“And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was muchdiscouraged because of the way. 5 And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. 6 And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much 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 thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. 9 And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. ” ~Numbers 21:4-9

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.”  ~John 3:14

During the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ not many who were wealthy, not many who were wise according to the standards of society, and not many who were influential followed Him. But there were some such as Nicodemus. One night, two great teachers met. One was from Jerusalem while the other was from heaven.

Concerning Nicodemus, the Bible says that he was a Pharisee. In many ways the Pharisees were considered the best people in Palestine. The Pharisees were small in number. There were never more than 6,000 of them. They belonged to a Text Box: ,vbrotherhood. They entered into the brotherhood by taking a pledge in front of three witnesses that they would keep in every detail the Law of Moses.

The Pharisees were sincere in their efforts but their good intentions were weak. And many of the Pharisees became self-righteous and they began to look with contempt upon others who were not as zealous as they in keeping the Law. Nicodemus was a Pharisee.

But he was more. He was also a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus sat on the highest ruling court in Jewish society allowed under Roman law. The Sanhedrin was aristocratic, well intentioned, and unenlightened in spiritual matters. There was zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.

Nicodemus realized that something was fundamentally wrong in his life. He had heard the Man from Galilee preach. He had seen the miracles performed. It was clear that the carpenter Rabbi knew God in a special way, a way Nicodemus did not. One evening, under the cover of darkness, Nicodemus came to visit Jesus. His seeking out Jesus at night made an impact on the gospel writer because when Nicodemus is mentioned again he is referred to as the one who came to Jesus by night.

Why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night is unclear.  It may be that he was ashamed to ask for spiritual help in front of others. There are people like that today. It may be that his coming would have been misunderstood by the other members of the Sanhedrin. Or, it may be that Nicodemus simply sought out the best time. The rabbis declared that the best time to study the law was at night when a man was undisturbed. Whatever the reason it was better for Nicodemus to come at night than not to come at all.  With proper respect Nicodemus addressed Jesus by saying,

“Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God.”

And the evidence for Nicodemus was the miracles.

“For no man can do these miracles that thoudoest except God be with him.”

At this point Jesus interrupted Nicodemus. Jesus does not need flattery, but Nicodemus needs something. He needs a new birth. And the Lord tells him plainly, Truly, truly, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see thekingdom of God. ” The concept of a new birth and the concept of the kingdom of God were not new to Nicodemus. The Jews knew all about rebirth. When a Gentile became a Jew and was accepted into Judaism by prayer and sacrifice and baptism, he was regarded as being reborn.

“A proselyte who embraces Judaism, ” said the rabbits, “is like a new born child! “

Then there were the Greeks who also wanted to experience a rebirth reflected in what were called the Mysteries. Many of the ceremonies took place at midnight when the day dies and is reborn. The most famous of all Mystery ceremonies was the Taurobolium. The candidate was put into a pit. On the top of the pit was a cover with holes in it. On the cover a bull was tied in order to cut its throat. The blood of the dying sacrifice poured down and the initiate bathed himself in the blood. When he came up out of the pit he was reborn for all eternity. The ancient world knew all about rebirth and regeneration. They longed for it and searched for it everywhere. Men wanted to be different. They just did not know how to change themselves.

Nicodemus did not know how to change because he asked, 

“How can a man be born when he is old?”

Then with a measure of frustrated sarcasm he asks,

“Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus was very patient with Nicodemus. In matchless grace He explains to Nicodemus that the spiritual rebirth is the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit. It really does not matter how it happens only that it does happen. Rebirth is like the wind. Nicodemus could hear the sound of the wind. He could see the effects of the wind but could not tell where the wind came from or where it would go.

Much of life is like that. Who can fully explain how a black cow can eat green grass and give white milk? Who among us understands all the mysteries of electricity? The point is clear. Just because we do not know how something is accomplished does not mean we cannot believe and benefit by it. By experience not discussion, by the heart rather than by the head we find the kingdom. Ultimate mysteries belong to God. The practical belongs to man. Would Nicodemus be born again?

Then he must believe in the Person and work of Jesus Christ appealing to an Old Testament story. Jesus said that, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up. 

Nicodemus would remember the story. Israel was marching through the desert. The route was difficult. The weather was hot and the food was the same day after day. First one person and then another began to complain until there was the sound of a rumbling storm. Finding a spokesman the people accused Moses saying,

“You have brought us out in the desert to die.

