Christianity 201

April 11, 2017

The One Where a Snake Foreshadows Jesus on the Cross

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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NIV Numbers 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[*] to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

*Or the Sea of Reeds

Today we return to the writing of pastor, author and Bible translator Christopher R. Smith at the blog Good Question. This is a passage that we’ve discussed here before as I believe it is pivotal to understanding the ‘invisible transaction’ that takes place when we acknowledge Christ.  Click the title below to link to this one directly:

Why does a serpent represent what Jesus did on the cross?

Q.  In the gospel of John, when Jesus is speaking with Nicodemus, why does he liken Himself to the serpent that was lifted up in the desert in the Old Testament, considering that serpents are usually associated with Satan? Why was a serpent chosen as a type/foreshadowing of what Jesus would do on the cross, especially in light of the Bible always emphasizing the “lamb” that was slain? I’ve thought that perhaps in a sense sin/evil was on the cross since Jesus “became sin” to put an end to it, but other than that it just seems weird to me.

A.  Jesus refers to the way Moses made a bronze serpent and put it up on a pole in order to make one specific point to Nicodemus.  Jesus has just told him that he needs to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God.  Nicodemus has misunderstood this and thinks that Jesus is describing something physical rather than something spiritual.  (This happens often in Jesus’ conversations with people in this gospel, as I explain in my study guide to John.)  “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asks.

Jesus tries to explain that he’s talking about being “born of the Spirit,” but Nicodemus still asks, “How can this be?”  So Jesus uses the episode of the bronze serpent to explain more precisely what he means by being “born again.”

This episode is related in the book of Numbers.  The Israelites are traveling through the wilderness and they start complaining about the very manna that God has been providing miraculously to feed them in the desert.  (They say, “We detest this miserable food!”)  As a punishment for their ingratitude, God sends poisonous snakes among them and many of the Israelites start dying from snake bites.  So they come to Moses and admit, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.”  They ask him to “pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”  God forgives the people and tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it up on a pole.”  God promises, “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”

In other words, an admission of sin and a response of hopeful faith, looking to the means God provided for deliverance, was how the Israelites could be rescued from physical death in this instance.  Jesus is telling Nicodemus that the same thing will be true, on a much grander scale in the spiritual realm, when he is “lifted up” onto the cross.  Anyone who is sincerely sorry for the way they’ve disobeyed and offended God, and who looks in hopeful faith to Jesus’ death on the cross for their sake, will be rescued spiritually and given the chance to live anew.  This is what it means to be “born again.”

So that is the single point of comparison:  just as the Israelites needed to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their physical deliverance in the wilderness, so Nicodemus (and anyone else, ever since, who hears about Jesus’ conversation with him) needs to look in hopeful faith to God’s provision for their spiritual deliverance in the form of Jesus’ death on the cross.

We should not make any further points of comparison, such as “Jesus must be like a serpent in some way, rather than a lamb, because he said he had to be lifted up just as the serpent was lifted up.”

However, we should keep in mind that in the gospel of John, there are always multiple levels of meaning at work.  Behind physical references there is often spiritual significance.  We’ve already seen that this is true when Jesus speaks about being “born,” and it’s also true when he speaks of himself being “lifted up.”  This can mean simply being raised onto the cross, but as a footnote in the NIV explains each time this phrase occurs in John, “The Greek for lifted up also means exalted.”  We need to recognize that this spiritual meaning is also in view when Jesus says things like, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

April 2, 2014

Dumbest. Question. Ever.

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:10 pm
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When Nicodemus comes to Jesus with questions, Jesus gives him a statement that then prompts one of the many comedic moments in the Bible:

John 3:1 (NLT) There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again,  you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”

Seriously, Nicodemus, do you really think that’s what he meant?  Well, we have to forgive Nick, because Jesus is introducing a new terminology, and whether you prefer born again, or perhaps born from above, the fact remains that new birth was a foreign concept.

Why does Nick need a new birth.  Interestingly, the answer to John 3:4 is found in I John 3:4 —

I John 3:4 (NIV) Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin. No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.

Sin has separated us from God, so we need a cleansing from sin so complete and thorough that we are no longer the same person we were.

Titus 3 combines the elements of washing and new birth into a single verse:

Titus 3:5 (NIV)…He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit

For Nicodemus this is too much to take in. Remember, he’s never heard this type of terminology before.

“How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.

The narrative ends with Jesus amplifying this in the familiar words of verses 16-21, but we don’t know anything about Nick’s response. But we meet up with Nicodemus — a character exclusive to John’s gospel — in chapter 7

49 This foolish crowd follows him, but they are ignorant of the law. God’s curse is on them!”

50 Then Nicodemus, the leader who had met with Jesus earlier, spoke up. 51 “Is it legal to convict a man before he is given a hearing?” he asked.

We don’t hear a response from Jesus, instead the crowd interrupts as the dramatically scripted Voice Bible makes clear:

Pharisees (ignoring Nicodemus’s legal point): 52 Are you from Galilee too? Look it up for yourself; no real prophet is supposed to come from Galilee.

