The Son of Man Lifted Up
April 21, 2020
Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter
“‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus answered and said to him, “How can this happen?” Jesus answered and said to him, “You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
Opening Prayer: Lord God, your words are difficult. How am I to understand this passage? I am made of flesh, and my thoughts are fleshly, and I feel incapable of being spiritual. I beseech you, send forth your Holy Spirit! Things shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth!
1. How Can This Happen?: It’s all very well to speak of being born again, or born from above, or born of the Spirit. It sounds wonderful, in fact, this notion of transcending daily troubles and petty difficulties. But Nicodemus asked the same question I would have asked: But how can this happen? How? The wind blows where it wills, and the action of the Spirit is invisible; how can I perceive him? We are supposed to be teachers of Israel, and still, we don’t understand your words, Jesus. How can this happen? We’ve tried to be holy, to follow your commands, and it doesn’t seem to work. We want to go up to heaven, but no one makes it up to heaven; only you have gone up to heaven because you came down from heaven. How can sanctity happen? How can we receive the Spirit? How?
2. He Came Down from Heaven: The Son of Man “has come down from heaven.” We recite it every Sunday in the Creed, and it is the answer to all our yearnings for God. We are too weak to rise up and search God out in his heavens. Therefore, he has had mercy on us; he has come down from heaven. This is what sets Christianity apart from all other religions; God became man. “For us men and our salvation, he came down from heaven.” Such is the absurdity of his love for us, that he would leave heaven to live with us. Such is the divine wisdom of the Incarnation. The Fathers saw this mystery prefigured in the Old Testament: “Only then did she [wisdom] appear on earth and live among human beings” (Baruch 3:38).
3. The Serpent in the Desert: The reference to Moses lifting up the serpent in the desert comes from Numbers 21:4-9, which is read on Tuesday of the fifth week of Lent. The people complained against God and Moses because of the poor food and lack of water in the desert. As a result, they were plagued by fiery serpents who killed many of them. But God ordered Moses to craft a serpent and raise it up as a standard, and anyone who looked at it was healed. God always provides a way of repentance and salvation for his people. The Son of Man was also lifted up on the Cross, so that everyone who believes in Jesus crucified and risen has eternal life. This is why he came down from heaven. This is the “how” of our salvation.
Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, you have taught me that I need your Holy Spirit. It is your Holy Spirit–the Spirit of Jesus–who enables me to know and love and confess you. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).
Resolution: Lord, today, by your grace, I will invoke the Holy Spirit before any important activities.
For Further Reflection: Try reading the extended Christmas story (Luke 1 and 2), reflecting on Christ’s descent and ascent. In other words, in what ways are both Christ’s suffering and his exaltation prefigured in the account of his Incarnation?