does He well forth life. Do you see that everywhere there is need of faith? For He calls the Cross the fountain of life; which reason cannot easily allow, as the heathens now by their mocking testify. But faith which goes beyond the weakness of reasoning, may easily receive and retain it. And whence did God so love the world? From no other source but only from his goodness.

3. Let us now be abashed at His love, let us be ashamed at the excess of His lovingkindness, since He for our sakes spared not His Only-begotten Son, yet we spare our wealth to our own injury; He for us gave His Own Son, but we for Him do not so much as despise money, nor even for ourselves. And how can these things deserve pardon? If we see a man submitting to sufferings and death for us, we set him before all others, count him among our chief friends, place in his hands all that is ours, and deem it rather his than ours, and even so do not think that we give him the return that he deserves. But towards Christ we do not preserve even this degree of right feeling. He laid down His life for us, and poured forth His precious Blood for our sakes, who were neither well-disposed nor good, while we do not pour out even our money for our own sakes, and neglect Him who died for us, when He is naked and a stranger; and who shall deliver us from the punishment that is to come? For suppose that it were not God that punishes, but that we punished ourselves; should we not give our vote against ourselves? Should we not sentence ourselves to the very fire of hell, for allowing Him who laid down His life for us, to pine with hunger? But why speak I of money? Had we ten thousand lives, ought we not to lay them all down for Him? And yet not even so could we do what His benefits deserve. For he who confers a benefit in the first instance, gives evident proof of his kindness, but he who has received one, whatever return he makes, he repays as a debt, and does not bestow as a favor; especially when he who did the first good turn was benefiting his enemies. And he who repays both bestows his gifts on a benefactor, and himself reaps their fruit besides. But not even this induces us; more foolish are we than any, putting golden necklaces about our servants and mules and horses, and neglecting our Lord who goes about naked, and passes from door to door, and ever stands at our outlets, and stretches forth His hands to us, but often regarding Him with unpitying eye; yet these very things He undergoes for our sake. Gladly does He hunger that you may be fed; naked does He go that He may provide for you the materials for a garment of incorruption, yet not even so do you give up any of your own. Some of your garments are moth-eaten, others are a load to your coffers, and a needless trouble to their possessors, while He who gave you these and all else that you possess goes naked.

But perhaps you do not lay them by in your coffers, but wear them and make yourself fine with them. And what gain you by this? Is it that the street people may see you? What then? They will not admire you who wearest such apparel, but the man who supplies garments to the needy; so if you desire to be admired, by clothing others, you will the rather get infinite applause. Then too God as well as man shall praise you; now none can praise, but all will grudge at you, seeing you with a body well arrayed, but having a neglected soul. So harlots have adornment, and their clothes are often more than usually expensive and splendid; but the adornment of the soul is with those only who live in virtue.

These things I say continually, and I will not cease to say them, not so much because I care for the poor, as because I care for your souls. For they will have some comfort, if not from you, yet from some other quarter; or even if they be not comforted, but perish by hunger, the harm to them will be no great matter. What did poverty and wasting by hunger injure Lazarus! But none can rescue you from hell, if you obtain not the help of the poor; we shall say to you what was said to the rich man, who was continually broiling, yet gained no comfort. God grant that none ever hear those words, but that all may go into the bosom of Abraham; by the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Source. Translated by Charles Marriott. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.)

Homily on John 3-17-20 by John Chrysostom

by John Chrysostom

Gospel: John 3-17-20

John 3:17

For God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.

1. Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins. To stop whose mouths a wise man says, Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation rests upon sinners Sirach 5:6: and again, As His mercy is great, so is His correction also. Sirach 16:12 Where then, says one, is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our deserts? That we shall indeed receive according to our deserts, hear both the Prophet and Paul declare; one says, You shall render to every man according to his work Psalm 62:12, Septuagint; the other, Who will render to every man according to his work. Romans 2:6 And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great; in dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He has shown great lovingkindness.

