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The Word and a Snake-Bitten World

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(2/27) Introduction Ė Today and next week we are going to look at what is perhaps two of the best-known verses in the entire Bible. The first is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." The second, you know the essence of even if you canít quote it. Itís John 3:3, "Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Our Lord repeats this in verse 7, Do not marvel that I said to you, ĎYou must be born again.í

Now there are at least two ways to preach this section of scripture. The first is to preach it as a message of evangelism. I did this 33 years ago, the first time I ever preached in a jail. One of the key words is the word, must, meaning that, there is no other way. There is no other way to see the kingdom of God. If you were a group of non-believers, I could preach this that way.

The second way, is to make sure that Christians, and whoever inquires, understands why Jesus came to this world, and why there is no other way to see the kingdom of God. Why is there is no other way to be forgiven and have eternal life? Why isnít being good, good enough? Why canít God just be gracious and open the door to a good person, or a religious person? And, what does it mean to be born again?

Let me also remind you that there is in America what seems to be a sub-culture in Christianity. There are those who are called Christians and then there are those who are called - "born again," Christians.

Remember, John has carefully chosen the incidents of Jesus' life that will help you to understand that Jesus is God in the Flesh and to help you believe in Him so you can have eternal life (20:30-31). The following is a snap-shot of a brief encounter one particular night with one of Israelís leading Rabbiís. It happened late one evening after Jesus had aroused a lot of attention in Jerusalem during Passover, (Review Ch. 2 and begin Ch. 3).

I. Snakes.

Have you ever watched a movie or TV show where something has happened and then they post a sign saying, "3 months earlier, or 12 hours earlier," and they go back and fill you in on what led up to what you just saw? Thatís what I am going to do here. Letís go first to verses 14-15. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. This illustration is key to understanding this passage on Jesusí words about being born again. It is a reference to Numbers 21:4-9, "Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged 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 our soul loathes this worthless bread." 6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.

7 Therefore 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 Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.

Do we have any snake lovers here? I hate snakes even though I know some are extremely good. I have several snake stories. The snake or snakes in my home. The snake that crawled through my legs while I was fishing. The copperhead sunning himself beside a gate when I was cleaning the barn yard. Snakes in the straw loft of the barn. Snakes along a river. Most of us have a fear of snakes that may go all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Many believe that the only good snake is a dead snake. I shudder when I hear of people who have snakes as pets. I did not see nor do I want to see the movie, Snakes on a Plane, but I remember this scene from Indiana Jones.

Watch Indiana Jones Ė Snakes-Why Did It Have To Be Snakes?

Every year in this world, 2 Ĺ million people are bitten by venomous snakes and at least 125,000 of them die as a result. Since many occur in south-east Asia, the total is probably much higher, as not all incidents are reported.

Symptoms depend on the type of snake, but may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Burning and discoloration of the skin
  • Convulsions
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fainting
  • Fever
  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Rapid pulse
  • Tissue death
  • Severe pain
  • Swelling at the site of the bite
  • Weakness
  • Death

Listen, ever since the Garden of Eden, every person in this world carries the results of being Snake Bitten. Adam and Eve passed it down to us. The adversary of your soul, Satan, is referred to as a snake, or a serpent, in scripture, and the evidence or symptoms of having been snake bitten include but are not to limited to the following:

"Öall unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmercifulÖ" (Romans 1:29-31)

Remember, Ephesians 2:2-3, And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others."

Or, 1 John 5:19, "Ö the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."

The only cures for a snake bit, is antivenom or a miracle. In Godís judgement for Israelís sin, He provided a cure, that was entirely focused on faith. It was miraculous. The people could not save themselves apart from faith. God, by grace, did the healing when faith was exercised. The same is true for you and I and is the reason Jesus came to us. Now letís go back and go through these verses.

II. The Shallow Faith (2:23-25),

"Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. 24 But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, 25 and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man." What exactly did they believe? Matthew 16, tells us that people believed that Jesus was a prophet, perhaps a re-incarnated prophet, a miracle worker, perhaps potentially, the Messiah. Who else would have the audacity to stand up against those who would turn the most sacred place in Israel into a mini mart and then go toe to toe with the religious leaders of that time? What else He did at that Passover we are not told. We could assume that like in other places He did and said things to challenge people to prepare to receive Godís Kingdom. Matthew says, "From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at handÖ And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people." (Matt. 4:17, 22)

Jesus did not commit Himself to them. He did not come straight out and say that He is Messiah. Why? Because people would follow Him demanding health benefits and food, without a changed heart. We will see this in Ch. 6. Their faith was shallow. Many are like this even today. They believe the facts of Jesus, but have not allowed God to transform their hearts and lives. They have not taken on the character of Jesus, nor do they have compassion on those who need help. Their faith is how this faith will benefit them and not on what this could cost them. Remember the parachute? Itís one thing to believe a parachute works. Itís an entirely different thing to strap one and jump out of an airplane.

III. The Sincere Seeker (3:1-2)

"There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 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." Nick may have been in the Temple that day when Jesus used the whip and then stood up to the religious leadership. One thing for sure, his curiosity was peaked and he wanted to know more.

Why at night? Was he afraid to be seen with Jesus? Maybe. Maybe he had a day job and waited till class was over. Maybe, he waited until Jesus had down time and they could talk. What do we know about this guy?

A. He was a Pharisee (v.1) Ė A right wing religious guy. One of about 6000 that could trace their lineage back to Abraham. And though we mostly think of these guys as hypocrites, they were literalists that took Godís word serious.

