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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Good News; Bad News

Date: 02/20/2005

Feast: 2nd s in Lent

James McTyre

Church: LHPC

Bible text: John 3:1-17

Theme: Born Again

“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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

These aren’t my words. These are the words of Jesus Christ himself. The gospel is GOOD news. Jesus is GOOD news. God is GOOD news… for you and for me, for the world. But just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one person’s GOOD news can become another person’s BAD news. Just as the news sounds different on Fox than it does on CNN, the news sits differently in one part of the world than it does in another. GOOD news, even the BEST news turns into confusing news, and then spirals downhill into BAD news… if bad news is what you’re looking for.

Nicodemus was a smart man. “How can these things be?” he says to Jesus. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?” Nicodemus’ problem may be that he’s too smart. He’s too literal. He’s too born and raised in THIS world, a place where things are the way they are because that’s the way God intends them to be. Nicodemus wasn’t taught to believe in heaven. Nicodemus wasn’t taught to believe in an afterlife. Those ideas, that news, didn’t get broadcast back then. So, if you were good in this life, you lived longer. You got more toys. You lived to see your grandchildren. And if you were bad in this life, you got boils. Things were simple. Good news… bad news. There you go. At least, that was the plan.

But Nicodemus was a smart man. And he knew enough about the world to come to Jesus one night because the plan he had been taught didn’t work. Good people died young. Bad people got rich and lived long lives in big houses with extra camels in the garage. God was neither good news nor bad news. God was no news. No one is in charge, says Nicodemus. Things are messed up. The world’s not right.

If Nicodemus only knew.

Nicodemus’ world of good and bad didn’t begin to compare to ours. We’ve got bad, and we’ve got it good. We don’t let our girls watch the news because we’re afraid it’ll give them nightmares. And it should. This world that Jesus came into to save sure isn’t safe. You’ve got wars on one continent, tsunamis on another, and here at home Michael Jackson’s inviting your kids for a sleepover. Now, I know things aren’t THAT bad. And no, they’re not… for us. We don’t have to worry about where tomorrow’s food is coming from. We don’t have to worry about having a roof over our heads. Life is good if you’ve invested in your own retirement savings plan and have medical insurance. We have no worries, compared to the people in Sudan or Sri Lanka or Baghdad.

But here’s the thing that ties us to Nicodemus. Because our worries aren’t anywhere as bad as the people in those god-forsaken places, it’s easy (too easy) to believe that somehow Jesus saved us better than he saved them. It’s easy (too easy) to believe that there are places of darkness because they deserve their darkness. Those other folks just weren’t smart enough to come to Jesus when they had the chance. It’s easy (too easy) to thank God that we’re so blessed that we’re smart enough to understand that Jesus is GOOD news because GOOD news is what we choose to think about. And if we think of ourselves and OUR salvation first, then Nicodemus is right: the world doesn’t make sense. Jesus doesn’t make sense. Because he didn’t save the world as well as he was supposed to. He may have saved US – and glory be to God for that. But he missed a few billion other people. What’s up with that?

“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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

These are Jesus’ words. These are Jesus’ GOOD words of GOOD news. These are Jesus’ GOOD words of GOOD news to pretty good people and pretty bad people, and to really good people and really rotten skunks. Those are Jesus’ GOOD words, and they’re just as GOOD today as they were when Nicodemus heard them that dark and cloudy night. There IS saving goodness in the world. But not because the world is so good to itself. There IS saving goodness in people. But not because people are so good to each other. There IS goodness in living. There IS goodness in caring. There IS goodness, and there IS hope, and there IS salvation – but not because the world, or people, or governments are born good, and caring, and hopeful. There is goodness in the world because Jesus is in the world. The world is saved because the world is saved THROUGH Jesus, in spite of itself. There is hope for you and me, and for all the Nicodemus-types who wonder how these things can be. There is hope for us because God says there’s hope. And if that’s too hard to understand, then welcome to the club.

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above,’” Jesus told Nicodemus. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” In other words, when you look at the ways of the world that you see on TV news, then, No, God doesn’t make any sense. Jesus doesn’t make any sense. Because God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit defy logic. They defy GOOD news. They defy BAD news. They ARE the news, the ONLY news worth hearing and seeing and believing.

Are you having a bad day? It’s not because you’re bad. Are you having a good time? It’s not because you’re good. The wind of the day blows this way and that way because that’s its job. Wind breaks. And sometimes we’re downwind, and sometimes we’re upwind. Why is it that way? Only God knows.

But God doesn’t send these winds into our lives because God’s trying to blow us down. God doesn’t send storms into our world because the world isn’t paying enough attention. God doesn’t strike you with boils because you’re mean. God sends the wind of the Holy Spirit, God sends the Son, God sends God’s Word into the world because God intends to save this place, whether we like it, or understand it, or not. God cares. God loves. God so loves and God so cares that God sent his only Son to save – not condemn – to save. To save you, and to save me, and to save all the billions of people of every time and place on this blue and green rock of earth. His words.

Why should that be GOOD news to some and BAD news for others? Because people worry about their own salvation. And worry will twist even the best news into questionable news. Worry will twist your mind into believing that God cares more about you than the poor slob down the block, or vice versa. But that’s not what Jesus said. That’s not the news of Jesus Christ. The news of Jesus Christ is that he loves the world – all the world – enough to come into it, enough to die for it, enough to pray for it at God’s side in heaven.

You are not going to get everything done. You are not going to save your family. You are not going to save the church. You are not going to save Social Security. The good news, the really GOOD news, is that you don’t have to. That’s not your job. That’s Jesus’ job, and he has already done it. (Except for Social Security.) The good news, the really GOOD news is that God sent the Son into the world to save the world, not to condemn the world. The good news is that the Son, through the Holy Spirit is STILL in the world, despite any news to the contrary. The good news is that Jesus Christ is in the world saving the world and saving you, whether you like it or not.

You have a choice. You can fight against the winds of salvation, or you can flow with them. You can set your face against the force of the Holy Spirit, or you can turn around and let it send you where it may, for what purposes it chooses. You can come to Jesus in the darkness, or you can let him bring light into the news of your living -- the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s your choice as much as it was Nicodemus’ choice.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to Nicodemus. But the Bible does tell us what’s going to happen to us. We may not know all the details. We may not be smart enough to have it all figured out. We may not know what tomorrow’s news is going to hold for us, but we do know how the story’s going to end. The Bible does tell us what’s going to happen in the long-distance forecast. And it’s going to happen with us or without us, with our help or without it. God’s intentions will be fulfilled. And God’s plan for you and me, God’s plan for all the world is to save this place. God’s plan is to save this place. God’s plan is to love this place in spite of itself. And not just this place but it’s people. You. Me. Everybody.

How can these things be? That’s the wrong question. It’s not HOW, but WHY can these things be, that ought to concern us. That’s what concerns Jesus. And the why is as plain as the nose on your face. Because God loves the world. That’s why. Because God chooses to love us even when we deserve boils. Because God so loves the world so much that he sent his only Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.

To God be the glory forever and ever.