The Driven Life
I think we're in a time when "being driven" is a good thing. Some time being assertive, Type A, passionate are in, some time they're out. Now, I think they're in. You can be driven by a purpose, by a result, or by both. Actually, what really matters is who is doing the driving.
Remember 15 years ago when the book The Purpose Driven Life was the latest answer to making Christianity practical, good for something other than Sunday morning service, able to give meaning to life as if Christ the Life of all the living couldn't do that? Although written by a Baptist and completely reflecting that theology, nevertheless, it was found in many Lutheran Churches. The claim was the pastor using it could weed out the Baptist elements and plant Lutheranism.
Whatever, that is so yesterday. The churches using books to drive their "Bible" classes have moved on to what's next on the top shelf of the Christian bookstore, and we're stuck with the Bible and this O so familiar Bible passage. And let me tell you. It's filled with purpose. God's purpose. Let your life be driven by God's purpose reflected in this text. And right from the get-go see His purpose comes from what He did not you do. "The Son of Man must be lifted up." And "He gave His only begotten Son."
See a camera flash. See Christ crucified hanging from a cross in one flash. See God the Father giving His only beloved Son in the next. The Greek reflects the lifting up of Christ and the giving of Him as on-and-done acts. They are digital events. They are the basis for the purpose clauses attached to them. To really see the purpose, translate, "in order that." "The Son of Man must be lifted up, in order that everyone should have life eternal." The purpose of God crucifying His Son was so that you might, should, could have life eternal. Note well: Jesus doesn't say life temporal, earthly life. If He had, would Christianity be popular. It would be useful here and now. People would flock to it because this stuff is practical. At the foot of the cross where Christ is lifted high, I see wrinkles going away, crow's feet flying away, gray hairs darkening, and vitality returning. Everyone would life high the cross Christ was crucified on if it worked like they claim testosterone does.
But that's not what Jesus says. He says He must be lifted up, must be crucified in order that all might have eternal life. O that. We hear and yawn as if it is no life altering thing to know "we die not when we die", to know that the grave is not our final resting place, to know that we will soar to a world without end, to know when we close our eyes in temporal life we open them in eternal life. As if it's no biggie, to find what Ponce de Leon searched the world for, to have what aged-billionaires are depicted as sparing no expense to get, to be given what people become vampires to get. Who can yawn at unending, everlasting, eternal life?
First, Jesus says the purpose of Him being lifted up was in order that all should have eternal life. Second, He says God gave His only begotten Son in order that all should not perish but should have eternal life. Remember the tag line for E.F. Hutton stock brokerage commercials in the 70s & 80s: "When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen"? When God Almighty talks everyone should listen, and when He repeats Himself drop everything you're doing and pay attention.
In the second purpose clause, Jesus expands on what it means to have life eternal. It's the opposite of perishing. This is the stronger form of this Greek Word; it means "destroy utterly". You really see what Jesus being given over to crucifixion would deliver all from in Rev. 9:11. The locusts from hell have as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Greek is Apollyon. This is the noun form of our word perish apollymi. Here's the kicker. The first time it's used in John, Jesus tells us the purpose of Him being crucified is to spare all apollymi. The last time John uses it to describe what the unbelieving high priest Caiaphas said about Jesus' death "It was better that one man should apollymi for the people."
Standing before Christ crucified, you see what you deserve as a sinner. Nothing less than apollymi, nothing less than being given over to the hands of the King of Hell, the Dark Angel of the Abyss. No wonder Jesus cries out, "My God, why have you forsaken me?" We hear why here: for the purpose that all not apollymi but have life eternal.
I keep leaving out a word, don't I? I keep leaving out who the all' is attached to in both purpose clauses. "All who believe in/ into Him" should not perish but should have eternal life." The first time Jesus says believe "in" the Son of Man. Here's the picture: while clothed in His body, while covered in His blood you are to go on believing that His horrible death gives you eternal life. The second time Jesus says, "believe into Him." This makes Jesus the object of your faith and shows that faith is not the cause of your salvation but the means whereby you receive it.