B. A Ruler of the Jews -(v.1) - (Member of the Sanhedrin, cp. 7:50; 19:30) About 70 men that served as the Jewish Supreme Court. Romans allowed so that the Jews could govern themselves within Roman rule. This was the court the condemned Jesus and took Him before Pilate. I donít believe Nick was part of the condemning side.

C. The Teacher of Israel (v.10) - A prominent educator. The "prof." that everyone quoted and studied under.

D. And a Sincere Seeker (v. 2) Ė Jesus knew Nickís heart, just as He knows yours (2:25). He knew that Nick really wanted to know and honor God and his word. After seeing what he saw in Jesus, what he heard, perhaps Nick was asking like the rock group, The Who, "Who are you? I really want to know." But he was hardly through the pleasantries of introduction when Jesus precluded what was in his heart.

Here is an important point. No matter what you or anyone tries to portray, God knows whether it is sincere, shallow, or a sham.

IV. The Savior and Salvation -(3:3-8)

Letís just affirm what Jesus, our Lord, did not say. He did not say:

A. Unless you believe in God

B. Unless you are sincere

C. Unless you attend or join a church

D. Unless you keep the big 10 or the golden rule

E. Unless you read, memorize or study your Bible

F. Unless you are baptized, christened, confirmed, or take communion

G. Unless you pray every day

H. Unless you are good and law abiding

All of these are good, but none of them are the way to see or enter the Kingdom of God. One condition, Jesus said, "You must be born again." Born again, may be 'born anew, or, 'born from above.' ('must.' is emphatic, there is no other way).

V. The Spirit's Work (vv. 5-8) (Cp. Ez. 36:25-27; 39:29; 11;19; 18:30; Deut. 10:16; 30:6).

The whole point of this section of speech by our Lord is to say, that some things are true even if you canít see them or understand them. We cannot see air, or itsí wind, but we certainly know the good and bad effects of it. Canít live without it. We can harness it and use its power to sail boats, play ball, drive nails, stop big trucks and trains, and loosen or tighten lug nuts. You need the oxygen from the air and plants need the carbon dioxide from air to live. The Greek and Hebrew words for air, Ruach and Pneuma (we get the words pneumonia, and pneumatic), are also translated as wind, or breathe, or spirit in the Bible.

Without the Holy Breath, the Holy Air, the Holy Spirit of God, we are going to die from the snake bite. Not just physical death but spiritual, eternal death, we cannot be cured apart from the intervention of the Holy Spirit of God.

In verse 9, Nick still doesnít get it. He asks for the second time, "How?"

Our Lordís response in verse 10-13 basically is saying, that you can work your way to God. The only one with access to God is the one who comes from God. What was the point of chapter 1:1-18? God came down to us. The Word is God in the flesh, Immanuel, God with us. Thatís why all the things that we said before like, baptism, confirmation, church, christening, communion, being good, being sincere, being religious canít cure the effects of snake bit. There is just one way, and it is a gift from God; and expensive, and extreme gift from God.

VI. The Serpent's Illustration (v. 14, cp. Num. 21:5-9)

People were bitten, people were dying. God by grace gave a way to be saved. It required extreme faith. There was no medicine, no re-hab therapy, no magic words. There was just faith as they looked a bronze statue. One had to believe that God would keep His word. One had to realize that they were dying and seek Godís intervention and then believe Him as they looked at that Bronze serpent by faith. Imagine anyone saying, "No, I am good enough, I am religious, I go to church, etc." Those who did that, or did not believe God, died. And, I am sure that those who had been healed by trusting God and obeying by faith what he said, told others to do the same.

VII. The Substitutional Sacrifice (vv. 15-16)

This is the message of the New Testament. It comes out of Isaiah 53 and others. It is illustrated for us in the Day of Atonement, Passover, and the various blood sacrifices. Jesus came down from Heaven. Though no one got it at this point in His ministry, they would get it 3 years later. He told Nick, "This is the plan of God for your re-birth." He would be lifted up on a cross and you need to simply believe. Thatís all anyone in the world needs to do, believe! Believe what?

Believe that He is God in the Flesh. Believe that He died when He was lifted up on that cross, and that His blood was a kind of antivenom. Not, that had to be shot into your veins, but that made it possible for God to forgive you of your sins. Believe that in no way can you save yourself. Believe that His death was a sacrificial, and substitutional death for you. He experienced Godís wrath so you donít have to. Thatís our sermon for two weeks from now. Thatís the point of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah written 8 centuries B.C. Thatís the whole point of this story and Johnís Gospel (20:30-31). Thatís the point of John 3:16. Thatís the point of all the O.T. sacrifices. God gave us a gift. It is a gift that has to be received. It is a gift that just has to be believed. It is a grace gift. It is a gift available to the worst of us and to the best of us. Because all of us have been snake bitten.

When you receive the gift, and believe God, an amazing thing happens that I cannot explain, I can just describe. Godís breath of life, His Holy Spirit comes to reside in you, connects to your spirit and gives birth to new life in you, a new chance at life, a do-over in your spirit and soul. A new perspective on life and a new hope for eternity. You are born again, born anew, born from above. It is the worldís only cure for the snake bit that has affected us all.

Next week, How do I know if I am truly born-again? Or, How Will Others know that I am truly Born Again, (1 Peter 1:22-23; 2 Peter 1:1-15)? And then, the following week, the rest of John 3:16-36, The Wrath of God, is it Real?

Letís pray about it.

If this article has spoken to your heart, would you write to me at pastorgarybuchman@gmail.com and let me know or if you have any questions about following Jesus, I would be glad to try to answer them for you. May God bless you as you seek to do His will.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman