Lent 4, March 14, 2021
Text: John 3:14–21
Have you ever tried to go up a down escalator? Sounds kind of dumb, right? Of course, when we are young, we tend to do dumb things. When I was a senior in High School, I went on our class trip to New York city and Washington D.C. On the day we were to fly home, Dean Teofilo, Phil Rettig and I decided to walk up a down escalator at Newark International Airport. We made it. Got a lot of strange looks from people. I can tell you the last few steps were the hardest.
To many people, life is like that, like trying to climb up a “down” escalator. It often appears to many that life keeps trying to pull us down. (up vs. down)
This morning comes help we desperately need—a word to lift our eyes, quicken our step, and pick us up. It’s John 3:16 (and more), the Good News from the God who gave His only begotten Son. God’s Love Lifted His Son on the Cross, and by His Love He Lifts Us Up from Death to Life.
Life, as we experience it, can bring us down. Lot’s of times we don’t get to “pet the bacon.” I am old enough to remember the sixties and hearing people say, “Don’t be such a downer, man!” But life has a way of pulling us down, doesn’t it? Life has a downward pull in many ways.
We get discouraged at the news, like in the way our leaders lie to us. I will let you pick your favorite examples for that. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of examples to choose from.
We get discouraged as the pandemic keeps going on and on. I am sure you have all seen the stories and the studies on the number of people who are suffering from depression during the pandemic. Case numbers are going down, vaccines are out, but we are not done with all this yet, and we have been dealing with this for over a year now.
We see the war going on in Afghanistan, the violence in the Middle East, the violence in this country, the violence that happened at our Capitol building. This sort of thing can bring us down. Did you know that in the last 3100 years of recorded history, there have been only 286 years of peace? In that same time, 8000 treaties have been made, and broken.
We look at the morals in our world and see them going down. Bernie Madoff. Your “favorite” politician (Andrew Cuomo). One from a few years back is Josef Frizl (the Austrian guy who held his daughter hostage for 24 years and got her pregnant 8 times). Or this story: In 2009 some Goodwill workers in Denver went to empty out their big container at a mall and in it was a green box, about so big. It had the words, “Front Toward Enemy” on it. Figure it out? Somebody thought it would be fun to donate to Goodwill a Claymore anti-personnel mine. It was live, BTW. A bunch of folks could have been killed.
There are lots more things that bring us down. One thing that can bring us down is the aging of these things (bodies). Our temples of the Holy Spirit do tend to break down as we get older. As I am nearing 60 years of age, I had the three eye procedures last year, which you may remember, and I am going to need something else done (not eyes) coming up in May, probably. And that will most likely not be the last one, right?
An additional downer is the incessant pull of our busy schedules and the expectations of others. One of the easy ways we get down in our society today is because we are too busy. We take on too much.
One more “downer” is that our sins bring us down. Very often the things that we do that displease God also cause us worry, anxiety, consequences. Guilt can also be a “downer.” Many times when we are “down” it is because of sin.
And the sad truth is when this is happening to us it is very evident to those around us. Just in our body language: our eyes go down, our shoulders droop, and so on. My mentor pastor, the guy who gave me a kick in the keister to go to seminary, used to do this. I would go to his office to talk to him and he would be at his desk all….I would usually start to kid him about being Atlas, you know, having the world on his shoulders.
In our text today, Jesus spoke to a man who knew the downward pull: Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee weighed down with religious obligations. I have told you over the years how the Pharisee’s ideas of religion was making up lots of rules to follow. That was the way they thought you had to honor God. If God liked 10 laws, make up a thousand more and God will be really happy. Nicodemus was tired of all these made-up rules pulling him down, and he felt himself pulled toward Jesus. But Nicodemus was also being pulled down by fear. He was afraid that if people knew his interest in Jesus, that would cost him the approval of the Jews. And this was before the cancel culture and Twitter shaming. That’s why he came at night.
Thankfully, God’s work is to lift us up. God set a pattern for that work by lifting up the Israelites (Num 21:4–9). They were rebellious, snakebitten, waiting to die, crying for help. But God had Moses erect a bronze serpent on a pole, lifted high for everyone to see. And Moses invited the people, “Look up and live,” which was a summons to faith! Those who looked, lived. Physical life was restored.
Now Jesus was about to show Nicodemus the fulfillment of that pattern. He explained God’s grace fully. God would lift up more than just Israel; He would lift up the whole world. God would lift up not just bodies from physical suffering, but souls to life everlasting.
To lift us up, God lifted up His Son (vv 14–16). Jesus was lifted up on the cross. We celebrate it in our songs: “Lift High the Cross” (LSB 837). “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (LSB 702). “Lord I Lift Your Name on High.” “We Want to see Jesus Lifted High.” “Raise Up the Crown.” We picture it in our architecture: Crosses on steeples everywhere, like The Christ of the Andes high above Rio de Janeiro, or the cross at the top of the steeple at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Engadine, MI.
Jesus was lifted up on the cross and at His resurrection. Lifted up from the grave. Up from death. This is the basis of our true joy: He lives! And still there was more. Finally, Jesus was lifted up at His ascension. The last earthly look of the disciples is upward, as Jesus is taken back to heaven (Acts 1:9–10).
Do you need lifting up? Let the love of Jesus Christ lift you! Look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). The crucified and risen Jesus Christ has lifted you out of sin and into peace with God. Jesus did not come to bring you down, but to save you (v 17). Lay your burdens down. Let them go. Stand up/sit up straight. Look up. You are forgiven!
Nicodemus took to heart what He heard from Jesus that day of our text. When Jesus was later lifted up on the cross, Nicodemus looked up and lived. We read (Jn 19:39–42) that he returned the love Jesus had given him, helping Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of the Lord. His life had taken a turn, from down to up. God’s love had lifted him! Just as it lifts you!
Whatever you are dealing with, whatever is bring you down, know that Jesus is here always, to lift you back up.
In the Name of Jesus.