Saturday, March 21, 2015

“Love Lifts” (John 2:15-17)

S-1484 4SIL/3B 3/15/2015 Hymns: (O) #175; (S) #245; (C) #394

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Theme: “Love Lifts” (John 2:15-17)

Question: “What lifts your spirit?”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen! Indeed! Alleluia. The text is from the Gospel lesson: “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” (John 2:14-15).

Saints and beautiful people of the Cross who have been purchased with the crimson blood of the Savior, Chuck Swindoll tells about a young man who was determined to win the affection of a lady who refused to even talk to him anymore. He decided the way to her heart was to woo her through the mail. Thus, he began writing her love letters. He wrote a love letter every day to this young lady. Five, six, seven times a week she received a love letter from pursuer.

When she did not respond, he increased his output to three notes every twenty-four hours. In all, he wrote her more than 700 letters. He finally stopped when she ended up marrying the postman.

It was not very uplifting for the young woman to receive all those love letters. Unwittingly, the young man was forcing himself upon the young lady. He thought he could manipulate her, wear her down, and verbally force her to consent to his will.

Real and endearing love does not do this. It draws a person by an affection that is thoughtful not forceful, that is in step with the Golden Rule not a desire to rule, that is uplifting not intent on getting the upper hand. Real and endearing love lifts. It is healing not harmful. It has beautiful boundaries and it is unconditional in scope because it flows from a heart that thinks of the other person first.

Such was the love of the God of all grace in the Old Testament. In unconditional love He took a nation of slaves and made them His treasured people. He then outlined for them the boundaries of love in the Ten words or Ten Commandments. He miraculously provided them water from the Rock, manna and quail from heaven, protection (from the ISIS) enemies all over the place, shoes that would not wear out, and much more.

And how did the people respond—for the most part? They grumbled. They belly-ached. They whined. It got so bad as they fed off each other that all of Israel was at a tipping [point]. They were about ready to rebel against Moses, explode in rage, and go back to slavery in Egypt.

We see this kind of behavior in life all too often. Just think about what took place in Ferguson Missouri this past week. Two police officers were shot. Paid outsiders came into the area once more to rile people. So hateful have people become—and hopefully it is only a minority--that they were writing murderous notes on the Internet, “How happy they were the policemen were shot by an assassin.”

But we don’t have to look at the people of Ferguson, or the Israelites who rebelled against God [to see this kind of behavior]. How often do we act in a manner just like the rest of sinful humanity with greed and malice? Rather than loving our brother in the pew we hold a grudge. Rather than forgiving our sister in the pew we shun them and shut them off. We don’t have [in mind] the well being of the other children of God, we are concerned only of what makes us (joyful and) happy, even and because it will hurt another person. PAUSE.

The same kind of murderous, miserable mindset was at work among the Israelites ready to take out Moses and lead the people back to the slavery of Egypt. To bring them back to their senses, The God of all grace and mercy; uses a stern word of Law and an uplifting word of Gospel—together, in tandem, back to back.

The Word of Law to show the people they were spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins? Knowing the old Serpent, the devil, was behind this insurrection, this mob rule, this hideous hatred...God sent venomous snakes among the people. They bit the people and many died. Blessedly, the majority of the people saw their sin, realized their hatred, and became aware of their rebellion. Representatives of these now contrite people came to Moses. They 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. God heard Moses’ prayer. He gave to Moses a strange solution to pave the way once more for the strange solution of the cross. God 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. He put it up on a pole. Then, when anyone was bitten by a snake, and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation were wrapped around that pole with the promise of God rooted in Christ’s Good Friday love.

Jesus told people in His day, especially Nicodemus, that the ultimate purpose of that bronze pole in the wilderness was to point to the wood of cross on Good Friday. Jesus said, Just as Moses was lifted up in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life! (John 3:14, 15). This is love par excellence. This is love in action, thinking of the other first.

Here is the Divine pattern throughout Scripture: God lifts up Moses and Israel out of slavery to make good on His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God lifts up the people in the wilderness through this death and resurrection story to come to their senses and live not as rebels but as His royal priest, not as (murderess)[murderers] but as His messengers of grace and hope, not as tormentors but as His treasured possession.