Finally, we meet Nick for the last time in chapter 19:

38 Afterward Joseph of Arimathea, who had been a secret disciple of Jesus (because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate for permission to take down Jesus’ body. When Pilate gave permission, Joseph came and took the body away. 39 With him came Nicodemus, the man who had come to Jesus at night. He brought about seventy-five pounds of perfumed ointment made from myrrh and aloes. 40 Following Jewish burial custom, they wrapped Jesus’ body with the spices in long sheets of linen cloth. 

Clearly, at this point, Nicodemus is a disciple; a follower. Because common names existed, John goes out of his way in chapter 7 and chapter 19 to say, in effect, ‘Make no mistake, this is the same guy.’  I think that’s important because of the way we’re left hanging at the end of John 3. John knows who Nicodemus is and what becomes of him, but rather than telegraph that early on his gospel, he brings Nick in and out of the story culminating with the concern that Jesus’ body be properly anointed for burial.

But Nick’s “dumb” question sparks an answer from Jesus that also includes verse 16, probably the most-known and most-quoted verse in all the New Testament.

So what’s become of your story? Following your initial encounter with God, long after your initial questions, where you do return to the center of God’s story? In what places does your story intersect with His story? At what point in your life would you say you experienced the new birth?


 

Go deeper: Father Dave offers what I believe to be a sermon transcript based on the late night conversation with Jesus and Nicodemus.

 

February 11, 2013

I Once Was Lost But Now I See

or: I Once was Blind But Now I’m Found

24 Ways to Explain The GospelI admit today’s post title was offered a little tongue-in-cheek, because today we’re looking at the various metaphors that can be used to describe salvation and sometimes we can get our metaphors mixed up!  This was inspired by one of the hundred-odd little laminated pamphlets issued by Rose Publishing of Torrance, California. In a bullet-point world, these pamphlets (many of which are also available as wall charts) distill information on a variety of Bible-based subjects, and for most of you can be tucked into your Bible.

Rather than simply plagiarize the material, I’ll discuss a few of them to give you the idea.  The pamphlet is called 24 Ways to Explain The Gospel and can be purchased individually or in packages of ten. Remember, don’t mix your metaphors like I did in the post title. Stay with a single one at a time.

  • The Biological Model

The idea here is that Jesus offers us a way to move from life to death. Our sin deserved death, a death that was introduced through Adam, but Jesus is the bread of life and offers us abundant life.

  • The Health Model

The concept here is our sinful state is characterized as sickness; that Jesus promises to be our physician; moving us from illness to health.

  • The Family Model

This will resonate more strongly with some people. Jesus takes us from being orphans to being adopted into his family, having the full rights of sons.  Thus Christians refer to God as “Father,” because of that adoption; even to the point of the more affectionate “Abba” meaning daddy.

  • The Relational Model

This is one that is used in many gospel presentations; the idea that we were once God’s enemies; that sin has separated us from Him; and that Jesus is a bridge that allows us to connect and be in relationship with God.

  • The Rescue Model

This has so many different possibilities but all would revolve around the idea that we were perishing but Jesus rescues us from death. This metaphor uses the term ‘saved’ more than the others.

  • The Freedom Model

This begins with the visual of people in bondage or slavery who then experience deliverance to new life and eternal life; from being slaves to being free.

  • The Legal Model

This metaphor begins with people under the the penalty of their wrongdoing — basically a crime and punishment consequence — but Jesus enters the picture and offers us forgiveness.

  • The Nationality Model

Again, this has the potential to resonate more deeply with anyone who has ever emigrated from one country to another. The idea is that we were aliens — without a home — and Jesus provides a way for us to become citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

  • The Vision Model

Referred to in today’s post title, this is the idea of moving from blindness to sight.  Anyone who has ever sung “Amazing Grace” has heard this metaphor expressed. Sight allows us to see God and His wonders.

  • The Knowledge Model

The person who develops a real relationship with God moves from ignorance or foolishness, to understanding and wisdom.

  • The Truth Model

Salvation is described as knowledge of the truth. We move from falsehood and false teaching to the truth of the gospel which makes us free.

  • The Navigational Model

This is the other half of the “Amazing Grace” metaphor, I once was lost but now I’m found.

  • The Ambulatory Model

This is the idea of moving from falling or stumbling to standing and walking; the latter being a commonly employed metaphor in scripture.

  • The Illumination Model

This is another popular theme in scripture; moving from darkness to light. Jesus is that light.

  • The Purity Model

This metaphor expresses what many people desire: Jesus cleanses us, taking us from being dirty (impurity) to being clean (purity).

  • The Agricultural Model

This one goes a little deeper, there are actually several agricultural models including the idea of being trees planted by the Lord, but also including the metaphor of being grafted onto a vine.

  • The Creation Model

Sometimes this takes the form of a garment; the metaphor includes the idea of moving from old creation to new creation. This is the model wherein we would employ the term ‘born again.’

…You’ll notice we had no scripture verses today. I hope the scriptures suggested themselves to you as you reading. It’s also possible that in your discussions with people God will give you some other metaphor from some other aspect of life. I know this is possible because I’ve seen it happen in my own life. If you purchase the original copy of the pamphlet you’ll find ample scripture references for each point; and remember that I did not list all the models here.

Well, okay; one scripture; one that I hope encourages you to commit to imprint a few of these models on your heart and mind so that you can easily share them with people at any time:

…concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.  (I Peter 3:15 J. B. Phillips tr.)