I don’t have to know you (March 14, 2021)

I don’t have to know you (March 14, 2021)

March 22, 2021
Benjamin Ehlers

I don’t have to know you

John 3:14-21


Subjective truth has become such a big deal in recent society. Subjective truth, as opposed to objective/universal truth, is to say that this is true for me, personally, even if it isn’t true for you. In some cases there’s validity to subjective truth. When I was young, I had a fear of bookshelves falling on me. Not everyone shared that fear. But it was true for me. And yet, that doesn’t change the objective truth that bookshelves are made to be stable as they hold books – even more so now that they have wall straps you can attach. There are other times when subjective truth just doesn’t hold up. You might claim that you are the world record sprinter, but unless your name is Usain Bolt and you can run 27.78 mph, that just isn’t true. Let me take it one step further and lay this truth on you: I know for a fact that you cannot fly on your own. That’s just something that the human body is incapable of. So, without even knowing you, I can say that that is universally true.

The Bible lays down some universal truths that are sometimes hard to accept – though they are indeed true. Because of that, I don’t even have to know you, and yet, I know your path and I know your Savior. That’s the theme we’re going to keep coming back to today. Yet each time we do, I’m going to slightly modify it as we work through this reading. I don’t have to know you. I know your path. I know your Savior.

This discourse from Jesus is part of a conversation with a man named Nicodemus. He was a religious man, a Pharisee, who was genuinely intrigued by Jesus. Either from a desire to satisfy religious curiosity or to fulfill some inner spiritual emptiness, Nicodemus came to Jesus. The overriding question of this conversation was whether or not Nicodemus is in the kingdom of God. If not, then he needs to know how to get there. This is addressed to Nicodemus, but it could be addressed to any and every one of us. I don’t have to know you, this is just universally true.

Jesus says, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (Jn 3:18). Our path, as humans, is the same no matter who you are. You and I stand condemned on our own. And yes, someone might object, “You don’t know me! You don’t know who I am or what I’ve done.” That’s true. Maybe I don’t. But I don’t have to know you.

Let me demonstrate. Is 99% perfect? Is something with just one tiny flaw perfect? No. Perfect is perfect. 100% without any flaw or blemish. Are you perfect? Do you have any flaws? Have you ever done something wrong no matter how minute? And before you object, this isn’t my standard. It is God’s standard. He says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

No one’s perfect. We even have that as a saying. Some things are just universally true. On our own, the path of every human being is one of condemnation. It’s the only verdict possible because every single one of us is born with a sinful nature. Just as you inherit your eyes, nose, hair from your parents, so also you inherit sin – which is traced all the way back in your lineage to your very oldest relative, Adam and Eve. Though it’s not found in a DNA test, it’s there. The evidence of it is death. Everyone dies because everyone inherited sin.

So it’s there, like a poison from a venomous snake. Though it may not kill you instantly, it certainly has its effect. God actually gave a very vivid example of this in the Old Testament reading from today. The sinfulness of the people cried out against God. And to give them a very vivid depiction of what’s going on here, God sent venomous snakes to bite the people. And anyone who was bit – I don’t have to know them – they were certainly going to die. The venom would have its effect. You and I have been bitten. There is the venom, the poison, of sin running through your body. Its effect is known. Sin means death. We need help.

I’ve heard the objection, but how can a good God send people to hell? How could he condemn us? One way to answer is that he doesn’t. Your sinfulness condemns you. My sinfulness condemns me. All on our own we condemn ourselves to hell. God is the one who steps in to save. He came to rescue you! The only reason anyone goes to hell is by rejecting the life preserver that God throws to them.

So, I don’t have to know you, and yet I know your path of condemnation. But I also don’t have to know you to know who your Savior is. Because some things are just universally true. Listen to how universally true this is: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned” (Jn 3:16-18).

