Jesus Lifted Up: Fourth Sunday In Lent - Numbers 21 & John 3 / Pastor Ted A. Giese
"Jesus Lifted Up" Sunday Lent 4, March 15th - 2015. Rev. Ted Giese, Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina SK. John 3:14-21 - Numbers 21:4-9
And 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.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. It was dark out, back then there were no street lamps, no street lights, when it was night it was dark, dark enough that no one could see without a lamp or a torch. Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, Nicodemus the Pharisee, Nicodemus who had come under cover of night, in the dark, secretly, to speak with Jesus. Keep in mind that later in John's Gospel this very same Jesus would say of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Nicodemus had become one who follows Jesus. Nicodemus became one who was counted as a believer in Jesus: And what does Jesus say to Nicodemus that night? Jesus said, "Whoever believes in [the Son of Man, the Son of God - Jesus - who ever believes in me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” This coming out of the darkness into the light is repentance by the way and don't for one moment think that Nicodemus wasn't applying that directly to himself, those words were first heard by him straight from Jesus' lips for him to hear, today you hear them for yourself, and they are for you. Jesus is saying that it is vitally important that a person believe in the name of the only Son of God, that they believe in Him, believe in Jesus.
Yup - that's it, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Seems straight forward enough.
At the beginning of the Gospel lesson for today Jesus is saying to Nicodemus that, "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." This is the same sort of thing, this is about believing and trusting God - and Jesus here, with this reference, is drawing Nicodemus' mind back to something that Nicodemus knows, an incident in the history of the Children of Israel from the time of the Exodus, from after God had rescued them out of Egyptian captivity. We heard about it in our Old Testament reading this morning from the book of Numbers. The one with the fiery serpents and the pole and the snake bites.
Let's dig into this: If you don't believe in something then you won't trust it. The Children of Israel had begun to not trust Moses or God, they had become impatient, they spoke against Moses and against God, they said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Remember as Moses was tending the sheep God at the burning bush had told Moses to go and gather up the elders of the Children of Israel whilst they, and the people, sat in their captivity in Egypt toiling away for pharaoh. God had told Moses to say to them, "The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me [Moses], saying, “I [The LORD] have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ Rescued from their captivity, they now become impatient, focused on their guts, their heart, their feelings, their smarts they started to distrust the promise God had given them, they only had to believe the promise but instead they say, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” So "the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died."
This prompted a spirit of repentance and they came to Moses and asked for help and God gave them help - it wasn't an ointment or anti-venom, as such, it was simply an opportunity to return to the Lord their God and trust His promise all over again.
Moses prays on behalf of the people, God answers Moses' prayer on their behalf and says to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. They simply needed to believe that this little odd promise would be fulfilled - if you didn't think it was remotely possible, if you thought it was silly, or a lie, you couldn't be bothered to turn your head and gaze upon the bronze object of the fiery serpent which had bitten you; you couldn't be bothered to turn your head and look at the very copy of the thing that had poisoned you - The unbeliever say, "Who wants to look at that. Look at that! and live? give me a break! I don't believe it - I won't do it!" and in their unbelief they would simply die. But those who believed the promise lived. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." As the hymn goes, "My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Saviour Devine;" and trusting in Jesus we sing, "Now hear me while I pray; Take all my guilt away; O let me from this day be wholly Thine!" Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. No new conversion experience for you, dear Christian simply believe what has been objectively done for you in your baptism and return to those waters in contrition, remember what Jesus gave to you there, what the Holy Spirit gave to you there, and trust the promise: you are now a Child of God the Fathers. In baptism regardless of how you feel about it, or what your heart tells you about it, what your smarts think about it, you have been sealed into Jesus. Believe what is promised to you. Saint Peter says, "Baptism ... now saves you."
The bronze serpent on the pole was just a little promise. God says, 'trust Me, trust My word, believe what I tell you, look and live.' The big promise in Scripture, the promise connected to your baptism, started back in the garden, at the time of the fall, and was given to Adam and Eve and the crafty serpent, that ancient serpent, the dragon ... who is the devil and Satan, when God said to the serpent, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That's Genesis 3:15 - Jesus in John 3:16 is telling Nicodemus that God is doing the very thing God had promised and that it would be like that moment with the bronze serpent in the wilderness.
When Moses made the bronze serpent, this horrific object and set it on the pole, it was for every one of the Children of Israel, not for some of the Children of Israel, Moses wasn't given the task to decide who would see it and who would not, he wasn't even given the task to determine if their looking upon it - their seeing it - was genuine or not, He was simply told to make it for them and it was for all of them, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son" not for God so loved some of the people of the world, or a limited number of people in the world, No, it's "For God so loved the world." - "Everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” What does Jesus say? Jesus says, "Whoever believes in [Me] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already."
