First & Christ UMC Chestertown

At the Corners of High & Mill Street

Weekly Sermon

Posted by on May 3, 2023

Weekly Sermon

Title: Light in the Darkness

Passage: John 3:14-21

Preached: On 3/10/24 at FUMC & CUMC

 Message Idea: Jesus will be lifted up as the Light of the World, so that those who love darkness may see the light.

Application Point: Hear God’s promises to save, and trust in them with all your heart.

 (How do we struggle with this?)

 Today’s passage contains Franny’s favorite verse… her life verse… John 3:16.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Whenever I’ve asked Franny to tell me what makes John 3:16 special to her, she always says the same thing.  “If God loves us that much… to die for whosoever believes in him so that we shall have eternal life… then how could anyone NOT want that?”

It’s a good question, and we’re given the answer at the end of today’s passage… people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.  Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed (3:19b-20). 

You might think this talk about evil deeds, hating light and loving darkness sounds a bit antiquated and heavy-handed.  So let me say it in more contemporary terms… Sinning is just too much fun!  People don’t want to come to Jesus because they like doing all those things they would have to give up. 

Having to change our attitudes… our perspectives… the way we treat others… is difficult and it makes us uncomfortable.  It’s so sad… but the reason people don’t believe in Jesus is because it’s too convenient NOT to. 

Unfortunately, whether we care to admit it or not… we’ve all been there?  Simply because we all suffer from a natural bent toward sinning.  It’s a curse that we all need to be set free from. 

And Jesus promises to do just that… Jesus will be lifted up as the “Light of the World,” so that those who love darkness may see the light of the gospel. 

(What does the Bible say about this?)

John 3:14-15

In vv. 14-15, Jesus says… Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 

This famous section of Scripture immediately follows Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the middle of the night to talk with him.  Jesus knew that Nicodemus was well versed in the Scriptures, so he brings up the story of the Israelites in the wilderness and the bronze snake.  In Numbers 21:4-9, the people are complaining to God, so he sends poisonous snakes among them.  When they call out to God, God commands Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole, so that when any are bitten, they may look up at it and live.

If Jesus is paralleling himself with this snake on a pole… why, then, is he connecting himself to an evil thing, which was causing pain for the people of Israel?  I think the most obvious reason is to reflect his own act on the cross.  Even today we still need to be reminded that Jesus didn’t just take our sin from us… he BECAME sin for us.

Let’s get this straight.  There wasn’t anything magical about the bronze snake on the pole.  When the Israelites looked up at it, they were reminded of their rebellion.  They were reminded that their sinfulness had brought poison into their lives.  God forgave them and healed them as an act of grace.  It was God’s grace that healed the Israelites NOT the bronze snake… it was God’s gift.

Jesus says that in the same way he MUST also be lifted up… so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.

First, let me say this… you and I have not been bitten by poisonous serpents.  We’ve been poisoned by sin.  When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake on the pole they were reminded of their rebellion. 

Now… when you and I look at the cross and the crucifixion, what do WE see?  We see a man… God in human flesh.  We see a person who had never sinned a day in his life, yet he was beaten and killed by sinful people. 

When we look at the cross… we see two things.  First, since Jesus is God incarnate, we see what our sin does to God.  We see a powerful and terrible reminder of the human condition… the curse we need to be set free of.  And that curse is this… We love our sin more than we love God. (REPEAT)

Secondly, since Jesus is the Son of Man, when we look to the cross… we also see what sin does to us.  Sin does the same thing to us that it did to Jesus on the cross… it destroys us, and it brings pain, suffering, and death.

John 3:19-21

All this connects with the points Jesus is making in the later part of this passage.  In verses 19-21, Jesus declares the entire reason for his coming… that people loved the darkness rather than the light.

When Jesus is lifted up on the cross… one of two things will happen.  We will either fall down on our knees and beg for forgiveness… OR… we will be so offended and repulsed by the crucifixion that we will despise and hate Jesus more than ever and run back into the darkness. 

