Calvary Road Baptist Church

“LIFTING UP JESUS”

John 3.13-15

 

We who live in advanced countries in this modern era typically forget how dark the nights are. We are so used to automobile headlights and bright streetlights that it is difficult for us to imagine the days when the danger of stumbling on uneven surfaces kept most people indoors in the dark of night. Therefore, it would have been unusual for any man, not just a man of Nicodemus’ advanced age and standing, to come by night to speak to this Jesus of Nazareth. The conversation became even more startling by the direction it suddenly took. The Lord Jesus Christ tore through the niceties of etiquette and convention by confronting the old Bible scholar. He told him of his need to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God he had spent the greater part of his life studying about in scripture and teaching others about. Their dialogue quickly revealed the ignorance of Nicodemus about the new birth, despite the fact that it is an important topic in the Hebrew Scriptures, that being a Bible scholar he should have been very familiar with.

The problem, of course, was that despite his accumulation of Bible facts, Nicodemus simply could not grasp heavenly concepts and truths, since no earthbound man can possibly bridge the gap that separates him from heaven. However, what about someone from heaven come down to earth? If no man from earth can bridge the gap that separates heaven and earth, would the same problem exist for a man who came down from heaven?

We jump into the conversation at John 3.13, with Nicodemus sensibly quiet and listening. Jesus continues, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” Take note of some things that occasionally trip people up.

Seventh-Day Adventists believe in the doctrine of soul sleep, that when someone dies his soul sleeps in the grave with the decaying body until the resurrection. Jehovah Witnesses believe in the doctrine of the annihilation of the soul at death, that when you die that is it. No life after death. Both of these anti-Christian cults use the first phrase of verse 13 to assert that no one goes to heaven when he dies: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven.” To correct the cultist’s error, let me explain what that phrase actually means in the context of what the whole Bible teaches about this issue.

The Bible records that Enoch was “translated” to heaven, according to Hebrews 11.5. Elijah was “taken up” to heaven, according to Second Kings 2.9. Therefore, it is true that no man “ascended” up to heaven. Why not? Because no mortal has the power to do that. However, the Lord Jesus Christ does have the power to “ascend” to heaven. Did He not specifically say, “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven”? Thus, only Christ can ascend to heaven on His Own. As for believers other than Enoch and Elijah, they were taken to Abraham’s bosom, according to Luke 16.19-22:

 

19     There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20     And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21     And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

22     And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

 

As for those converted to Christ following Christ’s resurrection from the dead, the Apostle Paul writes these words in Second Corinthians 5.8: “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” As well, the Apostle Paul writes about a person who was caught up to the third heaven, in Second Corinthians 12.2. So, this matter of no one being able to ascend to heaven himself, as opposed to no one ever actually going to heaven, is just a cultist’s smokescreen.

Back to verse 13, where we will focus our attention on the last two phrases: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.” No man can ascend to heaven, other than one who has come down from heaven. Who is that? The Lord Jesus Christ, Himself, identifying Himself to be “the Son of man which is in heaven.” Because Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, when He left heaven’s glory to come and live down here among men, in some mysterious way He was still in heaven, according to this verse. That, my friends, is an assertion of Christ’s deity. No wonder He can ascend to heaven when no one else can without His help.

Let me recap our Lord’s conversation with Nicodemus: First, our Lord declared to Nicodemus that the new birth is necessary to prepare for citizenship in the millennial kingdom. He then spoke about the impossibility of earthbound creatures grasping heavenly truths. Then, to provide us with an earthly illustration to help us grasp the truth, He reminded Nicodemus of an event that occurred long ago, John 3.14-15:

 

14     And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

15     That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

 

In verse 14, we see the imperative. The key word for this verse is the word “must.” It translates the Greek word dei, which is a Greek word used to convey the idea of compulsion of any kind.[1] For God to work out the plan of salvation for lost sinners like you and me there was a “must.” It was not an optional thing. It was something that is at the very heart and essence of God’s plan of salvation.

What is that “must?” It is the lifting up of the “Son of man.” “Son of man” being Christ’s most common way of referring to Himself in the gospels. What was necessary for God to work out His plan of salvation was for His Son to be lifted up. However, this is not the simple lifting up in adoration, which is so common among pagan religions. For God’s distinctive plan of salvation to work the Son of man “must” be lifted up in a particular way. In what way must Christ be lifted up? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness.” A. T. Robertson points out that the particular word translated “lifted” in this verse is used in the gospel of John to refer only to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ.[2] Thus, it is obvious that a link is established between the lifting of the serpent in the wilderness and our Lord’s coming crucifixion.

Turn to Numbers 21.4-9, to find out about Moses lifting up the brass serpent:

 

4      And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.

5      And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.

6      And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

7      Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

8      And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.

9      And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.

 

That Old Testament episode was used by the Lord Jesus Christ to illustrate God’s simple plan of salvation. Notice seven things, which these Israelites were not bidden to do in Numbers 21:

First, they were not told to manufacture some ointment as the means of healing their wounds. This is not to say that it is wrong to go to a doctor when you are ailing, but this occurrence is used to show that the way a spiritual problem is cured is not to try to affect a solution to spiritual problems using the aid of human means. Why anyone would go to a psychiatrist to solve a spiritual or emotional problem is beyond me. How can someone who denies one’s sin nature deal with problems that stem from a sin nature? The solution to sin problems, murder, drunkenness, stealing, and the like, is Jesus Christ. He is the only solution to sin.

