Open up the yellow pages and you can find a ton of listings that will remove pretty much whatever you want removed. There are ads for chimney sweeps to remove built up grime. There are people willing and able to remove insects, weeds, garbage, wallpaper, old fixtures, homes, cars and even bad husbands. Humanity can boast in their wisdom to remove pretty much anything we want removed. Yet humanity failed to have wisdom enough to remove the one thing that I needed removed, time and time again.
As a child I was terrified of it, especially during a storm and on nights when my parents were not home. I remember a moment when I was in need of something to help me remove it but, I had no idea where to look. The solution I needed was no where to be found and I knew I could not call anyone who would be readily to remove what moved me to be deathly afraid.
Darkness is what I was afraid of and darkness is the one thing that man could not remove. Oh sure we can turn the lights on but, the light is only a temporary fix. On those rare occasions when darkness filled my home and I knew where the flashlight was, I was still afraid. The light could only displace what it touched. Therefore, the darkness still existed beyond the light. I would toss the faded beam of light all around me, at any odd sound and wherever my artificial light was, there was the darkness waiting.
I hated the darkness. I wanted it gone and I figured everyone around me wanted the darkness gone as well. So, you can imagine my surprise when I heard that Jesus said of man, “that men loved the darkness instead of the light.” Why would anyone love darkness? I felt there must be some mistake because if humanity indeed loved darkness then why did we bother with street lamps? Why light up as many areas of darkness as we possibly can? Humanity has created so many ways to diffuse the darkness, it just made no sense to me that Jesus said we loved what we continually tried to cover over.
You would think that if we were continually trying to find new ways to cover over the darkness around us, that we should have jumped for Joy when Jesus told us, “Light has come into the world.” Light! That’s what I wanted as a child. I wanted light to get rid of the darkness. I wanted light to be on hand when I had to walk home at night, fearing what might jump out at me from around the corner. I wanted light because wherever the light was, I felt safe. Why is it that humanity does not want to feel safe? Why is it that we love the darkness where all sorts of bad things can happen? This love of darkness made no sense to me as a child and you know, it still makes no sense.
I know, I know…when Jesus arrived on this world he did not glow in such a way that wherever he went there was a physical light instead of darkness. Although the thought of Jesus walking with me, lighting the way for me in the darkness, was quite appealing, I soon learned that the darkness Jesus was talking about was of mind and body. Jesus is Lord. Jesus is my Savior but Jesus is not my flashlight! But if humanity worked so hard to bring as much light in the midst of darkness, why do we not continue on that path and seek light in our spiritual darkness? Why is it, that so many indeed cling to darkness?
Jesus answered that question for me as well. He said, “Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear of being exposed.” Those who continue to write grafitti on the shack on church property, do so in the darkness. Those who steal do so in the darkness. Those who seek to harm others often seek to do so where there is the least amount of light and those who fail to love Jesus do so because they are still in darkness. Welcoming the light of Christ means they have to give up their darkened ways.
When a person lives for the light of Christ, what they are doing is saying, “I will live for Jesus and for what he wants and for what he offers. I will not trust in my own understanding and even when it seems that God is doing something in my life I do not understand, I will still stick with the light of Christ rather than go back to my darkened understanding.
The people of God, who were directed by Moses tried to have it both ways. They would say that they wanted to live under God, yet the continued to go back to the darkness just as soon as something did not go the way they wanted. Take the time when God’s people started complaining because Moses would not engage Edom in battle. Scripture tells us that the people of God became impatient with God and spoke out against God. They used that same old lame line saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
Do you think that the people who said this to God loved God? Did they trust in their Lord? You and I might shake our heads at the bold ignorance of God’s people. We might wonder how anyone could put God on their own level and not trust in the light of God? Yet, we do the same thing these people of God did years ago. We complain when times get tough. We speak out against God when we are hurt, or in trial. We blame others when things do not go our way. We would rather trust in our own understanding and our own plans rather than trust in God or in the servants he places in the midst of his people. In other words we often return to darkness just the way God’s people did in the Bible.
In our Old Testament lesson we read that God wanted to teach His people a lesson. He sent venomous snakes to bite and kill his people. He wanted to teach his people that going back into the darkness was not part of His plan. He wanted His people to realize that rejecting God’s Manna and Direction was tantamount to spurning God’s Grace and Wisdom. The sending of Poisonous snakes was only a mild lesson. God’s Grace won over the darkened understanding of His People. His Light was seen in His Promise. After praying for the Lord to Lighten their path, they were told to make a bronze snake, stick it on a pole and look at it. If they did these things they would live.
