Look Up and Live; Look Up and Believe
John 3:14-21 3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 3:16 “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. 3:17 “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. 3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
- The text for today references an Old Testament story in Numbers 21: 4-9. As the people of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, they grumbled and complained and regretted ever having left Egypt. As a punishment, God sent a plague of deadly snakes, which prompted the people to repent and cry out for mercy. God directed Moses to make an image of a serpent and to hold it up and those who looked upon it would be healed of the poison. When the people looked up, turning their thoughts to God, they would be healed.
- The story from Numbers isn’t just about a statue of a snake nor is it about worshiping an idol of sorts. It’s about recognizing that you need help to relieve you, release you from the grip of sin and death. You need a savior!
- This is the backdrop for John’s description of a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, (3:1-13) an inquiring Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, the governing body of the Jews at that time who sought Jesus out in the middle of the night to ask him questions.
- Jesus tells him what is necessary to truly be a part of the order of things being ushered in by Jesus. One must be “born again”, becoming a different person.
- Remaining as you are, focusing on the things of this world and what is seen and experienced, is an ok life—just not the best life God has for you, one that is not defined by successes or failures, gains and losses of the things you can see with your natural eye. Being born again means deciding to accept the love of God by allowing God to be your leader and guide and Jesus, your savior.
- Actually, it is about more than that, it is about obedience to the one who will rescue you.
- Note the Numbers passage says ‘Look and live.” John 3 passage: Believe and live. (eternally)
- It would be easy to look up at a snake on a stick or a dying man on a cross. What makes it hard is found in the difference between just looking and believing.
- Believing is a verb that’s found frequently in John’s gospel while the noun “faith” is notably absent.
- Believing means conforming behavior to obedience, not just mental affirmation that something is true.
- Do we believe that God is our loving Father, and that Jesus is the Son of God- fully human and fully divine? Are we willing to follow the example of Jesus in his obedience to the vision of the Father, who sent Jesus because of his great love for the entire world? He rejected Satan’s temptations, the goading of the people to “make him king”, the internal conflict he experienced with regard to “saving” himself from death on the cross and fulfilling the call of self-sacrifice for the sake of all creation. Doing what He says may be counter-cultural or may seem silly to some. Ex. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, attendee at both Impact UMC and Ben Hill UMC in Atlanta, discussed such inspiration as being part of her decision to enter politics. She recounted the epiphany she had in 2015, where according to reporting in By Faith Magazine, she said she was sitting in Impact after months of praying over the decision. After the service, she “immediately knew she had the confirmation to run for Mayer. I was so overcome that day, when the service was over, I couldn’t even get up out of my seat.” In her inaugural address, in 2018, she quoted Proverbs 19:21, explaining, “What I know to be true is that the Lord’s purpose has a home in my heart, and that purpose will inspire and guide me to be the Mayor that God created me to be.”
- Do we believe there is poison in our system that will kill us if we don’t seek healing and radical help? Do we believe that for all our trying to do things our way, we can’t fix ourselves or the situation without God’s help?
- This is what obedience could look like—tackling things that are hard, knowing that you are not alone. You are looking up and living because you are looking up and believing.
- I can imagine that the ancient Israelites wished that God would have removed the snakes from their midst. But God chose a different way to invite them back into relationship or to pursue a closer relationship. God left the snakes there and left them susceptible to the poison that could kill them. But for them as with us, there is a remedy, a solution to the perils that surrounded them. Stop looking down, look up and live. Look up and believe. Tell someone else that they might believe too. Particularly, take notice of people who God may put in your life this week—young parents, families struggling during the pandemic; hospital workers who are tired and stressed and stretched and share this good news. Amen.