Sunday, September 9, 2018

Gospel Commentary for the Sunday Before the Holy Cross (St. John Chrysostom)


Sunday Before the Holy Cross

John 3:13-17

From the Homilies on the Gospel of Saint John

By Saint John Chrysostom

3:13 - "No man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.

"And what manner of sequel is this?" asks one. The very closest, and entirely in unison with what has gone before. For since Nicodemus had said, "We know that You are a teacher come from God," on this very point He sets him right, all but saying, "Think Me not a teacher in such manner as were the many of the prophets who were of earth, for I have come from heaven now. None of the prophets has ascended up there, but I dwell there." Do you see how even that which appears very exalted is utterly unworthy of his greatness? For not in heaven only is He, but everywhere, and He fills all things; but yet He speaks according to the infirmity of His hearer, desiring to lead him up little by little. And in this place He called not the flesh "Son of Man," but He now named, so to speak, His entire Self from the inferior substance; indeed this is His wont, to call His whole Person often from His Divinity, and often from His humanity.

3:14 - And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

This again seems to depend upon what has gone before, and this too has a very close connection with it. For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, "Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul?" for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins.

But wherefore did He not say plainly, "I am about to be crucified," instead of referring His hearers to the ancient type? First, that you may learn that old things are akin to new, and that the one are not alien to the other; next, that you may know that He came not unwillingly to His Passion; and again, besides these reasons, that you may learn that no harm arises to Him from the Fact, and that to many there springs from it salvation. For, that none may say, "And how is it possible that they who believe in one crucified should be saved, when he himself is holden of death?" He leads us to the ancient story. Now if the Jews, by looking to the brazen image of a serpent, escaped death, much rather will they who believe in the Crucified, with good reason enjoy a far greater benefit. For this takes place, not through the weakness of the Crucified, or because the Jews are stronger than He, but because "God loved the world," therefore is His living Temple fastened to the Cross.

3:15 - That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Do you see the cause of the Crucifixion, and the salvation which is by it? Do you see the relationship of the type to the reality? There the Jews escaped death, but the temporal, here believers the eternal; there the hanging serpent healed the bites of serpents, here the Crucified Jesus cured the wounds inflicted by the spiritual dragon; there he who looked with his bodily eyes was healed, here he who beholds with the eyes of his understanding put off all his sins; there that which hung was brass fashioned into the likeness of a serpent, here it was the Lord's Body, built by the Spirit; there a serpent bit and a serpent healed, here death destroyed and a Death saved. But the snake which destroyed had venom, that which saved was free from venom; and so again was it here, for the death which slew us had sin with it, as the serpent had venom; but the Lord's Death was free from all sin, as the brazen serpent from venom. For, says Peter, "He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22). And this is what Paul also declares, "And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it" (Colossians 2:16). For as some noble champion by lifting on high and dashing down his antagonist, renders his victory more glorious, so Christ, in the sight of all the world, cast down the adverse powers, and having healed those who were smitten in the wilderness, delivered them from all venomous beasts that vexed them, by being hung upon the Cross. Yet He did not say, "must hang," but, "must be lifted up" (Acts 28:4); for He used this which seemed the milder term, on account of His hearer, and because it was proper to the type.

3:16 - God so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

What He says, is of this kind: Marvel not that I am to be lifted up that you may be saved, for this seems good to the Father, and He has so loved you as to give His Son for slaves, and ungrateful slaves. Yet a man would not do this even for a friend, nor readily even for a righteous man; as Paul has declared when he said, "Scarcely for a righteous man will one die" (Romans 5:7). Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, "so loved," and that other, "God the world," He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He "loved." Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He says, that "He gave His Only-begotten Son," not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants.

His Passion then He sets before him not very openly, but rather darkly; but the advantage of the Passion He adds in a clearer manner, saying, "That every one that believes in Him. should not perish, but have everlasting life." For when He had said, "must be lifted up," and alluded to death, lest the hearer should be made downcast by these words, forming some mere human opinions concerning Him, and supposing that His death was a ceasing to be, observe how He sets this right, by saying, that He that was given was "The Son of God," and the cause of life, of everlasting life. He who procured life for others by death, would not Himself be continually in death; for if they who believed on the Crucified perish not, much less does He perish who is crucified. He who takes away the destitution of others much more is He free from it; He who gives life to others, much more to Himself does He well forth life. Do you see that everywhere there is need of faith? For He calls the Cross the fountain of life; which reason cannot easily allow, as the heathens now by their mocking testify. But faith which goes beyond the weakness of reasoning, may easily receive and retain it. And whence did God "so love the world"? From no other source but only from his goodness.

3:17 - For God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world."

Many of the more careless sort of persons, using the lovingkindness of God to increase the magnitude of their sins and the excess of their disregard, speak in this way, "There is no hell, there is no future punishment, God forgives us all sins." To stop whose mouths a wise man says, "Say not, His mercy is great, He will be pacified for the multitude of my sins; for mercy and wrath come from Him, and His indignation rests upon sinners" (Sirach 5:6): and again, "As His mercy is great, so is His correction also" (irach 16:12). "Where then," says one, "is His lovingkindness, if we shall receive for our sins according to our deserts?" That we shall indeed receive "according to our deserts," hear both the Prophet and Paul declare; one says, "You shall render to every man according to his work" (Psalm 62:12, LXX); the other, "Who will render to every man according to his work" (Romans 2:6). And yet we may see that even so the lovingkindness of God is great; in dividing our existence into two periods, the present life and that which is to come, and making the first to be an appointment of trial, the second a place of crowning, even in this He has shown great lovingkindness.

"How and in what way?" Because when we had committed many and grievous sins, and had not ceased from youth to extreme old age to defile our souls with ten thousand evil deeds, for none of these sins did He demand from us a reckoning, but granted us remission of them by the washing of Regeneration, and freely gave us Righteousness and Sanctification. "What then," says one, "if a man who from his earliest age has been deemed worthy of the mysteries, after this commits ten thousand sins?" Such an one deserves a severer punishment. For we do not pay the same penalties for the same sins, if we do wrong after Initiation. And this Paul declares, saying, "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses; of how much sorer punishment, do you suppose, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the Covenant an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:28-29). Such an one then is worthy of severer punishment. Yet even for him God has opened doors of repentance, and has granted him many means for the washing away his transgressions, if he will. Think then what proofs of lovingkindness these are; by Grace to remit sins, and not to punish him who after grace has sinned and deserves punishment, but to give him a season and appointed space for his clearing. For all these reasons Christ said to Nicodemus, "God sent not His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world."

For there are two Advents of Christ, that which has been, and that which is to be; and the two are not for the same purpose; the first came to pass not that He might search into our actions, but that He might remit; the object of the second will be not to remit, but to enquire. Therefore of the first He says, "I came not to condemn the world, but to save the world" (John 3:17); but of the second, "When the Son shall have come in the glory of His Father, He shall set the sheep on His right hand, and the goats on His left" (Matthew 25:31, 46). And they shall go, these into life; and these into eternal punishment. Yet His former coming was for judgment, according to the rule of justice. Why? Because before His coming there was a law of nature, and the prophets, and moreover a written Law, and doctrine, and ten thousand promises, and manifestations of signs, and chastisements, and vengeances, and many other things which might have set men right, and it followed that for all these things He would demand account; but, because He is merciful, He for a while pardons instead of making enquiry. For had He done so, all would at once have been hurried to perdition. For "all," it says, "have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Do you see the unspeakable excess of His lovingkindness?


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