4th Sunday in Lent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 3:14-21 Sermon
March 26, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
188 "Lord Jesus Christ Be Present Now"
470 "Breathe On Me Breath Of God"
394 "Blest Are The Pure In Heart"
517 "Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid"
THE LIGHT OF TRUTH
TEXT (vs. 19-21): “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes into the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought of God.”
Singer Isaac Hayes has been in the news this week. And just in case you haven’t heard what this is all about, I will tell you. Isaac Hayes, who has been the voice of the character “Chef” on the Comedy Central show “South Park” has left the show. The reason he left the show was because the writers of the show produced an episode which was a parody of Scientology—the non-Christian cult started by L. Ron Hubbard. Hayes, who is a Scientologist, walked out in a huff. He described the parody as “religious intolerance and bigotry.”
In a similar light, actor Tom Cruise, also a dedicated Scientologist, is reported to have squelched the re-airing of the episode. He has also refused to do any promotional work for the Hollywood studio that produces South Park, which has produced some of his own movies.
Religious parody is nothing new to the show, South Park. Routinely, they parody Christianity and Judaism. They’ve also targeted Mormonism, and numerous other groups. For South Park creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, there is no such thing as a topic they won’t touch. Everything is fair game for them.
Islam has also been a recent target. On September 30, 2005 the Dutch newspaper Jillands-Postem ran political cartoons depicting Mohammed in a not-too-flattering way. The reaction by the Muslims has been heard around the world. Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen has described the controversy as Denmark's worst international crisis since World War II.
The Muslim reaction shouldn’t be too surprising. In 1988, when author Salmon Rushdie published a book entitled “The Satanic Verses” which criticized the Islamic faith, the Muslims were outraged. The Muslim Fatwa officially called for his assassination; and this was along with numerous other death threats. Even now he has to have constant body guards, and he is still under the supervision of the British Secret Service.
What happens when Christianity is attacked? It happens you know, and it happens with far more regularity than attacks on any other religion. Where are the throngs of people rising up and protesting? Where are the actors and actresses leaving in a huff when Hollywood depicts Christianity in a less than favorable way? Where are the death threats against those who mock the Christian faith? When was the last time that an attack against Christianity prompted an incident which equals that of a major war?
That’s right, you don’t see it, at least not too often. When someone does something that is against Christianity, it is called “freedom of speech.” When someone does something against the Muslims or Scientologists, it’s religious bigotry and hatred. And when those times do occur when someone speaks up against those who bash Christianity, they’re automatically swept aside and put under the broad blanket of the “radical religious right.” There’s no major incidents, no international scandals, nothing. Christians are expected to sit down and keep their mouths shut and to “be accepting” of everybody else’s attacks and anti-Christian religions. It hardly seems fair, does it?
One of the best answers to the problem can be found in the words of our Gospel lesson for today. Verse 20 states, “for every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”
One of the things that all cults have in common, and that is the control of the people. They especially attempt to control all outside influences. The Hari Krishna’s isolate people from their families and put them through a type of brain washing so they will listen only to certain people. The Jehovah’s Witnesses carefully control everything their people read, and they are instructed to destroy any other reading material, especially those things which are critical of their religion. Scientology, being one of those “new designer” religions has their own intricate belief system that cannot be influenced by external sources.
The main difference here is between truth and falsehood; between that which is of God, and that which isn’t. False religions and false gods are what I would like to call “dark” religions, because they cannot stand up when they are exposed to the light.
When I was in seminary, I was especially blessed by faithful Christian instructors. However, I never once had anyone standing over my shoulder telling me what I could and what I could not read. Certainly we had our various textbooks and things that were required reading. Every school does that. But when it came to researching and writing papers, the world was open to us. There was no censorship. We could read and study whatever we wanted to, and we did so without fear. Not only did we have our own vast theological library, but we could request books from almost any library in the country through inter-library loan. Our resources were almost endless.
The important realization here, is that truth needs no defense. It stands on its own. Jesus says in his High Priestly Prayer in John 17, 17: “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” God’s Word is truth and it is light; and once that light shines, the darkness disappears.
So why do all of these non-Christian religions and cults make such a fuss about being attacked? What’s happening, is this is a process of bringing the false religions to the light. Even if it is a parody portrayed on a TV Show like South Park, it still brings it to the surface. There is always some truth to parody—some basis for it. When a newspaper does a political cartoon on Mohammed, there’s a certain amount of truth depicted in the followers of Islam.
So these cults and anti-Christian religions stay unto themselves, and keep a close tab on their followers. They want to keep the room dark, so no light can possibly enter in. To these people, Jesus says in verse 18 of our text: “He who believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Exposed to the light of Christ, it shows these people as being lost and condemned creatures, holding on to a false religious hope.
Christianity has been under attack ever since the beginning. Jesus and his followers were under constant attack, especially by the Pharisees and the whole Sanhedrin. They were trying to bring it all to an end. They saw Jesus and the message of the Gospel as being a real threat to them, and it was. Jesus was bringing to light the evil and godless ways of the church officials of the day. He wasn’t threatening the religion and the law, rather he came to fulfill it. But they couldn’t see beyond their own selfish ways; so they sat in the darkness.
A similar thing was happening in Luther’s day as well. Luther’s intent was on reforming the Roman Catholic Church and bringing it back in line with Scripture. However the Pope saw it as a personal threat, and so Luther was excommunicated from the church. Under the threat of assassination, Luther had to go into hiding. Those who were doing deeds of darkness could not stand the light of truth.
The parallel with our own lives is obvious. What has Satan done to us? What sins are lurking around in the dark closets of our souls? How many times have we thought to ourselves, “Yes, I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to bury it so deep that it will never see the light of day?” How many times have we given Satan the darkness he needs to do his work?
In verse 17 of our text for today, Jesus says: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” That’s the light of truth, the light of Jesus. When we come to faith in Christ our Saviour, we come from the darkness of sin into the light of redemption, forgiveness, and grace. Jesus came to bring that light into each and every one of our souls. And so we come to him, not with shovels in hand to bury things in the darkness, but with empty hands which cling to Christ alone in faith.
Verse 16 of our text is so familiar to most of us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God loved the world, and that means everybody and not just a select few. Christ died for the sins of the world, and wants to save the world. Christ is described as the “light of the world.” In Luke 19, 10 Jesus says: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus has redeemed the whole world. He has redeemed the Muslim, the Jew, the Jehovah’s Witness and the Scientologist. He has paid for their sins in full. But even though Jesus loves them, and has done this for them, that doesn’t mean that they are saved. Verse 18 of our text says, “…he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” If they refuse the light, if they reject Christ, if they reject the truth of God, then what Christ has done for them will go to waste. If they continue in the darkness of their non-Christian and anti-Christian ways, then all will be lost. They will find themselves in everlasting perdition because they loved the darkness more than they loved the light.
Isaac Hayes might describe this as “religious intolerance.” But I’m not the one who makes the rules here. God has clearly stated that only those who are true believers in Jesus their Saviour will see heaven. Even though human logic seems to dictate that other religions should have the same validity as Christianity, that’s not God’s logic. God’s logic is not subject to human reasoning. And so for all those who tenaciously follow non-Christian religions, God has this word for them in Proverbs 14, 12: “There is a way that seems right to a man; but in the end, it leads to death.”
In the conclusion of our text for today, Jesus says: “But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.” As a congregation, and as individual Christians, we have the duty to bring the light of truth to the world.
In our congregation, we do nothing in secret or behind closed doors. We don’t control what you read, who you talk to, who your friends are, or what T. V. Shows you can and cannot watch. We don’t practice censure in any form.
Our congregation is out there for the world to see. The words from the pulpit here at Mighty Fortress go much further than those sitting in the seats in front of me. The number of hits to our website each month are in the thousands, and we’re always getting new readers. I continue to be amazed at how popular we’ve become.
Perhaps some are critical of us, but that’s of no consequence. We have nothing to hide here. Our mission is to bring this light of Christ to the world. Christ came to seek and to save that which is lost, and it is my prayer that as a congregation, and as individuals, we are always true to that calling.
Christ came to seek and to save you and me. He has brought his light into our lives. Through faith in our Saviour, he has removed the stain of sin and given us souls filled with his light and love. The darkness of sin is no longer our master. We’re no longer a slave to Satan.
Scientology, and Islam, and other non-Christian and anti-Christian religions and cults will always continue to run away from the light of God’s truth. Christianity will be under attack. That’s the way things simply are.
Therefore as Christians, and as a Christian congregation, may our deeds always be deeds of the light, “…that it may be clearly seen that [our] deeds have been wrought in God.”