All men! Rich, poor, educated, ignorant, old, young, black, white, cultured, crude! "I will draw all men unto me."
What an audacious statement that is! No one would believe it of course, unless history had proved it true. But now with all these centuries between this text and our time, no one can dispute it. No one can deny it. The long centuries of church history have proved that it is absolutely true! We don't need to defend this text.
There are two sides to it: the magnetism of the cross and the manner in which Christ is lifted up. We will begin with the second.
The text leaves no doubt as to the manner. John adds after this text, "This he said, signifying what death he should die." Jesus was talking about the cross when He said, "If I'm lifted up, I'll draw all men to me."
Christ was lifted up upon a cross. He knew how He was going to die. We don't know how early He knew it. In Bethlehem is the Church of the Nativity. Over the place where it is thought the manger stood is a tapestry. Woven into the tapestry is a cross. The shadow of the cross was indeed over the cradle of Christ. When His parents took the infant Christ to the temple, Simeon the prophet spoke of a sword of sorrow that would pierce the heart.
To suppose that Jesus in His childhood or youth was thinking of the cross would be a heartless supposition. Yet surely when His ministry began, at least from that point on, the shadow of the cross hung unmistakably over Him. He knew how He was going to die.
That it was a cross is perhaps coincidental. The death of Christ would have meant fully as much to the world if He had died in some other way. His blood would have been just as powerful to forgive our sins. He might have been put to death by drowning, as some of His followers were. Many Christian martyrs lost their lives in this way. When you see a baptism, remember there have been Christians who died because they believed in baptism by immersion. They were drowned. Jesus' death would have been as effective for our forgiveness if He had died in this way, or if He had been buried alive as other Christian martyrs were, or burned at the stake.
But there seems to be a special lesson in the fact that He died on a cross, lifted up, held up to public view, above the men who stood below to ridicule Him. That cross was lifted up on a hill. Jesus death would have meant as much to the world if He had been crucified in a valley or on a plain. It is only by coincidence that the cross happened to be on a hill. Yet what an instructive coincidence that is.
When we stand on a hill, we get a better viewpoint. We can see more clearly. Is there any place on earth where we see things as clearly as at Calvary? Standing in other places our view of life is distorted and thrown out of focus. When we stand on top of that hill where Jesus died, we are able to see life clearly and to see ourselves clearly. The mists roll away. From the vantage point of Calvary we can see farther. We can see beyond the immediate things we worry about or think about. We see the ultimate things that ought to occupy our attention.
Yes, the fact that the cross was on the hill teaches us that here we have a viewpoint that we need. Standing on that "green hill far away" we have a different vantage point, too.
Before the advent of airplanes and helicopters, generals always had their battle stations on hilltops. There they could look out over the whole scene of battle. They could see how the enemy troops had been deployed. They could see where they needed to move in reinforcements or change their strategy. They could map out the whole battle plan because they had a vantage point. Men built their castles and forts on the tops of hills. They were harder to storm, easier to defend.
At Calvary we have a vantage point - a vantage point from which we as Christian soldiers can march out in His name; a vantage point from which we can plan a strategy to win the world to Christ.
He was lifted up upon a cross. The cross was lifted up upon a hill, but all of that is significant only because of who it is who hung on that cross.
Let others who will praise the cross of the Christ,A thousand crosses had been stuck into the sand of Palestine. Jesus was neither the first nor the last to die on a cross. His cross is significant because of who He is! Here the sinless Son of God died for man. That makes all the difference.
The Christ of the cross is my king.
For though we must cherish the old rugged cross,
'Tis only the Christ can redeem.
That's the meaning of the text. The Christ, lifted up on his cross, draws all men to Him. But would we be doing that text an injustice to go a step beyond it? Since Christ has been lifted up upon that cross, He now must be lifted up before the world. He must be lifted up in worship.
In addition to the alphabetical index in the back of the hymnal there is a second index. It is a topical index. Among the categories there is one marked, "Christ." You'll discover that in the hymnal there are more songs about Christ than about any other subject. That's the way it ought to be. In worship we lift Him up!
Compare the songs that speak of our fumbling human experience and the songs that lift up Christ. Which ones inspire you more? Which ones do you more good? The songs that turn inward upon our need or situation or victory or defeat or the songs that cause us to look up to Him?
We come about the table of Communion that Christ may be lifted up. We must always see more than bread and wine. Christ is lifted up in Communion. If all else fails, if the sermon falls flat, if the songs are filled with discords and no one gives us a happy greeting, we will still find inspiration at the Communion table. Christ is lifted up in Communion.
Every time we witness a baptism we must see someone other than the preacher and the person. We must see three people there. The whole purpose of baptism is to lift up Christ. We lift Him up in worship.
