Reborn – John 3

Snake on a pole.

RE- series study nine leads readers to a spot in the bible with two of the worst examples of verses taken out of context (by people who know them best). I could quote these two verses, man-splaining them till you cry “uncle”. Instead, lets do this inductively and start from the very beginning. It all began with with Moses trying to lead those Israelites through the wilderness.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die here? There is no bread. There is no water. And we detest this miserable food” Numbers 21:5

God did not like the way they complained. He sent poisonous snakes that started biting and killing people. Moses repents on behalf of the community. But God reconciles with them in a very unusual way. “Moses, make a snake out of bronze and put it on a pole. Lets see how repentant these bitter-hearted people really are.” The only way the Israelites can avoid certain death from the snakes is to LOOK at the bronze snake on the pole when they got bit. If they do they’ll live. If they don’t believe it, they’ll die in their stubborn pride.

It worked! They still got bit. The bites were lethal. But not if they looked at the snake up on the pole. And that my friends is what it means in John chapter three to be born again. End of story.

Wait that’s not what that means!

Yes, it is. Being born again is what happens when you lose your life to the fatality of sin, you look in faith on God’s focal point of healing and forgiveness, and new life flows through your veins, chasing the toxins out!

And that my friends IS the backstory to what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” He’s a dead man walking because of sin (even though he was quite educated and served at a high level in a powerful religious institution). His forgiveness and healing will be provided by what Jesus does for him. But he will have to be re-born to experience it.

The other verse completely yanked out of context by evangelicals is the oft-quoted, seldom understood default bible memory verse. “For 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.” The reason we need to avoid worshiping a single verse is that our attention gets drawn to one selective idea without connecting it to the rest of the meaning. John 3:16 gets hauled in to set the record straight that Jesus died for our sins and if we just believe that we’re set. We’ll get eternal life after we die.

The point of John 3 is that we’re already dead (or at least as good as dead) and if we don’t understand what’s killing us we might not really understand how God heals us. Isn’t it funny how we can quote the 16th verse but absolutely nothing adjacent to it? Ever seen this verse on an inspirational poster in a Christian book store?

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in him stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” v18

The snake on the pole worked because God offered it as a redemptive focal point for fatally wounded, bitter-hearted complainers. He didn’t automate their healing. They were “born again” when in faith they did what they were told – when they LOOKED at the snake up on the pole.

I don’t believe a word of this Tim!

Ok, don’t take my word for it. Read John 3 for yourself. You know the routine by now (this is only the ninth time I’ve tried to get you to do this). Download a copy of the manuscript, look it over and mark it up paragraph by paragraph. Find some friends and use the questions below to discuss it.

Born of the Spirit vv 1-8

1- What do you notice about Nicodemus’ approach to Jesus? What is he after?

2- What does Jesus want to talk with Nicodemus about? Usually Jesus experienced confrontation with religious authorities like Nicodemus. What do you think Jesus is trying to accomplish in this conversation?

3- How does Jesus’ idea of being born again by the Spirit compare to the way “born-again” gets used today as short-hand descriptor for a “genuine Christian”?

4- Jesus clearly implies that Nicodemus has not been born of the Spirit? How might you take that if you were Nicodemus?

Son of Man, lifted up vv 9-15

5- There’s a noticeable “we versus you” in Jesus’ statements to Nicodemus. Who is the “we” and who is the “you”?

6- Jesus reference to Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness seems to come out of nowhere. Bearing in mind that Nicodemus is an Old Testament Scholar to put it mildly, do you think he can make the leap from Numbers 21 to the Passion of Christ? (read Numbers 21:4-9)

7- Jesus refers to the Son of Man. Let’s assume Nicodemus understands that as Jesus referring somehow to himself. What would this identity claim mean in light of Daniel 7:13-14?

8- How does Daniel’s vision lend insight to Jesus’ comments about the kingdom of God in the previous paragraph?

