God So Loved the World
2nd Sunday in Lent
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He created the waters and the dry land. He created the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and the beasts of the field. Then, on the sixth day, he created human beings:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. [Gen 1:26-28, 31a]
And, ‘God so loved the world...’ Shortly thereafter, the great deceiver in the form of a serpent came into the Garden of God’s creation. Satan brought the first poison into the world. His poison was sin and we were bitten. That first transgression against God was the beginning of our fall from His holy family. We were no longer good in the eyes of our Father in heaven. We no longer could stand in the presence of God because we were consumed in our sin.
We have been bitten by that old snake, the devil. With his poisonous bite he has wounded us so that we lie here under God’s wrath, condemned to eternal death. With our sins we have fully deserved and still deserve to die.
In the beginning was creation, then the fall of man from the blessings of God, then defeat, failure, and death. We look into our world today and wonder if we are not reaping the harvest of our sin.
We see wars and hear rumors of war. We see cataclysmic catastrophe with the loss of human life in the tens of thousands. We see the fall of wealthy governments and their people into economic poverty. We see the poison of sin infect our children and our children’s children. It seems as if this is the cycle of the fall from God’s holiness, sin, and death. One would think this the end of the story. But “God so loved the world…” that this is not the ending.
With that first transgression, God could have simply erased us from existence. God could have thrown away his creation and started over again if it were not true that “God so loved the world…”
God so loved His people, that he freed them from the slavery of the Pharaoh. He led them into the wilderness and blessed them with His holy law. He loves His people and provides for them always. However, the evil serpent came out of the Garden along with God’s people. The Devil worked his temptation every chance he could sowing seeds of doubt and discontent.
As is written in Numbers 21, God's chosen people sinned against Him by grumbling impatiently in the desert because they had nothing to eat or to drink, and so they complained against God and Moses. Thus God took away his helping hand and turned the devil loose on them. Satan attacked them with poisonous snakes. They bit the people. The people became feverish from the poison, and they died.
From the moment the snakes hissed on them, their skin turned red as fire, they fell down to the ground and burned as if they were in hell. And even though they chased the snakes away, they kept on coming back. They were dying in great numbers and the people cried out to Moses, and Moses cried out to God.
“For God so loved the world…” that God said to Moses, Set up a brass snake on a tall pole, as a sign; whoever is bitten and looks at the sign, will live.
There are three things in this story we should remember. First, the snake that God told Moses to make has to be made of brass or copper, that is, a reddish color, very much like the fiery-red skin of those who had been bitten by the poisonous snakes, except that this snake is not poisonous. Second, the bronze snake must be put up on a tall pole as a sign. Third, those who want to live and recover from the bites of the poisonous snakes have to look up to the bronze snake on the pole, otherwise they would not live.
It is our dear Lord Jesus who gives us this picture and says, ‘Just as the bronze snake was lifted up on a pole in the desert, so also the Messiah or Christ must be lifted up on the cross. And just as the bronze snake that was lifted up in the desert was not poisonous, though it looked very much like the one that had bitten the people, so also the Son of Man, who is without sin, will be looked upon as a sinner.’[John 3:14]
Just as nothing could help the Israelites who were bitten in the desert by the poisonous snakes, except to look up to the bronze snake on the pole, so also the Son of man must become our very sin and let himself be lifted up. If you want to be free from sin, death, the devil, and hell, and have everlasting life, you must believe in the uplifted Son of man, in the crucified Christ.
If you wish to be healed from this satanic poison, from sin and death, and if you wish to be saved, so that your sins cannot condemn you and death cannot swallow you up, then you must believe in Christ Jesus, who is lifted up on the cross.
Up till now we have strayed into all sorts of actions and lifestyles that are not pleasing to God, and we'll probably do it again in the future. Jesus knows very well that we won't stop doing it in order to be rid of our sin and to be saved. But the only way we can be saved from all this is if Christ is lifted up, so you can look up to Him, which means, to believe in Him.
Jesus Christ came into this world and assumed our form, He allowed himself to be mutilated and crucified, suffer death, just as if He were a sinner and person who deserved such a death. Therefore, just look up to Him and believe in Him, and you will recover from the devil's poison and live.
That is the only way to escape the fiery, hellish poison of the devil. If we hope to be saved, we must know that our works, free will, human powers, and self-imposed tortures and sufferings cannot accomplish this; instead, we must look up to Christ, hanging on the cross.
For just as nothing would cure the Israelites from their poisonous snakebites except to look up to the bronze snake on the pole, likewise, nothing can cure us from death and the devil’s poison, except to look up to Christ on the cross.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” [Jn 3:16-17]
Look up to the crucified Christ. Believe that it was for you he was born as a human being, that it was for your sins that he died, and it was for your justification that he was raised from the dead. In short, he is the Lamb of God, who is bearing the sins of the world for your sake.
Christ took on our sin and yet there was no sin in him. It is as Peter says in 1 Peter 2:22-24:
He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. [1 Peter 2:22-24]
Whoever believes this has eternal life. Everyone who believes that Christ died for them, and rose from the dead for them, has eternal and unending life. That is how we are cured from the devil’s bite and poison.
Satan has bitten us through original sin, has wounded us in body and soul, and poisoned us with mortal wounds. None of us can get rid of such wounds and deadly poison, unless we gaze upon Christ, upon whom God has cast the sins of us all.
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Christ tells Nicodemus that, “…no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” [John 3:3] The Greek word used here for ‘again’, is also used to mean, ‘from above’ or ‘from heaven’. Jesus is telling Nicodemus that his salvation does not come from his own works but from God. Nicodemus must look up to Christ crucified in order to be saved. His salvation comes from the top to the bottom, it comes from above.
No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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. [Jn 3:13-15]
If a person hopes to understand divine truths such as these, you must have faith and you must believe. Just as the Israelites in the desert, bitten by the poisonous snakes, had to open their eyes and disregard human reason, while gazing in faith at the bronze snake on the pole, and had to cling to God’s promise, “Whoever is bitten but looks upon the bronze snake, shall be healed and live,” so we, too, must open our eyes, take our reason captive, gaze upon Christ on the cross, and believe God’s promise. “Whosoever believes in me shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
If you want to be free from the old serpent, the devil’s poisonous bite, then a birth from above is necessary. It requires gazing upon Christ the crucified with trust, believing in him.
I pray Our gracious God and Father, for the sake of his dear Son, Jesus Christ, by his Holy Spirit, preserve us in this truth, enabling us to grow daily in it, so that we may increase in the true knowledge of Christ and faith in him, and that we may finally enjoy eternal bliss.