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COMMENTARYAGAPE BIBLE STUDYLECTOR TIPSVIDEOS

READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

OUR SUNDAY VISITOR

The light came into the world

Gospel : John 3:14-21

  • In today’s Gospel, Jesus explains the truth seen in faith to Nicodemus.
  • Those who choose eternal life receive it because of faith in Christ.
  • Humans choose salvation or reject it just as they choose or reject life.
SOURCE: Content adapted from Our Sunday Visitor
Feasting on the Word

The nature of “belief”

The Son of Man does not just offer life; the Son of Man offers eternal life. But it is not enough to look at the Son of Man; one must believe in him. In John, “believe” is always an action verb. It is something you do, and it must not be reduced to merely giving cognitive affirmation to certain propositions (e.g., that Jesus is the Son of God, that he was raised from the dead). While such affirmations are involved in believing, for John believing is much more than this. The nature of “belief” becomes clear in v. 36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.” For John, the opposite of belief is not unbelief but disobedience. To believe, therefore, is to obey (cf. Jn 12:44–48; 14:15, 21; 15:10)!

SOURCE: Content taken from FEASTING ON THE WORD, YEAR B (12 Volume Set); David L. Bartlett (Editor); Copyright © 2011. Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.
Christ-Centered Exposition

What God is like

Time magazine asked a number of people how they pictured God. Here was one response: God is “a lot like he was explained to us as children. As an older man, who is just and who can get angry at us. I know this isn’t the true picture, but it’s the only one I’ve got” (Elson, “Toward a Hidden God”). This response is pretty common, particularly for those who’ve grown up in religion. God is the unhappy, white-bearded father figure who “gets angry at us.”   These verses provide a close look at the heart of God and reveal he’s not a ruthless old man. He’s a gracious and kind God—a God who loves. These verses also follow Jesus’s conversation with Nicodemus. We’re not entirely sure where the conversation with Nicodemus ends and teaching of the disciples begins. Jesus has just said he came from heaven (v. 13), and that leads him to talk about who God is, what God is like, and what God has planned for humanity.

SOURCE: Content taken from CHRIST-CENTERED EXPOSITION COMMENTARY (32 Volumes); David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida (Editors); Copyright © 2013-16. Holman Reference. All rights reserved.

God's Justice Bible

Life and condemnation

John 3:16–21 Three times John contrasts salvation and condemnation. Salvation has one requirement: acknowledging Jesus as the incarnate Son of God, unique in his relation with the Father, and agent of God’s saving justice. Condemnation results from rejecting this justice revealed in Jesus. While this passage is often used for evangelism, salvation is only part of a larger theme. The greater focus is on the identity of this one and only Son of God in whom there is eternal life. It is not enough to have a favorable image of Jesus; to enjoy his gift one must have a correct understanding of who he is.

SOURCE: Content taken from GOD'S JUSTICE BIBLE: The flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil notes by Tim Stafford; Copyright © 2016. Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Life Recovery Bible

True faith

John 3:16-18 Faith says yes to God’s loving overtures to us. God cared enough to send his own Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins. True faith has nothing to do with our human efforts, social achievements, or material wealth. True faith says to God, “I’m a helpless sinner, unable to effect my own recovery. I trust your forgiveness, which you freely offer me in Jesus Christ.” This faith delivers us from the ultimate consequence of our sins—eternal separation from God. It also empowers us to make changes in the present that will plant the seeds for a new life.

SOURCE: Content taken from THE LIFE RECOVERY BIBLE notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE

Healing from sin

When the Israelites were wandering in the desert, God sent a plague of snakes to punish the people for their rebellious attitudes. Those doomed to die from snakebite could be healed by obeying God’s command to look up at the elevated bronze snake and by believing that God would heal them if they did (see Numbers 21:8, 9). Similarly, our salvation happens when we look up to Jesus, believing he will save us. God has provided this way for us to be healed of sin’s deadly bite.

SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

Sermon Writer
EXEGESIS

JOHN 3:1-13.  NICODEMUS

JOHN 3:14-15. SO MUST THE SON OF MAN BE LIFTED UP

JOHN 3:16.  FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD

JOHN 3:17-21. FOR GOD DIDN’T SEND HIS SON INTO THE WORLD TO JUDGE

SOURCE: Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.

READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

CATHOLIC Bible Study

Jesus Came to Offer God’s Gift of Eternal Life

by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)

The Gospel Reading tells us that Jesus will restore His people through a spiritual rebirth, making every sinner in exile a child in the family of God.  We can view the Old Covenant people’s 6th-century BC exile in Babylon as a symbol for all who are alienated from God by sin since every sinner is a displaced person. Only those who repent their alienation and long for restoration can be saved and restored through the atoning sacrifice Jesus offered for humanity on the Altar of the Cross.