And besides that, we hate this manna. “

Not only did Moses hear the complaints of the people, but God heard as well.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people and many of the people of Israel died. “

What a terrifying experience that must have been. Men, women, and children waking up to an army of slithering snakes with fangs bared and blood dripping from the mouth seeking out the next victim. Relentlessly, the snakes moved. People screamed and tried to turn away but there was always another snake in the path. In fear and desperation the people ran to Moses and confessed their sin. It is always sad when the awful effects of sin must be experienced before people will confess. But it is always good whenever individuals get right with each other and get right with God. 

The Lord as always was gracious, and He instructed Moses as to what needed to be done. The image of a fiery serpent was to be made of brass and put upon a pole, high and lifted up. Then, if any one who had been bitten would simply look on the pole, they would live.

The serpent of brass was the symbol of the deadly and destructive power. In the Garden of Eden, it was through a serpent that Satan spoke. The exhibition of the serpent signified the destroyer destroyed. By looking upon the uplifted pole as commanded by God, faith would be expressed. A.W. Pink observes seven actions that the Israelites were not commanded to do. 

First, they were not told to use some ointment as the means of healing their wounds. These people must look to the Divine remedy. Today, there are still religious doctors inventing spiritual lotions, but they affect no cures. Many people are flocking to the various cults or Far Eastern religions, but it does no good (Mark 5:26).

Second, they were not told to minister to others who were wounded in order to get relief for themselves. Today, we would call this the social gospel. It helps but does not heal.

Third, they were not told to fight the serpents. Had some of our telivision pastors been around then they would have organized a Society for the Extermination of Serpents. And you could join for thirty pieces of silver.

The truth of the matter is that all the crusades against drinking, abortion, profanity, pornography, and bad movies do not radically change society nor do they bring any sinner closer to the Savior. The Church of Jesus Christ has always changed society not by petitions, but by preaching the gospel. We do not need angry banners. We need humble Christians living out their testimony. It is easy to march. It is more difficult to kneel and pray. It is fun to shout slogans before the news media. It is more spiritual to cry out in secret in the closet of prayer to our Father in heaven.

Fourth, they were not told to make an offering to the serpent on the pole. God does not ask any payment in return for healing. The sinner stands beneath the Cross of Calvary and says,

“Nothing in my hands I bring,

simply to the Cross I cling.”

Fifth, they were not told to pray to the serpent. Prayer is a good practice. The prayer of a righteous man will avail much. But all the prayers of a lifetime will not save a soul. God’s remedy is to look and live. The just shall live by faith.

Sixth, they were not told to look to Moses.Moses was important. Moses was their leader. Moses was the Law Giver. Tragically, the Law he gave condemned, but it did not, it could not bring life. Only by looking at what God provided as the way of salvation could the people hope to be healed.

Finally, they were not told to look at their wounds. Some of the people had deep and awful wounds. Some had less serious wounds. There are people who think they are too bad to be saved. Others do not think they are bad enough. Still, both need only to look and live. 

Jesus told Nicodemus, “I am like the serpent on the pole. The Son of Man becomes the symbol of judgment.

Just as there was healing to all who looked upon the pole, so there is still healing for all who will look in faith upon Jesus Christ and see in Him the hope of salvation. 

The promise is clear.

The promise is personal. Whosoever shall look shall live. Some people were close to the pole. They could see it plainly. Others were at a great distance. Some people had good eyesight. The poison had not yet affected their vision. Others could barely see at all for the serpent’s poison was robbing them of vision. Still, barely, they could make out the object of faith. They looked and lived. 

In the world today the Cross of Christ is lifted up. The promise is still clear. This promise is still personal. Whosoever believeth in Him (in Christ) shall not perish but have eternal life.  There may be someone listening like Nicodemus.

You are rich in this world but poor in spirit. 

You are educated but cannot discern spiritual things.

You are a ruler or leader among men but cannot control your own life which is morally out of control.

There is still hope. A Savior has been provided. Jesus Christ can and will forgive you of all sin and give you eternal life as you look to Him and live. May God the Holy Spirit grant you understanding.

Our hearts desire for every person is that they might come to understand what Nicodemus came to understand. Salvation is of the Lord.

Jesus did not speak to Nicodemus of doing new work.  Rather, Jesus spoke of a new heart. Jesus did not speak of living in a new way but of being born into a new life. The meeting with Christ was brief, but eternity depended on the outcome. Do you understand?  Have you with the eye of faith beheld the uplifted Christ? Do you see Jesus as the only Savior for sin?  Have you believed in Him so that you shall not perish in the fiery flames of hell?

Oh, “Look and live.” “Look and live.”

No doubt those who had been healed in Israel ran to others with the good news. They shouted out, “Look and live.”

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