Come to the Light-side
When we think of a Christian athlete one name comes to the forefront of our minds these days, Tim Tebow. He became famous as a college quarterback leading the Florida Gators to two national championships, two SEC championships and he was the Heisman trophy winner in 2007. He is also famous for wearing John 3:16 on his eye black during the games. He is a Christian, a preacher’s kid, who is telling the world about his faith through interviews he has after his games and through his eye black evangelism.
The idea of showing the verse John 3:16 is nothing new. It is almost a cliché now a days because of someone else who made it famous. How many of you know the name Rollen Stewart? What if I call him by some other names he is known by, Rainbow Man? John 3:16 guy? Bannerman? Here is a picture of him……now do you recognize him. He was all the rage n the 70s and 80s at major sporting events. He would show up and hold up various signs that would usually say John 3:16 on them. I do remember him from my childhood and watching a football game. During a field goal attempt there would be this John 3:16 sign being shaken in the background. That was Rollen Stewart.
He was at tons of sporting events and cameramen tried and tried to not put him on TV. The televised sports world hated him because he was everywhere. When he would appear on the screen people’s eyes would go to him holding the sign or his rainbow wig and tee-shirt. You can see him at the Kentucky Derby, behind the plate at baseball games, even at Charles and Diana’s wedding. This self proclaimed evangelist made John 3:16 a commonly known verse in our heads because we started to see it everywhere. And growing up in a church you may not know a time when you didn’t know that verse because it is believed to be one of the best verses to sum what we believe as Christians. When I asked Wesley Wood what he would like me to talk about at his funeral he told him, “John 3:16, that is all.” I have to admit that this verse does a great job giving us a sound bite of our theology and beliefs.
My High School Sunday School class teacher was a man named Dave Taylor. He was a great teacher and there are still things I remember from his class, more than I remember from seminary. He would talk about John’s 3rd chapter a lot and each time when he got to John 3:16 he would remind us of something, “keep reading.” There is important stuff right after this verse and most of the time, since it is one of those cliché scriptures our brains shut off and we start to yawn. We think, “yeah, yeah, God so loved the world…eternal life, yada yada.” That’s right we tend to “yada, yada” this scripture.
This scripture is within the conversation that Jesus is having with Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee who comes to Jesus at night and asks him about his message. He wants to know what it means to be born again and to be transformed by God. He isn’t getting it and so the passage I read today is Jesus’ short speech to him before to conversation is abruptly ended and we know no more about how Nicodemus reacted. But there are some important things that we can learn if we keep reading and soak in all of John’s 3rd chapter, not just the 16th verses.
Verse 17 and 18 say, “God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.” I love this verse because in our society where ultra judgmental Christians exist this points out the fact that Jesus didn’t come to cast final judgment on the world. That makes us stand up and rethink some of what we do in this world. But what is even more fascinating is the explanation we get to why Jesus came which happens in verses 19-21.
Let me read those verses again, “This is the basis for judgment: The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil. All who do wicked things hate the light and don’t come to the light for fear that their actions will be exposed to the light. Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God.” Here we get this nice image of light and darkness which is common in John’s Gospel. This echoes what John says in his opening chapter where he says, “The true light that shines on all people was coming into the world. The light was in the world, and the world came into being through the light, but the world didn’t recognize the light. The light came to his own people, and his own people didn’t welcome him.”
Jesus is telling Nicodemus and us today we tend to enjoy the darkness more than the light. We cuddle up close to the darkness because that is where we feel most comfortable and the most in control. The truth is we tend to view our lives through a set of lies we tell ourselves in order to find comfort in the darkness. We stay in the dark because there we feel we are free from change, we are free from Christ’s condemnation, and we don’t have to acknowledge how truly messed up we are. The darkness is almost a sense of denial and we are comfortable with that because it feels safe and warm.
