Letters to the Prison - Week 34

Hello!
We’re continuing our study of the gospel of John.  There’s still time to catch up if you want to join us.  And there’s no better time than now to begin reading God’s word.  If you need a Bible, ask for one!  
Last week, we came across what is probably the most famous verse in the Bible:  John 3:16.  And we saw how it was one of the profound claims Jesus makes about himself during his conversation with Nicodemus.  What is truly amazing about John 3:16 is that in saying it, Jesus explains all of Christianity.  He lays out who he is, what he has come to do and –most importantly—why he has come to do it… because of his great love for us all.  Including you!  
We encourage you to rest for a moment in God’s love for you.  Take a moment to read Romans 5:1-11 to get an idea of what God’s love expressed through Jesus’ work means for each one of us.  Sometimes when life seems crazy and overwhelming or when it seems like we’ll never get things right, it is good to just be reminded that God came for us at our worst because he loves us still.  The love that knows us and knows everything we’ve done and yet still comes to rescue us by dying for us is a love like no other.  That’s Jesus’ love for us… for you.  Right now.  Jesus loves you.  We hope you’ll take a moment to just think about that love and be encouraged.
Continuing in John 3, we find that Jesus has so much more to say to Nicodemus.  Yes, John 3:16 is so popular and recognizable and just about everyone can recite it.  But it’s not the whole story.  So, let’s see what else Jesus has to say:
•17 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.-John 3:17
Jesus here is still making claims about himself.  He’s reiterating yet again that he is the Son of God.  Remember that in the culture of that day, by calling himself the Son of God, Jesus is claiming to be God.  And he is saying this to one of the most powerful and influential Jewish leaders in the nation who would understand clearly that any claim to be God is an act of blasphemy punishable by death.  But for Jesus, being God isn’t a blasphemous claim.  It is a simple matter of fact and here Jesus is putting that claim out there as part of a larger conversation.
Jesus is speaking more now of his purpose for coming.  Jesus didn’t come to “condemn the world.”  Check out Luke 2 for further reading.  It talks about Jesus’ birth and what his first appearance means for us.  Jesus’ birth was “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10).  But back to John 3:17, we see that Jesus’ purpose for coming is so “that the world might be saved through him.”
Taken by itself, that verse might lead one to think that Jesus’ life and death saved everyone in the world automatically.  But that’s not correct.  That the whole world “might be” saved is possible because Jesus’ work was enough to pay for everyone’s sins for all time.  Salvation is available to anyone, no matter what they’ve done.  But there’s more to it.  Look what Jesus says next:
•18 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
Belief is the key.  Jesus himself makes it clear here that there are only two types of people in the world: Those who believe in him and those who don’t.  He is also plainly clear about the fate of those two types of people.  This is a dire and urgent thing to consider.  It means there’s no middle ground in the matter.  There is no such thing as “undecided” when it comes to belief in Jesus.  One either believes or they don’t and the consequences either way are clear.
People often condemn Christians for being “exclusive” or “judgmental.”  Neither is true.  Certainly, there are those who claim to be Christians who behave that way, but that’s not what Christianity is all about.  Don’t let Christians who make their own terrible mistakes ruin Christianity for you.  Choose instead whether to believe in Jesus or not.  That’s the only thing that matters.  Jesus himself says it very clearly.  Belief is at the heart of true Christianity.  
True Christianity –belief in Jesus Christ—is for everyone who believes in Jesus –no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they’ve done.  Those who believe that Jesus is who he says he is are not condemned.  Those who do not believe, however, are “already condemned.”  Jesus says this clearly.  Look what else he says about this:
•19 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. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 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.”-John 3:19-21
Jesus here claims yet another amazing thing about himself: He is the “light” that has “come into the world.”  He will say this again even more clearly later in our study (John 8:12 and 9:5).  What Jesus says here is a difficult truth about us as humans.  It’s difficult because no one wants to admit that what Jesus says about us is true:  We want to do things our own way and pursue our own desires which are, if we’re being honest with ourselves, evil.  This is why we choose to love the darkness instead of the light because we know that if we expose our works to the light –to Jesus—we’ll see how evil they really are, and we’ll feel embarrassed or humiliated.
So, we hide.  And we find ways to lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that what we are doing in the darkness is right.  We justify ourselves because we don’t want to change what we’re doing.  This is why we don’t believe.  Because if we believe that Jesus is who he says he is, then we might have to change, and we don’t want to.  So, we deny Jesus.  And so, we are already condemned.  But that doesn’t mean there’s no hope for us.  Everyone does this.  This is why Jesus came to die for us: In order to save us from our own unbelief.  And he did it because he loves us.  Once again, this is a place where we might say “I believe!  Help my unbelief!”
God hears such prayers.  And we are so grateful that he answers them.  Until next week!

Dean A.

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