As we celebrate Easter, how about revisiting the context around which the most memorized Verse, John 3:16, was written?
It followed the answer given to a seeker – a respected teacher of the law, Nicodemus, who for some undisclosed reason went to see the Lord in the night.
And Jesus, our Lord who sees through to the heart, goes straight on to answer this Jewish leader’s yet unspoken quest. Part of that answer is that,
“No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
To which Nicodemus asks his first question,
“How can someone be born when they are old?”
Jesus gives an elaborate response which the religious teacher, in perplexity, interrogates further,
“How can this be?”
At the end of the response to this second question, Jesus gives an imagery that, I believe, rested the matter for Nicodemus.
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15)
This imagery can rest our questions even today.
In the wilderness, as narrated in Numbers 21, there was an outbreak of poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. This was the judgement for speaking against God and his servant. The people soon acknowledged their sin and asked Moses to pray that the Lord would take away the snakes. Moses did pray; however, the snakes were not taken away. Instead, the Lord instructed:
“Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” (Numbers 21:8)
How does this relate to our present situations, and to this Easter season?
We all have questions – conscious or unconscious; passive or active.
No matter what our questions are, the Lord knows what our hearts yearn for. What we need is the kingdom of God, which, as he assured Nicodemus, we cannot see UNLESS we are born again. Yes, being born again is the ultimate answer to all our questions.
Quenching starts with acknowledgement
Natural thirst is quenched by reaching out for a drink; reaching out is preceded by an awareness of the feeling, and a recognition that the drink will quench it.
Nicodemus approaches the Lord in acknowledgment. In the wilderness, the Israelites first acknowledged their sin, and then the answer to what they sought followed. We must first acknowledge that Jesus is Lord in our search for (m)any answers.
The answer is not what we expect; it really is simple.
Israelites asked that the poisonous snakes (God’s judgement) be taken away. But God instead offered a different solution. Anyone who was bitten was to simply look at the replicated snake on the pole and they would live. Similarly, the many problems facing us in this fallen world represent God’s judgement because of sin; and our prayer normally would be that the pain, tribulations, trials, and evil be taken away. But God, in His wisdom and order, has allowed evil to remain among us – for a time. He has instead offered His son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who was hung on a tree; that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. This promise is more than just life, the gift received by believing in Jesus is eternal life. Simply, acknowledge Jesus, believe, and you will be born again – born of the Spirit. These things cannot be explained logically as intimated by Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus,
“The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Only those who believe will be saved, relieved, and rested.
Not all Israelites in the wilderness looked at the snake on the pole. There are those who did not acknowledge their sin, who got comfortable with it, and perhaps even defended it. But the instruction, the way out was clear, All who looked at the bronze snake on the pole upon being bitten would live. In the same breath, our only way of escape from God’s judgement is to look up to Jesus who took our place and bore our sin on the pole, otherwise as Paul told the Hebrews, in chapter 10,
“… if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.” (Hebrews 10:26-29)
Will you acknowledge and believe in the Lord this Easter season? Will you ask for renewal and deliverance from deliberate sins? Let us embrace God’s great love and He will sustain us to the end.