Category Archives: The Bible & Culture

The Darkest Night of the Year

Photo by Ales Krivec
Photo by Ales Krivec

Jesus’ arrival to earth was predicted in prophesy and expected by the people of Israel. Their once great nation with its grand Temple and the royal line of David had been decimated over the years. They had their monarchy split between Israel and Judah, they had their nation hauled off in captivity by Babylon. They had their Temple destroyed and ransacked. Then they had re-built it and restored their national identity only to have it invaded and occupied by the iron fist of Rome.  Continue reading The Darkest Night of the Year

People Loved the Darkness

Photo by Redd Angelo
Photo by Redd Angelo

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. John 3:19

Everyone who has watched sports for any amount of time should be familiar with one verse in the Bible. This is the verse that makes the top ten–top five, even–memory verses for kids going to Vacation Bible School, AWANA, Sunday School, you name it.

John 3:16.

It’s so well-known that I probably don’t need to type it out in this blog. It is the #1 evangelical go-to verse. If someone in the Western world doesn’t know it, they would likely recognize it pretty soon after it gets recited:

For God so loved the word …

yes, that’s familiar. And who doesn’t like that. Even Richard Dawkins probably would find that appealing.

that He gave his only Son …

When you think about this, it’s controversial. For Muslims, the notion that God has a Son is a point of offense. To our minds, considering that God is giving His Son for the world might seem rather mixed. He loves the world more than His Son? But it speaks to the fervor of His love.

that whoever believes in Him should not perish …

No one wants to die, but this speaks more about an eternal death than mere physical death on this plane of existence. Still, it’s a good promise for people.

but have eternal life.

This is the promise that everyone in the world would love to have. Eternal life! We have stories of the fountain of youth. We have industries devoted to keeping us looking younger and extending our vitality, as if we could add a single day to our life through creams, pills and surgery!

Of course, eternal life can also be a curse. There’s an old myth about a man who wished for eternal life, but forgot to ask for eternal youth, as well. The quality of his eternality was grueling!

All of this brings us to … the rest of the story. God loves the world. But He hates sin.

If we stop at John 3:16, we get a nice verse with a promise of eternal life (which indicates the quality, not just some quantity).

Moving on, we are further encouraged because the Apostle tells us that Jesus did not come into the world as a man to judge us, but to save us.

Good news! Many cling to that, and for good reason. But they miss the next few verses.

God sent Himself in the form of His Son on a rescue mission in order to save us from the condemnation we deserve for our rebellion against Him.

What other ruler would do that? What ruler would sacrifice Himself to spare a rebellious group of outcasts?

Hint: The previous verses give that away.

But notice the following:

Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whenever you see “name,” think “nature.” The person who rejects God’s Son, rejects the very nature of God. What is the nature of God? Love.

Love that is rescuing.

Love that is sacrificing.

Love that is patient.

But also, love that cannot allow evil to go on forever. Light has no part of darkness. Love has no relationship with evil. The one must drive out the other. And, for anyone aware of how the world works, light drives out darkness. Every time.

So, we come to verse 19. The judgment. Jesus came to rescue us. He is the Light of the World. But people loved the darkness because their works were evil.

All of us share that judgment, that our works are evil. From day one we serve our own interests, not God’s. We gather glory for ourselves and we resent that God would demand the glory He deserves.

I pray that those who read this, if you have rejected God’s loving nature in Jesus, that you will repent–turn from thinking that your works of evil cannot be forgiven and accept Jesus as your substitute for God’s punishment. Let Jesus clothe you with His righteousness so that you can receive God’s love.

Born Again!

Galaxy copy

“… unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

Nicodemus, like many who read the Bible, was perplexed! He was a respected man of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews. No doubt he was blameless with religious pedigree and solid moral character. Had anyone seen this man of the upper-crust religious society, they would have known him and paid due respect.

If this were today, we might celebrate Nicodemus because he sought out Jesus! Although he did so under the cover of night, hoping for his earthly curiosity to go unnoticed by those of his social standing.

He confessed Jesus as a teacher from God. The high-churchman acknowledged Jesus as being from God and having words of instruction (though he felt ashamed to approach him in daylight).

Nicodemus knew that Jesus had power from God to perform signs. Anyone seeking fame in this world would accept these words of high praise from such a lofty man. “Rabbi,” “Teacher” from God.

Perhaps Nicodemus expected Jesus to be grateful for this recognition from the seat of religious power. In his mind, perhaps he thought Jesus would join with him and establish himself alongside the other religious elite.

Instead, Jesus looked at this man, impeccable by any human measure, and saw that his nature was earthly, not spiritual. This man, cloaked in darkness and seeking the Lord was as far from experiencing the spiritual kingdom as an unborn child is to experiencing the world at large.

“unless one is born again…” 

Nicodemus must have been taken aback. Here he’d just flattered this poor man with divine titles and he condescends to tell him what he needs? And what is this nonsense of being ‘born again?’

“… unless one is born of water and the Spirit…” 

Jesus’ reference to water, being so close to the ministry of John the Baptist certainly shouldn’t have been lost. John baptized with a baptism of repentance. Not only were people acknowledging their sinfulness before a Holy God, but they were repenting of that life in expectation of the Messiah and the new life He would provide.

Jesus referenced the water of repentance and the Spirit, His Holy Spirit, as the two parts of a new birth which would allow a person to experience the kingdom of God (which is, at this point and currently, a spiritual one. See John 18:36, “my kingdom is not of this world”).

Nicodemus remained amazed. He recognizes that something powerful and uncontrollable is happening, like the wind (vs. 8 ” the wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it”) but Nicodemus doesn’t understand it and doesn’t know its source.

In the end, despite his religious rank, he was a man of the world, unable to experience or understand the work of the Spirit.

Are you a Nicodemus?

Many will admit Jesus was a prophet or teacher … and even that he was “from God.”

Many admit Jesus is God’s son, one part of the Holy Trinity, God in the flesh!

Many, because of this creed, will perform religious acts, penance, baptism, church attendance, festivals, dietary rules, etc. Such people may be extremely virtuous and moral. They are admired by those around them for their charity and piety.

But they seldom want to go deeper into God’s Word than the superficial. Christianity is an outward religion for a healthy life, not an inward birth of a new life. 

In reading this, you may admit that you haven’t experienced anything new. Church and religion is nothing more than a habit or a culture of comfort for you. When you read the Bible, you see strange tales of talking donkeys, animals on boats, waters parting and bolts of lightning shooting down from some dark, mysterious mountain. Jesus teaching sounds vague and enigmatic, like that of some guru.

If that’s the case, despite some clergy christening as an infant, or some well-practiced catechism, you haven’t been born again. You experience no more of the kingdom of God than does an embryo the world that is  yet in its future.

But you can be born again. By the water of repentance and the Spirit of Jesus’ resurrected life.

Today could be your birthday.