Let the words my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
Have you ever been in a class in school or college in which you didn’t have a clue as to what was going on? I remember a concrete design class taught by an old guy who was one of the structural engineers on the Empire State Building. I had just gotten through a class with him on structural steel design. That was easy. Steel comes in certain sizes and shapes and calculations can be made as to how much weight the beam could support, depending on the length of the beam. Then a certain sized steel beam could be chosen from a table. Concrete is not that way. You can make it as wide and/or as deep as you want and put reinforcing steel bars in the beam for additional strength. We had to assume a size. I remember that at least the first couple of weeks I was in the class, I stayed about two lessons behind the professor.
Nicodemus must have felt that way. We don’t know too much about him—he was an aristocrat, probably wealthy. He bought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a 100 pounds. Only a wealthy man could have afforded that. He was a Pharisee. To enter into this brotherhood of Pharisees, a man had to take a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would spend all their lives observing every detail of the scribal law.
Nicodemus had come to Jesus at night, probably after supper. He wanted to talk to him in secret so the other Pharisees wouldn’t see them together. Jesus told him that he would have to be “born from above and again.” Nicodemus was obviously confused, “How can these things be?”
Jesus then reminded him of an old story about the Israelites out in the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. They were complaining against God and Moses: Why did you bring us out here in the wilderness to die? There’s no food and no water, just this miserable manna we have to eat at our every meal. So, God sent snakes, poisonous ones, and those that got bit died. They came up to Moses and repented and asked that the serpents be taken away. Instead, God had Moses make a bronze snake, mount it on a pole, and set it up high so that everyone could see it. And whenever someone would get bitten, they could look up at the snake and be saved. The snakes were still around. Snakes, serpents, Satan?
Many of you could think this bronze snake was an idol. All we have to do is remember and paraphrasing, “You shall not bow down to any image you have made for yourself.” And it actually did become an idol over the years. In 2nd Kings, 18th chapter, we read about King Hezekiah destroying the bronze snake made by Moses because the people were worshipping it.
But it was not the serpent that gave life. The rabbis said that as long as Moses lifted up the serpent, the people believed in the one who had commanded Moses to make it—God. The healing power was not in the bronze serpent; it was only a symbol to turn their thoughts to God; and when they did, they were healed.
The serpent was lifted up; the people looked at it; their thoughts were turned to God; and by the power of God whom they trusted (whom they had faith in) were healed. Jesus was telling Nicodemus that he to must be lifted up; and when people turn their thoughts to him and believe in him (trust him; have faith in him), they too will find 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.
What is all this believing? What does it mean? Obviously, the first thing is believing with all our hearts that God is as Jesus declared him to be. It means believing that God loves us, that God cares for us, that God wants to forgive us. He is not a God who imposes his laws on people and punishes them if they broke them; he is not a god who demands sacrifices and offerings. He is a God who longs to have his erring children come back home. It cost the life and death of his Son, Jesus, to communicate that message—the message of the 3rd chapter of John.
We believe that God is a loving Father because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that what he says about God is true. We believe that what Jesus says is true. Whatever he says is true and we must try our best to obey his commands.
Jesus was lifted up. Lifted up on a pole, a cross actually, just as the serpent was. But he was not a graven image. He was alive and hung there until he died. The Israelites looked to a pole with a dead, cold bronze serpent on it.
We look to an empty cross. Jesus died on that cross that Friday afternoon. He was buried in a borrowed tomb and anointed with the gift from Nicodemus. The cross is empty because on Sunday morning he was raised from the dead. The cross is a symbol, the empty cross is a symbol of God’s Son being alive, resurrected and ascended into heaven. We remember an empty cross as a symbol of Jesus’ death and sacrifice for my sins, your sins. Jesus did not come into the world to judge it and condemn it, but that it might be saved through him.
Nicodemus came at night to talk with Jesus, afraid of his friends, that they might condemn him. At some point we know that Nicodemus saw the light and lived in the light. He repented just as the Israelites did. Jesus calls on us, especially during this season of Lent, that we might also repent and live in the light. God loves us. God loves us so much he sent his only Son to live and die for our sins. Why? Simply put, God loves us!