Friday, October 26, 2012

Nobility and Humility (witness number seven) ...

There are many things that appeal to us about the idea of living a life with great wealth.  With wealth, comes a better education.  With wealth, comes the potential to eat better foods, and enjoy a diet with far greater variety.  With wealth, comes a certain presumption that our children will be provided for, and perhaps have an even better life than the one we live.  A nobleman in the time of Christ, would have known all these things, or rather should have known all these things.  But then as now, the pain of evil that our world has embraced, the sickness and decay of death that was introduced when Eve bit in to that forbidden fruit, knows no respecter of persons.  The poor may die more quickly, and perhaps suffer more along the way.  But the rich die too, sometimes just as harshly, sometimes for just as unexplainable reasons.  Death itself was never the intent of God.  Nor was His intent to see suffering and sickness in the world.  Sickness and death were never the will of God.  They are our reality, because once the opposite of life is embraced, the only other path is pain and death.  What Christ came into this world to demonstrate, was what a restoration to life could free us from – both pain and death.
And so in the gospel of John, in chapter four and verse 46 we find that after His encounter with the Samaritans, Jesus had come into Cana in Galilee near where He had made the water into wine at the wedding He recently attended.  By this point, the fame and news of Jesus and where He went was becoming the top story of the communities there.  It was not just what Jesus did, though He had already done some miraculous things, it was also what Jesus said.  His teachings were revolutionary.  His teachings were new, they were fresh; they caused His hearers to examine their motives and desires, even more than their actions.  With hearing this news, a certain Nobleman whose son was sick at home in Capernaum, decided to seek Jesus out and plead for the health of his son.
You can bet the most prized possession of any Jewish nobleman would have been his son.  Having a male inheritor was an extremely important part of Jewish society and culture.  And being a man of wealth, I am certain when his son first became ill, he would have received the finest medical attention money could buy.  Every expert in the region would have been sought after to heal an ailing nobleman’s son.  But then as it is now, sometimes there is just nothing medical skills are able to do, against a determined illness.  Things were getting desperate.  This was serious.  It was approaching life and death.  Against this backdrop, the father chooses to leave the side of his son, even though his son is knocking on death’s door, and could well die without his father with him.  But the father is not ready to yield his son to death just yet.  The nobleman knows of Jesus, and has hope Jesus might be able to cure his son.  Yet as later texts reveal, the nobleman does not believe Jesus is the Messiah.  Only that he might be able to help his son.  He has heard stories, but he has not witnessed them himself.  Still, if there is any hope, to Jesus he will travel.
In verse 47 we find … “he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death.”  The noble father knew the stakes; the noble father knew that were no other options left.  He knew that only a miracle could now save his son, and so he wanted to see one.  In verse 48 Jesus responds … “Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”  Obviously this was not a statement about the belief the nobleman had in the ability of Jesus to heal his son.  He would not have left the side of his dying son if he did not think Christ could heal him, or if he had had any other option.  However, despite his desire for a miracle, he was not quite willing to accept the idea that Christ was the Messiah, the true Son of God.  It was this belief, that Christ was referring to.  Christ wanted to save more than the illness of the nobleman’s son, He wanted to save the souls of father and son.  In addition, His words were for a broader audience.
There are those in our world, who refuse to accept the idea that God exists.  They cite a lack of empirical evidence.  In short, they have not seen a miracle, therefore they refuse to accept that any sort of divinity could exist that could do one.  They choose rather to believe in themselves, and in what they know, and in what they have seen.  Of course, no one has ever personally witnessed the transformation from reptilian dinosaur into mammalian modern man either; but there is a theory based on limited changes we can witness that has been postulated (and given the lack of creation); it must have taken place that way.  So they are willing accept that idea having never witnessed it, rather than accepting the improbability that divinity could have simply willed it.  Without personally witnessing a divine miracle that they would have no other choice but accept; they will not believe.  This is more of a problem than you might at first imagine.
Evil entered our universe, because when confronted with the unknown, Lucifer chose to trust himself, and his own ideas about where pursuing the idea of pleasing self might take him, rather than where God told him it would lead.  In short, when confronting what we do not understand, choosing to trust in ourselves rather than in God, is how evil came into existence.  This is a mistake that cannot be repeated.  In order for evil to never rise again, the universe must come to a place where it trusts in God, more than it trusts in itself, and in our own wisdom.  Witnessing a miracle, would never be sufficient proof to turn someone determined not to believe, into a believer.  The “miracle” would simply be explained away, as some sort of trickery, random luck, or self-delusion.  When one is determined not to believe in something, one will always find a “legitimate” reason not to believe.  It is the determination itself that presents the problem. 
The nobleman had heard the stories, but not witnessed them.  The stories told more than simply of Jesus the miracle worker, they told of Jesus the Messiah and Son of God.  The fact that he was in front of Jesus to plead for the life of his son, reveals that he believed at least in that much.  But without personally seeing these miracles, he was unwilling to take it a step farther and believe in the soul saving work the Messiah had entered our world to complete.  But pride in our own ideas, is often humbled as we realize how little we control.  When circumstances take away our perceptions and put our wisdom to folly, sometimes then we are willing to let go our own ideas about how things “should” work and reach out for something more.  Illness had come to the door of the nobleman and had taken the most prized possession in his home, his son.  Medical skills had been unable to do anything about it.  Science had failed.  Reason had been strained.  Pride at this point, was all but dead.  Now, only the life of his son mattered.  Now, no matter what, he was willing to put aside his own ideas and reach out for something beyond himself.  And so he responds in verse 49 saying … “The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die.”  This was last ditch effort of the nobleman saying please.  This was the nobleman admitting there were no other options.  It would be Christ, or death.
The conclusion the nobleman had reached about the life of his son, was the same conclusion each of us must reach about our own lives.  It would be Christ, or death.  If we are to continue to trust in our own wisdom, even as it relates to salvation and the interpretation of scripture, we are doomed to fail.  It is not our wisdom that saves us, only Christ.  It is not our ideas about truth that save us, only Christ.  There is nothing about us, that saves us, only Christ.  In short, it will be Christ, or death.  When we realize this, we can offer up our minds to Christ, as well as our hearts.  When we allow Him to teach us without bringing in to it, our own preconceptions, and misplaced interpretations, we can finally find what He has been trying to say to us all along.  It is our own ideas that blind us to His truth.  It is our own clinging to trust what we know, instead of what He knows, that keeps us poor, and blind, and naked.  It is our trust in self, that is at the core of how evil was introduced into the universe, and what must be altered in us if evil is ever to fully and finally be exterminated.  It will forever remain, that life will be found only in Christ and His wisdom, or in the alternative, death.  There is no other reality, no other choice.  In his desperation to save his son, the nobleman had reached this point.
