March 14, 2021
Judgement and condemnation!
I don’t know about you, but as I read beyond the well-known John 3:16 verse, I have more questions than answers. So, God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, ok I understand that. If God did not send Jesus to condemn the world, why are we confronted with the condemned in the very next verse? Past the condemned, we discover a judgement of those that love the darkness. If God so loved the world, why is there judgement and condemnation?
Where does the judgement and condemnation originate? We’ll get to that shortly.
It is easy to rest in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone that believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” As long we believe we are all set, correct? Yes and No! John 3:16 does not say that God loved this tribe or the neighboring tribe. It does not say God loved people in this category but not that category. It says, God loves the world. All of it! It is a love so deep; it envelops all of creation. There is no end to the love waiting to embrace us as we grow in relationship with the Triune God. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached on John 3:16 in his first sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954. His words ring true today, “God’s love has breadth. It is a big love; it’s a broad love. . .. God’s love is too big to be wrapped in a particularistic garment. It is too great to be encompassed by any single nation. God is a universal God.”
It is important to step back and explore what is happening in the text. We are thrust right into the middle of a conversation when the gospel lesson begins. It is a conversation that begins at the beginning of the chapter. Not only that, but it is a conversation held in the middle of the night so that no one would get the wrong impression. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a leader in the Temple. Thus, he does not want anyone to see him talking to Jesus, who had just been in the Temple overturning the tables. Nicodemus has seen something in Jesus and wants more information. The teaching ensued by Jesus, is pointing to eternal life and the kingdom of God. Nicodemus does not understand, and Jesus must explain in multiple ways.
Eventually in the conversation, Jesus discusses condemnation and judgement. God did not send Jesus to condemn the world. However, condemnation has already occurred. We do not need Jesus to condemn the world, because we have already condemned ourselves. We condemn ourselves when we separate ourselves from the love of God. Not only do we condemn ourselves, but we also try to condemn others and place judgement upon them.
We judge others when we place labels on them and fail to see and come to know who they are as a beloved child of God. For example,
If he’s quiet, it must mean he is aloof and doesn’t care.
If they cut me off in traffic, they must be a jerk.
If his hands are filthy and his clothes look like they have seen better days, he must be homeless.
If she smiles and laughs a lot, she must be shallow and have a perfect life.
Yet, we do not know their stories. What if we got talking to them and discovered what was happening in their lives? What if we were able to build a relationship with them? We may discover,
He’s quiet because he recently lost both of his parents and is still confronting the grief.
They cut me off in traffic because they just got a call that a loved one had a heart attack and they are rushing to the emergency room.
His hands and clothes are filthy because he had just completed a twelve-hour shift in his construction job and the family washer is broke down.
She smiles and laughs a lot because she is trying to hide the reality of her home life and the painshe endures from broken relationships.
The church itself has not been much better in the past. I would like to think that the church has grown and become more welcoming in the past decades. However, “over 20 years ago a group of pastors had a conversation about church with four young adults (early 20’s) who were going through alcohol rehab. Every one of these young adults had experienced the church as a place of judgment. They felt the judgment through looks and/or comments that indicated that others didn’t like the length of their hair or the style of clothing they were wearing. Congregations can be very judgmental institutions — which according to this text, is not Jesus’ job — nor should it be ours.”
Once in a small town lived an old blind man. He was blind yet while walking out at night he would carry a lighted lamp with him.
One night while he was out of his house, a group of young travelers saw him. After seeing him they realized that he was blind. The travelers couldn’t understand why a blind person would carry a lighted lamp and started to make fun of him.
One of the travelers was very curious and asked, “You are blind and can’t see anything so why do you carry a lighted lamp with you?”
The blind man replied, “Yes, I am blind and can’t see anything, but I still carry a lighted lamp with me for people like you who can see. If I walk at night without a lamp, one may not be able to see me coming and run into me.”
Now that they knew him, they were struck with remorse for their words and apologized. Seeking forgiveness for words spoken in mockery.
In this season of Lent, we are invited to examine ourselves and the judgement we place on others. We judge people when we think different politically. We judge people when they do or do not have a mask. We judge people by what they wear. We all do it. Yet, Christ calls us to stop. Stop judging those that differ from ourselves. When we disagree, it is an opportunity for conversation, not condemnation. Once we enter into the conversation, we allow ourselves to accept our dialogue partner as a child of God. Once we accept, it opens the door for the very love that is shown to us through Jesus Christ.
God’s love knows no ends. Even when we find ourselves judging and condemning our neighbors, or even ourselves for that matter, God is present and waiting to embrace us in that ceaseless love. It is a love drawing us into a relationship. It is a love spanning millennia as God spoke order to chaos at the beginning of creation. It is a love poured out and revealed on the cross in the death of Jesus Christ. A love for you, for me, and for all creation.