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Lifting Jesus Up (Nick Boone)

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Nick Boone

 

NickBoone In John 12, Jesus speaks of his impending passion and death in paradoxical language.  He speaks of wheat, which must die and fall to the ground if it is to successfully germinate.  He says that those who love this life will lose it, but those who hate their lives will gain eternal life.  He speaks of the desire to be saved from “this hour” (presumably meaning his passion and death), but then says that his entire purpose hinges upon “this hour.”  A few verses later, Jesus makes a most memorable statement, one immortalized by one of our most treasured hymns.  He says, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32).  John, in the next verse, writes that Jesus said this to signify “what death he would die” (John 12:33).  I’d like to propose that these verses, like other statements Jesus makes in chapter 12, are also somewhat paradoxical.

“Lift Him Up” is one of my favorite hymns.  If it is sung when I’m in the right mood, it can easily bring tears to my eyes.  I get emotional whenever I hear Jesus talk about giving his life so that sinners, like me, can have eternal life.  He was willing to be crucified so that the very ones who crucified him could rest their hopes in him.  The song, though, doesn’t focus its attention on Christ’s death.  It mostly speaks of the need to evangelize.  The song begins, “How to reach the masses, men of every birth?  For an answer, Jesus gave the key: And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”  It commands us, multiple times to “lift him up” so that the world will come to know Christ.

“Lift Him Up” is a wonderful song, but its titular command may become somewhat troubling when we ask the question, “What does it mean to lift Jesus up?”  Jesus said that being lifted up would allow the whole world to come to him.  That’s evangelization, and that is good–a positive thought.  However, John tells us that Jesus’ statement primarily signifies “what death he would die” (12:33).  And who put Jesus to death, anyway?  Who lifted Jesus up on the cross?  I did.

    I spat on him and struck him in the face.  I twisted the thorns and jammed the crown down on his skull.  I refused to wipe the blood away as it ran into his eyes.  I threw him down on the ground and rolled him onto the cross.  I stretched out his arms and nailed them to the beam.  I drove a stake into the post through his feet.  Then, once he was firmly in place upon the cross, I lifted it up, and slid it into the hole I had dug for it.  The jolt rattled the beams, and his flesh tore against the nails as the momentum threw his body forward.  It was me.  I lifted Jesus up.  I crucified him with my sins.  But when I looked upon him, suspended between earth and sky, I saw only compassion, forgiveness in his eyes, and I cried out to him for my very life.

It seems to me that the command to lift Jesus is paradoxical because it calls us to think positively about the evangelization of the world, and at the same times asks us to consider the awful thought that we did indeed once lift up Jesus to be crucified.  The command to lift Jesus up must cause us to consider our own guilt before Christ.  Our sins sent Jesus to the cross, the very cross we preach about.  So, in lifting Jesus up, as we must, we fulfill Paul’s words about preaching “Christ and him crucified,” and we bear in mind the awful truth that we crucified him.  We testify about a Lord who we put to death.

Often the secular world looks upon evangelism with disdain.  They see the attempt to convert someone of no faith or of a different faith to one’s own as an act of arrogance.  How can you tell me (or anyone, for that matter) that I need your Savior?”  Admittedly, evangelism can be an act of arrogance.  We can easily get carried away with the idea of our own works, and we can begin to see ourselves as less guilty because we “lift Jesus up” to the world.  But evangelism, lifting Jesus up, must be a supremely humble activity, for to lift him up calls to mind both evangelism and the crucifixion for which we are all individually guilty.  When we evangelize, we must always keep the fact of our sinfulness, our need of Jesus’ grace, in the forefront of our minds.  Lifting Jesus up, with the humility of our own blood-stained hands in front of us, will indeed draw others closer to Jesus.

 

Nick Boone is an Associate  Professor of English at Harding University (he is the grandson of Buford Smith)




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I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13