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(John 3: 14-21)


When I was a young Houston Police Officer, I worked the 3-11 shift which was okay, but I really wished they had a shift that started at eight in the evening and ended at four in the morning.  The problem with the evening shift was that when you signed on you immediately had to answer the calls that were left over from the day shift and those folks weren’t pleased with the slow response time.  Then you had the folks who came home after a hard day at work only to find that they had been victimized by a daytime burglar which required us to respond well after the fact and write a report.  By then it was time for our dinner break and after that we’d get down to doing some real police work.  As the sun went down the “nightcrawlers” started to come out, the ones who made their living satisfying the dark desires of the other nightcrawlers who came into my district looking to satisfy their urges under the cover of darkness, where the light did not shine.  Unfortunately for those of us who hunted for nightcrawlers we had to head in at ten o’clock so the night shift could have our cars.  This was when things really started to pick up.  My partners and I would stay out as long as we could until we started getting calls from the patrol office demanding that we return to the station.  A swing shift from eight to four would have been ideal for those of us who made a living hunting the nightcrawlers, those who loved the darkness and feared the light.


And it’s those nightcrawlers, those people who loved the darkness more than the light, that Jesus is talking about in our gospel reading for this morning.  To put our reading into context, Jesus is having a conversation with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus.  Nicodemus had been hearing all sorts of intriguing things about this country rabbi who preached an unconventional message geared more towards the needs of the lost and searching rather than safeguarding the status quo of sin maintenance.  Nicodemus starts out by saying: Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.  Nicodemus came to see Jesus under the cover of darkness because he didn’t want to be seen speaking to this controversial rabbi.  He was a Pharisee who was trained up in the law of Moses and Jewish religious traditions but when he said “we know” that indicates that Nicodemus was not alone in his thoughts when he acknowledged that Jesus was one who had come from God.  Jesus knows he is talking to a learned teacher of Israel.  Jesus talked to Nicodemus about being born again which seemed to confuse him causing Jesus to ask out loud how a teacher of Israel could not know these things.  Jesus says: I assure you that we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you don’t receive our testimony.  Poor Nicodemus.  This is really challenging everything he has been taught since he was a small boy and all that he has studied as a teacher of the Law of Moses.  This is upsetting to the status quo, but to his credit, he comes seeking answers.


We pick up with Jesus stating to Nicodemus: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.  This is an image that Nicodemus would have been familiar with and would have understood the meaning and significance.  When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God sent a plague of snakes to punish the people for their rebellious attitudes.  Those doomed to die from snakebites could be healed by obeying God’s commands to look up at the elevated bronze snake and by believing that God would heal them if they did.  He’s telling Nicodemus that like the bronze serpent, He will be lifted up by God so that everyone who believes in him will be saved.  Jesus then utters the one Bible verse just about everyone, believer and non-believer alike, knows: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.  The entire gospel comes to a focus in this verse.  God’s love is not static or self-centered; it reaches out and draws others in.  It’s important to note here that “so loved” does not mean “loved so much” but more as in “loved in this way”; that is, God’s love is giving and purposeful—to rescue and give life.  Jesus explains what this means to Nicodemus when he says: God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  It’s important to understand here that Nicodemus represented those Old Testament Jews who knew God to be a vengeful God sending all sorts of unimaginable punishments down upon those who offended him or broke his commandments.  You know, like poisonous snakes.  Jesus is announcing the coming of a God who is loving, patient, and forgiving, a God who mercifully sent his son to die for all mankind.  Jesus tells Nicodemus that whoever believes in him isn’t judged, but that whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged because they do not believe in the name of God’s only Son.  And just so Nicodemus is clear on the concept and will explain it to the others he says: This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil.  All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light.  Jesus is talking about the people who don’t want their lives exposed to God’s light because they are afraid of what will be revealed.  And he’s talking about more than just the nightcrawlers, the ones who come out at night to satisfy their carnal desires.  He’s talking about those who do what offends God when they think no one is looking, those who use their positions of authority or wealth to take advantage of others, the weak and powerless.  Those who cheat and steal, those who turn a blind eye to the suffering around them.  They don’t want to be changed.  These are the people who offer many excuses for not accepting Christ.  Some cite the presence of hypocrites in the church.  Others claim an inability to believe some of the hard truths about Christ or the gospel.  But these are merely attempts on their part to conceal a heart in rebellion against God.  They don’t come to Christ because they don’t want to.  What he’s not talking about are the ones who have a momentary lapse in judgment and readily acknowledge their sin and seek forgiveness.  That’s a relief.


On the other hand, Jesus says: Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.  For Christ, “coming to the light” is more than exercising faith.  A person comes to the light not only because they believe, but also because they openly identify with the light so that his or her works can be seen as things done in union with God.  Those who believe on the Son and practice the truth can be trusted by God to be given revelation and responsibilities for service.  This was a lot to lay upon Nicodemus, who came by night, and one has to wonder if he gave a full report back to the others in his group who had questions for Jesus.  Unfortunately, like many of us when faced with a difficult decision, he got cold feet, but his story wasn’t over, his faith journey would pick up again at just the right moment.


When we don’t know Christ, we make choices as though this earthly life is all we have.  In reality, this life is just the introduction to eternity.  When we receive this new life by faith, we begin to evaluate all that happens from an eternal perspective.  Believing is both trusting his words as reliable and relying on him for the power of change.  So, God’s intention in sending his Son is clear.  The one through whom the world was made is the one through whom God intends to save it.  But belief is essential.  We believe in God by recognizing the insufficiency of our own efforts to find salvation and by asking him to do his work in us.  So here is where God, by example, sets the pattern of true love, the basis for all love relationships—when you love someone dearly, you are willing to give freely to the point of self-sacrifice.  That’s something we can understand.  That’s a deep and abiding love.  When we share the gospel with others, our love must be like Jesus’—willingly giving up our own comfort and security so that others might join us in receiving God’s love.  But don’t be surprised when these same people, the nightcrawlers so to speak, are threatened by your desire to obey God and do what is right, because they are afraid that the light in you may expose some of the darkness in their lives.  Rather than giving in to discouragement, keep praying that they will come to see how much better it is to live in the light rather than in the darkness.  Whoever comes to the light has nothing to fear from its penetrating glow.


Let us pray.


We’ve a message to give to the nations, that the Lord who reigneth above hath sent us his Son to save us, and show us that God is love, and show us that God is love.  Yes, how grateful we are that you, O Lord, didn’t send your Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.  How humbled we are that you loved the world in this way; that you sent your Son to die for us, to rescue us and give us life eternal.  Our prayer is simple Father; that we may be worthy of such a sacrifice to where we not only come to the light, but that our works in Jesus’s name may be seen as acts that are done in union with you.  Move us to look up to Jesus in the belief that he and only he will save us.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.