Christ Came Down To Be Lifted Up (John 3:14-21)

Text: John 3:14-21

During the Reformation we received what is called the five solas. Sola Scriptura, which means “Scripture Alone. Solus Christus, which means, “Christ Alone.” Sola Gratia, which means, “Grace Alone.” Sola Fide, which means, “Faith Alone.” Finally, Soli Deo Gloria, which means, “To the Glory of God Alone.” These terms are in Latin and when you speak them in the Latin you not only sound smart but you kind of feel smart too! Wouldn’t you say?

Today, I want to introduce all of you to a new profound theological concept! I am going to propose another Sola so that we not only have 5 Solas, but 6 Solas! So, sit forward in your chairs, get your pens out and pay attention. The new Sola I want to introduce to you is “Sola Bootstrapsa!” What? “So-la Boot-strap-sa.” Sola Bootstrapsa means, “by the bootstraps alone!”

Sola Bootstrapsa is the teaching that we live this life by the bootstraps alone! In other words, pull yourself up by the bootstraps! It isn’t how many times you get knocked down; it is that you choose to get back up! Right! For us as Eastern Montanans and people in the Midwest we pride ourselves in the fact that we know how to rise above the difficult winters, to make a living off the rugged terrain. While this is commendable I often wonder if our Christianity in the Midwest is inhabited by Sola Bootstrapsa theology.

This idea of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is actually not a new idea. For thousands of years mankind has pondered ways in which we can ascend out of the pains of this world to a higher, better, and more profound state of being! Many people teach that through meditation and contemplation that one can reach a place of peaceful Nirvana. If we simply plunge our emotional side into the ultimate reality we can mystically experience God or be in a divine presence. Other people promote ideas that true happiness and joy happen when you empty yourself and serve others. Through the effort of our will we can earn approval with God and have assurance. Then there are those that appeal to the intellect and challenge mankind to escape the barbaric and old fashioned ways of thinking and escape to a new level of intellectual freedom and see truth in a new light! It seems to me that everywhere we look in this life that we are trying to reach some emotional and spiritual goal off in the distance. We are chasing a carrot on a stick.

The problem with Sola Bootstrapsa theology is that it is never ending! How do you know if you have done enough works in order to please God? How much of God’s presence does one need to feel in order to have assurance? How many books and mastered techniques does one have to acquire in order to live one’s best life now? Are you sure that your will is strong enough? Are your emotions fined tuned enough? Are you sure that your understanding of logic is able to bring you and keep you in intellectual freedom?

What is amazing in this text is that we see that Jesus came down! In this text Jesus is speaking to a very competent religious leader of the time named Nicodemus. In his discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus shares in verse 14, that no one can ascend into heaven. However, He shares that He, Jesus, came down to this world.

What are the implications of Jesus descending to this world from heaven? What does it mean that heaven came down to us? It means that you and I don’t have to ascend to the heavens! No more huffing and puffing. No more climbing emotionally. No more having to keep a scorecard to justify ourselves. No more pressure to perform. No more fear of worrying if we have ascending high enough. No spiritual ladders to ascend on, no emotional ropes to climb, no moral elevators to take and no intellectual escalators to ride. The reason being, heaven comes down to us! For God so loved the World that He sent!

The fact that Jesus came down to us is a profound truth. But why did He come down to us? He came down so that He might be lifted up. In John 3:14-15 we see that Jesus reminds us of the story in the book of Numbers. In the Old Testament Book of Numbers the people of Israel were bitten by snakes that were everywhere. As a result the Lord instructed Moses to put a bronze snake up on a poll and lift it up high for the people to look at it. If they were bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake on the poll, they were healed. If they didn’t look at it, they died. In our text, Jesus says that just as the bronze snake was lifted up, that he too will be lifted up. Jesus came down to be lifted up.

What is most peculiar is this. The people of Israel in Numbers chapter 21 were called to look away from their snake bite to a poisonous snake, a sign of death. By gazing at a sign of death they would have life. Is it not the same for us today? I have shared with us before that as Christians we need to be directed outside of ourselves. The natural tendency is for us to look at our sin and attempt to fix our own sin problems. Allegorically, we have been bitten by sin; we have the poison of sin in our nature, in our blood stream. Rationally, if we want to fix the problem we address the problem. However, Jesus has been lifted up on a cross. He is lifted up in the scriptures so that we can look away from ourselves, away from the problem, to Jesus. You see, the natural tendency of all of us is to turn inward on self in order to alleviate, fix, atone, and solve this problem of sin. However, just as the Israelites in Numbers were called to look away from their snake bites, we are also called to look away from this problem of sin to the Cross.

Am I and are the scriptures advocating some form of self-denial, some form of positive thinking where we don’t address the problems of sin? “Don’t worry my friends. You have no problems! Just look at Jesus! Everything is hunky dory!” No, Jesus is lifted up primarily because we have this sin problem. The purpose of the bronze snake was to deliver healing and life to those that were infected.

My friends, the solution and forgiveness to our sin, is not found in ignoring and pretending that it doesn’t exist. Rather the solution and forgiveness of our sin is found outside of us, our hope of life, the rest for the soul is not found within us, nor is it found by us climbing. We can’t simply actualize our potential to overcome this problem of sin. Rather, our hope is in the one that came down to us and has been lifted up before us. The reality of our condition can drive us to look for a solution and our solution is in Christ who has been lifted up on the cross. The cross is an objective reality that is framed in time and history. This text in John is a call for us to shift the focus from ourselves to Jesus.

Jesus came down to be lifted up so that we might believe in Him. The essence of faith is to simply believe, look, trust, and receive Jesus and His work on the Cross.

What is so amazing is that this idea of Faith is so simplistic. Faith is receiving Jesus and His work. Trusting the promise of the Word. Knowing that Jesus came down to us, and has been lifted up before us as crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected for us! Whether a person is a Jew or Gentile, a greater or a lessor sinner, young or old, male or female, rich or poor, intelligent or mentally challenged, strong or weak, successful or a failure… all of this irrelevant. For what matters is Jesus. What matters is for us to see the Christ. What matter is for us to simply trust in Christ, receive him, hold Him, lean on His promises! God intends to give, give, give and give of His forgiveness for Jesus sake. For us we get to receive the one who has been lifted up before us!

Just as the Israelites simply looked at the bronze snake that was lifted up and were rescued from certain death we have the promise in scripture that Jesus has rescued us from the pains of hell, He has rescued us from the punishment of everlasting destruction. Believe my friends! In Jesus you are saved from condemnation and will be raised up to eternal life. In Him there is full and free salvation! In Jesus it is easy, for He comes down, He saves, He tastes death for you, He is condemned in your place, He pursues You, He justifies you, He sanctifies you, He rescues you, He reconciles you, He redeems you, He converts you, He illuminates you, and He regenerates you. Heaven came down for you.