The story of Jesus is an amazing one. The Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, is so simple that a child can understand it and yet, it is so profound, that religious leaders are mystified by it.
Such is the case for Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee, a teacher of the law, a religious leader, and a very successful one. This was a man who took God seriously, far more seriously than us. He had dedicated his entire life to studying the Scriptures, following them precisely, and teaching others. Yet, when he encounters Jesus, he is stumped. It is obvious that Jesus is no ordinary man. The works that He does testify that He is more than just another man. But surely He cannot be God. Would God come like this? Where is the pomp and circumstance? Where are the trappings of royalty and power? Why is He not demanding the worship of those He encounters? He seems so human and yet so different.
Jesus explains to Nicodemus that He is very close to the kingdom of God, but he requires a spiritual birth. We have all been physically born and this inaugurates or physical lives. From our birth we are conditioned to take control of our lives, to make our own way. However, "our own way" alienates and offends God; it seperates us from Him. Now Jesus is saying that to be reunited with God, we must undergo a new birth by the Spirit. It requires the Spirit of God giving us understanding about Jesus and what He has done. This is entirely a work of God, we cannot control it or predict when, where, or how it will take place. This new understanding leads to one point, do we believe in Jesus? Not just as a historical figure, but do we believe that Jesus has given His life in our place, to take our condemnation and win for us life with God?
Verses 16-18 are some of the most beautiful in the Bible. Here, God shows us that because of His great love for us, He gave His most precious possession, His Son. Jesus did not come to judge and condemn, but through His life, the basis for condemnation comes. Jesus does not condemn us, instead, the choice is ours. We believe in Him and are free from condemnation. If we do not believe, that is itself condemnation for us. God draws us to the point, but the choice is ours.
To illustrate, Jesus points back to a story in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:4-9). The Israelites are wandering in the wilderness, somewhere between God miraculously rescuing them from Egypt and the point when they are prepared to enter and receive the Promised Land that God gives them. During this time, God provides for all of their needs - they are miraculously fed, their clothes do not wear out, God personally guides them - and yet it is not good enough. They grumble and complain about what God is doing; in fact, they wish to return to slavery in Egypt rather than follow God anymore. God's patience wears out and He send serpents throughout the camp. They bite many people and they die. The people see their sin and ask Moses to pray and ask for God's forgiveness. In reply, God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent and put it on a pole. If the people who have been bitten will look at the pole, they will be healed. Jesus tells Nicodemus that He will one day be lifted up on a pole just like the serpent. For everyone who believes and looks to Him for forgiveness and healing, he will find exactly what he seeks.
We are all like the people of Israel. God gives more than we could ever ask for or imagine, and yet we complain. We turn against Him and seek our own way. We offend him, cut him out, and seek to put ourselves in the position of God. As a result, we are given a sentence of death. Just like the serpent's poison, sin enters our lives and kills off everything. It takes our life, injures those we love, and sentences us to death. God's solution is the same. Look to the Son who was lifted up on the cross in our place. When we look to Him and believe, we are healed. Our lives become one of looking to the Son to find life.
Do you believe?