Light has Come vv 16-21

9- Jesus’ identity is painted in several dimensions in this passage. Nicodemus understands him to be a rabbi or teacher (who could perform miraculous signs) v 2. Jesus implies he is the Son of Man in v 14 and that he is the Son of God (one and only). How does Jesus expect Nicodemus to keep up? Does Nicodemus believe what Jesus is claiming about himself? Why or why not?

10- How important is it today to help people grasp the identity of Jesus? Considering most don’t even have the head-start Nicodemus did, how can Christians build a case for who Jesus claimed to be?

11- Salvation is a work of the Holy Spirit. What challenges come with introducing non-believing friends to the Holy Spirit?

12- Being lost and in darkness is a blunt description of people who don’t believe in or follow Jesus. What do you think creates awareness of dire spiritual need among today’s highly educated and successful people?

Leave a comment or email me! Thanks!

I mark my manuscripts in PDF format using Notability.

Praying for Ukraine

Click here to see the local news story.

If you’re looking for ways to support Ukraine, here are a couple of recommendations. Pray. And see if you can connect with Ukrainians in your vicinity. Just yesterday Cheryl attended two outdoor gatherings of support hosted by local Ukrainians. In fact each Saturday at 1:00pm, people have been collecting at 72nd and Dodge.

“It was really a great environment of affirmation, standing with local people who have connections with their family members back in Ukraine. I met several people who were so glad I came and offered to help hold flags and banners. I want to head out there every Saturday I can, so I can get reconnected with the same people and make some new friendships.” -Cheryl.

Later last night another crowd appeared at the Bob Kerry Pedestrian Bridge. “It was amazing – very cold weather – but I saw many of the same people as earlier in the day and they remembered me!” Cheryl would encourage you based on her (one afternoon of) experience, to just get out in your own community, find Ukrainians and start learning about them. Looking for ways to support them.

Praying for Ukraine

Another friend of mine on staff with GFM posted the following article from The Beeson School of Divinity. Anton is a seminarian at Beeson. He’s Russian. His wife Daria is Ukrainian. He has a compelling vision of what it means to pray, realizing that because of Christ we BELONG TO ONE ANOTHER in a powerful way. Prayer bullets are below, but I’d highly recommend reading the full article at this link.

Taken from Anton’s article:

“So what can you do? Some of these prayer requests have been shared with me by the natives of Ukraine.

  • Reach out to the Ukrainian people that you have come into contact with, and love them.
  • Pray for the civilians, that the Lord would spare their lives.
  • Pray for the soldiers who are defending the Ukrainian land.
  • Pray for Christians that they would make wise and God-honoring decisions in extreme situations.
  • Pray for comfort and peace for mothers who are caring for little children while their husbands are drafted.
  • Pray for safe evacuation for those who decide to move.
  • Pray for the elderly who decide to stay.
  • Pray that people outside Ukraine would continue to have communication with their loved ones inside the country.
  • Pray that Ukraine would receive international help.
  • Pray for basic physical needs, for food, water, gas, heat, baby goods.
  • If you would like to give, there are plenty of resources where you can donate online.”

Let me know what you’re learning from supporting Ukrainians in your community.

(Thanks go to David Suryk for bringing the Beeson article to our attention!)

Restore – Mark 5

Why bother?

Maybe it’s just me. I have prayed and prayed for people to be healed of horrendous illnesses, physical and mental. You just can’t be a Christian, in ministry for very long (or otherwise), and NOT be swept into circumstances that threaten the people you lead or the people you love. In my early days on staff, we had to walk with one of our student leaders thorough his battle with testicular cancer (between his sophomore and junior year at Illinois Wesleyan University). We prayed fervently for Matt’s healing. We lost Matt to cancer in less than a year. Did our prayers and faith even matter?

Why did Jesus heal people? He used his power and authority again and again to restore life. Miraculous power brought to bear on the humblest of needs. Repeatedly it says Jesus would stay after class and heal everyone they could bring him! They bashed in a roof, just to get a paralyzed man to Jesus! Jesus also gave this power to his disciples. The early church saw people healed (Acts).

