A Quick Look – John 3:1-21

“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 NIV).

These verses from John 3 record the well-known story of the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council. This story contains what are probably two of the most recognizable verses in the New Testament: John 3:7 – “You must be born again” and John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son….”

Although the illustrious verses 7 and 16 usually draw most of the expository attention in the Nicodemus story, the more obscure verses 14 and 15 are actually the focus of this discussion. In these verses Jesus refers to an event in Numbers 21 in the Old Testament and uses it as a lead-in to His dramatic pronouncement in John 3:16.

When I was in seminary, one semester I signed up for a course entitled “The Old Testament in the New Testament” (or was it “The New Testament in the Old Testament”). At the time I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the course content nor eager to hear from the professor that taught it. I needed the course to fill a vacancy in my schedule and it was the only one available. Yet, it turned out that what I learned from that course greatly influenced my approach to understanding and interpreting the Bible. And, the professor became one of my favorites and I signed up for several other courses under him!

A couple of premises from that course are applicable to this discussion. First, the theology of the New Testament is entrenched in the theology of the Old Testament. Second, the interpretation of Old Testament theology, symbols or events is more trustworthy or reliable when it is noted by a New Testament writer or through the spoken words of Jesus.

In Numbers 21:4-9 the Israelites became disenchanted with the route they were taking during their wilderness wandering. They rebelled against Moses and God so God sent a plague of venomous snakes against them. When many began to die from snake bites, the Israelites repented and asked Moses to ask God to stop the plague. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and mount it on a pole and when any of the Israelites who were bitten by a snake looked at the bronze snake on the pole they would live.

In verses 14 and 15 Jesus draws a theological equivalency between the symbolic meaning of the bronze snake on the pole that Moses crafted in Numbers 21 and the cross on which He would be crucified.

Recently, I watched an inspirational film in which the opening scene was Moses working at a forge hammering out and shaping a strip of metal. When he finished forging the metal, he draped it over a wooden pole that was constructed in the form of a cross. As Moses stood the pole upright it became clear that the metal was shaped in the form of a semi-coiled snake. Then, in a stunning and quite moving scene the pole was raised for the Israelites to view and from a distance the bronze snake on a pole was quite similar in appearance to a man hanging on a cross.

Jesus said in John 3:14 that is exactly what the bronze snake on the pole symbolizes and foretells–the Son of God crucified on a cross.

But, Jesus isn’t necessarily referring to the visual resemblance between the Old Testament bronze snake on a pole and the New Testament Jesus hanging on a cross. Rather, it’s the equivalency between the faith of the Old Testament Israelites that gazed upon the bronze snake on the pole and the New Testament believers that look to the cross.

When the Israelites looked at the bronze snake, they lived: “When anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived “(Numbers 21:9, NIV). When New Testament believers look to the cross, they live: “That everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:15, NIV).

All it takes is one look, one quick look in faith at the cross of Jesus and you can live–eternally!

Because…. “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” (Galatians 3:13, NIV)

Getting Connected – Galatians 6:15-16

get_connected“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15-16, ESV).

The Apostle Paul says the cross that crucified Christ has also crucified the world to him as a result of his faith in Christ.

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Jesus Inside – Galatians 2:20

jesusinsideI have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, ESV).

In this powerful declaration, the Apostle Paul tells the Galatians of his own life experience as an example to demonstrate that trying to gain justification by the law only exposes not exonerates sinfulness.

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Rock My World! – Matthew 27:50-53

“Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split in two from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were also opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And they came out of the tombs after His resurrection, entered the holy city, and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:50-53, HCSB)

The death and resurrection of Jesus literally rocked the world in and around Jerusalem at the time these historical events occurred.

Jesus’s death and resurrection were of such cosmic proportions that nature didn’t know how to react.

God became human and was put to death by the humanity He created. When Jesus died, the earth quaked and rocks were split so that even tombs that held the bodies of dead people were opened.

But the full magnitude of the events occurred after Jesus was resurrected–like a tsunami caused by an earthquake at the bottom of the ocean.

When Jesus was resurrected, many of the saints in the vicinity of Jerusalem were raised from the dead and came out of the tombs that had been opened and actually entered the city.

When the One who was the resurrection and life was resurrected, it seemed that death and the grave could no longer contain the dead bodies of those who would one day also be resurrected!

Jesus’s victory over death guaranteed that God would also resurrect His people.

And Jesus can still rock your world today!

Catastrophic changes will occur in your life when by Christ’s death on the cross, God forgives your sinfulness, and then by the power of Christ’s resurrection, He transforms your old sinful life into a new life of righteousness and obedience to Him.

“I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die —ever” (John 11:25-26, HCSB).

It Just Makes Sense to Follow Jesus – Matthew 16:24-25

“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it”  (Matthew 16:24-25, NLT).

At first glance, Jesus’s invitation in these verses may seem like a peculiar way of trying to attract a following.

Who wants to be Jesus’s follower if it requires you to give up your own life, to turn from your selfish ways and take up your cross?

It doesn’t really sound very interesting. In fact, it doesn’t sound like much fun at all!

But when you consider the membership requirements to be in His club that Jesus expressed in these verses within the context of the complete passage (vs. 24-28), His invitation to spend your life following Him instead of following after your own self-interests doesn’t seem so unusual.

In fact, it makes a lot of sense! It becomes a most compelling challenge!

Peter had just identified Jesus as the Messiah: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (vs. 16). As Messiah He will return to Earth at the end of time to judge all people according to their deeds (vs. 27).

So, there is clearly no eternal advantage to rejecting Jesus, to being selfish or self-absorbed. Instead, you have everything to gain by living for God and making His will the main the priority of your life.

Because in the end, Jesus is going to judge you according to how you lived your life and not on what possessions or power you accumulated for yourself during your lifetime: “And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” (vs. 26).

From the perspective of eternity, it just makes sense to follow Jesus!

“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”
(Galatians 2:20, NLT).