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 3:18-21
Bishop William Temple said, “If Christianity has never disturbed us, we have not yet learned what it is.” This passage here in John’s Gospel is disturbing. Verse 16 is about the love of God. Verse 17 is about the mission of God. Now these verses are about the judgment of God. Verse 19: “This is the judgment” – and in the Gospel of John too, maybe the sweetest book in all the Bible. Is it okay with us for God to talk to us not only about his love and his mission but also about his judgment? Is it okay with us for God to talk to us about whatever he wants to talk about? Or will we tell God, “You can’t say anything that might disturb me. You can say only reassuring things”? People who trust God are open, because he is good and we are not. C. S. Lewis said,
In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all.
Let’s deliberately place ourselves under the judgment of the Word of God. That’s where his mercy is! We cannot back away from his judgment, or try an end run around his judgment, to find his mercy. We have to go through his judgment. Here’s how it works. When we bury our sins down in denial, God drags them out into the open. When we bring our sins out into open confession, God buries them under the blood of Jesus.
Which means that the defining issue in our lives this morning might not be what we think. We might think that, with God, the deal-breaker is this sin or that sin. We might think that God has a sliding scale of sins, with the forgivable sins at one end and the really horrible sins at the other, and as long as we don’t commit any of the really horrible sins God should be okay with us. That is completely false. We will never experience God’s mercies that way. We see here in these verses how God judges us and what we must face to enter into his mercies. All that matters is what matters to God. And what matters supremely to God is not which sins we’ve committed or haven’t committed and how we stack up in comparison with others. What matters supremely to God is whether or not we believe in Jesus. That doesn’t make sense to us. We want to make it about morality. God is saying it’s about Jesus, because he is the only light that has come into the world. In other words, God’s final category for you is not your goodness versus your badness but your trust in Jesus versus your aloofness from Jesus. Do you need him and receive him, or are you still too good for him? In other words, God judges you not by your sins as opposed to your virtues but by your dependence on yourself, however good you are, as opposed to your dependence on Jesus, however bad you are. In other words, you see in verse 20 the words, “does not come to the light,” and you see in verse 21 the words, “comes to the light.” That is how God judges you. So I’m speaking this morning to everyone who wants to escape the judgment of God and enter into the mercy of God. These verses show us the way. And it’s so simple, it’s actually disturbing.
Let’s care less about how we feel about ourselves, and let’s care more whether we are right with God, as God judges that. And how can we be right with God without listening to whatever he wants to say? The real Jesus is not a ventriloquist dummy, sitting on our laps, moving his mouth while we do the talking. The real Jesus does his own talking. And when we find ourselves disturbed by him, then we know we’re not making him up. The gospel is good news. But it is news, and it is not an echo. Let’s listen.
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. John 3:18
Jesus did not come to condemn us but to rescue us. Verse 17 makes that clear. But the fact that he came at all creates a crisis for us. When God works with creation, he sets automatic processes in motion – the flow of the seasons, the instincts in animal behavior, and so forth. But he doesn’t treat us that way. He engages personally with us, and he wants us to engage personally with him. That’s why Jesus came – to make God’s love real to us in ways that make a personal impact.
So the next question is, how, by what way, down what path, do we get in on him personally? John says, “Whoever believes in him.” How could it be otherwise? It’s how all relationships get traction. We trust. We open up. And when we trust Christ and open up to him, that’s how his love pours in. That’s the way, the only way. In our failure, we can look away from ourselves to him in his mercy, and at once we are forgiven. But if we turn away, we are condemned already. We might as well be standing before the final judgment seat of God right now, if we turn away.
Think of it this way. You love music. So you invite a friend to a great concert. Let’s say it’s a Beatles concert. Who wouldn’t want to go to a Beatles concert? So the both of you go. And the Beatles are playing their greatest hits – “She Loves You,” “I Feel Fine,” “Hello Goodbye,” and so forth. It’s the Beatles live. But your friend just sits there, fidgeting, checking Twitter, bored to tears. That’s not a judgment on the Beatles. That’s a judgment on your friend. Even so with Jesus. When we are exposed to him, if our hearts open up and start trusting, we come alive to his love. But if we’re impatient and condescending and bored, we don’t have to wonder how it’s going to go down for us on that great and final day of judgment out in eternity. We know right now. We’re condemned already, because we’re too good for the only Savior who will ever come rescue us. And we can’t say that’s unfair. Here’s how bad it is.
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. John 3:19
God is not going to judge us for not knowing what’s impossible for us to know. What does the verse say? “This is the judgment: the light has come into the world.” Some people say, “If only God would speak to us! If only God would come out of hiding and show himself! Why is he so hidden, so silent? Why does he make this so hard for us?” But God did speak, and clearly too. When Jesus came into this world, the light came, God came, clarity came. And John’s Gospel says, “He came to his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). It’s not as though, if Jesus had come to another culture or another time, we would have accepted him. He came to the one people group in all of history who had been prepared. He came to the very people who’d been positioned to expect him and understand him, to receive him, to welcome him with open arms. And they rejected him. “His own received him not.” It’s not as though, if he had shown up in Thailand or Argentina, it might have gone better. The people who had been given every advantage, every incentive, rejected him. And in that darkness, we all see ourselves. It wasn’t a Jewish problem. It was a human problem. And our problem is not a lack of information but the active presence of evil within us.
Think about it. They had the law of Moses. They had the messianic prophecies. They had the temple and the priesthood and the sacrifices and so many other symbols of the Coming One. But when it all funneled down to the moment of decision, what happened? In the most fateful moment in human history, they (and we) shouted, “Give us Barabbas, and crucify Jesus!” How did that happen? How could we reject a perfect man for a cheap thug? What are we seeing about ourselves? Verse 19: “People loved the darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil.”
I wonder what you think of that. Because, of course, you realize what John’s Gospel is saying. It’s saying that deep inside us we have a taste for evil. It’s deeper than a choice. It’s a bias, even a relish, down underneath our choices. The Bible is saying here that we are not neutral. We don’t have a little angel on one shoulder and a little devil on the other, and here we are in between trying to make up our minds. The Bible is saying that we only have a devil of a heart, and we prefer it that way. It’s saying that we don’t know God because we don’t want to know God, which means we are not the victims of God but we deserve the judgment of God. John’s Gospel is saying that we’re on easy terms with evil, but if God gets too close we break out in a rash. I wonder what you think of that. But don’t we all see it all over our world today? Why do the human traffickers succeed? Why is 30% of the data coming across the internet pornographic – more than amazon, Netflix and twitter combined – such that the Huffington Post says, “The Internet is for porn”? How could it happen that the greatest communications ever invented in world history serves brutality? Why is Washington DC corrupt not every now and then but always? Why is political hypocrisy not a phase we once went through but our default? Above all else, why did the most Bible-saturated people on the face of the earth reject the only Son of God, who was prophesied in their Bibles, when he came among them and loved them and served them? Jesus said to the most moral people in this world, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). John’s Gospel is saying here, in effect, “People loved Barabbas the darkness rather than Jesus the light, because their works were evil.” Are we willing to face our evil works? And our evil hearts down underneath our evil works? When was the last time you and I used the word “evil” to describe anything about us?
The light has come into the world. We are either moving toward him or moving away from him. How are you responding to Jesus right now? 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 3:20-21
Here’s how you can know where you stand with God, whether you’ve made Christ your own. If you’re coming to the light, you want it to be clearly seen that you are nothing without God: “. . . so that it may be clearly seen that his works, his or her life, have been carried out in God.” That is, whatever good there is in my life, it’s by God’s mercy and grace. I know that I am not a superior person. I just long to be living proof of the difference God can make, by his mercy.” Has God given you that kind of new heart? Would you like him to? He can.
C. S. Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, tells a story of a boy named Eustace, who is selfish and greedy. He discovers a cave full of dragon treasure. He fills his pockets with gold and wonders how to keep it without having to share it with his friends. He ends up falling asleep on the treasure only to wake up and find that he has turned into a dragon himself. And he’s miserable. Then Aslan, the Christ figure, enters the picture. They go to a bubbling well with marble steps going down into the water. Lewis tells us what Eustace was thinking:
The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg. But the lion told me I must undress first. I was just going to say that I couldn’t undress because I hadn’t any clothes on, when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that’s what the lion means. So I started scratching myself, and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bath.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water, I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that’s all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I’ll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully, and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bath.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, Oh dear, how many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The Lion said, “You will have to let me undress you.” I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off, just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt. And there it was lying on the grass, only thicker, and darker than the others had been. And there was I, as smooth and soft as a peeled switch, and smaller than I had been. Then he threw me into the water. It smarted like anything, but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me . . . in new clothes.
Only Jesus can un-dragon you right down at the core of your being. Are you willing? It’s all he asks. Will you open up to him right now?