Jesus responds in verse 50 … “Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth.”  At this point, the battle for the salvation of the nobleman, and his son, had already been won.  When pride had been killed, belief could be born.  It would take the death of pride in himself, to allow for the birth of belief in something greater than himself.  The nobleman had reached this point.  Have you?  Are we so disgusted with our repeated failures, and persistent embrace of sin and pain, that we are finally ready to cast aside the pride in our own ideas about salvation, and truly seek salvation from outside of ourselves, in Jesus Christ alone?  The nobleman was, and he would find it.  When our pride is killed, we will find it as well.
Verse 50 continues … “And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.”  This is a powerful verse of scripture.  The nobleman had still “seen” nothing, yet he believed.  When his pride was killed, he no longer needed to “see” the miracles for himself, he was now willing to accept the words of Christ as facts.  He was not returning to his home in order to be with his son before he would die.  He was returning in anticipation of finding his son alive.  But more than that, his belief had transcended the idea of Jesus the miracle worker, to Jesus the Messiah and true Son of God.  And as he returns home, like in the parable of the prodigal son, his servants are already running out to meet him.  They cannot simply wait at home, for him to return, but must share the good news with the nobleman.  A transformed life cannot be silent, it must testify as to the good news it has witnessed.
Upon learning of the time when the healing had begun, the nobleman knew it was at the same time Jesus had told him to return home that his son would live.  And the greater goal of Jesus in the sharing of the nobleman’s experience would be achieved.  The scripture records in verse 53 … “and himself believed, and his whole house.”  Salvation in the life altering Son of God, was not just instilled in the nobleman and his son, but in his servants, and family, and everyone in the home.  The life giving transformational encounter with Christ had done more than cure illness; it had liberated the nobleman from the slavery of trusting in self, to the freedom that comes from trusting in Christ.  Desperation had given birth to belief that can and did save.  It was and is belief in Christ that saves us, and sees us find life eternal.  When we trust in God, more than in ourselves, we find evil vanquished unable to face Him.  This is how evil will finally and fully be extinguished in the universe.  For forevermore, we will always trust in God, more than we trust in ourselves, and that alone will keep evil dead forever.  Salvation and life begin, when we let go our pride, and look only to Christ.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book of Signs - Samaritans (witness number six) ...

Those people.  Those folks who obviously do not have the truth, refuse to accept the light, choose to live in darkness.  You know the types, living fast and loose, ignoring all the rules, playing by their own ideas.  They claim to know the Lord, but really, how could they?  After all, they refuse to accept our doctrines of truth, therefore – they remain “those people”.  So am I referring to Catholics, or Baptists, or Adventists; perhaps it depends on who you are, and who “they” are.   For the Jews, “those people” referred to the Samaritans.  The historical tribes of Benjamin and Judah split with their other ten brothers just past the reign of Solomon many years earlier.  The northern kingdom of ten tribes had a dilemma, in that temple worship was conducted in Jerusalem.  This required them all to travel down there, and make southern kingdom priests fat with tithes and offerings; so one of the northern leaders decided to erect an “alternate” worship location.  Obviously it did not contain the Ark of the Covenant, or for that matter any other historically valuable artifacts of the temple worship system, but it was a place the northern tribes could gather without having to go to Jerusalem in the south to worship.
Of course the net result of trying to provide a “human” based alternative to the ideas that God had blessed, was inevitably decay.  It was not long before northern tribes were engaging in worship that had nothing to do with the God of Israel, and everything to do with the gods of sex.  Promiscuity, then and now, has been the downfall of many a believer.  The surrounding nations had seemingly awesome sexual practices wrapped up in their own ideas about worship.  They often included orgies, and sanctioned prostitution.  Going to “confess” in one of their temples usually meant paying the priest to have some “quality” time with the temple prostitutes.  And minus birth control, this often resulted in babies, many, many, babies.  Well, being the proprietor of a “worship” system that sells women to men, you don’t need too many boy babies, but you do keep the new crop of girl babies because they can grow up and become part of the revenue stream.  So, what to do with the boy babies?  Sacrifice to the gods of course, toss them in the fires of Molech, or Baal, or pick your fertility god that demands blood for his favor.  And so, the northern tribes participated in the sexual promiscuity of the surrounding nations, and did nothing when the fruits of their encounters were tossed into the fires, or turned into a new generation of sex slaves.  Isn’t life outside of God’s plans just grand?  Not for the kids I would guess.  And when life reached this point of depravity, God could just not take it anymore, and Israel would be invaded by a foreign nation.
Only after Israel repented, did the invasion cease.  But it would not be long before, the lure of unlimited sex, replaced the memory of a foreign invasion, and the cycle would begin all over again.  Most every historically wicked king, came from the northern tribes.  Ahab and his queen Jezebel came from this place.  So for the Jews in the south, who by the way, were not exactly squeaky clean themselves, when it came to sexual promiscuity, or walking away from the practices of God; the people of the north became known collectively as Samaritans.  Samaritans were looked down upon.  Samaritans were to be avoided at all costs.  An upstanding Jew does not want to find himself having anything to do with “those people”.  Samaritans had chosen to walk away from the light.  Samaritans had chosen to blend themselves with the surrounding nations, thus polluting the bloodlines of Abraham.  Samaritans were blatant about it.  Samaritans were “lesser” Jews, and generally “lesser” people.  It was against this historical and social context, that Christ travels directly in to the territory of the Samaritans.
What on earth could He have been thinking?  His disciples were not priests or leaders, but they were not ignorant of what the appearance of traveling into Samaria on purpose would look like for their leader.  They followed Christ where He went.  Perhaps if He was traveling to Samaria, it was to give “those people” the long awaited judgment for the wickedness of their past.  Samaritans had it coming after all.  Perhaps before we chase out the Romans, we start with purifying those errant, stubborn, stiff necked wicked workers we know to be Samaritans.  So if this was to be Jesus’ first trip to clean out the wickedness of the Samaritans, they would gladly go along and watch “those people” get what’s coming to them. 
Christ found himself by a well that Jacob dug a long time ago (no small feat in times past).  The discovery of water in a generally arid land is a pretty big deal.  How do you know where to look?  How do you know that the hole your digging would not just lead to more dirt?  So when Jacob is blessed to find water, he changes the economy of the entire area.  With water comes life.  With water comes commerce and trade, and income.  With water nearby, a city or community can begin.  So it was where Jesus had found himself.  His disciples were sent into the nearby city to purchase meat, as they were all hungry and tired from their journey there.  I’m certain they were not too happy to have to go “deal” with the Samaritans to buy food.  But better they should do it, than see their precious Master, tarnished by an encounter with “those people”.  And off they went.