How and in what way? Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration, and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. What then, says one, if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins? Such an one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace? Hebrews 10:28-29 Such an one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God has opened doors of repentance, and has granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world.

For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be; and the two are not for the same purpose; the first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to enquire. Therefore of the first He says, I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world John 3:17; but of the second, When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left. Matthew 25:31, 46 And they shall go, these into life; and these into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and vengeances, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account; but, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making enquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For all, it says, have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 Do you see the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?

John 3:18

He that believes in the Son, is not judged; but he that believes not, is judged already.

Yet if He came not to judge the world, how is he that believes not judged already, if the time of judgment has not yet arrived? He either means this, that the very fact of disbelieving without repentance is a punishment, (for to be without the light, contains in itself a very severe punishment,) or he announces beforehand what shall be. For as the murderer, though he be not as yet condemned by the decision of the judge, is still condemned by the nature of the thing, so is it with the unbeliever. Since Adam also died on the day that he ate of the tree; for so ran the decree, In the day that you eat of the tree, you shall die Genesis 2:17, Septuagint; yet he lived. How then died he? By the decree; by the very nature of the thing; for he who has rendered himself liable to punishment, is under its penalty, and if for a while not actually so, yet he is by the sentence.

Lest any one on hearing, I came not to judge the world, should imagine that he might sin unpunished, and should so become more careless, Christ stops such disregard by saying, is judged already; and because the judgment was future and not yet at hand, He brings near the dread of vengeance, and describes the punishment as already come. And this is itself a mark of great lovingkindness, that He not only gives His Son, but even delays the time of judgment, that they who have sinned, and they who believe not, may have power to wash away their transgressions.

He that believes in the Son, is not judged. He that believes, not he that is over-curious: he that believes, not the busybody. But what if his life be unclean, and his deeds evil? It is of such as these especially that Paul declares, that they are not true believers at all: They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him. Titus 1:16 But here Christ says, that such an one is not judged in this one particular; for his works indeed he shall suffer a severer punishment, but having believed once, he is not chastised for unbelief.

2. Do you see how having commenced His discourse with fearful things, He has concluded it again with the very same? For at first He says, Unless a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God: and here again, He that believes not on the Son, is judged already. Think not, He says, that the delay advantages at all the guilty, except he repent, for he that has not believed, shall be in no better state than those who are already condemned and under punishment.

John 3:19

And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light.

What He says, is of this kind: they are punished, because they would not leave the darkness, and hasten to the light. And hence He goes on to deprive them of all excuse for the future: Had I come, says He, to punish and to exact account of their deeds, they might have been able to say, 'this is why we started away from you,' but now I have come to free them from darkness, and to bring them to the light; who then could pity one who will not come from darkness unto light? When they have no charge to bring against us, but have received ten thousand benefits, they start away from us. And this charge He has brought in another place, where He says, They hated Me without a cause John 15:25: and again, If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin. John 15:22 For he who in the absence of light sits in darkness, may perchance receive pardon; but one who after it has come abides by the darkness, produces against himself a certain proof of a perverse and contentious disposition. Next, because His assertion would seem incredible to most, (for none would prefer darkness to light,) He adds the cause of such a feeling in them. What is that?

John 3:19-20

Because their deeds were evil. For every one that does evil, hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.