Second, those Israelites were not told to minister to others who were wounded to get relief for themselves. This would seem more practical than simply looking at a pole, but it is not what God prescribed. Why do people go about trying to do good for others when they have not yet dealt with their most significant spiritual problem, which is spiritual death? It will not do them any good. Priority #1 for anyone who is lost . . . . get saved, then you will be in a position to do others some good. How in the world can a man jump in the water to save a drowning man when he himself does not know how to swim? How can a man who is unable to help himself help others? Yet there are many in the world today that spend their lives involved in works of charity with the vain expectation that it will stand them in good stead when they stand before Jesus Christ at the Great White Throne judgment.

Third, they were not told to fight serpents. What good does it do to fight against serpents when the people are already bitten? So what if a sinner fights against sin? So what if a lost man marches in protest to abortion? Does that fight against the serpent cure his snakebite? Does that fight against sin cure his own sin problem? Of course not. Let the people who are cured of the snakebite go about to kill snakes. You worry about being cured first.

Fourth, they were not told to make an offering to the serpent on the pole. God did not want payment from those Israelites to be healed any more than He wants payment from sinners to be saved. All He wanted from those Israelites was a look of faith and He would freely give them what they needed. This religious mumbo jumbo about taking sacraments or giving money to a church to go to heaven is nothing more than sophisticated paganism. God does not need anything from you, and until you are reconciled to Him He does not want anything from you.

Fifth, they were not told to pray to the serpent. Why do people pray to ask God to do something that He has already both said and demonstrated that He is willing to do? When God says “Look and live,” do not pray and hope to live. You are not saved by praying. You are saved by looking to Christ to save you from your sins.

Sixth, they were not told to look at Moses. The Israelites’ problem was looking at Moses. He could not save anyone. Anyone who looks to me for salvation is not only in bad trouble but also demonstrates a decided lack of judgment. A leader is one thing. A Savior is quite another. Look to Christ and live. No one else will do, not even Moses.

Finally, they were not told to look at their wounds. Salvation is not found within any sinner. Self- examination past the point of discovering personal sin is a complete waste of time. Do you want to know more about yourself? Read the Bible and you will find out fast enough. Jeremiah 17.9-10:

 

9      The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

10     I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.

 

What, then, is the imperative if it is none of the things we have discussed? Actually, there are two. It was imperative that Christ be lifted up, and this, we know, was on the cross. There was no other way. He had to suffer and bleed and die for sins. Second, it is imperative that sinners respond that same way Moses told the Israelites to respond. Look and live.

We are examining, in John 3.14-15, the manner by which the necessity of the new birth is illustrated. Having seen the imperative, in verse 14, we now turn to the issue, in verse 15: “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” The issue is very simple, is it not? It is rather like Moses, so long ago in Deuteronomy chapter 30, who said, “I have set before you this day life and death.” “Whosoever,” in John 3.15, reveals that the offer is extended to anyone who believes. “Believeth” shows that this is a simple matter of faith and that you can do nothing.

·         “In Him” shows that far more significant than the amount of your faith, or the quality of your faith, is the direction of your faith and the object of your faith.

·         “should not perish, but have eternal life.” The word “perish” does not mean extinction, but ruination. It does not refer to loss of being, but loss of well-being. The alternative to this is the possession of eternal life.

 

Please note that the Lord Jesus Christ is not drawing a stark contrast between existence and nonexistence, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses would have us to believe. Rather, the Lord Jesus Christ is drawing a stark contrast between two types of future existence. The expected destiny, the normal destiny, the usual destiny awaiting the man or woman who enters eternity, is eternal ruination. Elsewhere this is referred to as eternity in the lake of fire. However, the person who believes in Jesus has a different destiny altogether. For the one who believes in Jesus Christ it is eternal life.

Concerning the manner by which the Lord Jesus Christ showed to Nicodemus the necessity of the new birth, it was by showing him that the Son of Man must be lifted up between heaven and earth. Only later was Nicodemus to learn that this would occur on Mount Calvary. Additionally, to receive the benefit of all that He did we need but look the look of faith. Not so our faith may save us and give us life, but that the Object of our faith, the One who is looked to, will save us and give us eternal life.

