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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Christianity Is All About

Robert Barron - What Christianity Is All About

Robert Barron - What Christianity Is All About
TOPICS: Christianity

Peace be with you. Friends, our Gospel for this fourth Sunday of Lent contains one of the most important lines in the entire Bible. And I'll get there. But first, I want to provide a little context. Our reading is taken from that marvelous third chapter of the Gospel of John. Get your Bibles out when you have a chance today and look at John chapter three, the first half of which is devoted to a nighttime conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Watch, by the way, in the new series "The Chosen," they handle this beautifully, I think. The two of them, Jesus and Nicodemus, up on the roof of the place where Jesus is staying, and they have this intense nighttime conversation.

Now, who is Nicodemus? He's described as a Pharisee. So, someone who's taking the Law of Israel with great seriousness. He's also described as a leader of the Jews. So, he's someone of standing. He's an important figure within the Israelite tradition. He knows the prophets, and the Psalms, and the Torah. He's obviously intrigued by Jesus. We find out why. He says, "No one could be doing the signs that you're doing unless God were with him". But at the same time, he must have been puzzled. Who is this man? What's he about? And so he comes, we hear, at night to talk to him. Now, why at night? I always think here of my musical hero, Bob Dylan. He's got a great song from his Christian period called "In The Garden". And it has the lines, "Nicodemus came at night so he wouldn't be seen by men saying, 'Master tell me why a man must be born again.'" He came at night so he wouldn't be seen by men. Undoubtedly, he was coming clandestinely.

Didn't want everyone to know he was talking to this, oh, maybe somewhat questionable religious figure. But more than that, in John's Gospel, light and darkness is a major motif. Remember Jesus calls himself the light of the world. We hear in the prologue of John that the light shines in the darkness, the darkness did not overcome it. When Judas leaves the Last Supper to betray his Lord, it says simply, "It was night". And so, light and darkness is a motif. Nicodemus came at night, because though he is a great teacher of Israel, he is to a large degree in the dark. And Jesus now will try to turn on the light. So, when Nicodemus says to him, as I mentioned, "No one could do the signs you're doing unless God were with him". Jesus replies as follows. "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again".

Without being born again. The Greek can also mean, by the way, "born from above," born anew. Whenever I hear this line, I think of Fulton Sheen's comment that Christ did not come to make us nice people. He came to make us a new creation. There can be a reduction of Christianity to being morally upright. As Flannery O'Connor put it, "having a heart of gold", that's what Christianity is all about. No, it's not! Because, I mean, anybody of goodwill can do morally upright things. And people of any religious background, people of no religious background, atheists can be morally upright people. Jesus didn't come simply to make us do nice things. He came to make us new creations. You cannot enter the kingdom that he's talking about unless you are born from above, you're born again. You've become somebody new through water and through the Holy Spirit. That's what the whole Catholic life is about everybody. That's what the sacraments are about. They're making us into other Christs. There transforming, transfiguring us from the inside to the outside so we become new creations. We must be born again.

Okay. Well, how does it happen? Now we come to our passage for today. Now we come to the section that is our Gospel for today. Jesus says to Nicodemus, again during this nighttime conversation: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life". Now, Nicodemus an elder of the Jewish people, certainly knew the reference. We can find it in the book of Numbers. It's that moment in the Exodus process where Israel has become rebellious, and so God sends saraph serpents to bite them, these poisonous desert snakes. And many of the people die, and then they complain to the Lord, "Why is this happening"? So God says to Moses: Make a bronze serpent. Make an image of these poisonous snakes. Mount it on a pole. And those who look at it will be cured. And so it happened.

Now, what's going on there? Why would looking at the source of our trouble, an image of it anyway, why would that cure us? I might make a suggestion from our own experience of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Don't we admit now that many things that bedevil us at the psychological level are caused by repressions, and suppressions, and forgotten experiences? But in the course of psychotherapy or spiritual direction, as these things come to light, as I can look at what has tormented me, I can see it, that that has a curative power? It might be the best analogy here. Looking at what bedevils us can bring with it a kind of healing. Okay? Now, with that in mind, again, let's look at the line: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert", that was bedeviling the people, "so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life".