Everybody experiences the cross differently… some have dramatic life-changing conversion experiences, while others have trouble remembering a time when they were NOT close to God.  John Wesley, for example, was reading a commentary on the book of Romans at a bible study when he felt his heart strangely warmed. 

For me… I was on a Walk to Emmaus retreat watching a skit performed by several people wearing costumes, one was dressed up as Jesus and two were dressed as clowns.  As I sat in the pew looking at the person who was playing Jesus, I kept thinking that I knew who this person was when I didn’t.  His gaze was so penetrating that I felt like he was looking straight into the depths of my soul… and as he held my gaze two tears rolled down his face. 

It was in that moment… that I was hit with the realization of how much pain my sin was causing my Savior.  I ran to the altar, got on my knees, and prayed a prayer that began my journey into pastoral ministry.

To this day… I’ve never been able to watch Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” because the crucifixion is too gruesome, and I’m squeamish over the sight of blood… but those two teardrops streaming down Jesus’ face broke my heart.

A good friend of mine once told me that he was so calloused toward God that when his fiancé forced him to go to a Catholic wedding, he got drunk before he went.  He sat in the back of the church while she went up for communion.  She brought back the wafer, broke it in half and placed one of the halves in his hand.  He asked her, “What’s this?”  And she replied, “God, told me to give this to you… and tell you that he loves you, too.” 

That’s all it took to completely transform his life… half of a communion wafer and hearing that God loves him.   

The cross IS the bright light of the gospel that drives away the darkness… and it’s the most vivid picture of God’s love that the world has ever seen.  Regarding his crucifixion, Jesus later stated… “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).  

I often wonder… Are we lifting Jesus and the cross high enough?

Some years ago, a family decided to present a family history to their father for his 65th birthday.  They hired a researcher to research the family history, but they found a criminal in the closet.  In fact, Uncle Harry had been electrocuted for his crime.  So, the family asked the researcher if he could SOFTEN it a little bit for this festive occasion.  The researcher came forward in the moment and read these words… “Uncle Harry occupied a chair of applied electricity at one of our more important government institutions.  He was attached to his position with the strongest of ties and his death came as a real shock.”

Is this what WE do?  Do we deliberately SOFTEN the shock of the cross?  

We wear crosses as jewelry… and on tee shirts.  We weave them into our architecture.  The old-rugged cross, doesn’t seem to be quite so rugged anymore… does it?  Yet, even watered down… the cross still shines light into the darkness and demands a response resulting in either grace or condemnation. 

What will it be?  Death… OR eternal life?

I can’t help thinking about what Franny said… “If God loves us so much that he is willing to die for us, then why would anyone NOT want to choose abundant life.”

(How can we live this out in our lives?)

Much of the understanding of this passage is (rightly) focused on John 3:16. The surrounding verses all point us to why Jesus is going to the cross.  It’s because of people’s sin… which includes rebellion, harming others, and the entire gamut of diminishing the glory of God, from complaining to God about their condition, to rejecting the coming of the light, to mistrusting the promises that God has made.

And yet, God still promises to save those lost in sin, through the work of his Son becoming sin for us… so that sin might die… and we might live.

Lent is a time when we purposefully return to the cross of Christ and lift it up high.  I’ve learned that I personally cannot afford to allow myself to stray too far from the cross.  I’ve found that even in the most well-lit rooms we can still find a shadow or two.  Sin is constantly lurking in the shadows… as God told Cain in Genesis 4… sin is crouching at [our] door… waiting for a chance to pull us down and drag us back into the darkness. 