But as Jesus is sitting there, a local Samaritan woman approaches the well to draw water.  At this time in history, women usually went to the well in groups, for social as well as practical purposes.  You are less likely to be hassled or robbed in a group, and it’s a good chance to catch up on all the local gossip.  But this woman came alone, likely because of “who” she was.  Even within “those people”, the town slut, was to be avoided.  Perhaps she knew better than to hang out with the other women that might see her as a threat.  Perhaps she just ran out of water that day, and needed more.  No matter the reason, she went to find water.  For with water, life is possible.
In the Gospel of John chapter 4 and verse 7 Jesus says to her … “Give me to drink.”  What!?  Really?!  A Jew is going to ask for water from a Samaritan woman, and inevitably drink from the same cup she uses.  This is unheard of.  “Those people” know what to expect from the Jews.  They know who they are.  And they know from personal experience, no self-respecting Jew, has anything to do with them if it can be avoided at all costs.  But here is Jesus with no bucket, and no cup, asking water from a Samaritan woman, of her.  In verse 9 she gets over her surprise and states the obvious … “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”  What’s the matter Jesus, did you forget the rules?  You guys don’t ask anything of us.  You should know that, we do.
Jesus responds in verse 10 … “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.”  Here Jesus says something often overlooked, he prompts her that if she knew “the gift of God”.  The gift of God is salvation from WHO we are.  It is not the Samaritan in her, Jesus wishes to change.  It is the bondage to sin He wishes to free her from.  The gift of God is freedom from evil.  That gift is on the table for this woman who stands before Him.  Next He eludes to the idea, that “who” He is, is someone she would be thrilled to encounter.  For Christ has something for her, that no other man could ever offer her; Christ is offering her “living water”.  With water comes life.  Christ is offering her a renewal from within.  He is offering her a life free from the slavery of evil, and in its place a well spring of “living water” that will not run dry, expire, or go away.  It is a guarantee of salvation, from “who” she is, not because of being a Samaritan, but because of being bound to sin, and self-service.
In verse 11 she replies … “Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? [verse 12] Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?”  She does not understand what He is referring to, and again is pointing out the obvious.  You have nothing to draw with, and it is a miracle to find water anywhere out here.  Could it be, you are able to do miracles, greater than finding a well in a desert?  Jesus tries again in verse 13 saying … “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: [verse 14] But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”  Again he puts freedom from evil on the table for this woman, a gift of Salvation that will see her fully and finally saved from herself.
Again, she misses the point, but the idea that she would never have to come to this well again and draw water sounds appealing.  At least then, she does not have deal with the other town’s women.  She does not have to be the butt of their jokes, or try to keep her private social life hidden from view.  After all, if one is to avoid a public stoning, one must be delicate and secretive about one’s indiscretions.  So in verse 15 she responds … “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”  Jesus responds to her again in a way she does not expect.  In verse 16 He says … “Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”  The gift of salvation is not exclusively just for you either.  Instead bring those who you love, your family, those you care about, and let’s have everyone enjoy what I am offering.  Here is Jesus asking not only to deal with her, and frankly to give her a gift, for no apparent reason.  Now here is Jesus inviting her to bring her family here and He will share this gift with everyone.  Here is a Jew actually asking to deal with even more Samaritans.  This is truly a unique encounter.  But, technically she has no husband at the moment, so …
In verse 17 she states the facts … “I have no husband.”  No need to discuss my past, and in my present, things are not where they should be, so she will keep this plain and simple.  Jesus replies … “Thou hast well said, I have no husband: [verse 18] For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.”  Busted!  Despite the fact that I have never met this man, he knows my entire history.  He knows things I have kept hidden from everyone.  He knows things frankly there is no way He could know, without divine intervention.  Therefore He must be a prophet.  It has been a long while since there was a prophet in Israel.  It has been a long while since there was someone who spoke for God, and relayed the messages of truth God needed to tell the people.  Since she has obviously found one, let’s get right down to the most divisive question of the day, the one that has separated Jews from Samaritans from the beginning.
In verse 20 she asks … “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”  Upon this question, hangs the entire basis of separation from the Jews from her perspective.  The sexual promiscuity is something both have been guilty of in the past, but the fundamental religious differences are enough to keep one group of believers referring to another group of believers as “those people” for eternity.  How poignant that in the Christian world of today, we are no better than our Jewish spiritual forefathers.  Because one group of believers who accept the salvation of Jesus Christ does not precisely agree with every other doctrine we hold sacred, each group of believers sees the other as “those people”.  Each Christian denomination looks upon its contemporaries as spiritual Samaritans.  Our doctrines have divided us, no less than this single question divided Jew from Samaritan.  She simply wants to know from God through the mouth of this “prophet”, who is really right.
In verse 21 Jesus answers her … “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.”  Heresy!  Had the Jewish leaders been standing nearby they would have likely stoned Jesus on the spot.  How on earth could Jesus deny that Jerusalem was “the” place to worship God?  The woman had to have been completely surprised by this answer, as Jesus did not state the historical Jewish position, nor did He concur with her forefathers.  In effect, Jesus was saying, both groups had it wrong, and that soon something completely different was going to take place.  Were Jesus here today, I wonder if His answers to our doctrinal differences would be any different – you both have it wrong.  Christ was trying to tell this woman that the divisions between the Samaritans and Jews over the location of worship were meaningless.  The “where” is less important than either of them think.  The “who” matters more.
In verse 22 Jesus goes on to debunk the claims of her forefathers … “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. [verse 23] But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: …”  Jesus is saying the claims of her forefathers had no basis in reality.  The Jews knew what they worshipped for their system of worship pointed forward to salvation.  But that is not the point.  The real meat and potatoes is in verse 23, the hour is coming, and frankly is here, when “true” worshippers shall worship in spirit and in truth.  What the Jews had missed was true worship.  Doing it in the right place, was not as important as doing it in right way.  Not just through the forms and rituals, but in the hearts and minds.  This was the key to true worship that Jesus was trying to share with both Jew and Samaritan.
