Saturday, March 14, 2015

LENT - The Sunday Word

Not every verse in the Bible is on the tip of your tongue, but most regular church attendees can usually rattle off the gist of John 3:16, which is often called “the gospel in a nutshell.” There’s truth to that, but it also leaves us with the assumption that if we can recite John 3:16, we've pretty much got the whole Christian message, as if the rest of the Bible were just commentary. 
The fact is, many people who know just John 3:16 aren’t going to have the foggiest idea what Jesus was talking about in 14 and 15 or why the story of a wilderness serpent serves as an introduction to verse 16. That verse, of course, tells of God’s love for the world and of his sending of his Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life, but what does a snake in the wilderness have to do with that? In fact, the uninformed may well assume that this wilderness serpent is another appearance of the one who tempted Adam and Eve, but they’d be wrong. This serpent is not a tempter but a savior.

Reading John 3:16 and thinking you've got the whole story is like reading in hop-skip fashion on the Internet. You may, in fact, get the basic nugget of the story, but you will miss the in-depth kind of understanding that comes only from deeper reading, from living with the Scriptures.

Now if we turn to John and look at the larger context there, we see that Jesus’ mention of the serpent in the wilderness was in a conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. This man had come to Jesus seeking to understand his message and mission, and as they were both Jewish and steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus was able to refer to this serpent story with the certainty that Nicodemus would know it and be able to use it as a comparison to Jesus’ mission. Thus, when Jesus says to Nicodemus, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life,” Nicodemus suddenly understands that Jesus intends to be a savior.