Look Upon Jesus (John 3:14-21)
“and the Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (3:14-15)
The apostle John takes us back a thousand years before the coming of Jesus. The Israelites, turning against God and Moses, find themselves smitten by fiery serpents as a consequence of their sin. With Death opening their eyes, they repent of their rebellion, and beseech Moses to intercede. God relents and instructs Moses to raise up on a banner a bronze image of the serpent; and all who are dying in their Sin will live -if they look upon it.
This foreshadowing of humanity’s journey -to faith through desperation- is both a reflection of our Depravity, and a revelation of God’s Mercy. Upon this ancient prophetic act of God, John roots the Good News of our salvation. The Sinless Son of God, taking on our Sin and Death, became a criminal -raised high on that banner of the Cross: that we might look upon him whom we have pierced, and find eternal life.
“Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.” (3:16)
This single sentence is a thimble that contains a universe, a Word that holds all understanding. It is a keystone that welds two conflicting truths: a World reeling in its rebellion against God; and God’s Love for the World which is desperate for a Savior.
Throughout his Gospel, John uses the term world to describe that which is an enemy to God –a self idolatry, a state of Darkness which chooses eternal death over obedience to God. It is our fallen nature which, left to its own means, is lost to death. Standing on this incontrovertible truth, John simultaneously proclaims that, for all whose eyes are opened by their Death Sentence, if they believe in Jesus, if they look upon him to be saved, then eternal life is theirs.
That the Futility of our Sinfulness is so joined to the Hope of God’s Mercy can only be the fruit of Divine Grace -initiated by the urging of his Holy Spirit, with Jesus ever interceding before his Father for us, as did Moses intercede before God for the stricken Israelites. If only we would not harden our hearts and listen to his Voice….
“For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that through him the world might be saved. (3:17)
God had to send his Son because unless we witnessed Christ’s Unconditional Love and his death on the Cross, we could not have believed we were so loved. We would have doggedly assumed our deserved condemnation. Before we could receive his Love, we had to receive his Forgiveness. God had to sacrifice his Son for us, before we could sacrifice our Self for him. Before we could be open to his Love, we had to be freed of the fear of a condemning God. Yet now, if we but look into the eyes of our Savior as he hangs dying on that Cross, we can never doubt his Forgiveness or Love.
“No one who believes in him will be condemned; but whoever refuses to believe is condemned already, because he has refused to believe in the name of God's only Son.” (3:18)
If Jesus was sent not to condemn, then where does condemnation come from? It comes from our rebellious heart. God has no part to play in condemnation, except in providing grace to avoid it. Satan may tempt us, but it is we who choose it. As in Matthew 25, we will all be judged -by what we have done, and by what we have failed to do. And as in Sirach 15, verse 14 and 16, “He himself made man in the beginning, and then left him free to make his own decisions. …Man has life and death before him; whichever a man likes better will be given him.” God’s grace is ever available, but never forced upon us. We choose our eternity. It is the reason we were brought into existence. God wills all to be saved …yet many choose to remain outside his Will, refusing to look upon Jesus, lest they repent and be saved.
“On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world men have shown they prefer darkness to the light because their deeds were evil.” (3:19)
This is a bottom-line text. There is no wiggle room here. It is absolute. It is God’s Word. It is also the source of my deepest pain because some whom I have come to love have shown they prefer Darkness to Light, and I cannot bear the thought of that eternal consequence. Some may say I am judgmental. I wish it were true, then I would need only to repent and be unconcerned for their eternity.
Here’s the rub: It is not up to us to decide what is evil. It was established before time existed. It is laid out in Sacred Scripture and Christ gave us his Church to show the way. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life -in which evil cannot coexist. If we believe in him, then, we must live according to his Way, his Truth, and his Life. This is called obedience. Believing is not about feelings, or good intentions, or even espousing correct theology. It is about our Faith surrendered to Grace –manifesting itself in the deeds of our life upon which we are judged.
My pain for those living in disobedience –outside of his Way, Truth and Life- is that they seem convinced that sin is not really sin. They are content to pit their version of “truth” against God’s Truth. My sorrow for them cannot compare to the sorrow in our Lord’s heart, and so I can hope and pray with confidence that he will deliver them as he has delivered me, and continues to deliver me.
“And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, for fear his actions should be exposed;” (3:20)
Most of us, at first thought, would most fear what others might think should our sins come to light. But, with deeper introspection, we might come to see that it is our own conscience we fear most, for if we admit to our sin, then we would have to admit to our guilt. In turn, we would then
have to change our sinful habits. Exposed to his Light, we would have no peace until we surrendered our entire self into the Will of our Creator. It is our Unsurrendered Desires which cause us to shrink from the Light. Only faith in God’s Love will give us the courage to be exposed to his Truth.
“but the man who lives by the truth comes out into the light, so that it may be plainly seen that what he does is done in God;” (3:21)
This last verse is a call to Holiness. It is a fearsome challenge to come before God naked, boldly asking him to have his way with us, regardless of cost, to purify our lives of everything that hinders his Holy Spirit from working freely in us.
This is a deeply personal Word, with the Spirit calling us to be brutally honest with ourselves before him, not trusting our opinion of ourselves, whether high or low, but begging him to expose the ugliness of our sin, that we may be horrified at the thought of willfully disappointing our Creator.
We cannot trust our conscience. We are more capable of deceiving ourselves than the cleverest devil. With a mere tinge of spiritual fog, I can justify almost anything I crave. My righteousness perilously hangs on the thread of utter submission to Grace. Every day I must beg God to pierce my Darkness with his revealing Light -that I might plainly see if what I do is done in God. I must beg God, because he waits for my permission to expose what I have hidden.
My Lord, I am a sinful man. You know all things -how I hide from my sins, yet you patiently wait. I believe in your Saving Love. I look upon you for Life. Deliver me from my lowliness, My Jesus, My Savior, My God.
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