I don’t have to know you. Your Savior knows you. He knows your path completely. He knows that without him, you are on a path of condemnation. And he couldn’t have that. He knows your path completely – where you’ve been, what you’ve done, whatever your past – and he still loves you. He loves you so much that he came to save you from that path of condemnation. That’s the thing about God’s love. It doesn’t depend upon you or me. He doesn’t change how he feels about you depending on who you are or what you have done. There’s nothing you can do to make him love you less. His is a pure and perfect, unchangeable love. That’s something that’s so hard for us to grasp because no one loves perfectly. No one’s love is so unconditional, so unchanging. But his is. He didn’t come into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world. So, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (Jn 3:14-15).

He comes in love to save right now. Don’t put him off or push him away. Because there will be a time when he does come to judge. When your life is over, that’s it. If you die an atheist – rejecting the universal truth of the Savior – then you die rejecting his salvation. If you die trusting in your truth and your merits, then prepare face a judgment of your merits against God’s perfect holiness as the standard. Once again, you die rejecting the salvation that Jesus freely offers. I don’t have to know you, your Savior does. I’m not the one to judge you, Jesus is. He knows your sin completely. Yet, he comes now to save, not condemn.

God’s love is universal. It extends to the entire world of people. It is universally true. Yet, at the same time it is distinctly personal – received on an individual basis. Your Savior knows you. Do you know him? Do you know the one who was lifted up, yes for the sins of the whole world, but also for your sins? Every… single… one of them. Do you know that there is nothing that God would hold back in order to save you? There is no effort too great. No price too high to provide salvation for you. In love God gave his dearest and best. He gave his only Son – to live a life of humble service, to be tempted in every way, to be betrayed and mocked, to be crucified, and to face the just punishment for all your sins. Do you believe that Jesus’ resurrection proves all of this to be true? Your Savior knows you. Do you know him?

You Savior knows you. I don’t have to know you. I know that may sound a little rude and distant for me to keep saying, “I don’t have to know you”. That’s not my intention. I’m merely trying to emphasize that some things are just universally true. The condemnation of sin is true for all people. And the saving love of God is true for all people – received by those who know what their Savior has done and believe it counts for them.

Although I don’t have to know you to know that those things are true. I want to. I don’t have to know you, but I want to. I want to be there for you on the path of life – through the highs and lows. I want to know what you struggle with and what gives you joy. I want to be there for you because I want to know you much longer than just here on earth.

I want to know you, not to judge you, but to build you up – and I hope you’ll build me up too. “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed” (Jn 3:19-20). It’s a scary thing to step into the light and open up to someone. To share your past, your misdeeds, your weaknesses. It’s embarrassing. It’s shameful. We might talk about “skeletons in the closet”, but Scripture describes it a little differently. It says, “YOU were dead” – you were the skeleton – “You were dead in your transgressions and sins,” but don’t miss this next part… “in which you USED TO live when you followed the ways of this world” (Eph 2:1-2). That’s the old you. That’s in the past. In fact, it’s been nailed to the cross and done away with!

Step into the light and get to know the new you! “Because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Eph 2:4-5). In Christ he’s forgiven your sin, taken away the shame. You will not perish but will have eternal life! So there’s no skeletons in your closet. Nothing to hide. Not from God, because his love covers a multitude of wrongs. And nothing to hide from fellow believers who genuinely care about you. You are alive in Christ – loved by him so that you may live a life of love!

Why do you think Jesus called a number of disciples instead of just one to carry on his work? Why do you think Jesus sent his disciples out in twos? It’s because this path we walk is hard. There’s difficulties on the road ahead. There’s weaknesses and failure that we all have. If we walk the path alone there’s a good chance we will stumble and fall – maybe even fall off the path completely. So God puts people in our lives to walk the path with us. People who will pick us up when we fall, build us up when we are low, and point the way when we get lost. A mature believer will do this without judgment, but purely out of love. Don’t be afraid to open up to believers you trust and let them know you. It’s good to walk together. Scripture says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up… Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves” (Ecc 4:9-10, 12). We all fail on our own. If someone grabs your hand as they stumble and fall, help them up with the same love that your Savior had for the world. “A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Ecc 4:12).