For me the remedy is found in the words of Fanny Crosby… “Jesus, keep me near the cross.”  I pray that you will hear God’s promises of salvation and place your trust in them with all your heart.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Title: Restoration
Passage: John 2:13-22
Preached: On 3/3/24 at FUMC & CUMC
Message Idea: Jesus promises (and delivers) destruction, but he also promises restoration.
Application Point: Accept God’s hard (alien) work in your life and turn to him for the rebuild.
(How do we struggle with this?)
C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, asks his readers to… “Imagine yourself as a living
house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is
doing. He’s getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on… you knew
that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts badly and doesn’t seem to
make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he’s building quite a different
house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor
there, running up towers, making courtyards.
You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but He is building up a
palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.”
The apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:
The old has gone, the new is here! We all want to be made into a new creation in Christ… but
first, the old must go. Some of our old ways and old habits will need to be blown-up, torn
down, and demolished BEFORE God can rebuild us into a new creation. We all must go through
the refiner’s fire.
My subject today is… Although Jesus promises (and delivers) destruction, he also promises
restoration.
(What does the Bible say about this?)
The Jesus we find in the first part of this passage isn’t the gentle Jesus that most of us are
familiar with. He seems more like the God we read about in the Old Testament. One thing this
scene reinforces is that God’s anger at sin is consistent.
John 2:13-17 – Jesus promises destruction

John tells us that it’s time for the Passover… which is the celebration of the Jewish people
where they remembered God delivering them from Egypt. It was supposed to be a memorial
feast… but it had become a money-making sham.
The way it worked was that every adult male Jew was required to pay an annual temple tax that
would be about the equivalent of two-days’ wages. But everyone had Roman money, which
couldn’t be accepted by the temple. So, there were money changers set up who would
exchange the Roman money for temple money.
There were a couple of problems with this… one, the “temple money” couldn’t be spent
anywhere but the temple… and second, they charged an exchange rate, that was about the
same as one-day’s wage. So, the annual Temple Tax… actually cost about three-days’ wages,
instead of two.
Not only that… if you lived really far from Jerusalem, and you couldn’t bring a sacrificial animal,
the temple would sell you one. Of course, you could only buy one using temple money, and the
same exchange rate applied.
Believe it or not, it gets better. Even if you did bring your own sacrifice, the priests had to
inspect it, and they would often deem the animal unworthy. They’d say it had some kind of
defect or that it was inferior, so the people would end up paying for one of the temple animals
anyway.
Have you ever wondered where the term “fleecing” comes from? Maybe this was it. It’s sad to
think that the Levitical Priests were scamming people and claiming it was for God. It really was
a disgusting abuse of power. This is the scene that Jesus walked into at the Temple… and it
made him angry.
It’s been suggested that what angered Jesus the most was where all this happened… the Court
of the Gentiles.
Let me explain… the Jewish Temple was laid out in different areas. The inner most part and
most important part was the Holy of Holies… this area was hidden behind the curtain and it
contained the ark of the Covenant. Only the high priest could enter it and only once per year.
The next area… out from the Holy of Holies… was the Holy Place. Only the priests could enter
the Holy Place for prayer and service.

3

Then you had the Court of the Men. Only men of proven Jewish heritage who had been
through Bar Mitzvah (like confirmation for us) could come this far into the Temple.
Outside of the men’s court was the Court of the Woman, this is where the woman of proven
Jewish descent who had received Bat Mitzvah worshiped.
Then there’s the outermost court… the first area you would enter when you came through the
gates from the outside was called the Court of the Gentiles. Think of the Court of the Gentiles
as the place in the temple that existed for the person who didn’t know God but wanted to
worship and learn about God. This is the place where the priests and teachers of the law would
often speak to unbelievers trying to lead them into a relationship with God.
It’s here in the Court of the Gentiles that all this mess with the animals, money changers, and
tax collectors was taking place. So, the first thing a person seeking God saw upon entering the
Temple was people being fleeced for money in the name of their faith.
Now, do you understand Jesus’ rage?
As the disciples watched… probably in horror and disbelief… Jesus cracked his whip sending
sheep and cattle running here and there… men were shouting and cursing… the money
changers were trying to hold on to their tables as Jesus went around upsetting them.
It was a violent scene… but the disciples remembered that it was written in Psalm 69:9… Zeal
for your house will consume me. Although the Psalm is about David it had prophetic fulfillment
in Christ. David and Jesus both identified so closely with God that when someone disgraced or
vilified God, they also felt slandered.
What a wonderful thought for us… to be so identified with God and so in love with him that
when his name is defamed or his glory somehow tarnished, it upsets us to the point that we
experience that same holy anger.
Unfortunately, our hearts can become like that outer court of the temple of Jerusalem. Even
while we sit in church, our modern-day marketplaces can be spinning through our heads. We
may be thinking about the next business deal we’re going to close, watching the ball game,
going shopping, or attending some social gathering.

