Not to Condemn, but to Save

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on John 3:14-21

Dear people for whom the Son of Man was lifted up: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

He came in love, but the world hates Him. We heard the familiar verse that starts, “For God so loved the world,” but the love is not reciprocated. God loves the world, but the world hates God. The world loves darkness instead of the light. The world loves sin instead of loving God.

Why does the world hate Jesus so much? Why do they reject Him? Why do they refuse His forgiveness? It is because they do wicked things and they don’t want to come to the light, lest their wicked deeds should be exposed. Jesus is the light of the world, but the world does not want to come to Jesus who exposes their sin.

We must confess that our sinful inclination is the same. None of us enjoys hearing God’s Law which convicts us of the sins that we have committed. None of us likes God’s Law exposing our sin. Our sinful flesh does not want to hear about God’s rules or commandments, or about how we have failed to keep them. Our sinful flesh says, “If God really loved us, He wouldn’t give us all these rules and commandments to follow. If God really loved us, He would let us do what we want.”

Our sinful flesh is wrong on this matter as it is wrong on every matter.

God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. He exposes our sins not so that He can condemn us for them, but so that He can forgive our sin.

We can hide our sins from each other. We can lie about them to each other. We can lie about them to ourselves.

God, however, sees all our sins and knows all our sins. He doesn’t expose our sins for His sake, but for our sake. He shines light onto our sins so that we would see how dark and evil they are and hate them as much as God hates them. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee the darkness and seek the light. He shines light onto our sins so that we would flee to Christ for refuge.

Christ is our only refuge. He is the light of the world. In Him there was no darkness, but He took our darkness from us onto Himself. He took every single one of our sins onto Himself and died for them.

How do you know that He took your sins? Because He took the sins of the whole world. Every sin of thought, word, and deed was put on Jesus. Every selfish thought, every lustful word, every greedy deed was put on Jesus. Your every sin of anger and doubt, your every sin of jealousy and discontentment was charged to Jesus. He was charged with all the sin of the whole world and was punished for it all. He took your punishment in order to give you eternal life, because He loves you.

It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally.

The simplicity of it is what sometimes gets us tripped up. Consider the Israelites in the wilderness from our Old Testament lesson. They had again sinned against God in speaking against Him and complaining about the food God was giving them, so God sent fiery serpents among them. They bit the people and many of them died. This led to the Israelites repenting of their sin. The light of God revealed their darkness, and they repented and asked for the serpents to be taken away.

God provided a solution. He had Moses make a bronze serpent and put it onto a pole. If a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. Sounds so simple, and it was. Look and live. It sounds too simple. It kind of even sounds silly. That is the foolishness of the cross.

It would sound better to our reason if God would have told the Israelites to offer Him extra sacrifices and to do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. It would make more sense to us if God had given them steps for overcoming their difficulties and guidelines for living better lives to save themselves. It would be more reasonable to us if the Israelites would have had to do work to pay off their sin. But God says simply, “Look and live.”

Jesus said, “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.” Jesus was lifted up onto the cross to save us from the poison of our sin. It’s as simple as that.

Our reason tells us that we should have to offer extra sacrifices and do all kinds of acts of contrition in order to get forgiveness. Maybe if we had to suffer a little bit and work harder to overcome and live better, then we could work off our sins. But none of our sacrifices or acts of contrition or good works can pay for our sins.

The answer is far simpler. Jesus has done it all for you. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. That’s why Jesus’ last words on the cross were, “It is finished.” Your salvation was accomplished then and there. Your sins were paid for then and there. Eternal life was purchased for you then and there. There’s nothing left to pay. There’s nothing left to do. It is finished.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. He didn’t come as Judge, but as Saviour. He came to be lifted up on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, and thus save us from our sin.

When Jesus returns, He will return as Judge, but our judgment has already been pronounced. Jesus was judged in our place, so we are already declared innocent.

Jesus says that those who reject His forgiveness are also already judged. He says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Whoever thinks that they can earn their own salvation; whoever things they can save themselves and see no need for Jesus; whoever rejects the free forgiveness Christ offers is condemned already.

We, however, look to Christ lifted up on the cross. He is the light of the world and He has exposed the darkness of our sins so that we would trust in Him for forgiveness.

We look to the cross, but we cannot go to the cross for forgiveness. Rather, the forgiveness earned on the cross comes to us. Forgiveness comes to us in Baptism, [as it did for Emma this morning. Forgiveness comes to us in] Absolution, and Holy Communion. Once again, it’s so simple. God forgives our sins through water, through the Word, and through bread and wine. It doesn’t require anything from us. Jesus has done it all and He gives us forgiveness freely.

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, but in order to save the world. It sounds so simple, and it is. Jesus died so that you will live – eternally. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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