We lift Him up when we preach. A wise man said to a group of ministers, "When all the rest of you are preaching up the times, I hope you will permit one poor brother to preach up Christ."
It s not the purpose of the sermon to give us U.S. News and World Report. We can find that at the newsstand. The sermon must tell us something that we will not read in Time magazine or in the daily newspaper. It is something that you will not hear on the television news. One must lift up Christ above the issues of the day that confuse us, above the problems of the hour that terrify us.
Another minister said to a group of his fellow ministers, "In every text in the Bible there is a track that leads to Christ. Find it and follow it."
Let life lift up Christ. He was lifted up upon His cross. He is lifted up in worship. He is lifted up in preaching. Let Him be lifted up in life. Let us pray that at least one time in our lives someone will see something in us that makes them think of Him; that we will do at least one deed of which someone will say, "That's what Christ would have done." Let us pray that at one point in life our response to some situation or to some individual will be the very response that Christ would have made.
It is perhaps expecting too much to suppose that would happen very often. Let us hope that it happens sometime; that life lifts Him up.
We must speak of the magnetism when Christ is lifted up. Magnets are fascinating! They were our toys when we were children. Then we learned that somebody magnetized a needle, put it in a little round box and made a compass that unerringly pointed north. Later on men discovered that you could take a coil of wire, spin it between the poles of a magnet and produce electricity.
Our buildings are lighted today by a magnet. They are cooled or heated as we desire by a magnet. All the wheels of industry are turned by a magnet.
Do you see how we have moved to succeedingly higher levels of magnetism? From the toy, to the compass, to electricity, to the universe. You might suppose that how we can go to no higher level, but such a supposition would be wrong. More powerful than the magnetism of the planets is the magnetism of Christ.
He draws us intellectually. He spoke of the deepest and profound issues of life. We do not simply discuss them in college classrooms or among professors. Children ask the same questions. Who is God? Who am I? What happens when you die? Why do people suffer? Can we be forgiven? Those are the deep issues of life and Jesus addressed them. He addressed them in terms so simple that any twelve-year-old child can understand His words, yet the wisest man among us ponders their deep meaning. He draws us intellectually.
He draws us emotionally. There is something about the great heart of Jesus that answers an emptiness in our own hearts. We wonder how anyone can love so unselfishly, so impartially, so freely, so unashamedly, so fearlessly, so sacrificially. We'd like to love like that. We d like to love Him, and others, the way He loves us. We're drawn to Him emotionally.
We're drawn to Him spiritually. His life towers above our own. His virtues overshadow our best. We want to be more like Him.
We're drawn by His life. We're drawn by His sermons, His miracles, His feeding of the multitude, His welcoming of the children, His offer of forgiveness to the lost.
We are drawn to Jesus in His life. We are drawn most to Him in His death. Did you ever think about that strange song we sing, "Jesus, keep me near the cross"? There is something unnatural about that. Whenever we have been in the presence of death, whether at the scene of an accident or in a hospital room, our reaction has always been the same. "Let's get away from here." Why is it that we make an exception in the case of Jesus and sing, "Jesus, keep me near the cross?"]
There was something different about His death, something that rises above the grim details. Preachers used to think it was effective to describe the sweat, the blood, the pain, the torn flesh. Perhaps that was not very valuable. We must see the reason that He died and the Person who died. Then we will understand the uniqueness of Jesus death and why we are so drawn to it.
We are drawn to His cross when we need forgiveness. There is something there that answers to our need. We can believe there what we would not dare to believe in any other place: that God does, in fact, forgive sin.
We are drawn to Him on His cross when we need comfort. I had a conversation with a fellow Christian. We were discussing the meaning of suffering. I admitted that I had never experienced what this particular individual was going through. But I reminded her that Christ did understand because Christ suffered, too. The change in facial expression was like the turning on of a light. There is comfort at the cross.
When we need companionship we are drawn to the cross. Jesus suffered alone so that no one would ever have to be alone again. If any man ever is alone, it is because he chooses to be alone.
Because we are drawn to the cross, we may forget that there is another side to magnetism. A magnet has two poles. One attracts. One repels. We have read the verse that follows our text. We must now read the one that goes before it.
"Now is the judgment of this world. Now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."
It is like the poles of a magnet. Christ draws some men. He repels others. But at this point the illustration runs out. The parable falls short. The analogy dies. The iron has no choice as to whether it will go to the side of the magnet that attracts or the side of the magnet that repels. You do have a choice. You can stand in that place where Christ by His divine magnetism will draw you to himself. Or you can stand at that opposite pole where Christ's magnetism repels and you are forced out into darkness and judgment.
There is only one question to ask. Where do