For God So Loved Us (Part 1)
I’ll share a little secret with you all, John 3:16 was the very first scripture I memorized. To be sure it is one of the most popular and best remembered Gospel verves ever written. Let’s look at the context of John chapter 3.
It was late at night, Nicodemus, a Pharisee and ruler among his people, came secretly to Jesus for instruction. Nicodemus acknowledged the Lord to be a teacher sent by God, since no one could perform such miracles without the direct help of God. Yet, despite all of his learning Nicodemus did not recognize Jesus as God manifest in the flesh. He was like so many today who say that Jesus was a great teacher or prophet, falling far short of the full truth. Jesus was the son of God.
To paraphrase our Lord, “Nicodemus, you have come to me for teaching, but what you really need is to be born again. That is where you must begin. You must be born of the Spirit (from above). Otherwise, you can never see the kingdom of God.” As a Jew, Nicodemus had been looking for the Messiah to come and free Israel from Roman bondage. Nicodemus longed for the time when the Messiah would set up His kingdom here on Earth. Just as a child thinks in concrete terms, Nicodemus insisted on taking what Jesus said literally. He could not understand how an adult could be born again. He pondered the physical impossibility of a man entering his mother’s womb again in order to be born a second time. Nicodemus illustrates that natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they seem foolish.
In further explanation, Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born of water and the Spirit (baptized) or he could never enter the Kingdom of God. This spiritual birth is produced by the Holy Spirit of God when a person believes and accepts the Jesus Christ as Lord. Even if Nicodemus could have reentered his mother’s womb and been born a second time, that would not have corrected the evil nature with in him. The expression, that which is born of flesh is flesh, means that children born of human parents are born in sin and are hopeless and helpless. This is why we as Lutherans baptize babies. Babies are included in the words “all nations,” go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matt28:19). In Acts 2:38-39, Paul tells us to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” “And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children.” Also, we baptize babies because as sinners, they need what baptism offers, specifically, entrance into the kingdom of Heaven (John 3: 5-6). Lastly, we baptize babies because they are able to have faith. We can read about this in Luke 1:15 where we see that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even before birth.
A spiritual birth takes place when a person trusts in the Lord Jesus. And when a person is born again through the Spirit, he receives a new nature and is made fit for the kingdom of God.
The new birth is very much like the wind. First of all, it is not a power we hold in our control. Secondly, the new birth is invisible. You cannot see it taking place, but you can see the results just as surely as you can see the rustling of leaves. When a person has been saved, a change comes over them. The evil things which they formerly loved, they now hate. The things of God which formerly they despised, these things are the very things which they now love. Just as no person can fully understand the wind, so the new birth is a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit which no man is able to fully comprehend. And lastly, like the wind, the new birth is unpredictable. It is not possible to know just when or where it will take place.
The Lord Jesus was not merely a human teacher sent from God, but he was the One who lived with God the Father from all eternity, and came down into the world. Even as Jesus stood on earth, speaking with Nicodemus, He said that he was in heaven. How could this be? As God, the Lord is in all places at one and the same time (omnipresent). Jesus was uniquely qualified to reveal heavenly truth to Nicodemus. In particular, how could this new birth take place when the penalty for man’s sins had yet to be met?
Now let’s return to our text, beginning with verse 14 Jesus explains this great mystery. Just as Moses had lifted up the serpent of brass on a pole in the wilderness when the Israelites had been bitten by snakes, so must he, the Son of Man, and be lifted up on the cross.
We usually find snakes repulsive, so when we encounter one it causes a shock to our system. The approximately fifty references in the Bible regarding serpents do nothing to soften the effect. If anything, the Bible gives us added reasons to dislike snakes. From the beginning (Gen 3:1) to the end (Rev 20:2) Scripture portrays the devil in the guise of a serpent. Yet not every biblical reference to snakes is pejorative. From a safe distance the creatures fluid grace inspired admiration (Is. 27:1; Jer. 46:22) or even expectations of awe (Job 26:13; Prov. 30:19). Other natural attributes of snakes lead to an alternation between positive and negative. The snake is “subtle” or “crafty” (Gen 3:1) or even “wise” (Mt. 10:16). Such views probably stem from the hypnotic effect of the animals sinuous motion. Many cultures believe that snakes hypnotize their prey, because the victim often appears mesmerized during the snake’s slow but visible approach, watching until it is too late to escape.
In spite of their beguiling beauty, snakes pose a genuine danger. Snakes would often strike from hiding, biting without warning (Gen. 49:17). This ever present danger serves as a metaphor of sudden judgment (Is. 14:29; Amos 5:19). The association of snakebite and divine judgment was not just an urban legend but a widely held belief of the general public (Acts 28:3; 1 Cor 10:9).
As the Israelites wondered through the wilderness to the Promised Land, they became discouraged and impatient. They complained against the Lord. To punish them, the Lord sent fiery serpents among them, and many people died. When the survivors cried to the Lord in repentance, the Lord told Moses to make a serpent of brass and put it on a pole. The bitten Israelites who looked to the serpent were miraculously healed.
Jesus quoted this Old Testament incident to illustrate how the new rebirth takes place. Men and women have been bitten by the serpent of sin and are condemned to eternal death. The Lord Jesus was sinless and should never have been punished, but He took our place and bore the judgment which we deserved. The pole speaks of the cross of Calvary on which the Lord was lifted up. We are saved by looking to Jesus in faith. The Savior, He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made righteous before God. And who so ever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ receives eternal life as a free gift. (John 3:16).
Let us pray. Dear Heavenly Father, your hands have supplied me with the needs of this day. Your love has protected me from harm and danger and injury. You have opened your heart and drawn me closer to yourself with your forgiving mercies. Father, thank you for the peace of mind and granted by the cleansing from sin by your Son Jesus. Lord, make me truly grateful and appreciate my blessings each and every day. Thank you that you given me a Savior who walks with me, cleanses me from sin and guides me daily in the paths of righteousness. In your Grace, let me live with a thankful heart. Amen.
For God So Loved Us (Part 1)