Jesus continues … “for the Father seeketh such to worship him. [verse 24] God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”  It is the inside that counts.  It is the heart and the mind, the will and the emotion, the desire, this is where real worship comes from.  It comes from a renewed life, from a life that has been set free from the pain and bondage of evil.  This is what the Father is longing to give to the world, and what results in true worship.  How can we worship a God, who we have allowed to do NOTHING for us?  Our gratitude for temporal blessings is pale and empty.  It is not temporal blessings alone that God is longing to bestow on us, He is longing to show us what real freedom is like.  He is longing to re-create the core of who we are, changing and restoring our desires to be what they should be, instead of what we have made of them.  He longs to break our chains to self and the pain that comes from serving self, and show us the freedom of what it really means to truly love someone else.  It is this freedom that makes us grateful.  Our wealth, our health, our families are nothing next the freedom God offers to us from within.  Only then can we truly appreciate how much we love our families, how great it is to be healthy, what a wonderful opportunity our wealth allows us to share with those in need.  Before we are made free, we turn all these blessings inward, and treat God like a Santa-Clause, instead of a liberator.  Jesus cuts through the non-sense of a form of religion and zeroes in on the heart.
At this point the Holy Spirit has now grasped hold of the heart and mind of the woman at the well.  It does not matter to God that the Samaritan doctrine is not pure by Jewish standards.  It does not matter to God, that this particular Samaritan is no saint, and has a checkered past, where her secret life of chains to sex has always kept her in bondage.  God was not looking for perfection first, He was looking only for someone who would allow Him to fix the broken wreck of their lives, and offer them the perfection He so longs to give.  This woman now, has embraced this longing, and has decided to open herself to her Lord.  And so, the Holy Spirit is already hard at work within her, revealing to her, this is no ordinary prophet.  He is something more.  Should she dare bring it up?  Should she dare reveal what she is thinking?  Could this be the one who all of Israel and the world has so longed to see?
In verse 25 she hopes against hope and says … “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.”  No one has ever taught the doctrines of the heart that Jesus has just revealed to her.  In a few sentences He has destroyed the division between Jew and Samaritan.  He is willing to ask water of her, knowing full well who she is.  He still wants to offer her a living water she can barely grasp the concept of.  And now the Holy Spirit is prompting her as to who He really is.  Jesus Himself responds … “I that speak unto thee am he.”  Praise God.  It is God who she has been talking to.  She knows more about the Messiah than most of her Jewish contemporaries.  She knows He is not just man, but God in human form.  She has been conversing not with a mere prophet, but with the Son of God, who has personally promised to save her from herself.   A one-on-one audience with the Son of God, who despite her sin, has promised to save her.  He did not care that her doctrine was less than perfect.  He did not care that her past was less than stellar.  He only thinks to love her, and redeem her, and offer her a freedom from within that will never run dry, or expire.  Here life is transformed.  Here is living water enacted from within.
Water at the well is no longer important to either of them.  The woman appears to have forgotten Christ’s original request, drops her pot, and runs to the city to share what has just been revealed to her.  A transformed life CANNOT be silent.  A transformed life MUST share immediately the awesome news of what has just happened.  She needed no commission from the church to begin a formal class on how to witness to others.  She needed no ordination to become a formal minister destined to reach the lives of others.  Instead she drops what she is doing, and does the only thing that now fully consumes WHO she is.  She runs to the town, to tell everyone who will listen, the news that the Messiah is here.  Not just here on earth, but here in their town, at their well, waiting to offer every one of them, the same gift of transformation that now compels her to seek an audience with as many as will listen to her.  She is no longer hiding from the shame of who she was, salvation is bigger than that.  Salvation is more important than pride, or shame.  It is life altering.  And this is something the transformed life MUST share with others.  It is too important to sit still, let others do it, or wait for approval on.  It must be shared in real time with real people, right now, and right here.  This is what it truly means to witness.  It is to testify of a personal experience.  If it has not happened to you yet, you have nothing to say yet.  When it does, you will not be able to keep your mouth shut.
The passion of her testimony reveals the work of the Holy Spirit to those who she talks to, and it yields results.  For her this is no numbers game about how many converts she can add to the rosters of a church.  It is a reaction to a life altering experience which she is literally driven to share.  Those who hear her words, and see her passion, are not complacent, but are curious.  How could this person be so bold?  How could this person be so changed, unashamed, and on spiritual fire?  Her words could not be ignored, because they were more than theory and speculation, they were more than intellectual debate and thesis.  They were based on a passion that comes from having a life altering transformation with the only Son of God.  And in verse 30 are perhaps the most precious of results … “Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.”  They acted.  They listened and they acted.
Many Samaritans believed simply because of the words of this woman.  Her testimony was so powerful it was compelling, authentic, and true.  After speaking directly with Jesus they reach the same conclusion, and have him stay with them for two more days.  Two more days of interrupted time with the God of the Universe, and the Savior of mankind; and in verse 41 it says … “And many more believed because of his own word; [verse 42] And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”  Samaritans knew something the Jews had completely missed.  Samaritans knew a truth the very disciples of Jesus had completely missed.  Christ was not only the Savior of the Jews, He was the Savior of the world.  He was there to save them too.  Two days with Christ turned an entire field ripe for harvest, a harvest of souls for the kingdom.  When He left that city, they did not all start heading off to Jerusalem to observe temple rituals.  This was a doctrinal truth from the Jewish perspective.  Instead they did something even more important; they worshipped in Spirit and in Truth.  Messiah had come to Samaria, and did not walk away empty-handed. 
It was more important to Christ to redeem a single lost Samaritan woman, than it was to worry about her doctrinal purity, or personal weaknesses.  A belief in His ability to save her from herself, would reveal truth to her that neither Jew nor Samaritan had ever understood before that encounter.  An understanding of scriptures could not save her, but an acceptance of Jesus would lead her to a deeper understanding that she could have previously never imagined.  It is Jesus who saves us, not our doctrines, our education, or our ideas about truth interpreted from the scriptures.  It is Jesus alone.  This was the beauty of the gospel brought to “those people”.  As it turned out “those people” were actually His people.  He would save them like He saves us, despite what we think we know.  It is our arrogance to think we know the whole of truth, and that only our interpretation could be correct or complete.  It is Christ that reveals what is truly important.  It is Christ that alone is truth.
But this encounter, not only had a profound effect on the Samaritan community.  It also affected the disciples.  In verse 27 John records … “upon this came his disciples, and marveled that he talked with the woman:”  Here they had gone into town so that Christ would not have to sully Himself with dealing with Samaritan men, but they return to find Him speaking with a Samaritan woman no less.  They were too timid to give voice to their prejudice, but they were thinking it.  Deciding to just eat, they offer Him meat, but Jesus is no longer hungry.  Instead He will try to teach His disciples that the redemptive work of God means more to Him than even His basic human needs.  To do the will of God, is more invigorating, more rewarding, and more fulfilling than anything else on earth, even basic human functions.  In verses 33 through 38, Jesus elevates the conversation by reminding his disciples they are to work the harvest of souls.  From the eye of God, the fields were ripe and ready for harvest.  Christ would sow the seeds, and they would work the fields later.  What Jesus was saying to those who would follow Him, was … there is no such thing as “those people.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

He Must Increase ...

