A former colleague of mine was telling me about his first job as a marketing manager. He arrived at 9.00 on his first day and was shown to his office. He was just settling in when a man stuck their head round the door.
‘Hi, ’ the man said. ‘Welcome to the organisation, I just wanted to let you know that we’ve run out of loo roll in the men’s toilet.’ About half an hour later another man stuck their head round the door.
‘I hope you’re settling in well,’ he said. ‘I just thought I should warn you that there’s no big roll in the men’s toilet.’ About an hour or so later another man, this time dressed in overalls, sticks his head round the door.
‘Hello,’ he says. ‘Just wanted to let you know that there is now toilet paper in the men’s loos’.
So my colleague goes back to work, thinking ‘what a friendly place this is. It’s a bit odd that everyone is obsessed with the toilet paper in the men’s loos, but it’s nice that they take the time out to warn everyone so that no-one gets caught short.’
About 12 months later its appraisal time. My colleague has a pile of papers to fill out for the various people that he manages. Eventually he gets to the bottom of the pile and the last set of papers is for a name he doesn’t recognise. He calls his PA in asks her who Colin is.
‘Colin’s the handy man.’
‘I seem to have his appraisal papers, would you mind getting them to his line manager?’
‘You are his line manager.’
Sometimes we can be given information, and we can accept it at face value, without questioning whether there is a secondary reason that we were given it.
No-one had told my colleague that he was indirectly responsible for the supply of loo role in the men’s toilet, so when people told him that it was running low, he assumed people were warning him so he didn’t get into an embbericing situation, it didn’t occur to him that there might be another reason that people were telling him about it.
John 3 v 16 is probably a the most famous verse in the Bible and I think that this familiarity can sometimes make us accept it at face value without questioning what we are supposed to do with it.
It’s often described as ‘the gospel in a nut shell’. So, especially if you have been in or around Christian circles for a long time it is easy to think ‘yes I know all this’ and not linger on it for that long.
At face value it is pretty simple
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3 v 16)
God Loves us, so much so that he sent Jesus to die for our sins. So everyone who believes in Jesus has their sins forgiven and will go to heaven when they die.
But if we leave it at that and don’t ask why John has gone to the trouble of recording these words, in this particular part of his gospel then, we run the risk of missing out on so much.
So let’s backtrack for a minute and remind ourselves who Jesus was talking to when he said this. He was talking to a chap called Nicodemus. We know from John 3 verse that 1 Nicodemus was not only a Pharisee but a leading Pharisee.
I’ve been trying to think of the best way to explain who the Pharisees were and the best that I could come up with was this:
If Judaism was Vegetarianism then the Pharisees were vegans. That is to say they followed all of the rules of ‘regular’ Judaism, but they did so with so much vigor that they started adding extra rules.
At this point in time the Jews had 613 commandments. 365 telling you things that you weren’t allowed to do and 248 telling you things that you had to do. The Pharisees believed, not only in these written laws, but they also believed in a set of ‘oral’ or ‘unwritten’ laws which accompanied them.
For the Pharisees these rules were particularly important because, unlike other Jewish sects they believed in an after-life. It was in the afterlife God would punish the wicked and reward the righteous.
The way to be righteous and ensure that you were rewarded rather than punished for all eternity was to follow this insanely long list of rules.
This belief system might sound a million miles away from the one that we follow today, but do we actually find ourselves subconsciously ascribing to a very similar one.
If you’ve become a parent or grandparent recently you’ll be aware of the crushing guilt that awaits you inside every shop selling baby things. Sure if you got this £9.95 car seat you would be legal, but if you really loved your unborn baby you would buy them this £397.50 version – which is pink.
If like me you were built with a ‘fuller frame’ you may have tried to diet in the past and be familiar with the feelings of guilt and inadequacy that come with it.
Maybe you’re 100% happy with your body image, and you aren’t burdened by parental guilt, but I am sure that there will be something which makes you feel inexplicably guilty. Maybe its work related or something to do with key relationships in your life. Perhaps you really struggle with your faith, feeling guilty because you don’t pray enough or read the Bible enough. It could be any of these or a million other things.
This all might seem unrelated to those famous words in John 3 verse 16, but if we put these feelings of guilt under the microscope they all boil down to the same thing that was governing the belief system of the Pharisees- A belief that you were being judged.
Maybe we don’t necessarily feel like it is God judging us in the same way that the Pharisees did – or maybe we do- but feeling guilty is linked to feeling judged
If you feel guilty for not buying your kids the prettiest things then maybe you’re feeling like you are judged by the society that values them.
If you feel guilty about your body, are you actually feeling like you are being judged by the strangers who you fear will see you walking down the street and think ’what an ugly minger’?
If you are feeling work related guilt is it actually the disapproval of your boss that you are worried about?
Well our passage shows us in no uncertain terms that we do not need to fear the judgement of anyone because God is the ultimate judge, he is the one who will one day judge everyone, but we know from John 3 16 that he loves us, he loves us so much that he gave his only son for us.
We know that through Jesus’ death we are made blameless in Gods sight. If we skip forward just one verse to verse 17 John makes this even more explicit for us:
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
This freedom from condemnation – Judgement or Guilt if you like- is how John is defining being ‘saved’ in this context. Yes he means freedom from Gods judgement and death, but he also means all other forms of judgement.
We don’t have to feel guilty, we don’t have to worry about the way that others see us, or the way that God sees us, because we know that, if we believe in Jesus, God is not judging us.
At the end of the day, if god says that we are ok, then does it really matter what our society or the stranger in the street thinks anyway.
I would like to close by reading you an e-mail that I received recently – I say recently it was January 2008, but in it my friend beautifully sums up what I guess I am trying to say .
Thanks so much for your e-mail the other day! It made me think LOTS which is good. I can really empathize with the part about feeling like you and God used to be tight and now you’re acquaintances. I started to realize why that is.
The biggest battle of my Christian life has been that of guilt. It has haunted me so much that at times it’s almost been a physical pain. I have lived with the feeling that you have during exam season, that wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, you OUGHT to be revising (actually having seen you during exam time, I’m not sure if that is an analogy you’ll be able to relate to).
In my every day life I constantly feel like I should be praying or being nice to people or reading the bible or doing something holy’. And it causes such spectacular burn out – no one can live like that all the time. So I just give up! I just go ‘nope, can’t do it anymore, don’t want to, not going to pray, not going to witness’- but in the long run that only makes the guilt worse.
The last couple of months, during my school placement has been one of those times – Lesson planning and just managing not to be eaten by my pupils have been enough to ‘do’ and the thought of ‘doing’ all my ‘Christian’ things too has just been too much.
BUT where sin increased grace increased all the more- the incredible thing has been that on the rare occasions I have come crawling back to God I have been met only by grace and compassion- no voice saying ‘why haven’t you prayed or read your bible’- just concern and care and love! It’s awesome because God is using my burn out to just show that when he said ‘it is finished’ he really meant it.
It’s something I will probably never quite get until the day when God really does call me out in front of thousands of people and declares that I am ‘acceptable’ to him.
Anyways I gotta go eat, teaching makes me extra hungry!