 

SERMON:

 

My text for this morning is John 3.14-15:

 

14     And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:

15     That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

 

Vital to the lost believing in Jesus Christ, so they will have eternal life and not perish, is the lifting up of the Son of man. Our mission at Calvary Road Baptist Church is to do evangelism. We exist to carry out the Great Commission of making disciples by bringing the lost to Christ, by baptizing those who are converted to Christ, and then by training them to do all things whatsoever Christ has commanded. Vital to this church’s ongoing ministry of reaching the lost is lifting up the Son of man. This morning I want to rehearse three ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ must be lifted up so sinners can believe in Him and not perish, but have eternal life:

 

First, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST MUST BE LIFTED UP LITERALLY

 

This, of course, is what the Lord Jesus Christ meant when He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” He was referring to the cross of Calvary. Let us keep in mind that eternal life does not come to those who believe in Jesus Christ apart from His sacrifice on the cross. Neither does eternal life come to those who rely on the efficacy of the cross of Calvary but whose faith in not fixed upon a living Savior.

The picture that our Lord pointed us to was of Moses hoisting the brass figure of a serpent atop a pole. Far enough away and high enough off the ground that those afflicted Israelites could only look at the serpent to be healed of the poisonous snakebite. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ is just out of the reach of the sinner, making it impossible for anyone to think himself capable of performing some type of saving work, but well within the range of the look of faith. So you see, to look with the eyes of faith and believing in Jesus is the same thing. As looking to the brass serpent healed the Israelite of the poisonous snakebite, so the look of faith directed to Jesus forever cures the soul’s poisonous affliction called sin.

 

Next, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST MUST BE LIFTED UP EVANGELISTICALLY

 

To lift up Christ evangelistically is obviously an application of the literal truth of our text. The Lord Jesus Christ was literally lifted up when He was cruelly and brutally crucified on the cross, where He shed His blood an atonement for our sins. To lift up Christ evangelistically is to lift Him up in the eyes of sinners so they hear of this One who came to save us from our sins, this One who suffered the punishment for our sins, this One who receives sinners unto Himself and forgives their sins. One preacher summed up his entire ministry of preaching the gospel and pointing sinners to Christ in the hopes they would turn from their sins and embrace Him as “making much of Jesus.”

Listen to Philippians 2.6-11:

 

6      Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7      But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8      And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9      Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10     That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11     And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Listen to Colossians 1.12-29:

12     Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:

13     Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

14     In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

15     Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

16     For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17     And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

18     And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.

19     For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;

20     And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

21     And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled

22     In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:

23     If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

24     Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body’s sake, which is the church:

25     Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God;

26     Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints:

27     To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:

28     Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus:

29     Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily.

 

I could go on, but you see how the Lord Jesus Christ can be lifted up to the lost as the Savior worthy of their consideration, worthy of their adoration, worthy of their praise, and worthy of their faith. This is part and parcel of what evangelism is all about, showing sinful man how down low in the depths of depravity and sin he is, and then pointing that same sinner to the Savior, high and lifted up, where He is ready to save to the uttermost anyone who will come to God by Him.

 

Finally, THE LORD JESUS CHRIST MUST BE LIFTED UP PERSONALLY

 

Let me explain what I mean when I say Jesus must be lifted up personally. I mean that the attempt to lift up Christ only by powerful presentations of the gospel is insufficient and does Him a great injustice. The Savior must be greatly exalted in the minds of his own even when we are not putting on the show to recruit others to enlist in our cause.

There have been far too many persuasive soul winners capable of wooing a fellow to bow his head and repeat the words of a prayer, all the while living ungodly and wretched lives. So, more is needed than the ability to lift up Christ when presenting the gospel, when describing Him as a powerful and glorious Savior. What is needed by each and every one of us is to lift up Jesus in our personal lives by showing His effect on our style of living.

Does Christ make a difference? If He makes a difference, then show the difference in the way you live, in the way you give, in the way you pray, in the way you spend, and in the way you play. After all, how frequently do we see the gospel message discredited in the eyes of sinners who mistakenly evaluate the greatness of our Savior by the shoddy behavior of those of us who claim Him. Sinners are frequently blind to the fact that while there is much wrong with every Christian, there is nothing wrong with Christ. Therefore, while it is truly foolish and soul threatening for sinners to look too much to Christians for an estimation of the worth of Christ, they nevertheless do it. This leaves us with the great burden to lift up Christ in such a way in our personal lives that we have genuine credibility when we lift of Christ evangelistically.

 

Jesus told Nicodemus, “even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” We have good reason to believe that Nicodemus subsequently became a believer in Jesus Christ. What do you think made the difference in Nicodemus’ mind? To be sure, no man comes to Christ except the Father draws him. However, in his own mind, what do you think persuaded him to come to Christ for life? Some might think it was consideration of Christ’s deity, or the great and awesome demonstrations of miracle working power. If it was Jesus walking on water or raising the dead, that is fine.

However, let me suggest a consideration to those of you here this morning that are not converted, who have not embraced my Savior. Have you any acquaintances or loved ones who are willing to die on the cross for you? Therefore, you see, the Lord Jesus Christ is unique in His willingness to take your place on Calvary’s cross. Thus, He came for you and was lifted up, literally died on the cross for you. I will venture a guess that you know of no one else who would do that for you. Do you ever think about Him dying on the cross for you? What a sacrifice. In response, He directs you to come to Him. Will you come to Him?



[1] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), pages 213-214.

[2] A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol V, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1930), page 49.

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pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org