“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“‘If I told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just 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, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
“‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.'” (John 3:12-21)
Jesus reveals heavenly things to his disciples because he is the one who descended from heaven. He is God’s unique revealer whose revelation will be most fully accomplished as he is lifted up on the cross. John states this core of his gospel by employing a Greek word with a double meaning; “lifted up” means both a physical lifting up and an exaltation, Jesus will die by being lifted up on the cross, but his crucifixion will also be his exaltation.
When the people of Israel were dying from the bites of poisonous snakes in the desert because of their sins, Moses was told by God to create a bronze serpent and raise it on a stake. All who gazed upon the uplifted serpent were restored to health. Likewise, the Son of Man will be lifted up on the cross. All who gaze upon the elevated Jesus and believe in him, will be restored to spiritual health and receive eternal life. The bronze serpent raised high in the desert becomes a gruesome intimation of Jesus nailed on the cross.
The serpent is a fearful and deadly creature, a serpent mounted on a stake is a grotesque sight. Yet the raised serpent brought restored health to God’s people. The book of Wisdom describes this episode in the desert; the people were dying from the venom of the serpents and were terrorized for a while. Yet, the bronze serpent lifted on the stake became a symbol of deliverance and the one who turned toward it was saved. Likewise, the cross of Jesus is a fearful instrument of death; yet those who look upon it and believe, will be eternally healed.
Throughout the gospel John shows us how the wonderful gifts of God to Israel are brought to perfection in the gift of his Son to the world. The foreshadowed gifts for the small nation of Israel are completed and made universal as God sends his Son into the world. God’s intent is to save, to give eternal life, and the scope of his salvation is worldwide. This eternal life is not simply endless life; nor is it a life that begins after death. It is a new kind of life, a new order of existence that characterizes a person who is born from above. Our most earnest wish is also God’s deepest desire for us.
God’s plan to bring salvation and eternal life through the lifting up of his Son became possible because God so loved the world. If we truly understand this love of God, we would not fear anything that could possibly happen to us. In order to accept God’s gift, we must believe in Jesus and embrace the message that he gives us. Believing in Jesus means committing ourselves to the same unselfish love that we see in Jesus, a love that found its most perfect expression in his dying on the cross for us.
What are the implications for you by believing in Jesus?
Exalted Lord, you were lifted up on the cross so that whoever believes in you will not perish but have eternal life. As I gaze upon your uplifted cross, deepen my belief that you have the power to heal me eternally.