John 3:14-21 (Fourth Sunday in Lent—Series B)
“The Love of God Seen in the Cross”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
March 15, 2015
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 3:
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the wild animals that Yahweh God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’’ But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen 3:1-5)
With that temptation, the serpent sunk its fangs into the man and the woman. The venom of doubt and mistrust of God and His Word coursed through their veins with the first bite. The woman “took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.” (Gen 3:6b) The man and the woman disobeyed God. The venom of doubt became the poison of sin. The bite is fatal. It is only a matter of time. The man and the woman will die. The serpent lied. He deceived them. They got too close, and he bit them. They played with the serpent Satan and the snake Sin, and their venomous fangs bit into the man and woman spreading the deadly poison that brings death through their bodies and souls.
“Biting the Soul of man and infusing it with the venom of wickedness,” the whole human race has been poisoned. (Cyril of Alexandria) The fiery serpent has bitten every one of us, and we are dying because of the venom of sin flowing through our bodies and souls. Original sin, inherited sin. It is s deadly poison which means we are dead men walking. The fictional character of a zombie is labeled “the living dead.” You and I, and all people, are actually by nature the living dead. It’s not fiction. We are physically alive, yes, but we are spiritually dead. At the moment of conception, all that was conceived was a spiritual corpse. A human being, a soul, oh yes! But a spiritually dead human and soul, poisoned to death with the venom of sin. We were lost and without God in the world, coiling and striking and being bitten ourselves by the very sins we cherish as the venom kills us. Poisoned with sin, each of us has stepped over the line; we are transgressors. This is what we heard from God’s Word in the Epistle lesson this morning from Paul’s letter to the Ephesian Christians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” (Eph. 2:1-2 ESV)
You and I are living dead who are dying because of the venom of sin. And each time we disobey God’s Word and sin against Him with our thoughts, our words, our desires, and our actions, it is as if the serpent bites again, injecting more venom into us. When we put our wants and passions first in our life; when we curse and swear; when we lie and deceive, the snake drives us further away from God. Each time we fail to show love and mercy to another person, as we live selfish lives, the snake drags our dying bodies and souls into doubt and despair, into the sludge of guilt where there is no comfort or relief.
Look in the mirror and see a dying person. Look in the mirror and know the guilt of your sin. Behold your doubt of God’s Word, your neglect of God’s Word. See your sins and failings to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These are the symptoms of the venom of sin, the deadly poison within you. Realize your hopelessness. There is no way you can escape its death unless that relief comes from heaven itself.
To save a snake-bite victim from the deadly venom of the viper, the victim needs to receive anti-venom. The anti-venom counteracts the poison and saves the bite victim from death. It is God alone who is able to provide humanity with the anti-venom for sin and death. Out of His incredible love for the unlovable sinner, God gave us His Son. “For God loved the word this way, that He gave the One-of-a-Kind Son, in order that all who believe in Him should not perish but should have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:4-5)
The starting point of our salvation is God in His eternal love for sinners. “The immortal, the infinite majesty without beginning or end, loved those who were but dust and ashes.” (Chrysostom) Romans 5:8, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were still filled with the venom of sin, when we were still constantly offending God with our words and actions that are contrary to His Word, God loved us and gave His Son to be lifted up on a cross so that we might receive the anti-venom—the forgiveness of sins and the rescue from death purchased and won by Jesus’ suffering and death.
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, in this way it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up, so that all who believe in Him should have eternal life.” When the poisonous snakes bit the people of Israel, they died. The “anti-venom” was trust, faith, in God’s Word of promise, that whoever looked upon the bronze snake lifted up on the pole would live physically. This foreshadowed Jesus Christ who was lifted up on a cross, so that whoever trusts in Him by faith, will be saved from sin and spiritual, eternal, death.
Jesus Christ suffered, died, and shed His blood so that we might trust in His promise, “God did not send the Son into the world in order that He should judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” It is the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us that cleanses us from our sin. (1 John 1:7) It is the blood of Jesus that removes from us the poison of sin and saves us from eternal death. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18 ESV)
The death of Jesus Christ in our place, the sacrifice of Himself on the cross and the shedding of His own holy, precious blood, heals us from the poison of sin and saves us from death. Through the saving gift of Holy Baptism, by water and the Word of Promise, we are born again from above into a living faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. The object of this saving faith, this trust, is Jesus Christ as the Crucified One. We believe that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, suffered and died on the cross to save us from all our sins. He rose again from the dead on the third day. Receiving the forgiveness of sins in His name through the Gospel in Word, and Baptism, and Supper, we are crucified with Christ and die to sin and we rise again with Christ to live with Him eternally. We are healed from the poison and venom of sin. We will not die eternally, but will live with Christ forever. To us “snake-bitten” people, this is the life, the eternal life, we have in Christ. We are children of God by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. With His cross and resurrection Christ has provided us the anti-venom to sin and death: forgiveness of sins. It is God’s gift to us out of His great love, because He is gracious and merciful. Look, then, with faith upon Christ as He says to you in Holy Absolution, “I forgive you all your sins.” Come to His Supper and feast upon the very anti-venom of His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Respond, then, to the love of God with your praises and your thanksgivings. Go forth and live your life with love toward one another just as God in Christ first loved you. Amen.