John 3:14-15 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
This week we will examine an important question, Why aren’t all people saved. There is an argument which goes, God is almighty, he can do anything he wants to do, if God wanted everyone to be saved – then everyone would be – and there would be no need for church or anything else religious. If faith is necessary to be saved, then either God isn’t all powerful, or God didn’t want everyone saved, as if he did, he would have made everyone believe. It is a good, logical, calvanistic argument – with one fatal flaw, for it assumes that we can know and understand the mind of God. God in fact reveals that while the wisdom of God is wiser than man – he also reveals that the cross, the symbol of salvation, does not look like wisdom, at least, not to those who are perishing.
It all turns on the phrase: "lifting up". It is not magic, but people can look at the same thing, but they sure can see it differently. Usually "lifting up" is something tied with praise and worship. It is the language of exaltation. They are lifted up so that everyone might see how special they are. And the most universal of these expressions might be when someone lifts up a little baby, so everyone can see how special they are. And if you can’t do it physically, you’ve got a picture in your wallet, and you pull it out. Its something we like to do, something it seems parents very grow tired of, even though as children grow up, there comes a point when the parents can’t lift them up anymore, for children do grow up.
Now, it can be the same thing, but depending on the circumstances, people might see it differently. I can still see my father holding up a screwdriver, and saying – Do your see this? And I didn’t see the screwdriver, all I saw was that I was in trouble, because after I had used it, I didn’t put it back in its place, but had left it lying on the lawn. And that is just about what happens when people who are perishing look on the cross – they do not see the love of God, they do not see the symbol of salvation – all they see is what, they, by their sins have earned and deserve.
It is not pleasant to look at your sins – we would like to pretend that they weren’t there – or perhaps make excuses as to why we did them – sometimes we even pretend that they aren’t ours. But if you can’t look at your sins, examine yourself, then you cannot see that you need a savior, because it is only when we see our sins, and see that we cannot save ourselves, that we can see that we need a savior. The problem is that sin is a real poison, and the longer you let it work on your system, the greater the danger of death.
This is at the heart of the story from Exodus, there, the people grumbled against God, and God sent poisonous snakes, which bit the people – and all would have perished for their sins, but the people confessed their sins, and asked for deliverance – and God directed Moses to place a bronze serpent on a pole, and if anyone was bit, and would look on that pole, they would live. Jesus said that he too would be lifted up, much like that bronze serpent in the wilderness. So it is that many perish, because when they see the cross they can’t look past their sins, to see the Savior who died to pay our debt and give us forgiveness.
Lets put this into a theological context. Forgiveness doesn’t happen in a vacuum. For we are taught that penance works in this way, first we confess our sins – and then we receive absolution – the promise and assurance that our sins are forgiven. Which sins do we confess? All of them, which is in part why we examine ourselves in the light of the 10 commandments – and then – we also ask God to forgive us also for the sins we did not see, so that when we receive absolution we can know that we are at peace with God because all of our sins are forgiven.
And that brings us back to the beginning – some people aren’t saved – not because God lacked the power – not because there is something wrong with the salvation that is ours in Jesus Christ – but simply because they would not look at their sins, that is, confess that they had done wrong – and all that entails – And because they cannot admit that the sins are theirs, they see no reason for a savior, and so they do not turn to Jesus, nor do they believe in him – and so they perish, and it is sad, because God so loved us all, that he really does want us all to be saved.