This is judgement
Surely the best known reference in the Bible, John 3:16 has been used over and again as a one sentence summary of the gospel: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
And with good reason. For in this one verse are captured some absolutely core truths of the message of Jesus: that the mission of Jesus was motivated by the love of God; that God’s response to human need is to give; that God’s deepest desire is that all might share with God in the joy of eternal life.
As John continues, God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world… that wasn’t the point. Judgement wasn’t Jesus’ agenda… but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Those who believe in him are not judged, but those who do not believe in him are judged already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Suddenly it’s all a bit more messy, a bit more complicated. God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world… but those who do not believe in him are judged. How does that work? Judgement was not the intention of God sending Jesus, but nonetheless, it was its consequence? God sent his Son so that people might have eternal life, but in doing so God brings judgement on those who do not believe?
All who do not believe?
Even if they never heard? Even if the name Jesus came to them only through the lens of religious fanatics, or manipulative preachers, or abusive parents, or war mongering politicians?
Those who do not believe are judged, even though God did not send his Son to judge the world? How does that work?
We need, I think, to look a little more closely at this word ‘judged’. It comes up four times in our reading. Three we’ve seen already: God did not send the Son into the world to judge it; those who believe are not judged; those who do not believe are judged already.
But the fourth needs our attention, because it starts with these words: this is the judgement. It’s like Jesus is saying “there is judgement. But when I speak of judgement, this is what I mean.”.
Jesus is about to tell us what, in his kingdom, judgement looks like. He’s about to tell us what it means that those who believe are not judged, and those who do not believe are judged already.
But before we go there, we need to recognise what we hear when we hear the word ‘judge’. If you have a legal bent of mind you probably go in your mind to the authority who holds sway in the courtroom. Or perhaps you think of a line judge in tennis, or perhaps you think of someone who has good judgement, a good judge of character.
What these all have in common is this: the judge looks at a situation, and makes an assessment, a judgement, of it. Some may have authority to impose decisions based on what they judge, some may just be influenced by it. But in each case, the judge is the one looking in from the outside, weighing the evidence, making the call.
And isn’t that the image we have when we hear of God as judge, or of Jesus as coming to judge the living and the dead? Don’t we have images of the just one dividing the good from the bad, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares? Don’t get me wrong – these are all biblical images, all parts of the story. Love must be angered by injustice, by those things that cause harm, and that is itself a judgement of right from wrong.
But it is not the judgement that Jesus speaks of in our gospel reading today. Listen on.
this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light
Do you see the difference there? The judgement spoken of here in John chapter 3, is not something imposed from outside. It’s not a judge, deciding if you are worthy of not.
Judgement here is self imposed.
Light has come into the world. And those who see the light, those who experience its brightness, have a choice. They can believe in the goodness of the light, they can walk into it, proud of what is good an noble in themselves, and prepared for what is broken and rotten to be seen and dealt with; or they can hide in the shadows. There is no judge saying ‘you may enter the light, but you, you are not worthy’. There is just the light, and the choice: come to the light, or choose the darkness.
The light doesn’t judge; it just reveals. The judgement is one we bring on ourselves.
Hear Jesus words again: he doesn’t say “those who do not believe will be judged”. This is not “believe in me, or you will be subject to judgement”. He says “those who do not believe are already judged”.
Those who do not believe in the goodness of the light, those who do not believe in the love of God that is fundamentally about saving, giving life; they have judged themselves. They have seen the light, and said no.
Every one of us has things in us, things in our lives, of which we are rightly, nobly, proud. Things we’ve done that are simply good. Times we’ve made the right decision, done the hard but good thing, gone the extra mile, taken trouble to help, given of ourselves out of love, stood for justice. Every one of us has these crowns, these jewels, these nuggets of gold, that we are, in a good sense, proud of. We probably wouldn’t make a thing of them – that would seem to devalue them somehow – but if someone quietly said to us “that was good, that thing you did” we would accept the praise – humbly, but knowing it was fair.
And every one of us also has our parts of darkness and shadow. The things we hope no one will ever know. The decisions we’ve taken that we are ashamed to think of, that we wish could be forever left behind.
We all carry with us, in us, the gold and the shadow. The life giving, and the life destroying.
And this is the judgement Jesus speaks of in John chapter 3: when the light comes, do we believe that that light is the light of life, and not of condemnation. Do we believe that the Son of God came not to condemn but that we might have eternal life? Do we believe that the love of God is big enough to take our darkness and burn it away?
Or would we seek to hide our shadow side, even from God?
Lent is traditionally a time of reflection, of self examination. But self examination all too easily drifts into self flagellation. I want to challenge each of us, in the remaining weeks before Easter, to be honest, at least with ourselves and God, about our shadow. Not to embrace it, or be proud of it, but to recognise and acknowledge it. To say “yeah, this is part of me too”.
If we choose to hide our shadows from God, then we judge ourselves, condemn ourselves to continue to live with pain and guilt and shame.
Come into the light, and all will be truly seen. An uncomfortable, embarrassing, terrifying thought.
But the gospel of Easter is that there is nothing so dark, nothing so mean or ugly, that Jesus will not take into himself, nothing that, when brought into the light, will cause God to turn away from you.
In the light of God, there is hope, acceptance, forgiveness, and even the power to change. The power to be saved from who you are, saved for who you were created to be.
For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.