Don't get stuck on believing. It's okay to sing with Journey "Don't stop believing" because in both cases Jesus says, "the one who is believing", a present tense participle. It's to go on and on. But believing doesn't cause you to be saved. What causes your salvation is the Son of Man being lifted up on the bloody cross in your place; the only begotten Son of God being handed over to the punishment you deserve, so you might have eternal life. Faith sees these two acts of the past as present realities, but the emphasis isn't on your believing but on the two flashes: Christ being lifted up; God the Son being given. Both one and done acts are for you.
Life can be driven by a purpose or it can be driven by a result which also grows faith, confidence, trust, hope in God. In the last half of our text the results God was aiming for are prominent. Jesus' expresses His Father's result not in a past tense, one-and-done flashbulb, digital event but in a Greek perfect. The Greek perfect is analog, ongoing forever, and is more like a song that always remembers when.
Jesus says, "The Light has forever come into the world." Forget what Jesus goes on to say about unbelieving men loving darkness rather than light; forget about the fact those practicing evil don't come into the light. That's all true, of course, but that ain't you. You are the people that have sat in darkness longing for the light. You are the people that know on your own you are only darkness. The result of God lifting up Jesus, of the Father giving the Son, of God sending the Son is that light has forever come not just to the world but literally the cosmos.
You've been through power outages. You've looked out on a dark night and thought that bush was person and that noise was trouble. How different it is when dawn breaks! How wonderful it is when the power returns and the lights are back on! Well, light has forever come to your world. In the darkness of death, you can still see Christ crucified as your life. In the darkness of sin, you can still see the Son given to perish for your sins. In the darkness of the Devil you, can still see that God sent His Son not to condemn the cosmos as the Devil would have you believe but that cosmos should be saved through Him.
One result of God sending light is that it's going to get ugly in here. Ugly in this cosmos. The works of unbelieving men are described as evil, but the next line isn't about "everyone who does evil." First, it's not "does" but "practicing." Second, it's not those practicing evil but those practicing worthlessness' or foulness.' Originally, this word was used for what was poor, paltry, ugly" (Nicoll, 1, 718). Those caught up in dark practices of abortion, LGBTQ-ism, unbelief, misbelief, and all manners of shame and vice, don't see the ugliness. They see these things as good, beautiful, attractive. And don't tell me you don't see that these things are portrayed that way in movies, song, TV shows.
Those practicing the ugly don't want the result of coming to the Light of God. They are the aged movie-star who doesn't want to be seen in the stark light of day. They are the vampires who will be turned to dust if the light of the knowledge of the glory of God should shine on them. They are the stand-up comic who is sentenced by a judge to do his filthy, racist nightclub act in the bright lights of the courtroom. He tries to do in the light what he did in the dark and can't do it.
One result of the light having forever come, is we see the ugliness that unbelieving men seek to hide. This is the guy in the movie who thinks he's going nuts because people everyone else sees as normal, he sees them for the vicious, ferocious, ugly beasts they really are. He's not nuts, and neither are we. And the second result that drives our life is the fact we come to the Light. But it's not on the path described by the insert. It's not through living the truth. It's literally: The one doing the truth" comes to the Light.
How do you do truth? When you come here confessing your sins, you're doing the truth because the Light of Christ shows you to be a poor, miserable sinner. When you regard the Absolution as sending your sins away from you as far as east is from west, you're doing the truth because in the light of Christ you see He wants to forgive your sins. When you open your mouth and receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, you're doing the truth because that is why He gave and shed them on the cross. The result of doing the truth is that you come into the light and there you plainly see you're participating in a miracle. Only God could bring you to the confession of your sins and to the belief that they are forgiven by Words, washed away by Water, swallowed up by Bread that is Christ's Body and wine that is His Blood.
So, who's doing the driving in your driven life? It's not as Carrie Underwood sang. Jesus isn't waiting for you to exclaim in a moment of fright, "Jesus take the wheel." He always has been doing the driving; He's the One who drove you here. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday in Lent (20180311); John 3: 14-21