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up," this is Jesus pointing forward to His Crucifixion. Beaten and afflicted Jesus is lead bleeding to Golgotha the place of the Skull, to be crucified, lead to Mount Calvary, there on the ground He is stretched out upon the wood, a wooden pole with a wooden cross beam and their Jesus is nailed to it. This cross is then lifted up off the ground and erected for all to see.
His mother the virgin Mary looks upon her Son, nailed there to the cross. And as she looks up to Him there, she looks upon the object of man's cruelty to man, the evidence of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the chief priests, the Scribes, the Elders of the People, the Herodians and King Herod's covetous, selfish and pride filled spirit; She and Saint John and all the onlookers look at Jesus suffocating for, not just those sins, but for the sins of the whole world. Jesus the Son of Man lifted up, Jesus who Saint Paul tells us, in 2 Corinthians 5, was, for our sake, made by God to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him, in Jesus, we might become the righteousness of God. In a very real way to look upon the crucified Jesus that day was to look upon sin itself, and when Jesus breathed His last it was to look upon death itself, and because Jesus died in your place, and you are baptized into His death, it is to look upon yourself in all your sin - hidden away in Jesus - for you were crucified with Jesus - as Saint Paul says, "I have been crucified with Christ." This dying Jesus, this dead Jesus, lifted up upon the cross, is like that bronze serpent, a horrifying image that brings life to all who look upon it and trust God's promises.
Unlike the bronze serpent Jesus is made of flesh and blood, and unlike the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses' hands Jesus is God's Only Son given for you for the forgiveness of your sin. And because this same Jesus didn't stay dead but was risen to life on the third day after His death Saint Paul can continue to say that because he, Paul, is crucified with Christ, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." And you can say the same. As you look to Jesus and believe in Him you can trust God's promise of salvation through Jesus, it is yours in Jesus and in Jesus only.
In the darkness of the cross, Jesus is the Light of the World and He is your light. In that dark place and in all dark places He shines forth and you simply believe in Him, believe on His name and you are saved, you are given eternal life. Seems straight forward enough, yet there are those in the world who upon hearing about Jesus, upon being taught about Him, even upon being rescued from their own captivity to sin, death, the devil and the world, who upon being saved from themselves will still turn around and say, "Who wants to look at that. Look at Him up on that Cross! Look at that and live? give me a break! I don't believe it - I won't do it!" They think it's not even remotely possible that believing in Jesus will result in forgiveness of sin, they will think that the whole things is just silly, that it's a lie, they couldn't be bothered to turn their head and look upon Jesus; they couldn't be bothered to turn their head and look upon Jesus in faith. To trust Him at His word when He says, "Take, Eat; This is My Body," "Drink of it All of You, This Cup is The New Testament in My Blood." And in their un-repentance, in their faithlessness, they for whom Christ also died are themselves already condemned. Refusing to look to the Son of Man lifted up, to look to this Jesus and believe they forfeit the eternal life won for them and they die.
Lest you become distraught because your soul is cast down with in you, because your sin haunts and berates you causing your soul to be in turmoil, leaving you desperate and afraid - remember that believing is not like climbing a ladder that reaches into heaven and the harder, the better, the more powerfully you believe the faster, the further you climb up the ladder. If that is what believing is, if believing was a good work and your salvation depended on your effort then you'd be in deep trouble, I'd be in deep trouble, we'd all be in deep trouble.
In His incarnation Jesus has descended from heaven to you and now in His resurrected body He has ascended back into heaven. Jesus says this very thing to Nicodemus in John 3 verse 13, Jesus says, "No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man." Here's the good news for you today. In Jesus you are forgiven, in Him - by your baptism - you are nailed to the cross with Him, you are buried in the tomb with Him, you are risen from the dead with Him. You are with Jesus, hidden away in Him, where He goes you go, and where you are there He is. Jesus then, not you, is the one who takes you to heaven. He has ascended there and you are in Him. After His resurrection Jesus says to His disciple Thomas, "Do not disbelieve, but believe.” This is what Jesus the Light of life said to Nicodemus in the dark and it's what He says to you, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 John 8:12
 In John 7:50 Nicodemus is described as being one of Jesus' followers.
 Numbers 21:5
 Exodus 3:16-17
 Numbers 21:6
 Joel 2:13
 Numbers 21:8-9
 Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Hymn Number 702.
 1 Peter 3:21
 Revelation 20:2
 Genesis 3:15
 2 Corinthians 5:21
 Galatians 2:20
 John 3:13
 John 20:27