When God sent His Son into the world it was like placing a bright lamp in a dark room. Things that had been hidden were suddenly revealed. Wherever He went His presence and His message exposed the deepest attitudes in each persons heart. Whether or not they fully understood who Jesus was, their human spirit intuitively recognized Him and reacted immediately. Some hated Him and some loved Him. Some pulled away and some drew near. And when God who knows everything about us watched this take place, here is what He concluded: People didnt reject Jesus because they were unaware of who He was but because they didnt want Him to examine their lives and tell them to change. It really didnt matter if a person was religious or non-religious; the issue that caused people to react differently was submission: would they or would they not allow God to control their lives? Those who would not basically didnt want to submit to a moral God. Those who made a practice of doing bad things actually hated the thought of having those behaviors exposed and corrected. They would rather flee from situations or people that made them feel guilty.
On the other hand, God saw that there were people who were honestly trying to do what they thought was right. When they watched Jesus minister or heard Him teach, they werent afraid He might expose what was hidden in their hearts because they knew He would understand why they did what they did. They knew He would see that they had been trying to obey Him even if what they did was wrong. They knew He would discover they wanted to please Him. And this group of people was also honest with themselves about their good deeds. They were humble and didnt take credit for them. They realized God had helped them do every good thing they had ever done.
Reacting to the Light (Jn 3:19-21)
An honest heart
No human being is without sin. No human being is capable of living a life that is good enough to deserve to go to heaven. But people are very different when it comes to being honest about their failures. Some become deceitful and manipulative. They make a habit of covering up failures and bad choices, pretending they dont exist. If theyre caught theyll lie if they can or blame it on others. If this pattern becomes a lifestyle it affects even the way they deal with God. When He tries to show them their sin they refuse to listen and run away. And the longer this continues the worse it gets.
Yet there is another group of people who approach life very differently. They try to be honest with themselves and others, even when they fail to do what is right. Such honesty may produce in them a deep frustration with themselves. They tend to be painfully aware of their sin. They may or may not know much about God, but if He does exist they want to know Him. And they try to let their conscience guide their choices. When these have the opportunity to learn more about God, they respond. Theyre hungry to know the truth.
The deciding factor
In this passage Jesus gives an important insight into why people do and dont come to God. He says the deciding factor isnt ignorance or even sin, and we should notice that it isnt predestination either. Its fundamental honesty. Some people, even those who are ignorant about spiritual matters or are trapped in sin still preserve their integrity. They dont declare right things wrong or wrong things right. They honestly acknowledge their sinful condition and realize they need a Savior, even if they have no idea who that might be. But He also pointed out that there are others who lack this integrity. He said the root of their dishonesty is fierce independence. They dont want God or anyone else taking charge of their lives. They love being in control and have no intention of stopping certain behaviors. When Gods light breaks into their dark world they flee. They want to escape.
This insight tells us that if you were to open the human heart and look inside, you would find one of two attitudes toward truth: There are those who hide from it and those who come toward it. Jesus explained this to Nicodemus in part to reveal to him why he had made the effort to come out to meet Him at night. He was showing Nicodemus his own heart. He told him he was a light-lover. When he saw light, the Light, he came toward Him; he didnt flee away. Jesus was also helping this religious leader understand why others on the Sanhedrin had already begun to think of ways to extinguish that light. The problem wasnt ignorance, and those men werent innocent. The problem was they preferred darkness to light and were even willing to kill Gods Son to protect their lifestyle (Mt 21:38-39).
We often assume that people dont come to God because of ignorance. We think if they just had more information they would come to Him. Yet when God looks inside the human heart, whether that person is ignorant of religious truth or knows much truth, He sees something even deeper than that persons religious knowledge. He sees a foundation of either honesty or dishonesty. He sees the choices that person has made about how he or she will respond to truth, especially if that truth demanded personal change.
It would be easy to hear what Jesus taught Nicodemus and assume that everyone falls into one of two categories: They are either light-seekers or light-haters and that they stay that way all their lives. But I think people are much more complicated than that. I think most of us shift back and forth between these two attitudes depending on our age and circumstances. There can be seasons when we are soft and open to God, when we are hungry to learn; and then other seasons when we grow cynical and angry or prefer to pursue pleasures, when the last thing we want interfering in our lives is a moral God telling us what to do. In fact, our willingness to face truth can be even more specific than that. There can be certain areas within our lives where we are honest and certain areas where we are not. Yet who hasnt seen a cynical, angry, pleasure-seeker come to a crisis and begin to desperately seek for God? How many of us have been such a person?
So, yes, there are two categories, but its possible for the occupants of one to move to the other, possibly several times over the course of a lifetime. What Jesus is explaining is the reason why the occupants of each category react to Him the way they do. Hes showing us that the cause behind the different responses goes deeper than ignorance: Its about the way that person responds to truth they dont like.
This process takes place when any amount of light shines into darkness, but when Gods Son became a man, the brilliance of the revelation of God through Him made the process far more obvious and peoples reactions much more extreme. Everywhere He went hearts were exposed. People either loved Him or hated Him, but what you and I need to realize is that this level of response didnt end when He ascended into heaven. It still continues wherever He is present within His disciples. Thats because He really is still alive and dwells within every true believer. You might say we carry Him with us wherever we go, and whether or not we actually preach the gospel that same intuitive recognition takes place; people draw near or pull away just like they did when He was physically present. Listen:
Romans 8:9-10: But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you
2 Corinthians 2:14-16: But thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing: to one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.
Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.
Christ in you, the hope of glory.
These statements tell us that Jesus Himself dwells within us. As the divine Son of God He too (just as the Father and Holy Spirit) is present everywhere, not just seated at the Fathers right hand in heaven. I dont know how thats possible. I just know it is. He meant every word when He said, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you (Jn 14:18), and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). So we carry Him in us. We are light-bearers
and people still react the same way.
Children of Light
There are moments when the Holy Spirit turns on the light and shows us truth about ourselves or God. In those moments we have no choice but to respond, and our hearts will dictate which way we go. Either we will move toward the light or flee back into the darkness and try to escape. If were honest with ourselves and willing to surrender to Jesus as our Lord, well come to the Light and Hell free us, clean us, heal us and empower us until we begin to look like Him, until His light within us shines so brightly people see Him not us. As Paul said, for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (Eph 5:8).
1) Think of someone in your family or circle of friends who reminds you at times of Jesus. Dont use names if that would embarrass anyone. What is there about that person that makes you think of Jesus?
2) Is there an area of your life where you have a difficult time being honest with yourself? Is there something youre afraid to surrender? What do you think God might require of you if you fully surrendered? If this is too personal dont feel you have to share it.