Looking Up and Lifting Up

John 3:14-21. 4th Sunday in Lent.


Rev. David Domanski.

3/10/20244 min read

At a mall, a five-year-old boy decides to go up the down escalator. He makes fair headway, but finds two things against him: the constant downward movement of the steps and the presence of passengers to dodge. In the end, the weary child gives up and rides down. To many, life is like that, like trying to climb up a “down” escalator.

This morning we get the help that we desperately need when we’ve been fighting an uphill battle—a word to lift our eyes, quicken our step, and raise us up. It’s the Good News from the God whose love lifts us! We all know that life exerts a downward pull in many ways: We feel defeated by our sins that we continue to commit even after we’ve vowed to resist them. Our bodies grow old and don’t work the way they used to and we know that this too is a result of sin. Our busy schedules and the expectations of others wear us out. And even the sense that God demands what we can never give drags us down too. . . all because of our sin!

The effects of our daily battle against the brokenness of this world and of our own brokenness manifest themselves in us—our eyes are downcast, our shoulders droop, and our spirits sag in a sad heap.

In our gospel lesson, Jesus spoke to a man who knew the downward pull of sin: Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee weighed down with religious obligations, and he felt himself pulled—not just down, but also pulled toward Jesus as, perhaps, the One who could release him from his burden. But Nicodemus was so pulled down by a fear of losing his worldly status that he arranged to see Jesus at night (3:1–2).

Thankfully for Nicodemus and us, he discovered that God’s work in our lives lifts us up. Long before Nicodemus was born, God had set a pattern for the work He would do in Nicodemus’s life by lifting up the Israelites (Num 21:4–9). They were rebellious, snakebitten, waiting to die, oppressed by sin, and crying for help. But to save them from sin, God had Moses erect a bronze serpent on a pole, lifted high for everyone to see. And Moses invited the people to, “Look up and live!” God commanded His people to respond to their struggles, trials, and feelings of hopelessness and guilt by coming to Him in faith.

Those who looked, lived. Physical life was restored. And in his own day, Jesus showed Nicodemus the fulfillment of that same pattern, showing forth God’s grace fully. But God promised to lift up more than just Nicodemus or Israel—in His precious Son, God would lift up the whole world. God would lift up not our just bodies from physical suffering, but our souls to life everlasting.

To lift us up, God lifted up His Son (vv 14–16). Jesus was lifted up on the cross—a magnet that draws eyes and then hearts. We celebrate it in our songs: “Lift High the Cross” (LSB 837). “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” (LSB 702). We depict Jesus being lifted up in our architecture: Crosses on steeples everywhere. The Christ of the Andes high above Rio de Janeiro. The cross on a pole, 132 feet high, in Casey, Illinois.

And then, after the cross, Jesus was lifted up at His resurrection. This is the heartbeat of our lasting joy: He is risen! He is risen indeed! And in His last action on this earth until He comes again in glory, Jesus was lifted up at His ascension. His disciples looked up to see Jesus returning to the Right Hand of His Father in the clouds (Acts 1:9–10).

Do you need lifting? Let the love of Jesus Christ lift you! Look to “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). In looking up to see Christ, you are again lifted you out of sin into peace with God. Jesus did not come to judge, but to save (v 17). Lay your burdens down at the foot of His cross. Let them go. Stand up straight and look into the loving eyes of your Savior. You are forgiven!

Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live” (14:19). And while you live in Christ, He lifts you out of loneliness of sin into a daily partnership with him. He guides all things for your daily blessing and help. Lifted by his love, our joy is now to lift him up before others. To “lift high the cross” is the daily delight of the disciple. To lift up the crucified, risen, ascended Lord before the eyes of our neighbors is our calling. We are to say it by words and portray it in deeds: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (v 16).

In a church, a devoted member of the congregation couldn’t easily lift up the love of Christ with words. He was developmentally disabled. But his congregation knew his love for the Savior and gave him a special role at church—to be crucifer on the high days of the year. He couldn’t speak, but his face radiated the joy of one living the eternal life the Son came to give. Our aim in lifting up the cross of Jesus is that every eye may see Christ clearly and every heart may trust in Him!

Nicodemus took to heart what he heard from Jesus that day of our text. When Jesus was later lifted up on the cross, Nicodemus looked up and lived. We read (Jn 19:39–42) that he returned the love Jesus had given him, helping Joseph of Arimathea with the burial of the Lord. His life had taken a turn, from down to up. God’s love had lifted him! Just as it lifts you!