Now, when he says lifted up, he means one thing: he means the cross. "When the son of man is lifted up, he will draw all people to himself," we hear later in John's Gospel. Same idea. Christ lifted up on the cross. Looking at that image now will bring us healing, will bring us eternal life, will cause us to be born again. So what is it? How does that work? Well, keep the analogy in mind. What do we see when we see Jesus nailed to the cross? We see our own sin. I know, I know. We're tempted, because our culture teaches us this all the time, we're tempted to say, "Hey, I'm basically okay. You're basically okay. Don't let anyone tell you you've got any problems. We're all basically fine". We exculpate ourselves naturally and easily. Ah, but in one of the earliest kerygmatic sermons, St. Peter says, "The Author of life came, and you killed him".

Let that sink in. The Author of life, that's Jesus now, the incarnate son of God, the pure goodness, and purity, and mercy of God appears. And what did we do? At the end of the day, we put him to death. What do we see on that cross, therefore? We see all the forms of human resistance to Christ. Yes, cruelty, hatred, violence, stupidity, injustice. Our own self-absorption, self-protection, running away, denying, betraying, all of that is made visible on the cross. Whenever we're tempted to say, "I'm okay and you're okay," all we need to do is hold up the cross of Jesus, and we see our own sin. Do you see how powerful that is? Maybe the greatest block, the greatest block is this sense of complacency. "Eh, I don't need to be saved. I'm basically fine". No, you're not. Just as the serpent was raised in the desert, that which was biting and killing them is raised up, and by looking at it they find healing, so, when we look at the cross of Jesus, we see our own sin. We see as though in a spiritual mirror what is off with us.

And see friends, that is in itself healing. But now take a further step. What else do we see in the cross of Jesus? Not just our sin, though we see that. We see that sin swallowed up in the ever greater mercy of God. "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do". Jesus takes on all of it, sin, and cruelty, violence, hatred, injustice, all of it. Answers not in kind, answers not with the weapons of the world, but answers rather with God's forgiving love, which can take on all the sin of the world and swallow it up. That's also what we see when we gaze at the cross of Jesus. Our sin, yeah, and in itself that's a very important move. But more to it, our sin conquered. Looking at the Son of God brings us eternal life. Now, with that, I'm going to come to arguably the most important line in the whole Bible. Maybe you see this, this was more prominent some years ago. People would hold this verse up at sporting events, like at the World Series or the Masters tournament.

Someone would hold the sign saying JN.3:16. John 3:16. So when you get your Bibles out, and you're reading chapter three, focus on this verse. And here it is. It comes right after now what he said about looking at the son of man on the cross. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son ... that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life". John 3:16. I think, friends, arguably, the whole Bible is summed up in that line. "God so loved the world". Jesus is always a manifestation of the divine love, listen, even when he's disclosing our sin to us. That in itself is an expression of his love. It's liberating. And then, in the conquest of that sin by the ever-greater divine mercy. God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, yes, to the limits of godforsakenness, that all who believe in him…

Now, that little word, believe: don't think of it primarily in sort of propositional terms. Like, "There's a proposition, and yes, I believe that". That's a very restricted sense. To believe in the Greek here has the sense of trust. Of trust. That those who trust in him might not perish but might come to eternal life. When I put my trust in that Christ, crucified, that Christ who reveals my sin to me and reveals the ever-greater divine mercy; when I look at that son of man lifted up like the saraph serpent in the desert; when I believe in him, I put my faith, and my confidence, my trust in him, what happens? I find eternal life. I find salvation. I am born again as a new creation. "Unless you are born again, Nicodemus, you cannot enter the kingdom of God". Quite right. And it happens through this believing look at Jesus crucified. And God bless you.
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