Yet he came not to judge or to enquire, but to pardon and remit transgressions, and to grant salvation through faith. How then fled they? Had He come and sat in His Judgment seat, what He said might have seemed reasonable; for he that is conscious to himself of evil deeds, is wont to fly his judge. But, on the contrary, they who have transgressed even run to one who is pardoning. If therefore He came to pardon, those would naturally most hasten to Him who were conscious to themselves of many transgressions; and indeed this was the case with many, for even publicans and sinners sat at meat with Jesus. What then is this which He says? He says this of those who choose always to remain in wickedness. He indeed came, that He might forgive men's former sins, and secure them against those to come; but since there are some so relaxed, so powerless for the toils of virtue, that they desire to abide by wickedness till their latest breath, and never cease from it, He speaks in this place reflecting upon these. For since, He says, the profession of Christianity requires besides right doctrine a sound conversation also, they fear to come over to us, because they like not to show forth a righteous life. Him that lives in heathenism none would blame, because with gods such as he has, and with rites as foul and ridiculous as his gods, he shows forth actions that suit his doctrines; but those who belong to the True God, if they live a careless life, have all men to call them to account, and to accuse them. So greatly do even its enemies admire the truth. Observe, then, how exactly He lays down what He says. His expression is, not He that has done evil comes not to the light, but he that does it always, he that desires always to roll himself in the mire of sin, he will not subject himself to My laws, but chooses to stay without, and to commit fornication without fear, and to do all other forbidden things. For if he comes to Me, he becomes manifest as a thief in the light, and therefore he avoids My dominion. For instance, even now one may hear many heathen say, that they cannot come to our faith, because they cannot leave off drunkenness and fornication, and the like disorders.

Well, says some one, but are there no Christians that do evil, and heathens that live discreetly? That there are Christians who do evil, I know; but whether there are heathens who live a righteous life, I do not yet know assuredly. For do not speak to me of those who by nature are good and orderly, (this is not virtue,) but tell me of the man who can endure the exceeding violence of his passions and (yet) be temperate. You cannot. For if the promise of a Kingdom, and the threat of hell, and so much other provision, can scarcely keep men in virtue, they will hardly go after virtue who believe in none of these things. Or, if any pretend to do so, they do it for show; and he who does so for show, will not, when he may escape observation, refrain from indulging his evil desires. However, that we may not seem to any to be contentious, let us grant that there are right livers among the heathen; for neither does this go against my argument, since I spoke of that which occurs in general, not of what happens rarely.

And observe how in another way He deprives them of all excuse, when He says that, the light came into the world. Did they seek it themselves, He says, did they toil, did they labor to find it? The light itself came to them, and not even so would they hasten to it. And if there be some Christians who live wickedly, I would argue that He does not say this of those who have been Christians from the beginning, and who have inherited true religion from their forefathers, (although even these for the most part have been shaken from right doctrine by their evil life,) yet still I think that He does not now speak concerning these, but concerning the heathen and the Jews who ought to have come to the right faith. For He shows that no man living in error would choose to come to the truth unless he before had planned for himself a righteous life, and that none would remain in unbelief unless he had previously chosen always to be wicked.

Do not tell me that a man is temperate, and does not rob; these things by themselves are not virtue. For what advantages it, if a man has these things, and yet is the slave of vainglory, and remains in his error, from fear of the company of his friends? This is not right living. The slave of a reputation is no less a sinner than the fornicator; nay, he works more and more grievous deeds than he. But tell me of any one that is free from all passions and from all iniquity, and who remains among the heathen. You can not do so; for even those among them who have boasted great things, and who have, as they say, mastered avarice or gluttony, have been, most of all men, the slaves of reputation, and this is the cause of all evils. Thus it is that the Jews also have continued Jews; for which cause Christ rebuked them and said, How can you believe, which receive honor from men? John 5:44

And why, pray, did He not speak on these matters with Nathanael, to whom He testified of the truth, nor extend His discourse to any length? Because even he came not with such zeal as did Nicodemus. For Nicodemus made this his work, and the season which others used for rest he made a season for hearing; but Nathanael came at the instance of another. Yet not even him did Jesus entirely pass by, for to him He says, Hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. John 1:51 But to Nicodemus He spoke not so, but conversed with him on the Dispensation and on eternal life, addressing each differently and suitably to the condition of his will. It was sufficient for Nathanael, because he knew the writings of the prophets, and was not so timid either, to hear only thus far; but because Nicodemus was as yet possessed by fear, Christ did not indeed clearly reveal to him the whole, but shook his mind so as to cast out fear by fear, declaring that he who did not believe was being judged, and that unbelief proceeded from an evil conscience. For since he made great account of honor from men, more than he did of the punishment; (Many, says the Evangelist, of the rulers believed on Him, but because of the Jews they did not confess John 12:42) on this point Christ touches him, saying, It cannot be that he who believes not on Me disbelieves for any other cause save that he lives an unclean life. Farther on He says, I am the Light John 8:12, but here, the Light came into the world; for at the beginning He spoke somewhat darkly, but afterwards more clearly. Yet even so the man was kept back by regard for the opinion of the many, and therefore could not endure to speak boldly as he ought.

Fly we then vain glory, for this is a passion more tyrannical than any. Hence spring covetousness and love of wealth, hence hatred and wars and strifes; for he that desires more than he has, will never be able to stop, and he desires from no other cause, but only from his love of vainglory. For tell me, why do so many encircle themselves with multitudes of eunuchs, and herds of slaves, and much show? Not because they need it, but that they may make those who meet them witnesses of this unseasonable display. If then we cut this off, we shall slay together with the head the other members also of wickedness, and there will be nothing to hinder us from dwelling on earth as though it were heaven. Nor does this vice merely thrust its captives into wickedness, but is even co-existent with their virtues, and when it is unable entirely to cast us out of these, it still causes us much damage in the very exercise of them, forcing us to undergo the toil, and depriving us of the fruit. For he that with an eye to this, fasts, and prays, and shows mercy, has his reward. What can be more pitiable than a loss like this, that it should befall man to bewail himself uselessly and in vain, and to become an object of ridicule, and to lose the glory from above? Since he that aims at both cannot obtain both. It is indeed possible to obtain both, when we desire not both, but one only, that from heaven; but he cannot obtain both, who longs for both. Wherefore if we wish to attain to glory, let us flee from human glory, and desire that only which comes from God; so shall we obtain both the one and the other; which may we all enjoy, through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom and with whom, to the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Source. Translated by Charles Marriott. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 14. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.)

Christ Came Down to Be Lifted Up

by Mark Schlamann

Gospel: St. John 3:14-21

A few moments ago we each confessed our faith, in the words of the Nicene Creed, in:

"one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate" (TLH, p. 22).

To be crucified was to be nailed to a large cross and hoisted in the air and left to die an excruciatingly painful death. This was the Roman mode of execution. Anyone who was crucified was lifted up on a cross to die in a public spectacle. Such a fate awaited the Lord, but at the time of our text, His time had not yet come. It was time, however, to catechize Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees and a secret follower of Jesus, lest his fellow Jews find out about him and persecute him. Nicodemus knew the Scriptures, but he did not understand them. He was unable to see that the Scriptures have their fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ, the long-promised Messiah. He wanted to understand, but he had a large mental block: rabbinic Judaism.

To the Jews at the time of Jesus' coming down to earth, the Scriptures were little more than a set of laws. Consequently, Nicodemus could not understand the necessity to be born again; he tried to comprehend this in a physical sense, as if a grown man could re-enter his mother's womb. But in the verses preceding our text, Christ catechizes him on the necessity of being born of water and of the Spirit, to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and to become baptized in and into His saving Name, even as "All newborn soldiers of the Crucified Bear on their brows the seal of Him who died" (LBW 377:3), the seal placed on us at our Baptism, the means by which the Holy Spirit came down and entered our hearts, creating and sustaining in us saving faith in Christ. By faith produced through Holy Baptism are we born of water and of the Spirit.

In this Sacrament the Old Adam is brought down in the holy water to the point that it drowns and dies. This baptismal drowning must take place each day in the confession of sins. This means that you must daily confess of your sins, as do I, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but God's temporal and eternal punishment, for all our sins and iniquities have ever offended Him. We have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but we give in to the temptations of the unholy triad of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's Name nor let His kingdom come nor let His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have set ourselves up against the God who came down from heaven.