The bronze serpent

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert …

Jesus compares Himself to the healing image of the bronze serpent God told Moses to construct and raise above the Israelites’ heads on a standard in the wilderness journey to the Promised Land (Num 21:4-9).   All the people had to do when the bites of deadly snakes afflicted them was to look at the figure raised above them on the standard to be saved from death.

A foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion

so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

The incident in the wilderness was a foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion.  We must look to the crucified Christ, believe that He is the only Son of God, and be “lifted up with Him” to be saved from the “bite” of eternal death.  If we believe, we can receive true salvation, the gift of eternal life (Jn 3:18).  When we turn in faith to Christ, repenting our sins, He cleanses us by the purifying blood and water that flowed from His pierced side (Jn 19:34; Zec 13:1).  It is the reason St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:23, we preach Christ crucified, and it is why in every Catholic Mass, an image of the crucified Christ must be present.

The title “Son of Man”

Notice Jesus that uses the title “Son of Man” for Himself in verse 14.  It is Jesus’ favorite Messianic title for Himself.  The title stresses Jesus’ humanity, while the previous verse (not in our reading) stressed His divine origin as the one who has gone up to Heaven except the one who came down from Heaven, the Son of Man (Jn 3:13). Verse 13 is a reference to the Prophet Daniel’s vision of the divine Messiah who had the appearance of a son of man/looked like a man in Daniel 7:13-14, which Jesus will allude to at His trial before the Sanhedrin before His crucifixion.

One of the best-known verses in the Bible

Jesus says: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only [begotten/monogene] Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.

John 3:16 is one of the best-known verses in the Bible. When Jesus says God the Father did not send Him into the world to judge the world, He means that God sent Him into the world to announce the Kingdom of God and to offer the gift of salvation.  Judgment comes later and depends on whether or not one decides to receive Christ as Lord and Savior.

To believe in His “name”

Jesus continues in verses 18-21 to say that to believe in His “name” is to believe everything that He revealed about His true nature, human and divine.  It is to believe Jesus is the Son of God, to believe that He died for our sins and that He rose from the dead to raise those who believe in Him to eternal life.  But is there any in-between in so far as judgment is concerned?  No. In rejecting Christ, one rejects salvation and eternal life.  There is no “middle ground.”  This is what Peter preached in Acts 4:11-12 to the members of the Jewish Law Court when he said, “This is the stone which you, the builders, rejected but which has become the cornerstone.  Only in him is there salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (emphasis added).

The spread of the Gospel

But what about the poor soul who never heard the Gospel and therefore never had the choice?  They will be judged by their consciences and the innate, natural law that God has placed in the heart of every human being (see Rom 2:12-16).  However, there is a problem because sin can erode one’s conscience to the point where a conscience will no longer be aware of the degree of wickedness.  That is why the spread of the Gospel across the earth is so important and so necessary to bring salvation to every human being (also see Lk 12:47-48 and CCC # 846-48).

The “light” of faith

So then, to what is Jesus calling Nicodemus, a man who came to Him in darkness (see Jn 3:1-2)?  He called Nicodemus to come out of the “darkness” of unbelief and into the “light” of faith.  He can come into the “Light” by professing belief in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God and the “Light of the world” (Jn 1:5; 8:12), who offers the gift of God’s divine grace and restoration of fellowship with God to all men and women.

Gift of God’s grace

Grace, in its most intimate definition regarding Christ, is nothing less than divine sonship.  CCC# 1997: “Grace is a participation in the life of God.  It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life …”  This gift of the grace that God gives to us is His own life, infused by the Holy Spirit into our souls, to heal us of sin and to sanctify us.  This gift is the sanctifying or deifying grace we receive in Baptism.  It is a gift of His life that God makes to us, and in turn, we become a new creation.  St. Paul wrote:

So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see.  It is all God’s work; he reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation.  I mean, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not holding anyone’s faults against them, but entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:17-18; also see CCC # 1999).

Children of God

At the beginning of our lives, God made us as creatures and fashioned after His image.  He made us in His image, but we are still creatures, nonetheless.  Christ is the eternal Son “begotten” of the Father.  He is the image of the Father while we are created in the image of the Father.  In the New Creation, Christ gives us, through His own life, rebirth into permanent sonship.

In 1 John 1:3, John writes:

You must see what great love the Father has lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children, which is what we are! (emphasis added).  

We are no longer just called children of God by being part of His creation.  We ARE children of God by the blood of Christ, which unites us in our rebirth.

Rebirth from above

In Greek, the word is anothen, meaning = “from above”; we are reborn “from above” to become God’s children.  This rebirth from above is the most distinctive feature of Christianity.  It is what Pope Pius XI expressed when he said: “Ours is a religion of Divine Sonship.  We are made partakers of the divine nature.”  St. Peter wrote, 

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power.  Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire (2 Pt 1:3-4; emphasis added).  Also, see CCC# 1994-5.

