Seeing Jesus High and Lifted Up
Primary Truth Taught- Seeing Christ with the eyes of faith is God’s spark that ignites the New Birth
Human Need Met
We cannot forget that the answer to humanity’s lost condition is not to focus on sin, deadness, or the lack of understanding when it comes to spiritual things. Nor do we dwell on the fact that all must be born again. Instead we must point others to the fact that Jesus Christ entered into history in order to be lifted up on the cross so that all who believe in Him will have eternal life.
The way the Holy Spirit works in the New Birth is to direct the mind to the cross of Christ in history. Look to Jesus all the earth and be saved.
John 3:9–15 (ESV)
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
In these verses, we see that our friend Nicodemus has no clue what Jesus is speaking of. He cannot comprehend what our Lord means by the new birth. He has no clue as to the deadness of his own heart. Jesus is pressing the point that Nicodemus as Israel’s teacher is like the blind leading the blind.
How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? How can these things be? These basic truths, Jesus calls earthly things or foundational things.
We should notice that this dialogue with Jesus began by Nicodemus saying…
John 3:2 (ESV)
2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
We know was his opening remark.
11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.
Jesus is the great teacher now and Nicodemus is the pupil straining to understand even the simplest eternal truths.
Nicodemus needs to see but his eyes are blind…
John 1:14&16 (ESV)
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Jesus expected Nicodemus to understand the concept and the truth of the New Birth. Where would have he ran across this truth before? Is it in the Old Testament?
Jeremiah 31:31–34 (ESV)
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”
Ezekiel 11:19–20 (ESV)
19 And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
This idea that God will renew the hearts of His people so that they will no longer know Him as a concept but will truly know Him and be His people. The new birth produces a new heart and when God does this by giving us His Spirit then we come to know Him, love Him and He knows and loves us. The work of God is to pour out His Holy Spirit into a person and this renews the heart, which was once dead.
Even though this is found in many places in the OT, Nicodemus could not understand these things, he could not see.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
If you remember from last time, we learned from the previous passage that Nicodemus needed the new birth, he needed God to give him a new heart so he could understand these simple truths.
In a sense this is like trying to explain quadratic equations to a three year old, they’re not going to get it.
Up until now, Jesus has told Nicodemus what he needs. You need to be born again; you need to experience the new birth.
We can speak to our loved ones until we’re blue in the face about what they need but it doesn’t do any good to tell a dead heart they need the new birth. They can’t make it happen nor in most cases do they desire to make it happen. A dead heart thrives on sin. Lost people love their sin and so why would they ever want to turn from what they love?
Here, we see that Nicodemus lacks certain ability to understand spiritual truths. There is also another issue with this teacher of the law and that is that he and the other members of the Sanhedrin that he represents will not accept Jesus’ testimony… but you do not receive our testimony.
This goes further to show his unconverted heart. It’s not so much that he didn’t understand everything, though there was much he didn’t understand, but it was that what he understood he didn’t receive or accept.
In the end, it is not that Nicodemus and his fellow rulers have not heard Jesus’ witness, or even that they failed to understand it; at the root, their failure was not intellectual, but rather consisted in their willingness to ‘accept our testimony’
That’s the dilemma for all who are lost. Like Nicodemus they cannot process spiritual truths. That’s also the dilemma for all who love lost people there’s nothing much we can do…or is there?
So far its been this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and its gone sort of like this: Nicodemus you need to be born again. We know that God has sent you…Jesus’ response is you must be born again. I don’t understand what you mean…born again?
Now Jesus is about to direct Nicodemus’ gaze to the bronze serpent high and lifted up. He is about to turn him mind on and show him things that he can begin to see and understand and this is the spark that will ignite the new birth within Nicodemus.
13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
We know God has sent you because no one could do the things You do unless God is with Him.
Let’s notice the shift in verse 13…so far the focus has been on Nicodemus’ need to be born again. Now the focus is shifting to what Jesus is going to do.
From what Nicodemus can’t do, namely, be born again to what Jesus can do, namely, go to the cross and die for Nicodemus.
Jesus is going to answer His own question notice the link between verse 12, Nicodemus, if you can’t understand earthly things how will you ever be able to understand heavenly things? I’ll tell how, I have come from heaven with God’s authority. I’ll explain to you heavenly things. Jesus is the link between heaven and earth. He’s the link between a dead heart and the truth that must be believed in and seen in order to be saved. It’s more than understanding it is receiving that truth. but you do not receive our testimony.
Hebrews 11:3 (ESV)
3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
In the process of the New Birth, God’s truth which previously was not received by the sinner must be received.
