"Christ Came Down to Be Lifted Up"
Fourth Sunday in Lent
St. John 3:14-21
March 26, 2006
IN NOMINE JESU
A few moments ago we each confessed our faith, in the words of the Nicene Creed, in "one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God…Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven…And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate" (TLH, p. 22). To be crucified was to be nailed to a large cross and hoisted in the air and left to die an excruciatingly painful death. This was the Roman mode of execution. Anyone who was crucified was lifted up on a cross to die in a public spectacle. Such a fate awaited the Lord, but at the time of our text, His time had not yet come. It was time, however, to catechize Nicodemus, a member of the Pharisees and a secret follower of Jesus, lest his fellow Jews find out about him and persecute him. Nicodemus knew the Scriptures, but he did not understand them. He was unable to see that the Scriptures have their fulfillment in the Person of Jesus Christ, the long-promised Messiah. He wanted to understand, but he had a large mental block: rabbinic Judaism. To the Jews at the time of Jesus' coming down to earth, the Scriptures were little more than a set of laws. Consequently, Nicodemus could not understand the necessity to be born again; he tried to comprehend this in a physical sense, as if a grown man could re-enter his mother's womb. But in the verses preceding our text, Christ catechizes him on the necessity of being born of water and of the Spirit, to believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah and to become baptized in and into His saving Name, even as "All newborn soldiers of the Crucified Bear on their brows the seal of Him who died" (LBW 377:3), the seal placed on us at our Baptism, the means by which the Holy Spirit came down and entered our hearts, creating and sustaining in us saving faith in Christ. By faith produced through Holy Baptism are we born of water and of the Spirit.
In this Sacrament the Old Adam is brought down in the holy water to the point that it drowns and dies. This baptismal drowning must take place each day in the confession of sins. This means that you must daily confess of your sins, as do I, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but God's temporal and eternal punishment, for all our sins and iniquities have ever offended Him. We have sinned against Him in thought, word, and deed by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things, but we give in to the temptations of the unholy triad of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's Name nor let His kingdom come nor let His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We have set ourselves up against the God who came down from heaven.
We have lifted ourselves up in our sinful pride, even as the Israelites lifted themselves up in their own eyes, and in so doing sinned against the Lord and against Moses, and they were bitten by fiery serpents, just as Adam and Eve were spiritually bitten by the great fiery serpent that is the devil himself. The Lord put down Adam and Eve by putting them out of the Garden of Eden. He cast down the Israelites with the serpents' bites. He beats us down with the preaching of His Law, for we too are full of sinful pride. He, who has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts and has put down the mighty from their thrones, has brought us down to our knees, that we would repent of our sins, for without repentance and faith we are, as Paul says in our Epistle, "dead in trespasses" (Eph. 2:5a), and, as Christ says in our text, "He who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed" (vv. 18b-21). And when Christ, the Light of the world, comes again on the Last Day, as we confess in the Athanasian Creed, "all men shall rise again with their bodies and shall give an account of their works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. This is the catholic faith; which except a man believe faithfully and firmly, he cannot be saved" (TLH, p. 53).
"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be to everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live'" (Num. 21:8). The Israelites who were bitten and looked up to the serpent on the pole were saved. The Israelites confessed their sins and placed their trust in the word the Lord gave Moses, the word to erect the serpent on the pole. They were brought down in their sins, and the Lord lifted them up in His grace. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (vv. 14-15), our Lord says in our text. In order that Christ would be lifted up, He had to come down, coming down from heaven and hiding His glory in human form, "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (vv. 16-17). Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be born of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in order that He would be lifted up on the cross to die for the forgiveness of our sins. His dead, lifeless body was taken down from the cross to be laid in the tomb, in order that He would take it back up again by rising from the dead. The Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree, as He has promised, has drawn us now to Him. Christ our Good Shepherd has laid down His life for us His sheep to take it up again. No one takes it from Him, but He has laid it down of Himself. He alone has power to lay it down and to take it back up again, and He has done so for you, the lowly in heart, for He has lifted up you, the lowly. His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation, even to this present generation, to you and me. "God…is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He [has] loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, [has] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:4-6).
Until that Day when we will be seated in the heavenly places, our Lord brings the heavenly places down to earth, that we would be with Him as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. He comes to us in Baptism not only to bring down the Old Adam in us to its death, but to lift up the new man each day, to daily emerge and arise, that we would live before God in righteousness and purity forever. He lifts us up each day in the forgiveness of sins—the daily living of our Baptism as we bear on our brows the seal of Him who died, for we are marked with the sign of the cross to mark as redeemed by Christ the crucified. As the baptized children of God, we have the privilege of lifting up one another in prayer, praying for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs, and lifting up one another through prayer, hymns, and psalms.
Our Lord brings the heavenly places down to earth, down to us with the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven as He comes to us in His Supper, as the cup is lifted up, lifted up so that you would taste and see that the Lord is good and that you would be lifted up to receive the foretaste of the Feast to come and to catch a glimpse of the heavenly places, for heaven and earth are full of His glory here at His Table. Until that Day when we are lifted up into the heavenly places for all eternity, we need not fear what the devil, the world, and our sinful nature throw in our way, "For," as the Psalmist says in our Introit, "in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock" (Ps. 27:5), the Rock of our salvation, Jesus Christ, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Mighty Fortress. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Send Pastor Mark Schlamann an email.