Verse 22 of the Gospel of John chapter three, begins with Christ traveling to Judea with His disciples and staying for a while to baptize in the waters there.  This act in itself is unusual, as outside of John the Baptist, the Bible does not record many baptisms taking place conducted by the religious leadership of the day.  The entire temple based worship system makes no mention of baptism, from what we can tell.  Yet in the desert emerges John, calling for repentance, and conducting this ritual.  And Christ does not begin His own important ministry until His own baptism is completed.  Christ who needed no repentance, yet thought it important enough to do anyway.  Now having been some time since His own baptism, He and His disciples while traveling to Judea begin baptizing others.
While baptism itself may have been a novel concept among the Jewish religious leadership of the day, purification was not.  Ritual washing of hands and feet were done for ceremonial purification, and while doing this, they took occasion to question John the Baptist about his apparent competition with one of his recent clients.  In verse 26 they begin … “Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.”  This may well have been an attempt at getting John to declare himself the Messiah, and this young upstart just another faker.  Or perhaps failing that, this may have been an attempt at making John jealous over the idea that now Christ and His disciples were now doing the baptism ritual even more than John was.  Imagine the reaction of a modern day Christian pastor, who learns that a former colleague is now “stealing” his flock.  Would you predict joy or jealousy in such an occasion?  What no-one might imagine was the rather elegant sermon John would respond to this query.
John begins in verse 27 … “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.”  Never were more true words spoken.  This single idea flies in the face of self-determination, and self-reliance.  American idealism is rebuffed by John.  He does not say, you earn what you get.  He does not say, you should pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.  He does not say, if you are poor or unemployed, it is your own fault for laziness.  And he does not say, you should take pride in your wealth and success having earned it with all your hard work.  Instead he says, you get NOTHING, except it be GIVEN you from heaven.  Literally everything in your life, is a gift of God.  Nothing you own, is truly yours by your own hand, but by the grace of heaven.  Your intellect, your looks, your physique, your possessions, and your spiritual gifts and enlightenment – are NOT your own by luck, or hard work, or genetics – you have what you have from a source outside of yourself.  To take pride in those gifts then, is to assert ownership and attempt to take credit for something that you could never really deserve or earn.  This is a humbling concept.  This lets the wind out of the sails, of both rich and poor alike.  No matter what your state in life, there is always someone richer, and someone poorer.  Where you find yourself, is not by the power of your own hand, but by the gift of heaven.
We do not like John’s counsel.  Even within the Christian faith, there is an idea that by reading more, praying more, and doing more for the less fortunate, that somehow we can earn a higher position than our spiritual peers.  We like to teach that the answer to purity comes from our deeds, not necessarily our motives, and definitely not from gifts born within us by a power we can no more control than the wind.  Here John opens his sermon by declaring that everything you own, or he owns, or would like to ever receive comes from an act of mercy and love, not power or control.  This idea should have hinted to his audience where this sermon was going to go.  For if the intent was to make him jealous, he open by admitting he can earn nothing, not fame, not popularity, not even spiritual superiority.
In verse 28 he continues … “Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.”  Here John declares again to his rather stiff necked audience, that if they intend for him to declare himself as the Messiah, he will remind them he is clearly not.  At this point, his listeners might have even preferred to have John declare himself rather than face that Christ character who for all their efforts, seemed to defeat their intentions with love.  But no such luck.  John again points them back to Christ as the only Messiah.  He will offer Christ no competition where it comes to this role.
In verse 29 he uses an analogy to describe how he feels about what they have just told him … “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.”  John is not jealous about this news; he is rather completed by it.  To once again receive an assurance from others, that the mission of Christ is real.  Christ has picked up the mantle and is now baptizing as well.  John knew too, that the baptism Christ offered was not merely of water, but of the Holy Spirit as he had foretold.  John knew the results of the baptism of Christ was more than an admission of the need to repent, but the beginning of a life renewed by the Spirit.  A life reborn with a fire within that only the Holy Spirit could bring.  John could not offer his hearers this gift, Christ alone could.  And to the delight of John, he is now hearing that is exactly what is happening.  The unrepentant hearts of those around him might not have been able to perceive it, but to John there was no greater joy.  John compares himself to the best man, at a wedding, honored to stand next to the groom, and happy to see the groom so happy.  An occasion of joy, shared by those who love someone else; John does not wish to be the groom, instead he is happy to be near the wedding.
But to the delight of John, the fulfillment of the deeper meaning of baptism has begun.  More than a ceremonial ritual of purity, more than an admission for the need of repentance, but a new beginning founded in the one true God.  This new beginning would start because of the fire of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, a gift, from outside of ourselves.  It is not a power we control, it is a power that controls us.  It is a power to free us from the slavery of serving self.  It is a power that enlightens our minds to finally see truth for what it is.  Through the aide and control of the Holy Spirit, we can decipher deeper meaning in the same scriptures we have read many times.  We can see Christ for what He is, the truth.  We can see love for what it is, everything.  These truths are revealed to John, even if who he speaks to at the moment cannot understand his joy.
Then in verse 30, John summarizes the entire process of salvation … “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  To be saved, is to die to self, and be reborn in Christ.  Christ must increase, not just in fame with the locals of His day, but within me.  It is not just about sharing my life with Christ, but rather letting Christ have all of it.  It is about holding nothing back from the change Christ brings.  It is about having no regrets in doing so.  Nothing He will take away, was ever something I really needed.  And everything He brings, is everything I would have desperately wanted if I ever knew the end from the beginning.  There is no risk of unhappiness, in the full surrender to Christ.  There is only joy.  The only risk in this equation, is that I will attempt to hold on to control, and overrule what Christ wants, and thereby chain myself to the pain of my own stubborn stupidity.  John said it right.  He MUST increase. And I MUST decrease.  I must decrease to the point where “I” am gone altogether, and all you can see left in me is Christ.  This was a summary of the gospel of salvation, even if all his hearers understood, was that John recognized his own fame must yield to that of the true Messiah.  But his words meant so much more, and they still do.
In verse 32 and 33 John goes a step further, he offers that the testimony the Christ brings is one of first-person experience with what happens in heaven.  But many are reluctant to accept it.  For those who are willing to accept it, they embark on the journey of salvation, the gift that comes from outside of ourselves.  John’s exact words in verse 33 are … “He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true.”  Those who believe the testimony of Christ, are accepting the idea that God will keep His promise to save us from the world of sin we have embraced within ourselves.  God, through the person of Jesus Christ, is truth.  His promise to save is true.  His promise to do for us, what we cannot do for ourselves, is true.  He can redeem us from our past, but more than that, He can change our present, and free us from the bondage to sin we cannot break.
