via WORLD BIBLE SCHOOL
3.1 Nicodemus, like us, is attracted to Jesus. This new teacher fascinates him. Nicodemus examines all the facts he can find. They convince him that God has sent Jesus, for no one can do such miracles unless God is with him. Every illness receives a complete cure – instantly! The crippled walk! The blind see! Reports from Galilee even tell of water turning into wine (John 2).
Yet the same reports disturb leaders like Nicodemus. John the Baptizer has introduced Jesus to the nation. John announces that Jesus is far greater. Though John baptizes in water, Jesus will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Though John is the older man, he claims that Jesus existed long before him. More than that, John likens Jesus to a lamb. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” What can this mean? How can any human be a sacrifice to forgive sins?Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up…
Doubts and questions swirl in the mind of Nicodemus. His meeting with Jesus only seems to add more questions. For Jesus speaks of strange things — another birth, the mystery of wind, earthly things and heavenly things. Jesus then reminds Nicodemus of an ancient event:
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).
Why did Moses use a snake? What can this mean about Jesus?
3.2 – “Snakes” and “Sheep”
3.3 – Jesus Has No Doubt
3.4 – No Way But Death
3.5 – Like a Lamb to the Slaughter
3.6 – Look at the Cross!
3.2 “SNAKES” AND “SHEEP”
Jesus, like the bronze snake, will be lifted up to save others.
Jesus begins, dear friend, to open a door to a great mystery. He reminds us that when Israelites rebelled, God punished them with snakes. Many people died. The rest cried out for relief. So God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake, and to place it on a pole. Any person with snakebite had only to look up at the bronze snake. All doing so were healed, and escaped death (Numbers 21). Now Jesus is like that bronze snake, about to be “lifted up” in order to save others.
How different the “snake” is from John’s picture, “the Lamb of God!” Yet this too recalls ancient stories. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham went to do it, confident that “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8). God did, in fact, send a sheep, which was killed in Isaac’s place.
Later, at the first Passover, each Israelite family killed, roasted and ate a perfect young sheep or goat. They also put its blood over their doors. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). Israelites remember every year, at a similar meal, how God once rescued them by lamb’s blood. In fact, perfect male lambs are killed daily at the temple (Numbers 28, 29). Scripture often speaks of sacrifice and blood removing sins.
“The law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22).
Now John commands, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Is Jesus the perfect sacrifice, which brings us full forgiveness?
3.3 JESUS HAS NO DOUBT
Again and again Jesus states His mission – to die! (Matthew 12:40; 16:21; 17:12, 22-23; 20:18-19; 26:32). Just before meeting Nicodemus, Jesus has challenged temple leaders: “Destroy this temple [My body], and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). He soon upsets followers, claiming that His blood and flesh are food, which He “will give for the life of the world” (John 6:32-51). He must die to protect His sheep:
“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11).
No one forces this death on Him. He freely chooses to give up life, and to regain it later (John 10:14-18). He foresees that enemies will lift Him up (John 8:28).
“‘…But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die” (John 12:32-33).
Jesus’ death paid the ransom to set us free.
All flesh dies, but Jesus’ death is unique. It is the “ransom” paid to set us free (Matthew 20:28; 1 Timothy 2:6). Free from what? Jesus eats His last Passover with His followers. He gives them the bread made without yeast, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me” (Luke 22:19). Then all share the grape drink.
“This cup,” He says, “is the New Covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20).
“It is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Here is the answer: His ransom frees us from sins! God promised this long ago.
“I will make a New Covenant… For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31,34).
But why must God do it this way? Why “must” the Son of Man be lifted up like that bronze statue? Could there be any other way to free me from my sin?
3.4 NO WAY BUT DEATH
After the last Passover, Jesus takes His followers to a garden called Gethsemane.
After the last Passover, Jesus takes His followers to a garden called Gethsemane. He prays three times to be released from the required suffering. Jesus has faced all death threats with calmness and courage. Yet this death holds much more terror than any other possible death.
Then He said to them,
“‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with Me.’ Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will'” (Matthew 26:38-39).
An angel strengthens Him, but brings no message of relief. So Jesus prays “more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Jesus then arises to meet the police, led by the betrayer, Judas. Peter strikes out to stop the arrest.
“‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him… ‘Do you think I cannot call on My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions [armies] of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54).
3.5 LIKE A LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER
Jewish leaders already reject fair hearings. (They even refused to hear Nicodemus, John 7:50-52.) So Jesus’ disciples desert, scattering in fear. Peter denies that He ever knew Jesus. Jesus alone must endure the all-night show trials, the false witnesses, and the raging accusers.