Sadly, this means of Grace that God provided was only a temporary solution. His promise did indeed remove the poison from his people but the darkness still remained. They would again go up against God. They would again turn back to the darkness time and time again.
The Gospel reading that connects itself with Numbers 21, is John 3:14-21. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus saying, “Jesus as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Here we are reminded that the bronze snake was a temporary solution, one of many God provided to remove the poison of sin from His people. Back then, all God’s people had to do was look at the bronze snake and live. God’s Word was the power, attached to the bronze snake. In Baptism, God’s Word is attached to water and those who believe in God’s promise and wash become Baptized into Christ Jesus and their sins are washed away. There were some back in Moses day that would not believe that looking at a Bronze Snake would remove poison. There are many Christians today that do not believe that washing in water connected to God’s Word produces anything more than just a symbolic gesture. But Scripture says, “Get up, be Baptized and wash your sins away.” And so we believe that our sins are literally washed away, just as we believe that the poison was literally removed in Moses’ time. We believe because the light of Christ has removed our darkened understanding so that we can believe that anything is possible with God. With the word of promise, poison can be removed. With the word of promise, sins can be washed away and with the WORD of promise, Jesus can become a one time sacrifice by dying and rising again.
Jesus reminds us that whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. So now, in faith when we hear that Jesus says, “the Son of Man must be lifted up”, we have no darkness getting in the way of our understanding. We know that Jesus was referring to the work he had yet to do upon this world.
The Words of Jesus were really two fold that day he spoke to Nicodemus. The Son of Man had to be lifted up in three ways. First the Son of Man had to be lifted up upon the cross. There He allowed himself to nailed to the tree, so suffer and die; lifted high above the onlookers who mocked him even to his last breath. He had to be lifted up for all to see. There could be no doubt that Jesus suffered and died. The soldiers even tested Jesus to make sure he was dead, by sticking him in the side to where blood and water flowed. So Jesus was lifted up to be our one time sacrifice and those that looked upon him and believed, would have life.
But before those who looked upon him could receive this eternal promise, Jesus had to be lifted up a second time. Three days later Jesus rose again. In doing so he defeated sin, death and the devil. Jesus lifted himself up for all to see. He walked around with people on a road. He showed himself to his disciples and when He rose into the heavens many saw him do so. Now, when people looked upon Jesus and believed, they truly would have darkness removed from them for all time. Jesus become the darkness remover that no human could ever have been. Jesus, the remover of darkness had to be perfect, he had to be sinless and he thus had to be the Son of God. He was placed upon a pole an lifted up and now we who believe are lifted up.
There is one more lifting up that needs to be completed before the day comes when Jesus lifts us up to be with him for all eternity. The Son of Man must now be lifted up by you and I. We are to lift him up before others, the way that bronze snake was lifted up. God wants us to Lift up the Son of Man before men. He wants us to tell others that upon believing in the promises attached to the Son of Man, the poison of eternal darkness will be swept away.
In Moses day, God’s people were dying because they were bitten by poisonous snakes. They could physically see the effects of the poison and as such they called out to God in fear and trembling and were willing to do whatever God asked, simply for the chance to live. The people who do not believe in Jesus today do not realize that they have been bitten by the poisoned darkness of sin. Yet the evidence of the poison is clear. We are all dying. Nothing in life comes easy to us. This world is constantly in turmoil and the people of this world know enough to look for answers. They are just looking in the wrong place because how can they find anything in darkness? They need the light of the world. They need Jesus to shine through the darkness and help them see their need for our one true Savior. They need to see, even as we all do, that sin kills. You and I confess our sins daily before our Lord seeking and imploring his Grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We confess even though we know that we are no longer condemned thanks to the shed blood of Jesus. Now it is time for others to know that they will no longer stand condemned if they believe in Him.
As a child the darkness condemned me to fear and I longed to have light shine through the darkness because I felt safe in the light. As an adult I confess that same truth only the light I seek does not just cover over the darkness of sin, death and the devil, it ultimately removes it from doing us any eternal harm. Therefore, in Christ is the light of this world, a light no darkness can overcome. And this light has been lifted up for you and for me. This is how God so loved the world, that He sent his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. This is how we show our love for God, by lifting up the Son of Man before others so that they too might believe and escape the darkness for the light of Christ. Amen.