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Reflections on John 3:14-15 Part 2


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REFLECTIONS ON JOHN 3:14-15 Part 2


Moses and Jesus – the Connection

These two situations are connected both on the physical and on the spiritual level. The physical is self-evident. The snake was lifted up on a standard, Jesus was lifted up on the cross. The cross is the symbol and standard of Christians. In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches people make the sign of the cross, 1 and in their liturgical calendars a day is dedicated to the exaltation of the cross

On the spiritual level both situations are connected by the fact that God has chosen these two as the only means of salvation, the one in a specific historical situation of danger and the other for the whole of mankind and for all time. The Moses episode foreshadows that of Christ in harmony with the whole of the Old Testament which is fulfilled in the New. What God has chosen has to be accepted by an appropriate response on the part of the people. That response is the gaze of the people in trusting belief who see beyond the physical reality and appearances and focus on the healing and saving power of God. On the spiritual level it is salvation through faith that links both situations. As the snake on the standard was the only means of salvation, so Jesus Christ on the cross is the only means of salvation for man today. There is no other person able to save, no other person able to provide the means by which we can be “born from above”:
There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven given to humankind by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Furthermore, the twofold dimension inherent in the verb “lifted up”, strikingly recalls Isaiah where both concepts are combined:
See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high. (Isaiah 52:13)
Again we come to the crucial means of entering into salvation, not through the emotions nor through the intellect, nor through human effort or merit of any sort but by a trusting faith, a faith born of the Holy Spirit who quickens our spirit to see beyond the physical lifting up on the cross to the resurrection and glorification of Christ who establishes his eternal Kingdom here and now. It is at this level, the deepest level of our being, that faith is generated and it is at this level that the healing miracle of salvation takes place which allows us to enter the Kingdom of God: “what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6) If we are receptive the Holy Spirit will gently lead our spirit to that saving act of faith that enables us to say “Here I am Lord, I am yours”.

It takes nothing less than the power of the Holy Spirit to believe what goes contrary to natural logic. The cross is pure folly for the natural man; it is a symbol of weakness, defeat, ignominy, the bloody death of a criminal, executed in the company of other criminals. There is absolutely nothing that is sublime to the natural eye, no sense of glory or exaltation, no sense of power; precisely the opposite. How can a person possibly believe this?
he had no beauty or majesty that we should look at him, nothing attractive in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by all, a man of sorrows and familiar with grief; like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we considered him of no account. …. But, he was wounded for our sins, he was crushed for our wickedness… and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:2-5)
The cross goes contrary to natural belief; it goes contrary to the logic of man. It runs counter to the natural aspirations and ambitions of man. The natural man cannot accept it, neither emotionally or intellectually. He must be born from above.

In the Catholic and Orthodox Churches people make the sign of the cross, and in their liturgical calendars a day is dedicated to the exaltation of the cross and Paul writes: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). He preferred this to ‘lofty words’ and ‘wisdom’ because he realised that what is born of the flesh is flesh. Natural words, although lofty, cannot generate the new life. A miracle is needed from above and this must come with
a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:4, 5)
The cross runs counter to the logic we are used to. It is a sign of death, but also a source of life, a sign of defeat, but also of triumph. The cross is the paradox that lies at the heart of Christian doctrine and life. The cross is the weakness of man but the power of the Holy Spirit and it is only this divine power that can bring about the new birth, the gateway to the Kingdom of God and salvation therein. What is not possible to man is possible to God.

The reason for the cross is eternal life for man: “so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (v. 16). God alone is eternal. We saw that in the first verse of Genesis so the life which is eternal is the very life of the eternal God himself, we become partakers of the divine nature of God himself. (2 Peter 1:4)

It is by gazing on the cross that we too can join Mary in saying:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant. … the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
Our spirit can only exult with delight when gazing on the cross if the Holy Spirit has first overshadowed us with his power as he did to Mary and as he did when he “hovered over the waters” in Genesis 1:2. Only then can we be born from above through the merits of he who has been ‘lifted up’, the resurrected Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. It is only when the Word of God resounds within each of us and says “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) that that light envelopes the universe and each one of us and new life is generated.

It is during that spiritual gaze that opens us up to the power of the Holy Spirit and with which we accept the embrace of those outstretched arms on the cross that all heaven breaks loose and the light of God penetrates our innermost depths. That trust, or faith, is far from being a leap in the dark it is a leap into the light of God and into the very power of the Holy Spirit that bursts forth to give birth to a new creation, a new life, a life characterised by a sense of joy, freedom and fulfilment. A sense of fullness replaces the sense of emptiness, joy replaces sadness, peace replaces that inner restlessness, inner freedom replaces the oppression of circumstances and difficulties. A new self is born with a new sense of direction.

This new life is available to anyone and everyone to "whoever looks up and believes". There is no discrimination of any sort, age, race, religion. You just come as you are with the wish to allow the Holy Spirit to redirect your life from self to God, from the source of your sadness, restlessness and emptiness to the source of strength, peace, joy, happiness and fulfilment:
His divine power has given us everything needed for life (2 Peter 1:3)
But without him we have nothing, and can do absolutely nothing: “apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). However, in him, with him and through him we can do all that is needed: I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

When we gaze at the cross what do we see? Did the Israelites only see a snake on a standard? When they looked steadfastly at that figure were they not trusting in the power of God that became operative in their lives? They looked because they saw not a snake but the salvation from God, God taking care of his people, being with them, caring for them, protecting them, uplifting them, strengthening them, guiding them towards the Promised Land. So it is with us, his disciples.

There is, in the cross and in the resurrection, yet another lifting up, the lifting up of the disciples of Christ, the anawim Yahweh. Jesus did not go to the cross empty handed. He took with him everything that weighs us down, everything that oppresses us, the power of evil that prevents us from towering above our limitations and our suffering.

The cross and the resurrection cannot be separated; they are two sides of the same coin. What rendered the passion and crucifixion endurable was the vision of the resurrection:
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy reserved for him endured the cross, scorning the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
It would not be out of place to think that part of that glorious vision reserved for him was also the uplifting of his followers. Jesus was the Father’s gift to us and at the moment of his death and resurrection he offered us as his gift to the Father. He emptied himself and came to share in our common humanity, so that we could be uplifted with him, in him and through him, now and forever:
God, who is rich in mercy, revealed his immense love and gave us life with Christ after being dead through our sins. By grace you have been saved! And he raised us up to life in Christ, giving us a place in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-6)

Your life is now hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)




NOTES


1 The Catholic sign of the cross: Using your right hand, you should touch your forehead at the mention of the Father; the lower middle of your chest at the mention of the Son; and the left shoulder on the word "Holy" and the right shoulder on the word "Spirit." http://catholicfaithwarriors.blogspot.it/2012/09/the-sign-of-cross.html

The Orthodox sign of the cross: Orthodox Christians cross themselves from right to left. First place the thumb and first two fingers together in a point, and our last two fingers flat against our palm. The three fingers together represent the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the two fingers in the palm represent the two natures of Christ and express our faith in the divine and human natures of Christ.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jAM2IC6Ialg. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0yqZQy5joQg.

There are other Christian communities that also make use of the sign of the cross for example:
Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: “In the morning, when you rise, you shall bless yourself with the holy cross and say: In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.”
http://bookofconcord.org/smallcatechism.php#prayers

United Methodism: “All of that being said, I strongly favor making the sign of the cross and do so regularly in my private prayers and when receiving communion (just before taking the elements and just after) and, as a pastor, I made the sign of the cross toward the congregation when blessing them at the end of the service.”
http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?ptid=1&mid=1432


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