“Then they spit in His face and struck Him with their fists. Others slapped Him and said, ‘Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit You?'” (Matthew 26:67-68).
The Jewish leaders choose to release a known murderer, rather than this Rabbi Jesus.
Governor Pilate wants to free Jesus. “For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him” (Matthew 27:18). The Jewish leaders choose to release a known murderer, rather than this “Rabbi” Jesus. They accuse Pilate of treason, and threaten to riot. So he finally has Jesus stripped and flogged with cutting whips. Guards beat and spit on Him. They mock Him with ‘royal’ clothes. They press a ‘crown’ of thorns into His head.
Then they load heavy wood onto His wounded body. He tries to carry it through Jerusalem. At the place called “Skull” soldiers nail Jesus’ hands and feet to the wood. Then, on this rough cross, they lift Him up! Roman troops, Jews, even two thieves crucified nearby, join in jeering at His shame. They laugh as His blood flows. At noon the sky changes.
“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
Jesus cries out twice more:
“It is finished” (John 19:30).
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
He gives up His life. Joseph of Arimathea, another council member, takes down the dead body. He and Nicodemus wrap the corpse in spices and cloth, then bury it inside a tomb of rock (John 19:38-42).
So Jesus’ words come true: in giving His life, He is lifted up! Jesus on His cross is like the bronze snake on its pole. Look more closely at the meaning. God could use many ways to save those rebellious Israelites. Yet He told Moses to make an image like the thing killing them, a deadly snake.
God pointed toward us and His Son. Our sins and crimes against God are our deadly snakes that poison us. The Son of God becomes the Son of Man, “being made in human likeness” (Philippians 2:7). In His trial and execution, He is treated like the worst criminal. He looks like us and our poisonous sins. His forsaken cry has all the pain we should feel in hell.
“[God sent] His own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so He condemned sin in sinful man” (Romans 8:3).
3.6 LOOK AT THE CROSS!
Look at the Lamb of God. Gaze at the Lifted One. What do you see there? God condemning sin – our sin – placed on His Son! The Lamb taking our guilt and our punishment!
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He was led like a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:6-7).
Look again. Do you see how ugly and damaging our sins are? We have all played our part: we envy and hate, boast and betray, lie and deny, fear and fail. We who accuse deserve to be accused. We who judge deserve God’s judgment. Human hypocrisy and revolt is most clear at the cross. For God came to bring us back to His side, and we hated Him for it.
“Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness” (John 3:19).
“Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates Me hates My Father as well” (John 15:22-23).
Even today some are, in a spiritual sense, “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace” (Hebrews 6:6). Those who have “treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant,” and who have “insulted the Spirit of grace,” continue today to “trample the Son of God underfoot” (Hebrews 10:29).
Sin turns us against the very One who gives us life.
How sin twists the human heart. How it turns us against the very One who gives us life, the Creator to whom we owe all love. How our selfishness hurts our own lives, and leaves our families in ruins. How much suffering has spread through the world because we left the peaceful ways of God. How our rebellion breaks God’s heart with sorrow.
Dear friend, look at the cross. See the horror of your own sins. See how dearly He loves you. His arms are stretched out on the cross.
They are stretched out to reach you.
They are stretched out to welcome you home.
See the price He pays for you: suffering so that you can live, dying so that you can be born again.
Jesus’ death makes all things right between God and humans.
Jesus said that He would be “lifted up” in order to save lives. By this He meant that He would die on the cross in order to save us.
People used to kill animals in sacrifice to please God, but Jesus was the far better sacrifice. Though He was innocent, He came for the very purpose of dying. On His cross He carried all the wrong things we have done.
His death finally satisfies the full punishment for all sins, making all things right between God and humans.
1) Exodus 12:13 – “…when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”
2) John 12:32-33 – “‘…But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death He was going to die.”
3) Isaiah 53:6-7 – “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.”
Our hearts are cut deeply by the death of Jesus.
God and Father of Jesus, our hearts are cut deeply by the death of Jesus. On the cross, we see the result and penalty of our own sins. You refuse to turn a blind eye to sin.
Yet, how infinite also is your love for us, the sinners! We truly thank and praise You for such awesome love.
We do not deserve what You did for us. But we truly appreciate it and we want to follow You in faith.
Extra Note: Questions of Responsibility
Jesus uproots falsehood in order to plant truth. Many Jews think that God cares only for their own nation. When Jesus corrects this old view, the people of His hometown try to kill Him (Luke 4). When Jesus heals a blind man, Jewish leaders reject the man’s testimony; they take his blindness as proof that he was “steeped in sin at birth” (John 9:34).