John likely truly disappoints his listeners now as he offers these words … “[verse 34] For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. [verse 35] The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand.”  John makes a distinction to how the role of Holy Spirit works with us, and with Christ.  We are given a measure of the Holy Spirit.  We could not probably take, a full outpouring, as we are just too fragile a creature.  But we are given what we need, and what we allow.  Christ on the other hand, is not a contemporary of ours, He is a contemporary of God’s; God’s son to be precise.  In this Christ is given ALL things.  Christ embodies the entire Spirit of God, not just a portion of it.  You might as well try to defy gravity, as to defy the idea that Christ is the Messiah and the literal Son of God.  John is publicly stating again, that Christ is no mere mortal, no mere Rabbi, no mere contemporary of his – instead He is God on earth, in human form.
In verse 36 John the Baptist echoes the words of Christ to Nicodemus, and the theme of the entire New Testament … “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”  A belief that Christ will fulfill His promise to save you; a belief that translates to a request; to a submission; and to a rebirth.  In this is everlasting life found.  We are powerless to save ourselves from ourselves, but Christ can.  To believe that God can do, what you cannot do, is the belief that will transform your life.  It is not a mere recognition that God exists, the devil will tell you that.  It is a belief that salvation can come from God as a gift.  It is a belief that you will not save you, but that Christ will as you allow Him to.  When you lack this belief, or when you trust yourself, and your own wisdom and will power to save you; it is then that you find yourself unable to “see life”.  Self is the enemy of God.  It is the service of self that brings with it the “wrath” of God.  There is no alternative.  There is no alternate method of salvation, or escape from the pain of service to self.  Christ alone is the way.  Christ alone is the truth.  Christ alone can save you from you.
The beginning of chapter four of John, records an epilogue to this sermon.  When the Pharisees caught wind of how many Christ (or rather His disciples) had baptized in Judea, Jesus thought it a good idea to travel away to a well of Jacob, in a place the Pharisees would likely never find themselves, in a region known as Samaria …

Friday, October 5, 2012

Nicodemus (witness number four) ...

Often Christians seem to feel compelled to confront the errors in another person’s ideology, point out to them the error of their ways, and walk away from the encounter feeling better about themselves.  Nicodemus was a religious leader of his day.  A church official of sorts; Nicodemus was wealthy, educated, a man of renown, of influence, he had a reputation to maintain, and a set of doctrines based on the “truth” of the scriptures he and his contemporaries interpreted.  But Christ presented an anomaly, He broke the laws of physics, and preached a message counter to everything Nicodemus had been taught.  When the rules of physics are broken, then perhaps what we perceive to be true is really nothing more than perception.  So Nicodemus must investigate this phenomenon, He must seek out this anomaly, and determine what it is he does not know.  For with as much wisdom as his education, and his scriptures have offered him, they still do not seem to explain this man called Jesus.
In an effort to guard and maintain his pristine reputation, he seeks out Jesus at night.  We read these passages in the Gospel of John chapter three, beginning in verse one, and we are quick to think less of Nicodemus for being so concerned with his own reputation to seek out Jesus at night.  Because had it been us, in his place, we would have boldly sought out Christ in broad daylight, declared ourselves His most ardent disciple (move over Peter), and made sure we were the ones who Jesus could depend on in any situation, right?  But, where is our public declaration(s) at work, at school, at the mall?  And perhaps more important than carrying a sign that might identify us as Christians, where are our private declaration(s) that God and those in need alone, can easily see that we follow the God of love, and not of judgment?  Sometimes Christians are publicly Christians when the numbers and company favor being one, and conveniently silent when they do not.  Sometimes Christians declare themselves to be Christians, with placards that condemn the evil in others, instead of offering a love that might offer one steeped in evil, a reason to think differently.  Perhaps there are more night-movers in a modern church than we might at first think.  Nicodemus begins his encounter with Jesus in this way, in secret, at night, and to protect his reputation.
His opening remarks and question to Christ are couched in respect, but also in flattery.  In verse 2 Nicodemus says … “Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.”  The term Rabbi is one used for respected teachers, and from his perspective, He is elevating Jesus to be a peer, a contemporary teacher, a person of respect, even though Jesus does not appear to be wealthy, or formally educated, or a man of means and influence.  Nicodemus, perhaps subconsciously, takes Jesus down a peg, by calling him a “teacher” come from God, not the Son of God.  He also refers to this, as common knowledge.  Here is the essence of modern Christianity, we come to Jesus and proceed to tell Him what we “know”.  We flatter Him with our words, while at the same time, place Him as nothing more than a contemporary of ours.  His wisdom is worth no more than our own, after all we have common sense, and an absolute certainty about what the scriptures teach us is the truth.  So we proceed to tell Jesus, what the truth is, and what is common knowledge to us.
Having been greeted in this manner, at this time of day, and knowing the reasons behind it; Jesus should have been insulted.  Here He has the perfect opportunity to put Nicodemus in his place, remind him who He is, as opposed to who Nicodemus is, in relationship to God.  Confront and correct the errors in the thinking of Nicodemus, by telling him everything about how mistaken Nicodemus is in his interpretations of scripture.  He could have told him, Hey, come back in the morning if you really care about truth, and next time, remember who My Dad is.  What’s more He could have told people after this encounter how the “respected” Nicodemus came to seek wisdom from Him, thus proving He was greater than the Sanhedrin.  Of course all these human responses to insults, and errors, do not seem to even enter the mind of Christ.  Christ did not concern himself with the implied insult of the time of day, or even with the errors in everything Nicodemus has just said.  Instead He changes the subject completely and offers Nicodemus a truth of profound spirituality, that summarizes the entire Gospel in one line.  We might call it a sound-bite in modern terminology, but it was way more than that.
In verse 3, Jesus says to him … “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  Here is a one line summary of every scripture Nicodemus has ever learned.  Here is a summation of every philosophical concept about the nature of man ever pondered by deep thinkers.  In effect, we must be re-created in order to even perceive the kingdom of God.  Jesus must deal with the blindness of Nicodemus before he will be able to even “see” the truth.  For the truth is not found in his long study of the word, it is summarized in the Person standing before him.  The voice who inspired the scriptures is now trying to open the mind of Nicodemus to begin to think differently, perceive differently, and find something that humanity on its own, is incapable of finding.  To be “born again” is not some slogan Christians wore out in the 1970’s, pairing it with “free love” and trying to associate it with “speaking in tongues”.  Being born again is about being fully re-created, the death of a carnal self-centered ideology, and the birth of a self-less-service based ideology that mimics the definition of love that Christ brought to the world.  One does not choose how to be born, this is done outside of our control.  Begin created the first time, was a decision of love made by others.  Similarly, being reborn is not something we can do for ourselves.  It is a gift of love offered to us, done for us, by the hands of the only Creator God who has ever existed.  This is what we must have, in order for the blindness of our own ideas about scripture to be fully and finally taken away.  It will take a power outside of ourselves, to remake us, in order that we might begin to “see” truth.
