John 3:16 is the world's favorite Bible verse. We all know it. We even hold it up at sporting events. For people who grew up in church and did Bible drills, it had to be the first one we memorized. It succinctly states the gospel mission of the Triune God.
Sadly, we often pass over this section of scripture because we think we have it all down. There is nothing new to glean out of it.
I myself have done this before.
Last week, when I took the youth at St. Paul's on our summer mission trip, I accidentally found myself spending two days reading the 3rd chapter of John. Later I realized I was supposed to be reading 1 John 3 (it was at that point the theme of camp made much more sense).
What I did find on my little two day excursion in John 3 was something I have never really paid attention to.
No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Human One. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Human One be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
Lifting up snakes...huh? Unless Jesus is some Appalachian hill preacher with a box full of rattlers, this makes us scratch our heads.
What Jesus is referencing comes from Numbers 21:8-9 (NRSV)
And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
During one of the Israelites notorious streaks of grumbling, God sent snakes among the camp and people were being bit and died. When they repented, Moses was instructed to make a bronze snake and set it on a pole. When anyone was bitten by a snake they could look at the snake on the pole and be healed.
The interesting part of it is the Hebrew word that gives us the verb "look." A simple word, but rich in meaning. The idea of looking upon God, or gazing at Him implies a sense of awe and worship. It is the gaze in which revelation comes and an awareness of a saving experience. This wasn't just looking at a snake!
A simple action with tremendous results.
It brings new meaning to what Jesus told Nicodemus that night. The son of man must be lifted up for people to look upon. In the simple action tremendous things happen. When people set their eyes upon Jesus no judgment is reckoned against them.
God provides a way to fix the destructive powers of sin. His son has been lifted up among us, high to where we all can see. The simple cure for the death blow of sin is to gaze upon him. To recognize what he has done and to then live into this new life, this freedom.
I was quite surprised and spent the rest of my week thinking about this. The simple call to look at Jesus.