3-9-17 - Up-Lifted

As Jesus talks with Nicodemus, he stresses the importance of the spiritual view. Then, almost as an aside, he says something else puzzling: “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.”

Jesus is alluding to a story recorded in Numbers 21:4-9, about a time when God sent a plague of serpents to punish the Israelites for bellyaching on their journey to freedom:

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Putting aside our alarm at the idea of God having a murderous hissy fit in response to incessant whining (look out!), let’s focus on the remedy God proposes: To bring about healing by inviting the afflicted to contemplate a symbol of their disease. This story is one source of the universal symbol of medicine, serpents entwined on a staff. And here we see a principle often found in medicine – that healing can come from the very source of disease, as with vaccines and homeopathic remedies.

By linking this image to his own impending suffering on the cross, Jesus (or John?) suggests that the remedy for sin can be attained by reflecting upon the very image of sin, a punished, crucified man. As Paul later wrote, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)

A central theme of John’s Gospel is that Jesus’ glory was supremely revealed on the Cross – there was the Sign of Signs that God was doing a new thing. The Cross is central to all four Gospels, but only John sees it as a place of glorification. So let’s go with him for today. Our sacred story tells us that Jesus took upon himself the sin of the whole world as he died crucified and forsaken. Can we see in that scene of torture any redemption and release for ourselves? Healing from the sin-sickness that can pervade our souls?

Is there an area of sin in your life you would like to see die with Jesus on the cross? As you pray today, can you imagine that aspect of your life, whether an event or a proclivity, actually being eliminated, so you can be free of it? Our promise is that God has already forgiven us – the Cross covered the future as well as the past.

In John 12:32 Jesus is quoted, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” We don’t have to contemplate a bruised and bloodied Jesus in order to be forgiven. We can draw near to throne of grace because of what Jesus took on for us – and because now that cross is empty. We can honor him best by accepting his gift and walking in the forgiveness and wholeness he won for us.

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