We have lifted ourselves up in our sinful pride, even as the Israelites lifted themselves up in their own eyes, and in so doing sinned against the Lord and against Moses, and they were bitten by fiery serpents, just as Adam and Eve were spiritually bitten by the great fiery serpent that is the devil himself. The Lord put down Adam and Eve by putting them out of the Garden of Eden. He cast down the Israelites with the serpents' bites. He beats us down with the preaching of His Law, for we too are full of sinful pride. He, who has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts and has put down the mighty from their thrones, has brought us down to our knees, that we would repent of our sins, for without repentance and faith we are, as Paul says in our Epistle, "dead in trespasses" (Eph. 2:5a), and, as Christ says in our text, "He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (vv. 18b-21). And when Christ, the Light of the world, comes again on the Last Day, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, "all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved" (TLH, p. 53).

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be to everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live'" (Num. 21:8). The Israelites who were bitten and looked up to the serpent on the pole were saved. The Israelites confessed their sins and placed their trust in the word the Lord gave Moses, the word to erect the serpent on the pole. They were brought down in their sins, and the Lord lifted them up in His grace. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (vv. 14-15), our Lord says in our text. In order that Christ would be lifted up, He had to come down, coming down from heaven and hiding His glory in human form, "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (vv. 16-17). Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order that He would be lifted up on the cross to die for the forgiveness of our sins. His dead, lifeless body was taken down from the cross to be laid in the tomb, in order that He would take it back up again by rising from the dead. The Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, as He has promised, has drawn us now to Him. Christ our Good Shepherd has laid down His life for us His sheep to take it up again. No one takes it from Him, but He has laid it down of Himself. He alone has power to lay it down and to take it back up again, and He has done so for you, the lowly in heart, for He has lifted up you, the lowly. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation, even to this present generation, to you and me. "God…is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He [has] loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, [has] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6).

Until that Day when we will be seated in the heavenly places, our Lord brings the heavenly places down to earth, that we would be with Him as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to us in Baptism not only to bring down the Old Adam in us to its death, but to lift up the new man each day, to daily emerge and arise, that we would live before God in righteousness and purity forever. He lifts us up each day in the forgiveness of sins—the daily living of our Baptism as we bear on our brows the seal of Him who died, for we are marked with the sign of the cross to mark as redeemed by Christ the crucified. As the baptized children of God, we have the privilege of lifting up one another in prayer, praying for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs, and lifting up one another through prayer, hymns, and psalms.

Our Lord brings the heavenly places down to earth, down to us with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven as He comes to us in His Supper, as the cup is lifted up, lifted up so that you would taste and see that the Lord is good and that you would be lifted up to receive the foretaste of the Feast to come and to catch a glimpse of the heavenly places, for heaven and earth are full of His glory here at His Table. Until that Day when we are lifted up into the heavenly places for all eternity, we need not fear what the devil, the world, and our sinful nature throw in our way, "For," as the Psalmist says in our Introit, "in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock" (Ps. 27:5), the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Mighty Fortress. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I Want to Walk As a Child of the Light

by Prof. Dr. David Zersen, President Emeritus
Concordia University at Austin
Austin , Texas

Gospel: John 3: 14-21

"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. 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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever 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. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But 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."
- John 3: 14-21(NIV)


There is so much interest in darkness and light, in shades of gray or splashes of sunshine. The filmmaker, the artist, and the prosecuting attorney all love to play with these themes. When is night, really night, or darkness not fully day? When is evil truly evil and not mistaken identity, or guilt by reason of insanity? Our world is filled with nuances.

Art historians have long known that Rembrandt's masterpiece, The Night Watch, was not a night scene at all. It simply acquired that name because a century after it was painted, soot so covered the dressed-up military types that they seemed mysterious in their grimy environs.

This week, Andrea Yates, a mother of five, claiming to be distraught from post-partum depression, who drowned her five children in the bathtub, will seek a new trial in Houston. A jury may again deliberate whether she is guilty, guilty by reason of insanity, or even innocent because the first trial was judicially mishandled.

At times, I have found myself in another part of the world, waking up in the middle of the night, and checking the clock, only to remember that it is midday in my hometown, and, then, I fall asleep happy.

