International Sunday School Lesson
For Sunday March 25, 2012
Purpose: To explore the meaning of unconditional love
Scripture Text: John 3:11-21
John 3:11-21 (NRSV)
(11) "Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. (12) If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (13) No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. (14) And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, (15) that 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. (18) Those 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. (19) And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (20) For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.(21) But 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."
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Our lesson text begins in the middle of a conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, one of the leaders of the Jews. He came by night to seek some answers from Jesus; he calls him Rabbi, and has great respect for Jesus as a teacher. Nicodemus is aware of some of the miracles that Jesus has performed, and Nicodemus knows these things can not be done outside of God's working. Jesus' answer about understanding heavenly things with an earthly mind confuses Nicodemus. Although Jesus told him these are “spiritual truths” in referencing being born from “above,” Nicodemus reverts to his earthly understanding and replies “of course a grown man can not re-enter his mother's womb.”
Our text continues with Jesus lecturing Nicodemus about spiritual truths and condemns
Nicodemus for not accepting this truth and further by not being open to what Nicodemus had already witnessed. Nicodemus was choosing to stay in the darkness rather than accepting the light that he had seen.
Jesus tells Nicodemus if he has witnessed these miracles here on earth and does not believe that Jesus and God are one, then what are the chances he could be convinced about heavenly things. Perhaps to help the readers of the letter to better understand, John's writing leaps forward to a time after the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Jesus asserts that the Son of Man has come down from heaven and will ascend back to heaven, and then gives an Old Testament illustration that should have made a lot of sense to a Pharisee.
Jesus then delivers and John records the basic truth of the Gospel. God did not send His Son to earth because He was mad or angry with mankind, but rather because of God's love for mankind, He was willing to send His only begotten Son to die by the cruelest means ever so that mankind would see how much God loved them and by accepting that fact everyone that believed would have eternal life, and those that did not would condemn themselves by their unbelief.
I have friends that try to claim John 3:17 as a hope and doctrine for universal salvation for all of mankind, but verse 18 makes it very clear that unbelief condemns mankind. And therein lies “the judgment” we hear and talk so much about. Judgment for non believers is not something in the future, it happens when they choose not to believe that Jesus was indeed the Son of God and they remain condemned until they accept that Jesus was the Son of God that was sent to save and give eternal life to all that believe. Jesus was God's gift to mankind; God's grace is extended to all that believe.
The problem is some people prefer to operate and live in darkness; they would rather not have their life exposed to light. Fortunately most bible scholars think that Nicodemus eventually saw the light and believed fully that Jesus, The Christ was the promised Messiah and Jesus left his home in Glory to demonstrate God's love for the world.
When John speaks of God's glory or the glory of Christ he includes the death, resurrection and ascension as all one act of “Glory.” All of that together is God's Glory. For those that choose the Light over darkness, eternal life begins immediately, just as judgment comes immediately for non believers, so too, eternal life does not come later for believers, eternal life is living in God's presence, those that believe can start living in God's presence while still living here on earth. Living fully exposed to the Light is eternal life.