Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the 3rd chapter (John 3:14-21).
Beloved in the Lord,
Moses’ Fiery Serpent – The Pole
When God gives a sign for salvation it’s unlike any other. It doesn’t make sense. It is contrary to our usual way of thinking. Nicodemus has seen such signs in the ministry of Jesus. “”We know that you are teacher come from God for no one can do the signs you do unless God were with Him.” Jesus is a doer of signs, but not one like we’d expect. At a wedding in Cana He changed water into wine, good wine – in fact the very best. No one expected that. This was the first of His signs.
Nicodemus is curious. Something’s going on here. No one can do these signs unless God were with Him. So Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness. And Jesus tells him that he must be born again, born from above, born of water and the spirit. Jesus tells him that he must be baptized. Nicodemus still doesn’t get it, but that’s okay right now. He has the master’s attention. So he continues to ask more questions. That’s what faith, spurred on by the Holy Spirit does. It asks more questions, wants to learn more about Jesus’ words, longs for certainty of salvation which only the Word of Christ can give.
Finally Jesus lays it all on the table in our text. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.” Jesus points Nicodemus, and us, back to the Old Testament to answer our New Testament questions. The heart asks, “Who is Jesus?” Jesus says He is like the serpent lifted up on the pole. Why the serpent lifted up on the pole? Because that’s where God, in a certain place and time, connected the Word of His promises to an image in order to save His people from sure and certain death.
Jesus is like that serpent. He is God’s promises put on a pole to save people from their sure and certain death, the sure and certain death which St. Paul says we’ve all be born into, the sure and certain death that awaits all who sinned, all who have fallen short of the glory of God, all who have been bitten by the serpent. That means Nicodemus, that means me, and that means you.
Men Loved Darkness – God Loved Men
Born into sin from Adam we, like those who went before us, love the darkness. Jesus says, “men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” There’s probably not too many here this morning that would openly say,
Yep, I love the darkness. I don’t really like coming into the light, my deeds are evil. Oh, are they bad. And well I wouldn’t really want to show those off. Wouldn’t want all of you people to see them. That wouldn’t make me look too good, now would it?
No, we probably wouldn’t say that . . . at least not out loud, but we certainly do feel it in the depths of our heart. After all, we want to put forward our “best selves” our “church selves.” We want others to see how good we are, even if we’re not really that good. That’s why many Christians simply won’t come to confession. The thought of telling another person their sins frightens them to death. We’d much rather not mention our sins. We don’t want to talk about that. Many these day are even uncomfortable with a confession of sins in the worship service.
“I am by nature sinful and unclean?” I don’t think so. Sure I’ve made a few mistakes but I’m really much better a person than what everyone here just confessed. Oh, and pastor, don’t you mention sins either. Don’t talk about the evils of internet pornography, adultery, abortion, divorce, cheating, lying, stealing, and holding grudges. Don’t make me feel guilty. That’s not good for my self esteem. I don’t want to come to church and feel guilty. Instead talk to me about what I can do. Tell me how to praise God. Give me a 12 step program to a more productive life. Encourage me to be better without telling me how bad I really am.
Beloved, imagine you’re out in the desert and you’ve been bitten by a poisonous snake. Would you want your friends to stand around and tell you to “shake it off”, “don’t worry about it”, maybe give you some pointers on how to be a better hiker? Would you want them to tell you to love yourself more, offer you a 12 step program to avoid the pitfalls of snake bites and lead to a long healthy life? Of course not! That would be absurd. You’ve been bitten and you’re dying. You need help and you need it now.
Men love darkness, but God loves men.
“But that the World through Him might be Saved”
Therefore, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. God loved the world so that He gave His only-begotten Son. God loved you while you are still a sinner, while you are bitten by the serpent and dying, while you, fallen and by nature, stubbornly love the darkness. God loves you and gave His Son. As the serpent was lifted up so must the Son of Man be lifted up.
You see, God doesn’t give us a servant, an angel, a prophet, or even an adopted son. No! He gives us His Son, His only Son, the one whom He loves. And He doesn’t give Him to condemn the world or to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. Jesus is lifted up like a serpent to save the world, to save Nicodemus, me and you, to save all who believe on His Name.
Thus it is His Cross that is the sign of certain salvation. A serpent on a pole doesn’t make sense but God connects His Word to that image and all who look upon it in faith are saved. A man on a cross doesn’t make sense. But that man is God in the Flesh. He has become like one of us, though without sin. He dies instead of us, instead of you. He dies and He bears the wrath of God for your sins. He is judged. He is condemned. He is damned. We are loosed. We are justified. We are redeemed. He takes what we deserve and we get what we don’t deserve. That’s the blessed exchange. He gets the cross! We get healing. He gets hell. We get heaven. He is the criminal. We are forgiven all our sins. He enters the darkness for three hours so that we can spend eternity in the light of His life. He spills His blood, so that we who drink His blood receive eternal life. His body is broken so that we who eat His body receive the resurrection of our bodies. All that is ours by our fallen nature is given to Him. All that is His from eternity is given to us, by grace, in love!
Believe and Be Saved – Don’t believe and be Damned
Men loved darkness. God loved men. God loves you! God loved you so much that He gave His Son into death on the cross and raised Him on the third day. You can either look at the sign of His great love for you and laugh, mock it, say “it doesn’t make sense and I won’t believe it”, try to find a better way to be saved or . . . you can believe it.
But . . . Jesus says all who do not believe are lost. Just as any of the Israelites who didn’t look to the serpent on the pole died in their rebellion, so also any who refuse to look to Jesus and His cross with faith will die in their sins. If you want to continue to think that you’re really not that bad, then you’ll never be that good either. You’ll remain in the darkness with everyone else going to hell.
Jesus speaks this morning so that you don’t go to hell but rather turn from the lies and deceits of this world and its prince of darkness to Him the author and perfector of life. Jesus says, “He who believes in Him is not condemned.”
Beloved you and I need what Jesus has to give. We need the forgiveness of our sins. We can’t do it on our own. We can’t find another way. There is no other way. Good works aren’t good enough. Love is never perfect. And how we feel about God, others, ourselves, that really doesn’t work either. In the depths of your heart you know the truth. You’ve been bitten by sin and you need the serum, you need the medicine.
The Medicine of immortality is here, right here on this altar. Under the cover of bread and wine, the crucified and risen Christ gives you His body and His blood to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of your sins. Where there is forgiveness there is life and salvation. Where there is life and salvation there is peace and hope.
Jesus’ Light in the Darkness – The Cross
Beloved in the Lord, Nicodemus no doubt left that night with more than questions than he had answers. The same may be true for you this morning. Nicodemus did not despair in the darkness. Nor should you. There are answers and they are found in the shadow of the cross of Christ. There, the Light of the world brightly shines the Father’s heart for you. He loves you. Nicodemus eventually got it. No longer afraid of what others might say, no longer afraid of coming into the light, Nicodemus along with Joseph of Arimathea, came and took the bloodly, lifeless, body of Jesus from the cross to the tomb. On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.
Come, beloved and take the Risen body of your Lord. Do not be afraid. He is not here to condemn you. He is here to save you. He is here because He loves you and He wants to forgive you. Only believe, have faith, cling to His Word, open your mouths and eat! Take His cup and drink! There is light and there is life in His Word and in His Supper. The serpent can’t you touch you here. The serpent’s power has been destroyed. The Cross of Christ has done it. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI