I have a Knock Knock joke that doesn’t require a ‘whose there’ answer.
Jesus is standing at the door and knocking …
Can I come in .. he asks
‘Why do you want to come in’ .. is the reply
‘To save you’
‘To save me from what’
‘To save you from what I’m going to do to you if you don’t let me in’
When we misunderstand the message of judgement in the Gospel we can fall into believing the irony of this encounter. But if we ever think that the salvation message of the Gospel is about saving us from God then we find ourselves in this rather awful situation. Let us consider what the passages from the Bible are telling us this morning about the salvation that Jesus brings.
Firstly let us start with the rather unambiguous statement at the very end of our Gospel reading: God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
This must be our starting point because it is a frank and straightforward statement. Jesus came to save us .. not to condemn us .. but to save us. If this is at the heart of the Gospel message then all the mystery and wonder of the way in which this happens must point towards this truth.
So how can we avoid talk of condemnation in relation to the Scripture and hold on to the message of salvation without this ironic image of God saving us from His own wrath.
Well in fact St Paul articulates it, spells it out, quite clearly for us. He says it is not God who condemns but ourselves. In fact we might even say one another. Who really is it that makes you feel guilty or worthless or anxious about performance in life. Isn’t it the people around you and indeed your own thoughts about yourself .. in this season of self-reflection isn’t it our own hang ups and sense of shame that condemn us. It is not God but our own Laws and ideals and conscience which condemn us. This is what St Paul says: where there is no law there is no transgression.
St Paul is not simply talking about the Jewish Laws which hold people to account in a manner they can never fulfil but about the laws of conscience and self-examination which also leave us feeling condemned. Even Abram long before the Laws of Moses were given felt guilty because he knew he wasn’t all he could be or should be in the world …but God met with Abram and set him free to experience the love and acceptance of God: What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Belief in God .. the message of the Gospel .. tells us that we are saved from all that condemns us ..because that is what God wants for us .. it is not God who condemns us and leaves us feeling unworthy or anxious or afraid ..it is our very selves, it is our communities and families, it is all that is as fallen as us. But the God who remains free from our fallenness and brokenness does not condemn .. rather God acts to show us how much we are loved and in doing so sets us free from the pain and sorrow of self-condemnation.
So when Nicodemus the teacher of the Law approaches Jesus he asks what must I do to be saved. He is in fact unaware that he needs to be saved not from God’s wrath and judgment but from his own self-abasement and self-loathing for falling short of what he believes God’s standards to be. From everything that the other teachers and the Jewish communities demand of him which he knows he cannot live up to. Nicodemus .. like us .. does not need saving from God but from himself. And this is Jesus message to us.
‘Can I come in’
‘To save you’
‘From weight of guilt and shame and self-loathing that you have heaped on yourself. From the burdens and rules other people have imposed on you which you are being crushed under. From the pain and the heartache of feeling you have let everyone down.To save you from yourself and what you will do to yourself if you do not hear the message that I love you and my Father loves you and its all going to be OK!
John 3 v16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him