Bible study on John 3.14-21
This study can be used by a small family/ household group, or by an online group, or – sometimes with a little adaptation - by an individual.
See our Guidelines for a weekly Bible study
Begin with an opening prayer
God of creation and order,
be with us as we come together today.
Help us to think carefully
about the choices we make and the people we look up to.
Lead us in the confusions and temptations of this world.
Teach us to look up to the light of your Son, Jesus Christ,
for guidance and inspiration.
Read the passage
Consider different ways to read the text. For example, hearing it in more than one version of the Bible.
In an online group, you could share parts between those present, or use/adapt this week’s Share the Word suggestion: Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to go to Share the Word and scroll down to find the Gospel reading.
Explore and respond to the text
Start by reading the Bible notes below. You may want to read them more than once, or pause after each paragraph to reflect on what you have read.
As ‘a leader of the Jews’ (3.1), Nicodemus would have had a high regard for Moses, both because ‘the law was given through Moses’ (1.17) and because God said of Moses, ‘he beholds the form of the Lord’ (Numbers 12.8). After speaking with God, Moses’ face shines with divine glory (Exodus 34.29-35), and in Jesus’ time a commentator saw Moses as ‘kin to God and truly divine’ (Philo, Questions and Answers on Exodus 2.29). Both Nicodemus and Jesus knew that the story of the bronze serpent was part of Moses’ interceding with God for the people, and they both understood that those who looked at the serpent were saved ‘not by the thing beheld, but…by the Saviour of all’ (Wisdom 16.7). Respecting Nicodemus, Jesus likens his being lifted up onto the cross to Moses’ lifting up the serpent. Jesus too intercedes for the people, ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but on behalf of all who will believe in me through their word’ (17.20), including therefore those who read the Gospel and, by believing in Jesus, receive life in his name (20.31). There is no punctuation in the Greek text, so we do not know for certain where Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus ends. But it seems likely that verses 16 to 21 are John’s own comment, picking up themes from his prologue and directly inviting his readers to choose light rather than darkness. Nicodemus initially came ‘by night’ (3.1), but we hear of him again, appealing to the law for Jesus’ right to be given a fair hearing (7.50-51), and bringing costly myrrh and aloes for Jesus’ burial (19.39-42).
Arnold Browne discusses
Lent storytelling with
Spend a few moments thinking about what stands out for you from the Bible reading. This idea may help.
In her book You’re Not Listening Kate Murphy laments our not listening to one another, suggesting we ask curious questions such as, ‘What was the best part?’ Nicodemus asks honest questions: ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old?’ ‘How can these things be?’ Glimpsing God’s presence in Jesus, he distances himself from other Jewish leaders, later asking why Jesus should be judged without ‘a hearing’ (7.51). Nicodemus joined Joseph of Arimathea, the secret disciple, in giving Jesus a burial. We are not told about his allegiance, but Nicodemus’ story reminds us of the importance of those who ask curious questions. It may be a route to understanding eternal life.
Questions for reflection
You may wish to use these questions and the picture to help you think about or discuss issues of sharing.
- How does looking up at the light through the trees make you feel?
- How might ‘the light’ speak to us of something eternal?
- How can we show that we live in the light rather than the darkness?
A simple worship activity
Coming to the light to say sorry
- Set up a bright light somewhere in the worship space. If possible, turn down the lights elsewhere.
- Give everyone a small piece of paper and a pen. Ask people to write, or draw an image to represent, something that they are sorry about in their lives (no names, and nothing that would break confidentiality – if this may be an issue, assure people that all the slips of paper will be destroyed immediately after today’s worship).
- Ask people to fold their paper and, when they are ready, to bring it to the light. Simply place it beside the bright light. When everyone has had the opportunity to do this, continue with A prayer of confession.
Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to go to more activities in Explore and respond
A Prayer of confession
Adapt to your local context.
Lord, your light has flooded the world;
but we have turned away, preferring darkness.
Lord, you have lifted up your Son that we might be forgiven;
but we have turned away, preferring to remain in our sins.
Lord, you have offered us eternal life;
but we have turned away, preferring the pleasures of earthly life.
Forgive us, O Lord, as we bow our heads before you.
We do not turn away any longer.
We lift our faces to seek your light.
We lift our eyes to see your Son.
We lift our hearts to live in you, and for you, for ever.
Assurance of forgiveness
God raised the serpent in the desert so that the children of Israel might be healed; those who chose to look upon it lived.
God lifted up his Son upon a cross, so that all might be saved and have eternal life; those who choose to believe in him are forgiven their sins, and will know the joys of heaven.
O God, every day you offer us choices; ours is the decision between good and evil, the path of righteousness or the road to destruction.
Thank you for showing us the good and true way through
Thank you for forgiving us and guiding our feet back even when we turn the wrong way.
Thank you for your eternal love.
Use the Jump to this week's menu on the right to find more prayers, including up-to-date intercessions in The week in focus.
A prayer to end the Bible study
Lord of light, help us to look to you in the coming week.
Guide us when the way ahead seems dark and full of obstacles.
May we always give thanks, even in the darkest times,
and enable us to shine as lights in the world.
Go with God 24/7
Encourage everyone to put their faith into action.
Look for and/or plan opportunities to put into practice some of the practical steps identified during today’s worship that show we choose light rather than darkness. Review and update your list on a regular basis.
Encourage everyone to explore their faith this week with the ROOTS at home resource.