Justification

God’s grace “is a participation in the life of God” (CCC# 1997) through which we receive the gift of divine sonship, and by His grace, we are justified.  Catholic Christians define justification as that which has been merited for us by Christ’s Passion on the altar of the Cross.

Like conversion, justification has two aspects: Moved by grace, we turn away from sin and to God.  In submitting our lives to God, we accept forgiveness and righteousness in our transformed souls, which the Holy Spirit has infused with the very life of Christ.   Justification includes the remission of our sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner person, which is for us an on-going process in our lifelong journey toward salvation.

The Catechism teaches that “Our justification comes from the grace of God.  Grace is favor, the free and undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God, adoptive sons, partakers of the divine nature and of eternal life” (CCC#1996, also see Jn 1:12-18; 17:3; Rom 8:14-17).

Divine sonship in the New Covenant

We are not just called “children of God” as creatures of the Creator like the people of God in the Old Covenant.  The distinctive feature of divine sonship in the New Covenant is that we are no longer children in the exiled family of Adam.  We become, through our Baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, reborn from above as genuine children in the family of God, infused with the life of the Son.

The Catholic Church teaches that justification and salvation consist of not just being declared the children of God and thereby being only “declared just” but of actually receiving a mystical infusion of the life of Christ through which we are, in fact, justified.

It was the opinion of St. Augustine that the gift of salvation and the justification of the wicked was a more extraordinary work of God than the creation of Heaven and earth because “heaven and earth will pass away but the salvation and justification of the elect…will not pass away.”  He also believed “that the justification of sinners surpasses the creation of the angels in justice, in that it bears witness to a greater mercy.”   Jesus came to call all men and women out of their displaced exile of sin and into eternal life as citizens in the Promised Land of Jesus’ heavenly Kingdom.

SOURCE: content taken from Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission. Section divisions and titles added.

READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

Paul Schlachter

God so loved the world

Points to consider

  • I hear the word believe five times.  John wrote that if we believe in Jesus we will have eternal life.  Now we do not hear the word Jesus here, but we do hear four times Son of Man and God’s only son.
  • Again I hear the invitation: that the world might be saved through him.  God does not condemn; that fate is in our own hands.  Whoever does not believe has already been condemned.  This is the verdict: Their works were evil.
  • We are also brought face to face with a time of decision, which is so appropriate for Lent.  Will we take our place beside Jesus, living the truth and coming to the light?  It is not so easy, but rather a struggle, because many around us prefer darkness to light.
  • I hear that word light five times, culminating in the expressive phrase Whoever lives the truth comes to the light.  As I read this I remember all those in the church today who speak openly with honesty to each other, and I pray for such a spirit of candor throughout our communities.
  • Part of the church tradition put these words in the mouth of Jesus, and that is what our introduction says.  More recent scholarship treats them as reflections by the evangelist, and that is how I will read them.

Key elements

  • Climax: God so loved the world.  Many evangelicals find in these words a concise summary of what they believe.  They would be in our top ten list, too.
  • Message for our assembly: Believe or not believe, prefer darkness to light!  Who among us can remember making so decisive a choice?  Is it so easy to confess the Lord before the world?  And why have so many men and women given their lives for this confession?
  • I will challenge myself: To plant some seed of curiosity within the church today, concerning the terrible freedom to believe in Jesus and its decisive consequences.

Word to Eucharist

Word to Eucharist: We see upbeat color and reminders of God’s unending love.  What will be the ending of our church’s life?  And what will we do to help make it a happy one?

SOURCE: Paul J. Schlachter at LectorWorks.org
Greg Warnusz

Introduction

Some early followers of Jesus were somewhat tentative, easily dissuaded from Christianity by any threat of persecution. Saint John’s gospel aims to put the choice before them in very stark terms.

SOURCE: Greg Warnusz at LectorPrep.org

READING 1 | READING 2 | GOSPEL

4th Sunday of Lent (B)

Catholic Productions

Jesus and the Bronze Serpent

What is the connection between Jesus and the events of the Exodus, in particular when Jesus speaks of Moses and the Bronze serpent? Check out this video with Dr. Brant Pitre to learn more about this topic.

Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux

Why the Crucifix?

When we walk into a Catholic Church, there’s often a big crucifix. Fr. Brice Higginbotham explains why Catholic churches have crucifixes?

CATHOLIC NEWS AGENCY

A History of the Crucifix

This short video traces the meaning and origin of the Crucifix

FRACTAL YOUNIVERSE

The Serpent Cross

The Serpent Cross is an often misinterpreted symbol that consists of a serpent being draped around either a Tau Cross (one without the top) or a traditional Christian Cross. “Symbol of the Day” is a video series where I post a symbol related to religion, spirituality, magic, or the occult and explain its origins and meaning roughly 3 times a week. As a scholar of World Religions one of my biggest passion is learning about symbols and how they fit within the mythologies they originate from. All the symbol sfeatured have also been published on instagram @dpharry. Let me know what other symbols you think should be featured in the future.

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