So Jesus declares to Nicodemus, that He has the authority to take God’s truth and give it to Nicodemus because He alone has been to heaven and He alone has come to earth. He is the only One qualified to give Nicodemus this truth. It is the responsibility of the hearer to believe it and to receive it.
The heavenly things to which the Lord had referred had not till then been clearly revealed to men. To ascend to heaven, and penetrate the hidden counsels of God, was an utter impossibility to fallen man. Only the Son, whose native residence was heaven, was qualified to reveal heavenly things.
Nicodemus needed heavenly things or quite specifically special revelation. We must see here that until this encounter with Nicodemus mankind was in the dark about the New Birth and about all the passages in the Bible that spoke about it. It took Someone coming from heaven and penetrating the darkness of earth with revelation from God. It took Jesus Christ to bring this eternal life giving message in order that anyone might be saved.
Now, Jesus takes the focus off of Nicodemus and the New Birth and fixes Nicodemus on someone else…
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Numbers 21:4–9 (ESV)
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
The people spoke against God and against Moses. God was feeding them and giving them water and the people hated it and hated God. We loathe this worthless food. They had an intense dislike for the manna that God blessed them with. Manna was what kept them alive while they were in the wilderness and they hated it. They called it worthless food. This murmuring and loathing had been going on now for a while. Every step of the way someone was saying oh that God would have left us in Egypt! Why has God rescued us from Egypt only to kill us in the wilderness? We would rather die than to follow God!
So, out of white hot wrath God sends poisonous snakes into the camp to kill these rebels who hate Him…. 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
God is longsuffering but do not think that means He’s a pushover.
2 Peter 3:9 (ESV)
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
We should notice that God sent the poisonous serpents to kill the evil rebellious Israelites. God did this. The snakes are biting the people and the people are dying. What is this? God is judging His people this is God’s wrath. He sent the snakes and gave them one job to do bite as many people as you can.
7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Does this seem somewhat odd to you? The remedy God gave for the snakes He sent is that Moses would fashion a snake place it on a pole and lift it up high so that the people could see it. God said that everyone who gazes upon the serpent would live.
Also notice that this remedy does not prevent people from being bitten they are already bitten. The remedy keeps people from dying.
Now there is one last thing that we should see here. God has Moses lift up a snake. Now the snakes were the curse sent by God. So Moses lifts up an image of the curse to save the people from the curse. Stay with me here…what did God tell the people to do? Look at it. No work, not try better next time…LOOK AT IT and you will live.
By faith in God’s provision, namely the bronze serpent, they were to look believing and be healed.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Jesus, here, compares Himself to the snake on the pole that Moses lifted up. Remember, the bronze serpent was the curse that was killing the people. Like all the Israelites we too have been bitten. Sin has sunk its fangs deep into each and every one of us. We too are bitten. In order for Jesus to save us, He must be lifted up as the curse so that we too can look to Christ by faith, believing and be saved.
2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)
21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
When Jesus was lifted up on the cross God had made Him to be sin who knew no sin. The sinless Son of Man was made to be sin so that the wrath of God could be poured out on Him.
While on the cross Jesus resembled the serpent of old. He was made to be the curse for us. Just like the curse was lifted up in the wilderness and the people looked and were healed so to the curse for sin was lifted up on the cross…Jesus tells Nicodemus that all who believe in Him have eternal life.
Galatians 3:13 (ESV)
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
So, do you see how Jesus is breaking through Nicodemus’ deadness. LOOK to Me Nicodemus and I will make you live…Look to Me and your heart will come to life. Look and live!
Do you see the focus went from Nicodemus and his helpless state of being lost and dead to the glories of Christ and the cross? In Numbers it was by faith look and here in John it is believe. No work involved just trust in the One who came and entered into human history to be lifted up on a cross so that all who look on Him by faith will be taken from death and have eternal life.
Next time, Lord willing, we will look at John 3:16-21. In verses 16-18 there is a word used 4 times what word is it? Hint: its also found in verse 15. Why is this word so important? Take a few minutes and thank God for your “New Birth”. If you’ve never experienced the New Birth please speak with your parents or Pastor Brian so that they can explain in to you.
Declaration of Grace
In the mercy and grace of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us, and for His sake God forgives us all our sins. To those who believe in Jesus Christ He gives the power to become the children of God and gives to them the Holy Spirit. May the Lord, who has begun this good work in us, bring it to completion in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
 John (ECNT) by Kostenberger pg 126
 Gospel of John by A W Pink 127
 I am indebted to John Piper and his sermon on this text, also closing with Spurgeon’s conversion was his idea