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?
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