But Nicodemus is still blind.  So his response is a human one, based on the current laws of physics.  To Nicodemus, this idea is simply nonsense.  How could a fully grown person be reborn from his mother once again?  This is crazy talk.  Again Jesus does not rebuke Nicodemus for still being blind, or thinking He is crazy.  He does not ridicule Nicodemus, and He does not abandon what He has just summarized, instead He elaborates a bit more, again attempting to get Nicodemus to begin to “see” truth differently.  Nothing in the doctrine Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus is counter to anything taught by all the scriptures of the Old Testament.  Yet Jesus is employing none of the traditions or symbolisms upon which the entire Jewish religion is based.  Jesus did not throw the law at Nicodemus.  He did not cite the need to keep the Sabbath, or sacrifice lambs on the alter at Passover, in order for Nicodemus to finally see truth.  Those ideas Nicodemus already practiced, and despite this fact, they had not led him to the truth he was still blind to.  Attempting obedience before a re-creation is attempting to find salvation on our own, and through our own strength and ideas about truth, and it is fruitless.  Good ideas, and good intentions, are not what our Lord wants.  He wants us to see truth as truth, and this can only be accomplished if we first recognize our need for outside power to remake who we are.
In verses 4 and 5 Jesus answers Nicodemus again … “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. [verse 6] That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  Here Christ points out the sequence in how this rebirth is to take place.  Being born of water, or through the symbolism of baptism, Christ points us to the need we have of rebirth.  We exist in a condition of pain.  Most of our pain is self-inflicted from the evil we embrace.  While our evil hurts others and causes ripples of pain that extend out in every direction, at the center of this pain is still us.  We hurt ourselves by what we do, and how we think, and what we want.  It is the core of us, that must be remade, reborn, re-created.  This is our so great need, and the reason why John called for repentance.  Not to simply be forgiven for what we do, but the desire to be something else.  The desire in us, to escape our state of perpetual slavery to self and pain, to sin no more; to repent, not just of what we have done, but of what we still want to do; this was the call of John in the desert.  Who you are defines what you do.
The Spirit then, is the agent outside of ourselves, that must be the mechanism, the gift of our re-creation.  It is through the Holy Spirit that Christ remakes us into the new creations He intended for us to be.  This is an act we have no more control over than we did at our first birth.  We do not get to tell the Holy Spirit how to remake us, what areas to leave alone, and what areas we think we need help in.  This is an all or nothing deal.  This is about complete renovation, not minor alterations.  This is not about our own ideas of truth.  This is about beginning to see truth for the first time clearly.  The removal of our self-inflicted blindness will only happen as we abandon our ideas, and be willing to accept a complete overhaul of who we are, how we think and what we want.  This being born of the Spirit, changes the rules of physics.  We begin to see that our perceived boundaries are really no longer true boundaries, because we exist no more as humans taking care of ourselves, but as new creations wholly reliant on God.  It is no longer our power used to defeat evil within us, it is the power of God who defeats evil within us on our behalf.  It is no longer our meager attempts at obedience, but rather true obedience from a heart that embraces the gifts God offers.  The Sabbath is no longer a chore, but a treasured time with Christ, we would not abandon for the world.  The chance to praise God in church is no longer about pretense, and social ratings, but about a treasured opportunity to say thank you to a God who has freed us from ourselves, and our bondage to selfishness.  Perceptions of reality change post a true rebirth in Christ.  What was once seen as impossible, is now merely child’s play, as we now acknowledge where all things of power can truly be found.  It is no longer us.  It is only Him.
Christ continues, by saying “Marvel not”.  In other words, don’t be so surprised Nicodemus.  You have no idea where the wind comes from or where it is going.  You do not control the wind.  Why did you think you could control “who” you are?  Why do we?  Being born of the Spirit is something that happens outside of our abilities.  We must invite it.  But we do not control it.  It controls us.  It replaces our slavery to self with the freedom that comes from self-less-ness.  Here Christ keeps the conversation centralized on “how” a person is saved from evil.  It is not about lamb’s blood at Passover.  It is not about all the traditions the religious leadership has instituted to help people “keep” the law.  It is not about how educated you are, how smart you are, how rich you are, or how healthy you are.  It is about recognizing it takes something outside of yourself to be remade into something new.  You DO NOT CONTROL it.  You benefit from it.  It is a gift.  It is the gift of salvation.  No earning it.  No buying it.  Just receiving it.  It changes who you are.
Nicodemus still clings to his own ideas about truth; ideas that are based on years of study, years of education, years of pondering the meaning of scripture.  These ideas and education have earned him prominence in Israelite society.  And in all his years, he has never even considered, that salvation came from outside of himself.  Still clinging to his ideology he again mutters … “How can these things be?”  To this stubborn clinging to human wisdom, Jesus must chide Nicodemus a bit to wake him up.  In verse 10 Jesus responds … “art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?”  From the perspective of Christ, how could you study the law, the prophets, and creation and NOT come to these conclusions?  How could all the education have led you somewhere else?  Did you not read the stories of the Old Testament and see the repeated failures of humanity, and find their success only when they trusted themselves to God?  Only when they submitted to God were the victories ever witnessed.  How could you have read so much, and missed the point entirely?  How do we?  How is it we read the Old Testament and focus on the violence of human actions, missing entirely the point of those stories.  It is only when we submit to God that His victory is wrought within us.  And just like Nicodemus that is not what we have seen.  We focus on the human actions and think that is the way we will be saved.  Here is Christ saying, you don’t get it.  That is not how it works.
Jesus continues in verse 12 … “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? [verse 13] And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.”  Here Jesus corrects what Nicodemus first said in addressing Him.  Here Jesus says, you called me a teacher come from God, but you are not accepting what I am telling you about truth.  How then can you accept what I want to tell you about heaven, where only I have been?  Jesus re-asserts his divinity.  Jesus tells Nicodemus here, it is not your ideas that define truth, it is me.  It is not your understanding that brings about salvation, it is literally your belief in Me, and in my mission.  You must accept that salvation will come from outside of yourself, and I alone am that vehicle.  Then comes the most profound and detailed verses in all of scripture about the nature and mission of Christ.