Unfortunately, false ideas grow deep roots. Even today many think that God’s love is limited and sin is a matter of blood and birth. We must pause here to address these matters since they directly affect one’s view of the new birth.
Some religions teach that God condemns people even if they are not personally responsible for sinning. One theory goes like this: Adam’s sin passes to every human conceived. Therefore all humans – even babies – are completely evil; and even as adults they have no ability to make good choices. God must do all the choosing. God selects which individuals will be saved, and which individuals will perish in hell. This means that Jesus died, not for all sinners, but for a limited few. Adam’s sin, they say, keeps even the select few from any ability to believe or obey. Again God must do everything. So, they say, God’s Spirit enters the chosen sinner and forces him to believe and be born again. The problem with these views is that they sound so different from Jesus.
They speak as if man has nothing to do with faith and receiving God’s gifts. Yet Jesus speaks as if Nicodemus has a part in believing and in receiving new birth.
They speak as if man has no real choice. Yet Jesus speaks as if people have both choice and personal responsibility.
They speak as if God’s love and salvation are available to just a few. Yet Jesus states that God’s great love and Gift are for “the world,” that “whoever” believes will be saved.
They speak as if God plays favorites in the way He chooses some individuals and rejects others. Scripture states the opposite. “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation…who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35; see Matthew 22:16; Romans 2:11, Galatians 2:6; Ephesians 6:9; Colossians 3:25; 1 Peter 1:17).
They even use the term “limited atonement” for their doctrine. Yet 1 John 2:2 is specific on this point: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
They speak as if children are totally evil. Yet, who does Jesus use to illustrate greatness in God’s kingdom? The little children!
>If their fruit is so different from Jesus’ teaching, we should go back and examine where the roots went wrong. One root has to do with the meaning of sin. They treat sin like a disease that is “hereditary” (passed on by flesh from generation to generation). This leads to the idea that we must sin, and have no power to change, not even to seek God’s help. After all, can you change a weakness – like bad eyesight – that you inherited from your parents? How terrible to think that you can not even try to find a doctor to provide glasses! We all sense how unfair it is to blame people for a bodily weakness they cannot prevent.
Yet this theory presents God as eternally condemning every human – including babies – for the original sin of Adam. The Bible treats sin, not as something inherited, but as Something done – the breaking of God’s law. Notice the active definition: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness…All wrong doing is sin” (1 John 3:4; 5:17). Since people are active and make choices, they are held responsible. “So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12; like 2 Corinthians 5:10). This is quite different from being charged and sent to hell for Adam’s sin. God speaks plainly on this matter. We are not condemned for a parent’s sin.
The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him (Ezekiel 18:20).
Why then is there so much sin and death in the world? There is no biblical teaching of sin spreading in a fleshly or hereditary way. There is clear teaching of sin and spiritual death spreading because people themselves sin.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…”(Romans 5:12).
People choose Satan’s way. Likewise, they can choose God’s way (Deuteronomy 30; Joshua 24; Proverbs 1; Isaiah 7; Luke 10; John 7). That is why Jesus presents the new birth as a command. God places before us a choice. If we choose to accept birth of water and Spirit, we will live. If we reject it, we will remain in spiritual death.
The Bible reminds us that some have not yet developed ability for moral choices. Isaiah 7:16 speaks of a time “before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.” God describes “the little ones” as “your children who do not yet know good from bad” Deuteronomy 1:39. This sounds just like the innocence of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Can babies give an account of their own words, thoughts and actions? Obviously not. Yet such accounting is the basis for judgment (Matthew 12; 25; Hebrew 4; Revelation 20). It should be obvious then that children are not judged in the same way as responsible adults. This is confirmed by the fact that the New Testament offers no way for babies to be saved. Babies do not need to be saved because they are safe, as those not yet held responsible. Paul may be suggesting this by speaking of a matter of one’s choice and responsibility. In the same way, one’s response in receiving salvation is a matter of choice and responsible commitment. Scripture clearly shows that one must believe, humble himself, confess, repent and be baptized. Infants cannot respond in any of these ways.
They cannot even be baptized, for biblical baptism is a matter of personal faith and the firm decision to change. (See Mark 16; Acts 2, 8, 16, 22; Galatians 3; Colossians 3; 1 Peter 2.) Sadly, those who think they were baptized as babies went through a human ritual mistakenly called ‘baptism.’ As adults who believe they still need to receive true baptism. The final lessons in this course discuss biblical baptism as it relates to the new birth.