Sometimes, things are not what they seem, and we are happy that they are not. Sometimes things are exactly what they seem to be. Sometimes light is not darkness, yet, just as importantly, sometimes darkness is surely not light.

This past Sunday, I heard a presentation by a rabbi whom I had invited to speak at a series of lectures on the 100 th Anniversary of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Since I hadn't heard from him in the days prior to the lecture, I was worried that the title of the Harry Kemmelman mystery novel, Sunday the Rabbi Stayed Home, might be repeating itself! He did, however, arrive, and said, among other things, that if he could be permitted to be honest, from a Jewish perspective, Bonhoeffer seemed to him to be morally ambiguous. On the one hand, he stood up for his brother-in-law, married to Bohhoeffer's twin sister, when the charge came about von Dohnanyi's Jewishness. Of course, said the rabbi, the man had converted to Christianity, so, from some Christian perspectives, he was hardly a candidate for anti-Semitism, no longer being a Jew!

On the other hand, he felt, Bonhoeffer, vacillated a great deal as he tried to decide what position he was going to take on this issue of genocide, the extermination of the Jews. "How could he not have known," the rabbi asked, "where all this was leading? The publications of the Nazis and Hitler's own racial attacks made it perfectly clear!" In other words, didn't they know the difference between darkness and light?

I. Knowing about me

This is a profound accusation and it takes us right to the heart of our own understanding of ourselves as human beings and as Christians. On the one hand, when it comes to what can be known about another's viewpoints or actions, hindsight is often for us as accurate as foresight. When someone does something evil, in retrospect, we often find it easy to say, "I would have known better than that" or "I knew it all along." How many are those who said, "I saw the Michael Jackson thing coming." Or "It was just a matter of time before Enron or some other corporate kings were caught playing fast and loose with our money!" Or "I never believed that Lance Armstrong was having all that success without some support from drugs." We are quick to recognize guilt or find fault when other people are involved. Their presumed darkness always appears more profound over against our light.

On the other hand, when the darkness is covering our own actions, we often have greater trouble trying to recognize darkness as darkness. Sometimes we simply don't recognize problems as belonging to us. Other people are responsible. "It simply wasn't my fault!" we say. To some degree, our judicial system thrives on misplaced guilt. We leave it to judges or juries to find out who's wrong. In marital conflict, we leave it to counselors. Why do you think it is so hard for us to accept our own complicity or guilt?

Use, for a moment, an example from the medical world. Many people hate to go to see the doctor or to the hospital. What is the reason for this? I've heard it said that people don't like the smell of hospitals, or they don't want to feel like hypochondriacs, or they don't know what to say to people who are seriously ill. The real issue, psychiatrists and theologians will tell us, is that we are afraid of confronting our own mortality. If we have constant headaches, for example, we don't want to see the doctor because we fear it might be a brain tumor. We are our own worst enemies in this regard because if we would deal with symptoms when they first arise, there is a much better chance that a problem can be corrected or cured.

Consider the same analogy with respect to personal guilt. At a superficial level, we may not wish to explore an issue because it may mean there is something wrong with our marriage relationship, or that we have a personality problem or that we might need to unburden ourselves in front of a perfect stranger. At a more profound level, however, the text has it quite right. Bluntly and dramatically, Jesus says: "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil." In other words, people like darkness because it covers the underlying realities. It's not other people's realties about which we need to worry, but our own, deep-seated evil. And here is where we find it difficult to tackle the real issues. Here is where the rabbis's question should be raised again: "How could they not have known what was going on?" Here is where it is also true that the sooner we deal with a problem, the better off we will be.