In verse 14 Jesus continues … “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: [verse 15] That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  Here is where the rubber meets the road.  Your salvation did not come through the actions of Moses, but through the belief that God could and would save you.  Here Christ says to Nicodemus, I am the sacrifice that the symbolism of the sacrificial system pointed forward to.  It will be me lifted up on a cross, for your salvation Nicodemus.  And as it was in the days of Israel of old, you will not be saved because of your actions, you will be saved because you believe that I can and I will save you.  Christ alone, being the Son of God, could do this work, fulfill this mission, and enable salvation for all of mankind.  Having done it, it would take a continued belief that God would do what He said, and change who you are, give you the rebirth, and recreation you must have in order to escape the bondage of sin.
In verse 16, Jesus articulates the reason why He, and His Father God would do this work … “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  The most quoted text in the Bible, the most repeated verse in all of scriptures, are spoken by the mouth of Christ, to the ears of Nicodemus, in the dark of night.  Praise God, that John was there to record the conversation, and preserve it for you and I.  The reason we are saved is because of the infinite love of God for us.  Our God loved us more than He loved His own life.  Our God loved us so much, that as a Father, He would willing part with His own Son, to see Him tortured and killed by the very creation He was there to redeem.  Our God, both Father and Son and Spirit, loved us this much.  That despite our lack of knowledge of truth, our intentional self-inflicted blindness, our own sense of self-worth to dare to tell God what truth is, He would still love us more than all of it, and save us from ourselves in spite of it.  Love was THE reason, we exist, and we would be saved.  This motive alone moves the actions, the mission, the words, and the deeds of Christ.  This motive alone – not to boost His own ego (He has none) – not to achieve some sort of wealth (He measures wealth in us) – not to win some sort of contest with Satan (He won that before it began).  It was love, plain and simple.  Love alone is the only reason He would do it all.
In verse 17, our very Savior continues … “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”  Here Christ lays out the purpose of His mission, and directly addresses the misconceptions that have arisen regarding the point of the Messiah.  He is not there to judge the world.  There will be no Roman overthrow.  There will be no wicked punished.  There will be no misdeeds made right, and inequalities addressed, and justice instantiated throughout the planet.  These things will not be achieved by force, but by love.  What must precede them, is the work of enabling love within us.  What must precede a perfect world of justice, is the desire for others above our own.  This rebirth cannot be attained until the mission of the Messiah has been fulfilled.  There will be no righteous judgment of condemnation upon the evil of others.  There will be instead redemption and salvation.  Despite these direct words of Christ Himself as to His own mission, modern Christians so often jump the gun, and believe the work of judgment and righteous condemnation belongs to them.  Not even Christ came to condemn.  But somehow modern Christians feel the need to compel their own ideas about truth on the lives of others, whether by law, or by placard.  What Christ alone would not do, we somehow think we are qualified to do?  The work of Christ was salvation.  Those who bear His name, should embrace His mission, not try to redefine it.
In verse 18, He continues … “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Jesus tells Nicodemus, I am here to save you and the world at large.  I am the vehicle of your salvation.  If you believe this you are not condemned to the life you were born to.  If you do not believe in the only Creator God is who is capable of changing who you are, you are simply embracing the person you are today, with no hope to change, no hope to be someone else, and as such, you are condemned already.  You are who you are Nicodemus.  You are who you are modern Christian.  There is no denying who you are.  Lie as you will to others.  Fight as hard as you want to deny it to yourself.  But who you are, must be remade new, reborn to Christ, if you are ever to really change and want something else.  This is the unmistakable truth about the Messiah.  Salvation comes from outside of ourselves, not within us.  It must be accepted as a gift, no other way.  To reject a belief that Christ can and will save you, is to leave yourself as you are – born of the flesh, and condemned to the slavery of serving self, and the pain that it brings.  There is only one hope outside of yourself.  There is only one offer on the table that is real, and offered by the Creator.
Then in verse 19 Christ redefines for Nicodemus and for us what “condemnation” actually means … “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. [verse 20] For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. [verse 21] But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”  Condemnation is NOT the fires of Hell, we like to think of.  It is living a life that prefers to “love darkness” rather than living free in the light and truth of God.  Being a slave is its own version of hell.  Living like we do is living under the weight of condemnation, and the pain we choose to embrace and inflict.  Our lives are the problem.  Our deeds are the cause of our pain.  It is who we are that is the hell of separation from God, because we choose it.  It is this Christ came to redeem us from.  Not just from some far off fiery lake of flames and torment, but from the here and now of the pain that comes from our sins and our choices.  This is what those who refuse to believe that Christ will save them, are doomed to experience.  Whether Christian or not, believing that salvation comes from within us, perpetuates the doom of this life, this existence, and this pattern of sin and pain.  It is only when accept the gift of Christ that our condition can finally be remade.
Notice too, the end of verse 21 referring to the deeds of truth Christ says … “they are wrought in God.”  Our actions are NOT our own, even after being remade.  They are BECAUSE of the rebirth, not to achieve it.  We do deeds of truth because of the effect of love that completely remakes us in His image.  His love has a transformative effect on our very thinking process.  Deeds that can be done in the presence of God, in the beauty of His light, that would cause us and others no shame, are those deeds inspired by love for others, more than love for self.  The absence of ego is our beginning.  The absence of self, even self-preservation, is the beginning of the love Christ offered on our behalf.  When this transformation is enacted within us, our deeds become those which are wrought in God.  Even past the act of transformation, even past the act of surrender to Christ that brings re-creation, it is still not us.  It is still acts wrought in God, not OUR acts that define our transformation.  Even past the initial re-creation is the ongoing renewal powered only by Christ and the Holy Spirit. 
This ends the encounter between the religious leader and Christ for now.  Nicodemus came to Christ, thinking he did Christ a favor, when instead everything he thought he knew, was blown away like so much dust.  How similar it is for those of us who are willing to encounter Christ today.  Everything we think we know about scripture and doctrine and tradition are blown away in the presence of such overwhelming love and redemptive power.  For it is not the interpretation of scripture where Nicodemus found truth, instead he found it in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is not in the law that Christ told Nicodemus the secret to how he would be saved.  Salvation would only come from outside of himself, and outside of us.  There is only one Creator God, and only one offer of true change, true reformation, true transformation away from the condemnation of pain we live with every day.  Rebirth, re-creation, renewal is what our God came to bring us.  He did it because He loves us, for no other reason.  His mission was not to judge or condemn but to redeem and save us from pain.  His mission has not changed.  His motive has not changed.  His love is as alive now, as it was when He walked this earth.  He does not turn Nicodemus away for his ignorance.  He welcomes the engagement and uses the opportunity to give to the world perhaps the most precious words ever spoken.  His gift is to more than just Nicodemus, or John, it is to you, it is to me.  And it has not stopped giving yet …