Solomon said it all when he said in Proverbs 5:14… And I was soon in serious trouble in the
assembly of God’s people. Yes, it’s possible to be in serious trouble even while we’re part of a
Bible-based church.
Jesus promises (and delivers) destruction. He seeks to destroy our irreverent attitudes… our
idolatrous images of a man-made God… and our dry ritualism that indicates that our God is far
away and dead… he wants to drive our self-sufficiency and pride OUT OF HIS TEMPLE.
John 2:18-22 – Jesus promises restoration
When the religious leaders were finally able to approach Jesus, they questioned his actions and
asked for a sign.
And even though Jesus promises destruction, he makes an even greater promise of
restoration. Even with the violence of the act of clearing the Temple… Jesus seems to up the
ante when the Jews question him about it. Jesus answered… “Destroy this temple, and I will
raise it again in three days” (2:19).
To the ears of the Jews, he’s declaring that if he were to REALLY show his power, he could
destroy the entire stone building and bring it back in three days. They think he’s referring to
the temple of wood and stone… which was only a mere representation of the divine presence
of God. At this point the Temple building was still under construction, I read that it was finally
finished in 63 A.D. Seven years later, the Romans would completely destroy it.
But what Jesus was really referring to was himself… the divine presence of God that was
standing right in front of them. It wasn’t, “Destroy this temple” …slowly spread arms. It was,
“Destroy this temple” …fold arms across chest.
The destruction that Jesus promised would occur when he was hung on the cross… and yet, he
promised to restore everything as it should be. Jesus would later use a different analogy…
“Verily truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a
single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (12:24).
God would raise Jesus’ body on the third day… and in that resurrection is the foundation
stone… the cornerstone… of the spiritual temple for the entire world.
(How can we live this out in our lives?)

The Lord Jesus, like no other person, was the temple of God. Colossians 2:9 says… For in Christ
all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Christ has gone into heaven, but he has left us
here to be his hands and feet. The following verse in Colossians says… and in Christ you have
been brought to fullness (2:10).
Now WE ARE the temple of the living God. As God has said… “I will live with them, and walk
among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16).
What a glorious thought! With this thought in mind, the significance of what happened in the
temple is even more relevant to us.
Some of us just aren’t cutting it, are we?
Instead of our hearts being temples, they’ve become something else. Perhaps a savings and
loan? Maybe a playhouse? A recreational vehicle? Or a library full of arcane, irrelevant
thoughts? I’ll stop there but you can probably think of some more.
We start out on fire for Christ… then one day we realize that the fullness is gone. It happens so
easily… and no one is exempt. Not even the priests of Jesus’ day or the pastors of today. We
ALL need to be diligent concerning our relationship with Christ.
But the good news for us is that Jesus cares about his temples… so much so that he will even
come at us with a whip in his hand. And if you have trouble thinking about Jesus and his tough
love… remember that the same hand that held the whip is the same hand that had a nail driven
through it at Calvary.
Jesus loves us… and because he loves us… he comes again and again to cleanse our lives if
they’re not what they’re supposed to be… which are temples that give glory to him.
So, as we prepare to come to the Lord’s table think on this piercing question… Will you accept
God’s hard work in your life, and then submit to him for the rebuild?

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