Who Are You Going To Believe?   Leave a comment

This is part of a series What if Truth Went Viral. Check out the Bible’s truth claims.

Jesus explained to Nicodemus that he must be born again in a spiritual way in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, a well-educated, elite member of theological society, was dumbfounded.

Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?” John 3:8

Nicodemus had been at a loss for words ever since our Lord’s response to him in verse 3. In verses 4 and 9, Nicodemus asked two different questions, but both begin the same, “How is it possible …?

He was so dumb-struck by what Jesus told him that he could not conceive of how Jesus’s words could be true. Nicodemus was so much a part of the natural world that he could not fathom the possibility of anything spiritual and supernatural.

Theoretically, the Pharisees believed in the miraculous (see Acts 23:6-8), but in practice, Nicodemus appears to have been anti-supernatural. Truthfully, we do the same thing. We claim to believe God is in control, and that He is all-powerful, yet we often fail to live like it is true.

Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up  the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:10-15

Jesus’s words were a gentle rebuke. He asked, “Can you really be the teacher in Israel and not grasp these things?” Nicodemus is not only a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, he is “the teacher of Israel” (verse 10). It is generally understood that the definite article here indicates that Nicodemus was the most prominent and respected teacher of his day. How could a renowned teacher of the Old Testament not know what Jesus is talking about? It really seems incredible. In verse 12, Jesus contrasted “earthly things” with “heavenly things.” He placed the things of which He had been speaking in the category of “earthly things.” “Heavenly things” would to those things associated with the coming kingdom of God, things presently beyond our comprehension.

How could Nicodemus, a teacher of the Old Testament law, not grasp those things the law teaches? The problem with mankind has always been with the heart (Genesis 8:21; Exodus 7:14; Deuteronomy 5:28-29; 8:14; Isaiah 29:13; Jeremiah 17:9), a problem which God alone can solve by giving an individual a new heart (Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 31:31-34). To be reborn by the Spirit of God makes one a new person (see 1 Samuel 10:6-13), and it is the Spirit who enables humans to see such truths (see 1 Corinthians 2). Paul carried this even a step further:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we behave with great boldness, and not like Moses who used to put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from staring at the end of the glory that was fading away. But their minds were closed. For to this very day, the same veil remains when they hear the old covenant read. It has not been removed because only in Christ is it taken away. But until this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled faces reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:12-18).

In verse 11, Jesus once again underscored what He was about to say with the words, “I tell you the solemn truth.”  He was imparting true truth. He assured Nicodemus, “We speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen.” He then contrasted what he was teaching with the reaction of the Pharisees, “… but you people do not accept our testimony.” The NET Translation informs us that the “you” is plural. Who is the “we” Jesus is speaking of, and who is the “you people”? The “we” may refer to be John the Baptist and Jesus, both of whom had testified to what they had seen. The “we” might conceivably include the Old Testament prophets, though this is less likely. I personally favor the royal “we” of the Godhead, but scholars don’t much apply that to this passage. The “you people” is Nicodemus and his fellow-Pharisees.

John the Baptist bore witness to the coming of Messiah. The Pharisees sent a delegation to inquire of John just who he was and what his message might be (John 1:19-25). They obviously did not accept John’s testimony because they refused to be baptized by him (Luke 7:30). The Pharisees also assembled in large numbers, coming from all over the land of Israel to hear Jesus and to judge His message and ministry (Luke 5:17). They certainly did not submit to Jesus as their Messiah. Thus, the witness of both John and Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees.

Jesus had been speaking of re-birth, a re-birth which comes from above. It is the work of God’s Spirit, Who sovereignly brings about new life (verses 7-8), and it is a work that comes “from above” (verses 13-15). Did Nicodemus believe in a heavenly kingdom? He certainly should, as did the Old Testament men and women of faith (see Hebrews 11:13-16). If anyone could ascend into heaven, they must first come down from heaven. It is a round trip, with heaven as the point of origin. Only the Son of Man can return to heaven, because this is where He came from (verse 13). This is why salvation is “from above.”

The story of the bronze serpent, recorded in Numbers 21, foreshadows the salvation which God will provide through the “Son of Man.” The Israelites had been complaining against God, grumbling about the journey and their apparent lack of food and water. They did not like the manna God gave them day after day. And so God sent fiery serpents among them, and many of those who were bitten died. God provided a salvation for this disobedient people, so that they might survive divine judgment. He instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and to set it on a pole, so that anyone who was bitten by one of the serpents could merely look up at the serpent and be healed. This is precisely what happened. All who were bitten and looked up were healed.

This Old Testament provision for Israel’s healing is illustrative of the salvation God was about to accomplish through His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. As the serpent was lifted up, and thus became a source of salvation, so the Son of Man must be “lifted up,” so that those who look up to Him in faith can be saved from God’s wrath. The snake-bitten Israelites were smitten of God for their sin. They deserved to die, and apart from His provision of the serpent, they would have. Those who did not look up to the bronze serpent died. The act of merely looking up to the bronze serpent was an act of faith. So far as the people could see, there was no direct link between the snake bite they had received and the healing for which they hoped. But it was the means God provided for their salvation. It was the means God declared through Moses. It was the one way God said His people could be saved. Those who looked to the bronze serpent were saved from the death they deserved.

In verses 14 and 15, Jesus connected the serpent, which was lifted up on a pole, with His own death at Calvary, when He would be lifted up on the cross. Nicodemus asked how a man can be reborn from above. Jesus first explained through analogy; now He explained more directly. If anyone is to be saved from the penalty of their sins, they must “look up” to Him for salvation. He, like the bronze serpent of old, will be “lifted up” on a cross, and He will later be “lifted up” in His resurrection and ascension. In so doing, He will be “lifted up” in another way—He will be exalted by God for His sacrificial obedience at Calvary. All those who “look up” to Him in faith, trusting in Him to remove the judgment for their sin, like the Israelites of old, will be saved.

Rebirth – True Truth Continued

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Posted June 23, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Uncategorized

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