Salvation. Salvation is a profound idea. Well, I mean it is far more than an idea. It is something that gets to the core of our humanity. Salvation speaks to something lacking within us, something we all know is missing but have difficulty describing. It shapes our course through life. Whether it is a search for what salvation even means, or the quest to find it, or perhaps the plea for the salvation of someone you now and love, salvation haunts our thoughts and lurks in our feelings. These days, though, salvation has become a taboo topic. It is the thing which binds us together and it is a thing we would rather not discuss. To have any sort of serious conversation about salvation means we must speak seriously about what is wrong, what we need saving from. We must speak about what is broken and torn within us… and we would rather not have those conversations.
These days the mantra is, “Nothing is wrong.” If anything makes us feel as though there is something wrong with us it needs to be shut down. We would rather cancel and ban anything discomforting instead of confronting the problem within ourselves. We would never say we need salvation. No, we do not need salvation, we need understanding and acceptance. Throughout Scripture it says mankind loves the darkness rather than the light. Our current climate of declaring everything is okay, there is nothing wrong within us, is a perfect example of that. We have become so good at putting forward fake facades of happiness and contentment that our real struggles and trials stay hidden away in the dark. We do not want to talk about it. We do not want to acknowledge it. Let the things of the dark stay hidden in the dark.
But the real power of the darkness is how it binds us in chains while giving the outward illusions of freedom and contentment. Our need for salvation thrives there, though no one else can see it. Perhaps for you it is a profound confusion and discontentment regarding your place in the world. You go through life not sure where you fit. You try and play the games others seem to enjoy but they do not bring you any joy. You put on the smile and everyone thinks things are going just fine, but they do not really know the doubts and fears which plague you. You keep it tucked away in the dark and so it looks like you are free and happy. Or maybe, for you, the darkness is where you live a second life of sorts. It is a life where sin is not shunned but embraced, a life consumed by pornography and addiction, a life where your actions and desires twist and consume your perception of the world. Depression and suffering mark your days but no one asks about the darkness, no one pries into your need for salvation. Everything is fine. It looks good on the outside, but there in the darkness you know full-well you need salvation, you need release from this bondage, you need freedom and healing and hope… and you cannot do it yourself.
Nicodemus was a powerful man. A Pharisee and a leading man among the Jews in our Lord’s day. He meets with Jesus to talk about these very issues, to talk about how one gains eternal life, to talk about what it means to be born again, to talk about salvation. But this conversation does not take place in the Temple Courts where the legal scholars are lecturing on the commands of God. It does not take place by the Sea of Galilee or on a hillside where Jesus addresses the crowds. No, this scene plays out in the darkness. It is in the dark that Jesus speaks the famous words of John 3:16: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” This verse has been called the Gospel in a nutshell. That is, if you wanted to summaries the Gospel in the most succinct way possible, you would be hard pressed to do better than these words. Yet, these words were not shouted from the rooftops but spoken in the darkness.
Jesus tells Nicodemus about the arrival of the love of God. He tells him about the arrival of his salvation. The love of God comes into the darkness in the form of a begotten Son. He comes not to condemn the world, not to be the final word of judgment and despair, but to save the world. Jesus does not allow Nicodemus to pretend everything is just fine. He does not allow him to hide everything away in the darkness. No, he comes right into the darkness and begins to shine His light. He brings the unyielding Word of truth and Nicodemus’ need for salvation cannot be pushed aside. Once the light shines on the works done in the darkness, it becomes quite clear we need salvation, and it becomes quite clear that we cannot save ourselves.
The light of Christ reveals how you have trusted in yourself far more than your God. You have prioritized your life in such a way that your glory, your prestige, your reputation, was the greatest and most needful thing. In the light of His truth and purity your sins come into focus. It becomes clear how many you have hurt in your life, how many you failed to help when you could have. You have sinned not only by what you have done and failed to do, you have sinned by your thoughts and words as well. You have cradled hatred in your heart. You have looked with lustful desire upon others. You have failed to defend the reputation of a brother when it was under attack. You have joined in on the gossip and slander. Yes, you need salvation. You need salvation when the darkness is exposed to the light, when you see just how bound-up in your sin you are. You need salvation, for without it the only end, the only outcome is death.
In the book of Numbers there is a famous story of the people of God rebelling against Him, rejecting His work and longing to return to the darkness of their slavery. As punishment God sends serpents into the camp which begin to bite them. The venom works quickly as one after another they begin to die. As they repent and plead to God for salvation, He has Moses make a bronze serpent and lift it up on a pole promising all who look on it will live. So, there in the darkness with Nicodemus Jesus says, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus comes into the darkness to bring salvation, to be lifted up on the cross of Calvary, to be the hope, the light, and the life of man.
It is easy to find condemnation for what you do in the darkness of your life, but Jesus has not come to condemn but to bring salvation. He comes right into your darkness, into your doubts and fears, into your sin and shame. He comes into your confusion and anxiety and depression and speaks the words of the light. He proclaims a message of hope and salvation for you. For God’s love wants you to live. God’s love wants you to enter the light. God’s love wants you to know, this day, you are forgiven. You are part of His family and the Gates of Paradise stand open for you.
Because of this love, because of this gift, we might dare to step out of our darkness and stand in His light. We might find His promises are good and true and freedom is not found by hiding in the dark but by walking in His gifts. Yes, this is the radical working of your God. He is the one who saves sinners, who comes to them in their darkness and brings them out. To believe in Christ is to be saved. To believe in His works, His words, His promises, to trust that His death and resurrection were to secure you freedom from the darkness and the promise of eternal light… this is your hope and assurance. Salvation is now yours: Salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone.