March 14,2021 The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)
The tie in between today’s readings: Sing a different tune.
The unspoken question in today’s reading, 2 Chronicles 36:14-20, is “What are you left with?” If you place other priorities ahead of God and defile your worship with sinful living, what are you left with? If you scoff at His messengers, scorn His guidance, rationalize your immoral choices, and so abuse the grace that He offers, what are you left with? After following this pattern for over a hundred years and exhausting the patience of the Almighty, the nation of Judah found out. It got them the ruthless king of the Chaldeans in their face. It left them with their young men killed, their daughters raped, and their elderly slaughtered. It left their houses burned, their treasures plundered, and Jerusalem razed to the ground. Finally, if you were lucky, it got you carried away into slavery like the people of our reading today in Psalm 137:1-6. There, by the rivers of Babylon, under backbreaking servitude they got the time they needed to remember…and lament.
The exiles of Psalm 137 are deeply anguished, but not because of physical afflictions. Their estrangement from the God of their fathers and the destruction of His city, Jerusalem, cuts deeper than any taskmaster’s lash. Their loss is plain to see in their faces. Their tormentors seize this opportunity to twist the dagger of humiliation in a little deeper. “Hey, you Jews. Let’s hear one of those King David Psalms you all are so famous for. You know the ones about how great your God Jehovah is. Oh…wait. I guess not so much now.” The exiles weep. The Chaldeans laugh all the harder. What’s to sing about? There is no Temple, no Jerusalem, and the Lord, Himself, seems lightyears away. No, the only song that makes sense here is, You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Till It’s Gone. But, in reality, God has not abandoned them. When the land has fulfilled its Sabbaths, as referenced in Leviticus 25:3-5, Jeremiah 25:11-12; 29:10, then their Celestial timeout will be over. The Almighty will graciously call them back to rebuild their nation and begin anew (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). Hope and joy are on the horizon. The captives will sing again. But, this time, it won’t be same song second verse. The Lord is laying the groundwork for His Messiah. Something utterly new is beginning, as we’ll see in our gospel reading, John 3:14-21.
More curious than brave Nicodemus meets with Jesus under the cover of night. Molded in the traditions of the Pharisees, he is afraid to be seen with this unconventional teacher, lest he needs explain himself to his peers who keep the status quo. The Carpenter waits for him with a hammer. He will use it to smash Nicodemus’s rigid orthodoxy…and set him free.
“Rabbi,” he says to Jesus, “We see what you do and know that you come from God.”
“Truly, truly, I tell you, Nicodemus, you must be born again.”
“That’s impossible! You can’t go back into your mother’s…”
“OK, Nic, try to keep up. We are all born into this world physically with original sin and are naturally disobedient against the Father’s will. You can see this clearly throughout the whole of Jewish history. With Jehovah, it’s been a constant cycle of rebellion, recompence, repentance, and restoration with no end in sight. But the Almighty is going to turn things around. Now is just like the time that God sent fiery serpents into the camp of Israel because of their uprising (Numbers 21:4-8). I will be like that bronze serpent that Moses lifted up on the pole. Those who had the faith to look at the serpent were healed of their venomous bites and received a new lease on life. When I am lifted up like that serpent on the cross, I will give everlasting life to those who trust in Me. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. I am not sent to judge, but to save. However, when people reject Me, they show judgement in themselves. They love their dark deeds and hate Me, the Light of the world. When they die with the venom of their sin still in them, they can only perish in hell forever. Those who look to Me will be saved from this judgement and pass from death to be born again. This new spiritual life on the inside will show as a Godly life on the outside. The rebellion, for them, will be over.”
The Apostle, Paul echoes salvation’s message to us in today’s epistle, Ephesians 2:4-10. He tells us that even though we are dead in trespasses and sin, our loving and merciful God will join us to Jesus by faith. Through His resurrection, we obtain a new spiritual life. This new life carries with it a mission of good works that the Lord prepared for us to perform. Ultimately, we will be “Exhibit A” of the Father’s boundless grace in Christ for all ages to come. Not a bad retirement plan and it’s all a gift from a loving Father for you.
So, how about it? Will you accept His gift in Christ? Will you come to the Light, forsake your sin, and be forgiven? He did it all for you. Don’t turn away. This could be your last chance. Don’t hold on to your darkness any longer. Stop choosing your own way over His. After all, what are you left with?