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. 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. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 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.” John 3:16-21 ESV
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Observation: Recapping Friday’s Daily Focus, John chronicles a respected Pharisee, Nicodemus, who seeks an audience with Jesus under cover of the night sky. Cutting to the chase, Jesus speaks forthrightly to him and declares one must be born again to see the kingdom of God. Missing the spiritual context, Nicodemus asks Jesus how a person can be physically born again. Jesus respectfully clarifies that rebirth refers to our spirits. The Holy Spirit and water spark our regeneration and our means of entry into God’s kingdom. In other words, using the imagery of wind, even though we cannot see and fully comprehend how the Holy Spirit operates, he gives birth to our spirits. Jesus adds that a lack of belief will stunt further knowledge of these spiritual matters. So behold the lifted-up Son of Man to receive eternal life.
Today’s devotion is part two of Jesus’ response to Nicodemus. It begins with a well-known memory verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). From there, Jesus clarifies that his mission is not to condemn but to save. Still, those who reject him as God’s only Son have self-inflicted condemnation, for they prefer the cloak of darkness (shrouding their works of evil) over the light who has come into the world. But those who seek to live out the truth have nothing to hide and welcome revealing their works carried out for God’s glory to the light.
Takeaway: This passage divides the opinion of theologians regarding whether it is a continuation of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus or John’s commentary to build on the importance of being born again. Either way, it is one of the essential summaries of our Gospel message:
- Salvation is a gift.
- It is not earned but received by believing in the Father and Son.
- It results from raising Christ to be crucified and resurrected.
- It frees us from condemnation and perishing to live a new quality of eternal life.
Commentator Merrill Tenney explains that “perishing” in this context does not mean we cease to exist, “it means to experience utter failure, futility, and loss of all that makes existence worthwhile” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John, p.50). This same Greek word appears later in John’s Gospel during Jesus’ prayer of intercession for his disciples as pertains to Judas: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (17:12 ESV). Indeed, Judas, who preferred the darkness to the light, led a self-serving life, compromising his integrity to seek financial gain and security. And in the end, his choices led to utter despair and suicide.
In contrast, the other eleven experienced much hardship and suffering when encountering resistance to their Gospel proclamation. Yet, they discovered a new quality of life filled with meaning, purpose, and inexplicable joy. And even in the face of martyrdom, their spirits attested to their eternal nature and home. Stephen’s vision while being stoned to death is perhaps our best example. Luke tells us that Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit and unafraid of the religious leaders’ hostility toward him, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of Father and Son and declared, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56 ESV). And as they stoned him to death, Stephen resolutely shouted, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:59-60 ESV).
Our takeaway? Many new believers focus more on what they are “being saved from” (condemnation and perishing). But if we hunger to live the abundant life that Jesus speaks of later in this Gospel (10:10), we must focus on what we are “being saved for.” As the Westminster Shorter Catechism sums, our chief aim in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Indeed, Jesus modeled this abundant life (living in the light) for his disciples, and they followed suit to ensure future generations would equally benefit. But our chief aim is by no means our justification. Knowing that salvation is a gift, we exercise our free will to bless God and others from a deepening sense of being loved and a maturing attitude of gratitude. Thus, we no longer live a perishing life but a glorious eternal one.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for your love for us expressed in the gift of your Son. And we thank you that through your Son’s sacrificial life, death, and resurrection, we are set free from condemnation and perishing to live abundant lives. Still, under the weight of our fallen world and human nature, we are prone to focus on worldly concerns and lose sight of all you have given us in your Son. So would you please help us cooperate with your Holy Spirit to deepen our awareness of your love for us and mature us with gratitude so we might glorify and enjoy you forever? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling