John 3:19 The Message
I presided and preached at worship this past Sunday, the Fifth Sunday in Lent. The text for my sermon, John 19:1-16a, was from the Narrative Lectionary. In the Narrative Lectionary for this year—the year of John—the texts for all the Sundays of Lent are events in John’s gospel leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection that the Revised Common Lectionary focuses on this coming Sunday
(Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion) and Holy Week. For some reason the Narrative Lectionary divides Jesus’ trial before Pilate into two Sundays—the Fourth and Fifth Sundays in Lent.
There is so much going on in this trial (John 18:28 – John 19:16a) about which I will not be able to comment in this devotion. This much background is helpful to understand what is happening here.
John’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate is longer and filled with more details than any of the accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It takes place at Pilate’s residence and headquarters in Jerusalem’s Fortress Antonia. The whole story of the trial is presented as a drama in seven scenes. The Jewish police and leaders brought Jesus to Pilate so that he could condemn him to death and thereby be crucified. They won’t enter Pilate’s residence because that would make them ritually unclean to celebrate the Passover that is the next day. So, the scenes develop as Pilate shuttles back and forth between Jesus, who is on the inside most of the time, and the Jewish leaders who are outside on the porch or in the courtyard.
On one level, the drama focuses on the conflict between Pilate who can find nothing that Jesus has done to deserve death and the Jewish leaders who want Pilate to crucify Jesus and get him out of the way. (Spoiler alert: So much has been made from this drama about the anti-Semitism in John’s gospel. The truth is that Pilate is really the one in control here all the way through and probably wanted Jesus dead more than the Jewish leaders did!)
In the end, Pilate, the Roman guards, and the Jewish police and leaders refused to believe that Jesus is God’s revelation. Their rejection of Jesus is their judgment. In words of Jesus (above) in John 3, “they went for the darkness because they weren’t really interested in pleasing God.”
On another level, this is Jesus’ hour of which he speaks so often in John’s gospel. He is God’s Word and Light (John 1:1-18). Jesus as God’s son is fully in control of what is happening here. Jesus testifies to the truth that he is God’s revelation (Light) for world and by freely giving himself over to death on the cross, he shows the power of God’s love for the world. Now, remember John 3:16. In John, the key to accepting Jesus is believing that Jesus is God’s revelation. Those who believe that Jesus is God’s revelation have eternal life. This eternal life is the life we Christians live right now as we continue in the life Jesus taught and showed us. It starts with loving one another as Jesus teaches in John 15: 12, “This is my commandment, that you love another as I have loved you.” We also remember the life of service he showed us as he took the servant’s role and washed his disciples’ feet in John 13.
This is why I say it is so important for us to let our lights shine showing Jesus’ love and service lives in us! You can follow this through the Bible from Genesis to this text in John. In Genesis 1:3, 4, “God said, ‘Let there be light;” and there was light, and God saw that the light was good.” In John’s Prologue (1:1-18) this light is associated with Jesus’ coming into the world. Jesus says in John 8:12, “I am the light of the world.”
This is the light that shines in us as God’s Spirit dwells in us and guides us in our love and service.
Perhaps today you can take a moment and think of the ways that God’s light shines in your life and ways that you can be open to shining your light for those who choose to run for the darkness. If you don’t already do so, perhaps lighting a candle during your meditation time can provide you both inspiration and connection to God’s light shining through the darkness that engulfs those who run toward it.
O God, who is our Light and fills us with your light and love, give us courage to love and serve others as you have showed us. Awaken us to those around us who are seeking beacons to guide them toward the light. May we give ourselves to lifting up and empowering those who are without the basic dignities of life you intend for us all. Amen.