I found it interesting to read that during Dietrich Bonhoeffer's time, specifically in 1933, roughly 2,500 of the Protestant clergy sided with Hitler, about 2,500 opposed him, and roughly 15,000 took no stand at all. Fifteen thousand said, "there's not yet enough evidence to convince me that this situation implicates me!" I ask myself which issues in our own time require me to notice that there is darkness around me, that my feet are standing in the miry clay. When over 30,000 innocent people in Iraq have been killed by bombs and misdirected gunfire, am I in any way involved? When thousands of children lost their parents in the Tusnami, does this speak to me? When large numbers of people in New Orleans lost their homes and their jobs, what can I do about this? When my relationship with colleagues at work or with my spouse is fragmenting, when do I start looking at myself? When I no longer hurt for others, can I still hurt over my own sin?

Hanging over the fireplace in our home is a painting I had to buy when I first understood what it meant. It is a picture of a foot staggering into the darkness. Calligraphy in the darkness spells, "Men loved darkness instead of light." A man standing next to the artist at the opening night of the show, said to her, "Well, are you going to paint another one that shows a person walking into the light?" "Sir," said the artist in her typical quiet way, "only God can make us do that, not me!" I was so moved by her biblical answer that I had to buy the painting.

What the artist was saying, our text said before her. Some may think it's a neurosis to have feelings of guilt, to be concerned about the shadowy areas in our lives. It is, however, quite realistic to know that there are serious issues in our lives with which we need to deal. It is neurotic not to deal with them, especially if we are Christians who have seen the light.

II. Knowing about the light

Jesus says, "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." It is God's choice to bring light where there is darkness, to change the circumstances in our human condition. If our deeds are evil, the light comes to embrace us in our darkness and to save us. This word "save" in an interesting one because the Greek is translating a Hebrew word meaning "bring into a large open space." That is unique concept of salvation. Jean Paul Sartre, the great French existentialist philosopher and author of a play, entitled No Exit, claimed that the human condition was like being trapped in a room from which there was no escape. It can be like that for us when we prefer to hide those aspects of our lives with which we aren't ready to deal. Our text wants to assure us, however, that God so loved the world that he takes us, one by one, into a wide and emancipating space, where there are new alternatives to our dead ends in addition to a boundless future. The Christian conviction is not that life has No Exit, but that it has an open door.

If you and I understand that grace means that God claims you and me, that he makes our darkness light, where then is the role of judgement? If God takes the initiative to overwhelm our darkness, to make us new through his love alone, who stands condemned? A story is told about an unwilling teen who accompanied his class members on a visit to one of Europe's great art museums during a summer vacation trip. When the tour was over, the young man said to the guide, just to make sure others knew where he was coming from, "I didn't think it was so great. Just a lot of old pictures." Quickly, the guide responded. "The works of art in this museum are no longer on trial, but those who come here to see them are." That's surely also true for us who are confronted by God's love in Christ. If we see no hope in the promise of our text that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life, then our judgement comes from ourselves, not from God. As Jesus says, "whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son."

I don't think I ever understood the meaning of Frederick Faber's old hymn, "there's a wideness in God's mercy like the wideness of the sea," until I thought of the Hebrew meaning of salvation. To be saved through that love in which Jesus lived and died for us is to be freed from narrow strictures, confined attitudes, entrapments of our own making. The love which Jesus shows frees us to be open about who we are, what we have done, and what we are afraid to do. God does not limit our lives and possibilities; rather he opens doors and tears down walls.

Of course, when we are embraced by a love so wide and broad and high as God's own mercy, we will look for ways to share this love. When the overwhelming brightness of his light claims us in the midst of our darkness, then we know we have no choice but to be light. There are people everywhere right now-- marginalized groups, targeted religions and alienated extremists—who need our love. We do not always agree with all their perspectives and orientations, but, then, to disassociate ourselves from people whom God loves, because we do not agree with them, is not possible for us either. As Steve Martin likes to say, "Oooooooooooooh, I feel happy feet coming on…..," as he springs into a dance. It's the kind of joy which belongs to children of the light who can't help get rhythm as they sing,

"I want to walk as a child of the Light; I want to follow Jesus.
In him there is no darkness at all; shine in my heart, Lord Jesus."

Source: Göttinger Predigten im Internet
ed. by U. Nembach, J. Neukirch, C. Dinkel, I. Karle

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