Today’s passage is found in John 3:2-21 – Jesus Teaches Nicodemus.
Which version of the Bible did you read this passage in? King James? The Good News? The Message? The Passion? Do you use a paper Bible? An app? Or do you bring it up in your internet browser? Whichever version you prefer with the small differences in word choice and style, John’s gospel is written with one purpose in mind: “…That you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (Jn 20:31)
It has been said that the Corona virus pandemic is the biggest crisis in the UK outside of wartime. A lot of us, I think, have read about this crisis in dizzying numbers of articles in newspapers and online, we’ve listened to the radio and to videos online describing the consequences and we’ve turned the telly on, only to decide to turn it off again. Each medium has its own ‘spin’ on the shared message: “Stay home. Stay safe. Say thanks.”
I’d like us to dwell for a moment on the word ‘crisis’. In Greek, a ‘krisis’ is primarily a ‘decision, judgement; a trial, sentence; a dispute – or a turning point’. In English, we focus primarily on the ‘risk’ element of a crisis – the unknown, the danger, the adrenaline-inducing moments, the late-night vigil, the uneasy wait for a WhatsApp message or a phone call. In Greek, the emphasis seems to be shifted a bit more towards the outcome, the moment things become clear, the final verdict.
I’m telling you this, not only because I am a hopeless language geek, although I will admit that I am. I’m telling you because there’s a sense in which all through John’s gospel, as different people meet Jesus, they are forced to make decisions, in the here and now, as they meet Jesus, about what they are going to believe.
The other gospels tend to view judgement day as something in the future. Jesus will come again and everything will be revealed. In John’s gospel, “Light has come into the world” already v19, and judgement is not so much a future event as it is a present ‘crisis’ – a moment of self-judgement as we decide what to believe and which banner to enlist under. What we are becomes clear when we meet the Light, whether we are attracted or appalled by it. Jesus creates a crisis, a turning point and a need for a verdict. This is not Christ’s verdict of us, but ours of Him, and as we decide, we judge ourselves.
Paul picks up on a similar theme when he talks about ‘the aroma of Christ’ in 2 Cor 2:15 – that when people catch wind of Christ through their encounters with us, by their response it becomes clear what they are. Jesus did not come to condemn anyone, He came to save, and that offer is there for anyone who wants to take it.
And what’s all this got to do with corona virus and newspaper articles?
Well, sometimes when we hear about the pressure our NHS staff are under, the incredibly tragic situations in some families, including our own, and even the general discomfort of having our movements restricted, it can be easy to find oneself with a head that spins faster and faster and become really anxious and discouraged. As a result, it can be tempting to just turn off the news entirely to protect oneself, not so much from the virus perhaps as from the overwhelm of all the things we cannot take in.
I’d like to encourage you to do something else instead:
1. Come into the light. Be honest about how you feel whether it’s a good day or a bad day. Those people who met with Jesus and entered into His light, found freedom in the truth, not condemnation. As we were reminded yesterday, Jesus welcomes our questions. We should welcome each other too when sometimes we have more questions than answers.
2. Ask the Holy Spirit to spotlight the truth and make this crisis a time when you realise that eternal life in God’s love has already begun. If you believe, then you have the right to be a child of God (Jn 1:12) and you have passed from death to life (Jn 5:24). God has already decided what He wants for you, for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
3. And then continue to be the light of the world. Verse 21 says that whoever lives by the truth, comes into the light so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. Whether you ask God your questions, whether you collapse in a heap of tears for a few moments, whether you go on a long walk, whether you feel weak or strong, whether you receive or give, whether you clap for the NHS, send a card, phone a friend or a stranger, do it all ‘in the sight of God’. Be the positive gift of a ‘crisis’ to the people around you. Carry Christ’s presence so that people encounter Him and can judge themselves.
In this present crisis, let’s join under the banner of hope, enlist in the army of grace and hold onto the truth: That God gave His Son for us so that in Him, we may have eternal life – right now.
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- Holy Spirit