Bible Reading: John 3:11-14; Numbers 21:4-9
Jesus told Nicodemus that His authority for speaking about the new birth was that He had come down from heaven and He was the Son of Man. To help Nicodemus understand this Jesus to him back to a story that he would have been familiar with in the Book of Numbers. Jesus begins with something that Nicodemus understands rather than that which he does not understand.
The Lord sent judgment upon Israel in the wilderness, when they were complaining and speaking against both God and Moses. Fiery serpents bit the people and many of them died. Recognising their sin, the Israelites asked Moses to pray that the serpents would be taken away. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze image of the fiery serpent and put it on a pole. Any of the children of Israel who had been bitten by a fiery serpent would be healed and would live when they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole.
Jesus immediately linked Himself to that story, and said that in the same way the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so He, the Son of Man, must be lifted up. Here is the heart of the new birth. It was made possible by the death of Christ upon the cross. Jesus specifically uses the words “lifted up” when referring to His death. He said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” [John 8:28]. They would remember from the Old Testament the story of the brazen serpent in the wilderness. Jesus promised, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” [John12:32,33].
In the wilderness it was the fiery serpents that caused the disease, and it was a brazen serpent that was placed upon the pole and which brought life and healing. Stung by serpents and healed by looking at a dead serpent! Jesus who knew no sin became sin – the very thing he came to destroy. He was made sin for us, so that we might be set free from sin.
On 6th January 1850 Charles H. Spurgeon was forced by inclement weather to turn into a Methodist Chapel in Colchester, Essex. The preacher did not turn up and a leader in the chapel had to speak. Totally unprepared, he just kept repeating, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else” [Isaiah 45:22]. That day the man who became the “Prince of Preachers” was born again. The cross is the basis of new birth. Perhaps that is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
To many the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block, but it is the only way to be born again and be saved.
In the mid-nineteenth century Amelia M. Hull wrote this verse of a hymn:
“There is life for a look at the crucified One,
There is life at this moment for thee;
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him, who was nailed to the tree.”
Will you take some time today to focus on the cross and be grateful?