Where did all the healings go after the early church? Where are they today? Of course compared to Jesus’ day medicine is able to bring proportions of healing unimaginable in antiquity. But disease is still with us today. Young and old even in developed nations die unhealed – even on the watch of the most engaged doctors and intercessors. Why?

Restore, study number eight in our series, looks at two simple healing accounts in the Gospel of Mark. Let’s take a fresh look at Jesus healing. Why did he do it? Why did he leave many un-healed even though he had undisputed authority over disease? What do we make of prayers for healing today? Get a fresh copy of Mark 5 and jump in with your colored pencils! This study as well as RE-07 features the Marcan Sandwich (scroll down to that post for a study guide on sandwiching)! Let’s dive in.

Daughter Number One – vv 21-24

1- A father approaches Jesus about his daughter who is critically ill. What is important to notice about him and his family?

2- What would his fears be? Why is he so certain Jesus can heal his daughter (consider the typical reaction of other religious leaders to Jesus and his ministry)?

Daughter Number Two – vv 24-35

3- Describe the woman mentioned here. How would you describe the extent of her problem?

4- Take a minute to look up this Old Testament reference: Leviticus 15:25-30. How would this woman’s physical condition impact the risk she was willing to take to get to Jesus?

5- What do you notice about how her healing miracle actually takes place? What do you think is meant in verse 30 that “Jesus realized power had gone out from him?”

6- Why does Jesus tell her that her faith has healed her? Wasn’t it Jesus’ power that seemed to bring it about?
7- Discuss the various levels at which this healing act would bring restoration to this woman (physical, emotional, etc)?

Back to Daughter Number One – vv 35-42

8- Assuming the report about the girl’s death to be credible, why might it be difficult for Jairus to understand what Jesus tells him in v 36?

9- The clean and unclean theme emerges again. With Numbers 19:11-22 as a background, what are we learning about Jesus and his contact with things unclean? [He should not have been touched by a hemorrhaging woman. He should not have entered a home where a dead body was located.]

10- How does this miracle compare and contrast with the healing of daughter number two (vv 24-35)?

11- Why does Jesus make his miracle explicit in the case of daughter number two, but gives strict orders to keep the miracle a secret in the case of Jairus’ daughter?

12- Why has Mark so carefully intercalated (sandwiched) these two healing narratives? What is he showing us about Jesus’ purpose for healing? What dynamic between fear and faith is Mark painting for us?

13- How does Mark 5 impact us today in our understanding of healing, fear and faith? Is there a physical, emotional or medical threat in your life you struggle to bring to bring to Jesus?

14- What would it look like for you or your loved ones to draw near to Jesus with your particular needs? Fear is obviously cast as an enemy to faith in Mark 5. What would it take for you use your faith in the face of your fears?

For more background on the healings of Jesus and the concept of clean and unclean, refer to the following articles from The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels and The New Bible Dictionary.

Thanks for looking into RE- study number 8. Watch for two more coming out on the blog by April. Comment here on the blog or email me:

Student Ministry in Ukraine

Regional Emergency Fund click here

InterVarsity as many of you know belongs to the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students – a worldwide family of similar evangelical student movements. I wanted to let you know where you could connect to stay informed and give to regional needs. The link in the caption above will take you to the giving page where a fund is being publicized. Look for this image to scroll by in the banner. If you’d like to learn more about the IFES, you can visit their website here.

Follow this link to read a message from Tim Adams, IFES General Secretary on responding to the crisis in Ukraine. We would long for your prayers on their behalf. Thank you!

Our first IFES summer trip on staff w InterVarsity – Vienna, July 1990

One of the very best ways to begin any ministry career! Cheryl and I along with two of our teammates from Downstate Illinois visited the IFES staff team in Vienna then staffed outreach projects in Cambridge, England and Arhus, Denmark.

A very young, very lovely Cheryl St. Pierre Perry – Oxburgh Hall, England

Thank you for your prayers for student ministry!