It is always an interesting experience to preach upon a well-known biblical text. What does one say that has not already been said? How does the preacher communicate a fresh word from the Lord, based upon a text toward which certain members of the congregation might already have adopted a “been-there-done-that” attitude? These are the questions that swirl in my mind as I prepare to preach this coming Sunday on perhaps the most familiar of biblical texts — John 3:14-21. Verses 16 & 17, are particularly well-known, having been memorized by Sunday School children for generations: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
The setting for this passage is the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus — “a Pharisee” and “teacher of Israel” (John 3:1, 10) — who struggles to understand Jesus’ teaching about the new birth. What could Jesus possibly have meant by his instruction to Nicodemus that one must be “born from above, by water and the spirit?” I think that Jesus was trying to indicate to this man, and to us, that something is required beyond mere intellectual assent to a set of beliefs for us to become part of the Kingdom of God. That is the danger that I see in taking these most familiar verses from Scripture too lightly. We see the citation for John 3:16 on the sidelines for almost every professional sporting event. We used to see it every weekend printed on the eye-black on quarterback Tim Tebow’s face. Customers of the In-N-Out chain of fast food restaurants would even see the entire verse printed on their cold drink cups!
The point that I am pondering for Sunday is this — Merely knowing the words of John 3:16 is meaningless if we do not adopt Christ’s lifestyle of self-giving love as our own. These verses encourage me to really live my faith, day-by-day. By agreeing to become a follower of Jesus, I have not simply agreed to incorporate a few “good Christian practices” into my daily routine. It is not enough for me to attend church, or a mid-week bible study, or to sit on a committee, as important as such things might be. Rather, I must determine myself to be “all-in” as a follower of Jesus. Nothing short of total commitment will do.
Join us in church on Sunday at 8:30 or 10:45!