There is something within us that loves to be honored, recognized, prized for the accomplishments that we achieve in life. We hand out “stars” to little children for showing up for class. We present certificates for “Student of the Month” at school assemblies for the entire student body. We give young budding scholars stoles, cords, and medals at their graduation ceremonies to recognize their achievement as a National Merit Scholar or their membership in the National Honor Society. We give trophies, medals, and plaques to athletes in every sport for their outstanding achievements.
When I was in high school we won two State Championships in football my junior and senior year. The first year we won the championship they presented every member of our team with a State Championship ring and held a parade. You would have thought we won the Super Bowl! Then I went to college at Cameron University. My sophomore year we had a great team and played in the 1980 Boot Hill Bowl. You’ve probably heard of the Sugar Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, and Orange Bowl, but the Boot Hill Bowl…not so much. We won our bowl game and they gave us a ring that made my State Championship ring look like it came from a gumball machine. I had never seen a bowl ring before. That changed a few years later when I saw the Sooners 1985 National Championship ring. Wow! You don’t want to pull out your Boot Hill Bowl ring when you’re with a group of folks who are wearing their National Championship rings.
And then there’s the Seattle Seahawks and their 2014 Super Bowl ring. It makes the Sooners National Championship ring look like my Boot Hill Bowl ring! Solid white gold with sixty-four round diamonds making up the three dimensional Seahawks logo, the eye of the Seahawk is an emerald-hue tsavorite, the background of the ring is made up of another 107 diamonds, and the football on the Lombardi Trophy is made up of one big marquis diamond. Now that’s the way to honor someone!
The nominees for the 2015 Oscars were just announced this week. The winners will be honored with a trophy and worldwide acclaim, but I’d just like to be nominated. Last year’s nominees got a “swag bag” full of all kinds of goodies worth $85,000! Included was a $15,000 trip to Japan, a $6,850 train trip through the Canadian Rockies, a $2,560 home spa system, a $4,900 home water filtration system, and much more. That’s the way to honor someone!
The ways that we honor folks for their great achievements are quite different than the way Jesus was honored in the first century. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in John 8:28-30 and see what we can learn.
28 So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” (John 8:28-29 NIV)
I got the title of our study for this morning from the phrase Jesus used in verse 28 where He said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he…” The phrase “lifted up” is a very interesting phrase, which is really one word in Greek, the Greek word, “????” (hupsoo) which means, “to lift up on high, to honor, or to exalt.” The word is used throughout the Bible to convey the idea of honoring or exalting someone. Let me show you the best example I know of how the word is used in this way. Take a look at Philippians 2:6-11 with me where Paul writes,
6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:6-11 NIV)
You will find the word we are looking at in verse 9 where Paul writes, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name…” That’s the kind of honor and exaltation that we think about when we hear about folks being honored in our day. We applaud their accomplishments. We immortalize their achievements. We hoist them up on our shoulders for the world to see. We cast a bronze bust of their image and place it in a public place.
What is really interesting is that Jesus uses this Greek word pertaining to Himself three times and in each place He is speaking about His crucifixion. Let me show them to you and then we’ll talk. The first instance is found in John 3:14-15. Read along with me.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15 NIV)
We’ll talk more about this Scripture in a little bit. The second place that we find Jesus referring to His being “lifted up” is in our Scripture for today. The third Scripture is found in John 12:32-33. Read along with me.
32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32-33 NIV)
As I’ve been spending time with these Scriptures this week there have been three thoughts that have been most prominent in my heart and mind. The necessity of the Cross, the attraction of the Cross, and the transformation of the Cross.
The Necessity of the Cross
Among all of the world religions the cross is unique. In Islam, Jesus is highly regarded. They believe in the Virgin birth of Jesus. They believe in the many miracles of Jesus. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran twenty-five times while Muhammad is mentioned five times. As highly regarded as Jesus is to the Muslims, they cannot accept that Jesus died on the cross. They believe that Allah lifted Jesus to Heaven before He suffered a humiliating death on the cross and a substitute died in His place.
For Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, Jesus’ death on the cross holds no relevance or significance whatsoever. We, as Christians, believe that it is only because of Jesus’ death on the cross that we can be reconciled with God and receive eternal life, but for these other religions, reaching Paradise or Nirvana or Heaven is dependent on keeping the Law, earning your way to heaven by keeping the five pillars of the Islamic faith, or working to make sure your good karma outweighs your bad karma.
The Bible says there is no work that works in regards to forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 says, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” The problem is that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) What are we to do? If all of us are sinners, alienated from God, then how will we ever solve our sin problem? You can strategize, form think tanks, and draw up plans until your dying day, but the problem remains—we are all sinners. To find the solution we must go to God who has provided for our predicament. Paul wrote,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV)
Jesus is the sinless Son of God. Even His enemies could find no fault in Him. In John 8:46, Jesus asked the religious leaders of His day, “Can any of you prove Me guilty of sin?” After Pilate had Jesus flogged he bought Him out and told the bloodthirsty crowd, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” (John 19:4 NIV) When Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves there was a conversation that took place. One of the thieves said to Jesus, “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 NIV) The other thief spoke up,
41 “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41 NIV)
He did nothing wrong. He was sinless. That’s what Jesus was and that is why He alone was able to offer Himself for sinners like you and me. This is the truth that was of greatest importance to the Early Church and it must be the truth that is of greatest importance to those of us who are followers of Jesus in our day. Paul wrote,
3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NIV)
In our day the Church has decided that the imagery and conversation of Jesus dying on the cross is out of touch with modern-day people so we’ve decided to put less emphasis on the cross and more emphasis on Jesus’ teaching. As important as Jesus’ teaching is, the cross is of greatest importance. Ravi Zacharia said,
The cross is where God’s work of justification occurred. We are made just, not of our own selves, but by the work of Jesus Christ. Christ, being made sin for us, has redeemed us from the curse of the law. He who knew no sin would be made sin for us that we might be reconciled to God. We now have access to the Father because of the Son. In Ephesians we are reminded that those of us who were far off have now been brought near. The cross is all about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. This is the pure, impeccable Son of God, without sin, without blemish. He carries the work of the cross in His life and in His death. No one except Jesus Christ could have died on the cross to pay the penalty of sin. It would not have worked. And if Jesus had just come and lived a pure life without facing the penalty, there would not be the sufficient sacrifice for sin. (Ravi Zacharias, Conversation with Jim Dailey. June 2, 2002)
The Attraction of the Cross
As we’ve been taking a look at Jesus speaking about His being “lifted up” we have learned about the necessity of the cross. There’s a second lesson for us and it is this: Jesus draws us through the cross. Jesus said,
32 “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:32-33 NIV)
Those who are drawn to Jesus are drawn by the Father and to the cross. How precious is the cross of our Savior! Just think of the endless number of songs that have been written about the cross of Jesus throughout history. Anybody remember this one?
At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day! (At The Cross. Isaac Watts. 1707)
Many people haven’t heard the name Fanny Crosby, but she wrote more than 8,000 hymns during her life. This one is one of my favorites.
In the cross, in the cross,
Be my glory ever;
Till my raptured soul shall find
Rest beyond the river. (Near The Cross. Fanny Crosby. 1869)
George Bennard was born in 1873 in the coal mining town of Youngstown, Ohio. He had no desire to be a coal miner. He wanted to spend his life sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. He married and he and his wife went to work for the Salvation Army preaching and serving all over the United States. What he’s most known for is this song.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suff’ring and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown. (The Old Rugged Cross. George Bennard. 1913)
And today, all of these many years later, artists from LeCrae to Lacey Sturm to Hezekiah Walker to Chris Tomlin to Kari Jobe to All Sons and Daughters to Trip Lee are still writing songs about the cross. Oh the cross where our Savior died, where love crucified was made most visible, and where God demonstrated His infinite mercy for sinners.
We, the followers of Jesus cling to the cross, but the world, those who do not know Jesus, cringe at the cross’ every mention. To the world our love for the cross of our Savior is utter foolishness, nonsense, possibly even evidence of a mental disorder of some sort. Nothing has changed throughout time my friends. Paul wrote to the folks in Corinth and said,
18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV)
If you are here this morning and you’ve never really understood why Christians make such a fuss over the cross then I want you to know that I’m so glad you are here. I use to have the same questions. I just didn’t understand. Then it was explained to me that it is in the cross that God’s love is most clearly offered to people like me—hopelessly lost people, confused people, self-righteous people, people full of lust, pride, and anger, addicted people, sexually promiscuous people, racist people, self-absorbed people, broken people, suicidal people, sinful people. To all of us, God’s message in the cross of Jesus is “I love you. My love is greater than your sin.” Paul wrote,
8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NIV)
The Transformation of the Cross
There’s transforming power in the cross of Jesus. In John 3:14-15, Jesus spoke of His being lifted up on the cross in the same breath as He spoke about Moses lifting up the snake in the wilderness. Read along with me from John 3:14-15.
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15 NIV)
It’s a strange story. Most people most likely just skip over it without giving it a thought, but I want to take a minute to look at it so that we can take in the overpowering imagery of the scene. The story of Moses lifting up the snake is found in Numbers 21:4-9.
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived. (Numbers 21:4-9 NIV)
Strange story. There’s not another one like it in the Bible. There’s no precedent for God sparing people’s lives by looking at a bronze snake, but I will tell you this: those who did what God said were transformed from death to life. The same holds true for Jesus. Where is there another story of a man dying on a cross and His death being the cleansing source for sin stained souls of men and women the world over? There’s not another story like it. There’s no precedent for what God did, but those who look to Jesus will be transformed from death to life…even eternal life.
Most of you know that my favorite preacher is Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers. They couldn’t build a building big enough for the crowds that turned out to hear him preach the Word of God. Most people would think that such an incredible preacher probably came from a preacher pedigree. He must have been from a long line of great preachers who schooled him in the Bible from the time of his birth. Not even close. Spurgeon, just a teenager, described himself as being under deep conviction. He was going to go to church, but a snowstorm forced him to go to a church closer to his home—the Primitive Methodist Chapel. Pastor Spurgeon wrote,
The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach…He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” When he had managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation…I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” What a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until l could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to HIM… (Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
What if Charles Haddon Spurgeon were a young man today and we were invited to share some wisdom with him? What would we tell him? I can only imagine. We’d give him all kinds of advice on every subject under the sun, but I bet few would give him the counsel that the old tailor or cobbler or whatever he was gave young Spurgeon—“Look to Jesus Christ! Look! Look! Look!” And yet, that is truly where everything else begins.
It’s in the cross of Jesus that we find His greatest humiliation and His greatest exaltation. It’s in the cross of Jesus that we find the salvation that we so desperately need and the transformation that we long for in life. Won’t you invite Him in?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
January 18, 2015