- Numbers 21:4-9
- Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
- Ephesians 2:1-10
- John 3:14-21
As we move closer to the events of Holy Week, our lessons point more directly to the Passion, which Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today tells us is the supreme measure of God’s grace: “By grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:5). God forgives and restores despite human sinfulness and lack of faith in God’s love and mercy.
God does not just deal with this world, but deals with it passionately, loving it and suffering for it. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only son to it” (John 3:16). But this is not logic. This is passion. How else would God be willing to part with God’s own son for the sake of us? Nor is this a result of reasoning. It is a risk. And passion always involves risk, does it not? But only in risking will there be new discoveries and exciting experiences. Choan-Seng Song in “Theology from the Womb of Asia” (Orbis Books, 1979).
In his conversation with Nicodemus in today’s Gospel, Jesus compares the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness (from our Old Testament reading) to his own lifting up. Both are instances of remedies for sin, and both require faith. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up on the cross.
Nicodemus has come to see Jesus under the cover of darkness, seeking understanding. He discerns in Jesus a spiritual power that he has not seen elsewhere; and he is aware that Jesus has not followed the conventional path to eminence as a religious leader. Those who believe will live in light. Darkness and exile will be a thing of the past.
This is a choice freely offered, and the choice one makes is manifested in the deeds one does. The deeds of those who choose light “have been done in God” (3:21); whereas those who would do evil choose darkness to hide their evil ways. As those newly created in Christ, we become instruments for the doing of God’s will. Our lives are now to be devoted to good works, the very things that God has created in us to accomplish (v. 10). The motivation for these good works is nothing less than sheer thankfulness in our life in Christ.
During the season of Lent we recognize our need for repentance and forgiveness, as we stand in awe of the sheer abundance of God’s love for us through the gift of Jesus Christ.
- Compare the figure of the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers) to Jesus (John), who also was “lifted up.” What are the similarities and differences in these examples of provision for salvation from God?
- What does the passage from Ephesians suggest to us about the characteristics of faith and our relationship with God?
- What does it mean to us that we have been saved “by grace” and “through faith”? How do we ourselves perceive that God is “rich in mercy”?
- Nicodemus’ Pharisaic legalism ket him from coming to Jesus openly. What kinds of legalism inhibit people from coming openly to Jesus today? What examples of legalism do you see at work in your dealings with others? with yourself?
- If you had the opportunity to speak with Jesus, what would you want to ask him about salvation?
- In what sense do you feel wind aptly describes being born of the Spirit? What is your experience with such a wind?
- Read Luke 17:21, Matthew 4:17 and Matthew 13:44. What do each of these say about the kingdom of God? How do they contribute to an understanding of Jesus’ words in 3:3?
Today’s image is of Nicodemus by John Lautermilch
- Lectionary Sermon for March 18 2012 Lent 4 Year B on John 3: 14-21 (billpeddie.wordpress.com)