In an earlier post I discussed the origin of the term “born again.” In this post I want to further explain how people can be healed of their sinful state and be reconciled to God. To illustrate salvation by grace through faith, Jesus used an event from the Old Testament in the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verses 14-15. He referred to an event that Nicodemus would have been familiar with (although it may be obscure to us):
“Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.”
Jesus was referring to when the Israelites were wondering in the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, and they sinned against the Lord by complaining. One of the times when they complained against the Lord, God sent poisonous snakes into their camp to punish them. After many Israelites died from the snake bites, they confessed their sin and asked Moses to pray to the Lord to take away the snakes. God didn’t remove the snakes, but here’s how the Lord responded in Numbers 21:8-9 (NRSV):
And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
Notice that all the Israelites had to do was look at the serpent on the pole, and they would live – the poison would have no effect on them. Do you think that just because the pole was in the camp, every Israelite who got bit would live? No. To live, an Israelite would have to do an act of faith: consciously look at the bronze snake on the pole, believing he would be healed – and he would be!
The same is true with salvation through Jesus – it is a matter of faith. If we look to the Cross and believe that Jesus died to rid us of the penalty for our sin, then we are saved, and we receive eternal life. As with the serpent on the pole, a person must look to the Cross and consciously believe that Jesus died for his or her sins, and that by his stripes, we are healed.
After using this powerful serpent illustration to make it clear that this is a matter of faith, Jesus goes on to explain the reason for his coming to earth (verses 16-18a):
“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.”
This familiar statement is pretty clear:
-God loves his creation so much that he doesn’t want to lose any one of us;
-God therefore provided a way for our healing and reconciliation with him;
-It is incredibly easy, similar to the snake on the pole – just believe and be saved;
-Jesus came to earth, not to judge, but to save (by his death on the Cross);
-Although we are sinners, those who believe in Jesus are not judged guilty.
Jesus then gives the flip side of the equation: anyone who rejects Jesus has rejected God and remains guilty in his sins. Jesus explains this in 18b-19:
“Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.”
Jesus recognized that some people will reject him, because they prefer worldly things over the things of God. Jesus doesn’t force himself on anyone – the Holy Spirit gently nudges us to faith in Jesus, often using other people. So if you are concerned about loved ones, look to the Holy Spirit for guidance and pray for them to receive Christ. We can’t force them, we can’t nag them, and we can’t save them – but we can pray for them and be used of God.
One more look at the meaning of the Cross in a future post.