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SERMON FROM DARKNESS INTO THE LIGHT JOHN 3:14-21 Sunday 15th March 2015

Numbers  21: 4-9

4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5The people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.’ 6Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7The people came to Moses and said, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people. 8And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ 9So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

 

John 3: 14-21   Love and Judgement

14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.  16 ‘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. 17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

Eph 2: 1-10  From Death to Life

2You were dead through the trespasses and sins 2in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. 3All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us 5even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.


  1. I Love You (God)  John 3:14-21

PRAY!!

 

Have you ever complained about something – & suddenly realised you have so much to be thankful for?

Whingeing is a human trait that sucks life from relationships. It’s no fun being around people who can only see the negative.

Our OT reading today [Num 21] tells of the Israelites – many in number – whingeing to Moses about food & water – & being lost in the heat & dust of the desert. Remember they had been following Moses around in the wilderness searching for the Promised Land for years since they fled from the Pharaoh’s army in Egypt. They were tired & grumpy & hungry & thirsty. They were fed up! So they grumbled about God & Moses.

The passage tells us God responds to their whingeing & unfaithfulness by sending poisonous snakes among them. Apparently snakes are common in this region – so you might ask – Did God really do this?

Or did they find themselves in snake city & concluded that God must have sent them as punishment?                      Guilt has a way of making us think like that.

However we might look at it – they stopped complaining & pleaded for Moses to pray to God for protection. Well God hears Moses’ prayers & tells him to make a bronze serpent on a stick – & to hold it high so that all who gazed on it were healed of snake bite. They were saved from certain death.

 

They had no way of knowing that generations later the Son of God would also be raised up – on a rough timber cross – for the people to see – so that humankind would saved.  This is what the writer of John’s Gospel has in mind in today’s Gospel reading when we read how God lifted up Jesus the Son of Man so that ‘whoever who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’ [Jn3:14-15].

 

We also hear the best-known verse from the Bible – John 3:16 – “God so loved the world….’

 

But let’s dig deeper for the rest of the story. Over many hundreds of years that bronze serpent on a stick so fascinated the Israelites that it became an idol – an object of pagan worship kept as a sacred relic in the Great Temple of Jerusalem. They gave it a name ‘Nehushtan’ – & if you wanted to be healed of anything – all you had to do was go & worship the snake on a pole.

 

 

 

How ironic that an object that was originally intended to heal the people – & remind them of God’s faithfulness – & to stop complaining about small things – & to be grateful for blessings & the things that really matter – like freedom from slavery – that such an object became an idol to be worshipped – instead of worshipping God himself.

 

Hundreds of years later – the Nehushtan was absorbed into Greek mythology – & became known as the Rod of Asclepius – a god associated with healing & medicine. Today the single snake on a pole remains a symbol of modern medicine & health care & is featured on the logo for Australian Medical Association.

 

But back in 2 Kings 18:4 we read how King Hezekiah – around 680BC – cleansed the Temple – & smashed the sacred relics – including the bronze serpent pole that Moses made – & ordered the people to stop messing around with idols – & to worship the true God.

 

It reminds us today to be clear about who God really is – where our priorities should be – to not set up idols to be worshipped – such as heroes  or personalities or religious rituals & church traditions. We must keep our focus on God – not on things that don’t really matter.

 

Even that classic verse Jn 3:16 needs to be carefully examined.  For many Christians, this verse has become an end in itself. Read it – believe it & you’re saved – done & dusted. Some Christians have called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell– but as amazing as it is – that verse itself isn’t enough to save – it isn’t enough on its own to show that we have a mature grasp of the Christian life.

 

God can’t be reduced to a formula. The verse in itself won’t bring healing or salvation. We need a real & personal encounter with our loving Creator – through the person of Jesus – to make our faith come alive.

 

And our response to that encounter must be one of loving God in return – & striving to please God – to obey his commands – & to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

A cross on a necklace or on a wall – or on an altar in a beautiful church – can only ever be a symbol – a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice. As wonderful & priceless as that gift of salvation – earned through Jesus’ death is – there’s much more to the Jesus story.

Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” [Mk 8:34]. Jesus isn’t a statue – or a static icon in a church! Jesus is alive! It’s only when we too live in the Spirit of Jesus – that we can be Jesus’ hands & feet in the world.

It’s in our relationships that we can reveal the face & the heart of Jesus to others. When we take up our cross – we are sharing in the work of Jesus.  And yes – it is a costly decision – that must be made every dayevery moment over & over not a once only.

 

A favourite guiding verse from scripture that speaks to me is Micah 6:8 from the Hebrew bible – which asks, “What is good? And what does the Lord require of you – but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” 

 

As a verse for Christian daily lifeMicah 6:8 is right up there.

Another powerful passage is one we hear read from the front most Sundays – it appears in our 2nd Order Holy Communion prayer book liturgy: it’s Jesus’ summary of the 10 Commandments: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God – the Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the First & Great Commandment & the Second is like it. You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law & the prophets’ [Mk 12:28-31, APBA p. 120].

 

May these passages never become for us empty words to be recited blandly on a Sunday – or idols to be worshipped only with our lips. It’s not enough to believe only with our minds & lips that salvation comes from doing justice, loving kindness & walking humbly with God — & from loving God & our neighbour.

We must live these words every day – with conviction & passion – as though our life depends on it.

 

The snake on a stick is a powerful reminder that even good things—& good people—can become idols in our lives. Our praise, worship, & adoration are to be directed only to God. Nothing else is good enough.

The letters P.S. stand for postscript – meaning an afterthought – something additional to a letter. When God gave us the Commandments – I like to think that at the end of those 10 instructions for living – carved in stone – delivered to Moses on Mt. Sinai – there was a “P.S. I love you” – just like in that classic 1962 Beatles hit.

May the cross always be for us a reminder that points us to God – a symbol of God’s unending love for us – & the great price Jesus paid so that we might have life & healing.

For God so loved the world….

 

AMEN

 

 

 

Sources:

Barclay, Wm. The New Daily Study Bible – Gospel of John vol.1, WJK: Louisville, 2001.

Caduceus, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus 12/3/15

Caduceus as a symbol of medicine, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caduceus_as_a_symbol_of_medicine, 12/3/15

Gregg, Carl, “John 3:16 — The Rest of the Story” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlgregg/2012/03/lectionary-commentary-john-316-the-rest-of-the-story-for-sunday-march-18-2012/  8/3/2012

Nehushtan, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0015_0_14666.html 11/3/2015

Nehushtan, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nehushtan, 11/3/2015

Rod of Asclepius, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rod_of_Asclepius

The Illustrated Bible Dictionary, IVP: Leicester, 1998

What Was Nehushtan?, http://www.gotquestions.org/Nehushtan.html#ixzz3UDvAtrqi  9/3/2015