We are a peculiar people. I think we have a tendency to be bi-polar as a society. On one side you have Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil started by having guest appearances on Oprah where his no-nonsense, in your face, tell it like it is style gained a huge audience. Then he broke off and now he has his own show. People like Dr. Phil because he doesn’t beat around the bush but simply tells it like it is. We, as humans, need to hear this every so often and we welcome it at some points because deep down we want to see ourselves for who we really are. We want to peel back the layers and get to the core of what makes us who we are. We also want to be told that and not discover it on our own. We find comfort in people who will tell us the truth no matter how hard it is in order for us to believe it. Or at least we like watching it happen to other people on TV.
Then on the other side you have relativism which states that truth is relative. There is no absolute truth and we need to find our own truth for ourselves. This train of thought tells us that we should not be told what to think and that we should not take anyone’s opinion of what truth is for certainty. There is a sense of chaos with this idea but that is what makes it appealing. We do not have to believe what our parents believe, what our teachers believe, or what our preachers believe. We can find out our own truth and believe what we want.
It is within these trains of thought that we get stuck in our own darkness. When we believe we can achieve truth ourselves we remove the need of a god in our lives because we believe we are one ourselves. When we what to be told what to do we find ourselves in a corner waiting on others to pull us out. We are looking for some other type of savior, one we can touch, cling to, and find rest on to do the work for us.
“The light came into the world, and people loved darkness more than the light, for their actions are evil.” We like the darkness yet as Christians we are called into the light. We are called to “come to the Lightside.” It is in the light that we find we are not in control but God is. It is in the light that we don’t get any of the credit for living our life like Christ, God does. It is in the light that we are transformed into the image of Christ and where we take up our cross and truly follow him. We are called to the light but how many of us are living in the dark?
The most tragic person in the Bible is not Job, it is God. Since he created humanity we have failed God. Adam and Eve disobeyed him. Israel went back and forth, following God and the going astray, following him and then going astray. Even in our Christian lives there are moments when we feel we are up close and personal with God and then we are far away. God continually reaches out and we continually don’t.
This happens because of verse 18. “Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.” We judge ourselves, we condemn ourselves when we reject the salvation that is offered to us. When we decline the gift of Easter, the gift that God gives found in his dead Son that rises again, we decline the ability to live in the light. Who does the rejection? Who does the condemning? Not God, because it is always offered, but us when we think we can do it on our own, or when we think we are not worthy of God’s love.
I truly think that is what really holds us back as Christians. We believe two things. We believe we can do it by ourselves because we have the power to pull ourselves up. Or we don’t believe we are worthy enough to be loved by God because of something we have done in our past. But let me tell you the truth in order for you to believe it today. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself today, God can help you if you desire him to. It doesn’t matter what you have done in your life, God is waiting to forgive you if you give him the chance to. God is ready, waiting, to shine his light in your life. He is ready to show you the way to live in the light instead of the darkness. His gift of free will allows us to make that decision. It is up to us to accept the light or to stay in the darkness.
We are going to do something this morning to bring that home a little more. In a little bit the ushers are going to pass out note cards. These note cards are going to be between you and God. During a time of prayer I want you to write on them something that is getting in the way of you living in the light. I would like you to name why you stay in the darkness. It could be a sin that you have committed that you would like God to forgive you for. It could something that you hold so close to your heart that you cannot let God take it away because it would be giving up control. It could be an addiction, an abusive relationship, an argument you keep having with the same person. Whatever is getting in the way of a deeper relationship with God, one found in the light, I want you to write it down on that card.
Then I want you to come and shred it. There is something dramatically therapeutic about shredding. It could be the sound it makes, or the fact that there is almost no way it can put back together. Today, after you have written on your card, I invite you to come up here and shred it. Let God take it and never give it back to you. In this task may you step closer to a life in the light instead of one in the darkness. Feel free to stay up here and pray if you desire or simply go back to your seat. But this is between you and God now. What do you need to live a life in the light where God is glorified and given all the credit.
Write on your card, and when you are ready, let that obstacle, let that darkness be no more.