While speaking to Nicodemus, the Lord provides him with an insight into why He had come. He shows this by using a parallel from the old testament to show how the faith revealed in Christianity would work. In this section there are several valuable lessons to be learned which will benefit us today. Jesus shows us here why some will live and others will die, and it is all based upon faith.
Seeing is Believing
Initially Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (Verse 11) In essence he is saying that the way most people think is that seeing is believing, and without seeing many will not believe.
How often do people relate a story that seems so unlikely that others are skeptical and find it hard to believe? It happens all the time, even though the person relating the story is, or may have been, an eye witness to the event. People naturally doubt what they hear unless or until they see for themselves.
But the power of faith is not about seeing to believe. It is about believing first and then you will see. Indeed many of the greatest advances in science, medicine and technology occurred first because someone believed and then sought to make it happen.
And often it was in the face of great opposition from those who could not or refused to see. Consider Columbus who believed the world was round and not flat, and the opposition he faced until he proved what he “saw” in his minds eye. Consider also the likes of Copernicus and later Kepler and Galileo who proposed and proved that the sun is the centre of the solar system and not the earth. Each of these men faced enormous opposition until their faith was proven. They believed first and then they saw.
Christianity is the same. First we believe and then we shall see. First we accept the word of the Lord and the eye witnesses to His glory and majesty, passed down through the ages in the words of the bible, until we see for ourselves. When the Lord chooses to reveal himself to us, then we see for ourselves the truth of the gospel. And Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who believe without seeing. He says in John 20:29, “Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
It is not surprising that people do not believe our testimony. Human nature is skeptical until a matter is proven otherwise. But we, like the Lord told Nicodemus, speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen. We see the changes that have taken place in our lives and the lives of those around us as the Lord takes control and transforms us. Often it is in seeing those changes that people begin to get an inkling and seek for themselves, but also many do not listen, as Jesus bore witness to Nicodemus.
Serpent in the Wilderness
The Lord at the end of this section uses a parallel teaching and speaks of an incident that occurred as the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness after leaving Egypt. The incident comes from Number 21:4-9.
The people were traveling in the wilderness and sought to go around the land of Edom, but we’re getting impatient. In their impatience they began to speak out against the Lord and against Moses. So the Lord sent fiery serpents amongst the people and many who were bitten by the serpents died. Realizing their sin they repented and came to Moses to ask the Lord to take away the serpents. Instead the Lord said, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Numbers 21:8-9)
This is a fantastic story and at face value is totally unbelievable. How could it be possible that if a person were bitten by a deadly poisonous snake, that they only had to look at a bronze serpent stuck up on a pole in the middle of the camp and they would not die? Surely no sane person would believe such a thing as it defies all science and medicine and everything that a rational person could accept!
But that’s exactly what happened. God made the promise that if anyone looked up at this bronze serpent on the pole, they would not die, and they didn’t. The forces at work here were not based on science or medicine. They were based on the rationality of man but were based on faith in God. Any person foolish enough not to believe the Lord and not look at the bronze serpent when they were bitten, died. Why did they die? They died because they had no faith! They died because they believed it was irrational to accept the word of God. If they looked at the serpent on the pole they would live, but because man is skeptical by nature, any who were skeptical would not look and thus die. It’s exactly the same in Christ and the same for us today.
Salvation by Faith
The israelites were saved from death by the serpents through faith in the word of God so that when they looked at the serpent on the pole they would not die. We too are saved by faith in Jesus Christ from death because of our sins through the grace of God. As the Israelites were instructed to look up at the bronze serpent on the pole, we are to look up to Jesus Christ who was nailed to the stake and died for us.
The parallels are identical and the basis for both is that the salvation to receive life comes through faith in the word of God.
Just as for a normal man it was totally irrational to believe you could have life by looking at the bronze serpent if you were bitten, and those who chose not to died. So too for the men of this world it seems irrational to believe we could have salvation to eternal life by looking to Jesus who died for us and was nailed to the stake.
But then Columbus, Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo were likewise considered irrational and foolish until their faith was proven. But there is a big diference in the proving of our faith to these skeptics. In the case of those men of science, when their theories were proven as fact, people changed their thinking and took on the new knowledge over time. But when the Lord returns to gather his people and those who choose not to believe see the fact and proof of Jesus Christ, there will be no time for repentance and there will be no opportunity to take on the new ways. It will be too late, which is why we need to pray and hope that they will listen and believe without seeing in this time before time runs out.
(Photo sourced from stock.xchng at www.sxc.hu/ taken by Luis Rock)
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