THE SON OF MAN MUST BE LIFTED UP
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In the Name of the Father, and (+) of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Devotion from St. John Chrysostom
Ver. 14. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
This again seems to depend upon what has gone before, and this too has a very close connection with it. For after having spoken of the very great benefaction that had come to man by Baptism, He proceeds to mention another benefaction, which was the cause of this, and not inferior to it; namely, that by the Cross. As also Paul arguing with the Corinthians sets down these benefits together, when he says, “Was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized into the name of Paul?” for these two things most of all declare His unspeakable love, that He both suffered for His enemies, and that having died for His enemies, He freely gave to them by Baptism entire remission of their sins.
[2.] But wherefore did He not say plainly, “I am about to be crucified,” instead of referring His hearers to the ancient type? First, that you may learn that old things are akin to new, and that the one are not alien to the other; next, that you may know that He came not unwillingly to His Passion; and again, besides these reasons, that you may learn that no harm arises to Him from the Fact, and that to many there springs from it salvation. For, that none may say, “And how is it possible that they who believe on one crucified should be saved, when he himself is holden of death?” He leads us to the ancient story. Now if the Jews, by looking to the brazen image of a serpent, escaped death, much rather will they who believe on the Crucified, with good reason enjoy a far greater benefit. For this takes place, not through the weakness of the Crucified, or because the Jews are stronger than He, but because “God loved the world,” therefore is His living Temple fastened to the Cross.
Ver. 15. “That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
Do you see the cause of the Crucifixion, and the salvation which is by it? Do you see the relationship of the type to the reality? there the Jews escaped death, but the temporal, here believers the eternal; there the hanging serpent healed the bites of serpents, here the Crucified Jesus cured the wounds inflicted by the spiritual dragon; there he who looked with his bodily eyes was healed, here he who beholds with the eyes of his understanding put off all his sins; there that which hung was brass fashioned into the likeness of a serpent, here it was the Lord’s Body, built by the Spirit; there a serpent bit and a serpent healed, here death destroyed and a Death saved. But the snake which destroyed had venom, that which saved was free from venom; and so again was it here, for the death which slew us had sin with it, as the serpent had venom; but the Lord’s Death was free from all sin, as the brazen serpent from venom. For, saith Peter, “He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth.” (1 Pet. 2:22.) And this is what Paul also declares, “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it.” (Col. 2:16.) For as some noble champion by lifting on high and dashing down his antagonist, renders his victory more glorious, so Christ, in the sight of all the world, cast down the adverse powers, and having healed those who were smitten in the wilderness, delivered them from all venomous beasts that vexed them, by being hung upon the Cross. Yet He did not say, “must hang,” but, “must be lifted up” (Acts 28:4); for He used this which seemed the milder term, on account of His hearer, and because it was proper to the type.
Ver. 16. “God,” He saith, “so loved the world that He gave His Only-begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What He said, is of this kind: Marvel not that I am to be lifted up that ye may be saved, for this seems good to the Father, and He hath so loved you as to give His Son for slaves, and ungrateful slaves. Yet a man would not do this even for a friend, nor readily even for a righteous man; as Paul has declared when he said, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die.” (Rom. 5:7.) Now he spoke at greater length, as speaking to believers, but here Christ speaks concisely, because His discourse was directed to Nicodemus, but still in a more significant manner, for each word had much significance. For by the expression, “so loved,” and that other, “God the world,” He shows the great strength of His love. Large and infinite was the interval between the two. He, the immortal, who is without beginning, the Infinite Majesty, they but dust and ashes, full of ten thousand sins, who, ungrateful, have at all times offended Him; and these He “loved.” Again, the words which He added after these are alike significant, when He saith, that “He gave His Only-begotten Son,” not a servant, not an Angel, not an Archangel. And yet no one would show such anxiety for his own child, as God did for His ungrateful servants.
His Passion then He sets before him not very openly, but rather darkly; but the advantage of the Passion He adds in a clearer manner, saying, “That everyone that believes in Him. should not perish, but have everlasting life.” For when He had said, “must be lifted up,” and alluded to death, test the hearer should be made downcast by these words, forming some mere human opinions concerning Him, and supposing that His death was a ceasing to be, observe how He sets this right, by saying, that He that was given was “The Son of God,” and the cause of life, of everlasting life. He who procured life for others by death, would not Himself be continually in death; for if they who believed on the Crucified perish not, much less doth He perish who is crucified. He who takes away the destitution of others much more is He free from it; He who gives life to others, much more to Himself doth He well forth life. Do you see that everywhere there is need of faith? For He calls the Cross the fountain of life; which reason cannot easily allow, as the heathens now by their mocking testify. But faith which goes beyond the weakness of reasoning, may easily receive and retain it. And whence did God “so love the world”? From no other source but only from his goodness.
John Chrysostom. (1889). Homilies of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, on the Gospel of St. John. In P. Schaff (Ed.), G. T. Stupart (Trans.), Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews (Vol. 14, pp. 94–96). New York: Christian Literature Company.
Almighty and everlasting God, who hast caused Your beloved Son to take our nature upon Himself, that He might give all mankind the example of humility and suffer death upon the cross for our sins: Mercifully grant us a believing knowledge of this, and that, following the example of His patience, we may be made partakers of the benefits of His sacred passion and death, through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, world without end. Amen.
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