Fourth Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

Mis-prioritizing Jesus
John 3:14-21
Fourth Sunday in Lent
analysis by Ed Schroeder


The appointed pericope is only the latter half of the Nicodemus story. Best is to start at 3:1.

DIAGNOSIS: Nicodemus’ problem: Missing out on the promise of life signaled in Moses’ lifting up the serpent in the wilderness (vv.14 & 15).

STAGE 1: Mis-prioritizing Jesus. Though “Israel’s teacher,” Nicodemus “does not understand the things” Jesus is doing and saying, even though he knows Jesus to be a “teacher come from God.”

STAGE 2: Lightless, lifeless. Nicodemus comes “at night.” That’s not just a reference to clock time. He too needs to be “born from above,” or “born again.” Otherwise even he is lifeless. Otherwise Jesus’ grim words in vv. 19 & 20 will be true of him too. Note the “fear” assertion in v. 20.

STAGE 3: Disinherited. In this text v. 18b, “not believing Jesus” is “being condemned already” long before judgment day comes around.

GOOD NEWS: Not perishing, but having the life that lasts.

STAGE 4: God’s glory in the flesh. That is presented in this text by vv. 14 & 15. (Note on Jn. 3:16. Verse 16 interprets the two previous verses. The “so” in “God so loved the world” does not mean “so much” as folk interpretation says. The Greek text says: “just so [in just this way] did God love the world, namely, God sacrificed his own son. It is not “muchness” that the text expresses, but the radical character of God’s action. You and I would be arrested if we did the same with our children. Letting your own child be killed–for whatever worthy cause–is not only illegal, it is immoral. The radicality of Jesus on the Cross is that to regain us disinherited [bastard?] kids back into the divine family, God “lifts up,” as Moses did with the serpent, his one and only non-renegade Son. God incurs the “illegality, the immorality” of son-sacrifice in order to regain sons and daughters who ought themselves perish in just that way. John 3:16 is John’s statement of the genuine “scandal” of the Gospel.)

STAGE 5: Believing is having. See v. 15, 16b, 17b with 18a for Stage 5 as articulated in this text. V. 20 links “living by the truth” (of vv. 14-16) to “coming into the light,” thus undoing the “lightless, lifeless” diagnosis of Stage 2. “Born again” is being “in light again.”

STAGE 6: Witnessing. “Living by the truth” now publicly in the world, “so that it may be plainly seen [by the beloved worldlings] that what Jesus’ witnesses are doing is being done through God.”

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