The whole journey of Lent shows the humility and love of Christ who permits Himself to be lifted up on the cross to suffer for our sins and then three days later lifted up to conquer death and our arch enemy the vile Serpent. PAUSE.

There is nothing in history that lifts up humanity like the love story of Jesus wooing fallen humanity back to His bosom. Why is that? It is because only the story of Jesus provides solutions for mankind’s woes.

The only thing that gives the world a decisive lift, a true lift, and eternal life is the story of how Jesus allowed Himself to be lifted up on Golgotha—on Good Friday. There in love He was lifted up on that hill on top of the mountain called Zion, lifted up for all history to see. Shamefully humanity nailed Him to the cross. Shamefully Adam’s brightest and best, both Jew and Gentile, conspired to crucify the holy One of God. But somehow on that doleful, dark, depressing, depraved Day, God would turn it into His most spectacular display of love for mankind and one effective solution in history to death, alienation, and sin.

Apart from Good Friday and Easter there are no solutions in history for the madness of humanity, the death of mankind, and selfishness of human nature. Moreover, the deepest and widest inspirations for good will, find life at the foot of the pole of the cross. Take this event away from history and the most uplifting story in history is gone, along with, all its noble fruit.

Apart from Good Friday the world lacks the inspiration, the motivation, the transformation[al] love necessary to move forward with hope. Most people today live between haplessness and hopelessness. Listen to the news for few minutes and you will know why. We are bombarded by bad news from front to finish.

That is why the Holy Spirit beckons us, as people of the cross to come to God’s House—to hear the good news that Jesus brings in order to know we are loved, to grow in love, and to receive love in the Lord’s Supper—a real lifter upper! Reflect for a moment upon the good news, salvation by grace character of all three readings for this Sunday.

The Holy Spirit uses all these readings to show us of the awesome, amazing and awe-inspiring God who loves us unconditionally. His Words imbibes with the undeserved grace of calling us sinners to receive an over abundance of His mercy and compassion for the sake of the One who will hang on the cross for everyone—including you and me, Jesus the Christ. Whose love lifts! PAUSE.

It is an old story but a good one to be heard repeatedly. The story is told about a man who fell into a snake pit of rattlers. His body his feet were broken along with his arms. He was unable to move. Moreover, the poisonous snakes were coiled ready to strike him at the slightest move.

A series of religious men happen to come by. The first is Mohammed. He tells the man that he must work his way out of the pit by following the five pillars of the faith Mohammed invented. By your works you must save yourself. It is Allah's will you are in this mess. The next prophet is Buddha. Buddha tells the man life is the pits. He tells the man the suffering and sorrow is his lot. And perhaps his death will bring some form enlightenment. The third prophet is Confucius. “Man who is wise keeps open his eyes and does not fall into this kind of pit. Learn from your mistakes and better luck next time.” He leaves providing no salvation.

The four Prophet is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus sees the poor man and his predicament. He is moved with compassion and love. Without hesitation Jesus descends into the perilous pit loaded with poisonous snakes. Not thinking of Himself Jesus lifts up the man even as the snakes bit Jesus nonstop. As the man is lifted out of the pit he finds himself not only saved, but also healed. However, Christ Jesus the Lord dies in the pit for him.

That love made known by Jesus uplifts that man making him a new creation, filled with dignity, joyful having been healed, and now finding himself with even more hope. Why? On the third day this Man who died for Him is alive and well. Death has been defeated. The serpents silenced.

Only Jesus with love in His heart and holes in His hands gives mankind the gift of salvation, the lift we need, and the shift from false hope to real hope. Today, by the grace of God, I say to you, rejoice in this good news. You have in baptism already been lifted up into the heavenliness as St. Paul wrote in our Epistle Reading. What good news to put into our shoes so that we walk in hope today, tomorrow, till heaven because we have been lifted up; lifted up spiritually, emotionally and physically. Amen.

Now the peace of God…


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