JUSTICE OR MERCY?
"Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, 'Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one can perform the signs you are doing if God were not with Him.' Jesus replied, 'Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.' 'How can someone be born when they are old?' Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!'" John 3:1-4 (NIV).
Now here's an honest Pharisee, if ever there was one! At least he admitted, on behalf of his fellow Pharisees, that Jesus had come from God. I wonder what the others would have said had they heard him. Would they have flatly denied ever saying that, or even thinking it? Or was Nicodemus using the royal "we"?
Nicodemus was honest enough to show Jesus that he had weighed up the evidence and come to the conclusion that Jesus was demonstrating something far beyond the capabilities of ordinary people. Unlike his colleagues, however, he didn't attribute Jesus' power to Beelzebub; He connected the dots and came up with the conclusion that Jesus and God were doing this together.
What was Nicodemus getting at? In a roundabout way he was asking, 'Jesus, we are both teachers. What have you got that I haven't got?' Perhaps he didn't get an opportunity to ask his question. Perhaps Jesus cut him short to stop him rambling and get him on the right track.
Jesus' response was surprising -- no explanation, just a bold statement. 'You'll never get it, Nicodemus, unless you are born again.' What did He mean? What is this 'born again' idea that Christians bandy about so freely without understanding its meaning?
Throughout the Bible we read that there was special significance in being the firstborn in a family. Firstborn sons, first of all, belonged to God and had to be redeemed by the payment of a sum of money to the high priest. Firstborn animals were sacrificed. Firstborns carried the responsibility for the rest of the family. They received justice for any of their siblings' wrongdoing while the sibling received mercy.
We see this illustrated in the story of Joseph. It was Reuben, Jacob's firstborn who refused to kill Joseph but suggested they throw him in a pit... He planned to rescue him from the pit and return him to his father because he would have had to bear the punishment had they killed Joseph.
Firstborn sons also received a double portion of their father's inheritance. This was to compensate for their responsibility, for example, of marrying a brother's widow to produce offspring for his dead brother.
The Bible makes it clear that Adam was God's firstborn and got justice for his sin. Since we are all "in Adam" we also should receive justice for all our sin. However, Jesus is described as "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." Colossians 1:15 (NIV). Why is this so important? As God's firstborn Son, Jesus received justice in order that we might receive mercy.
But I thought you said that in Adam we receive justice? True, but since we are "in Christ" we have received justice "in Him" because He died on our behalf. Now here's the miracle. Jesus is also called "the last Adam" -- second-born in God's reckoning. Since we are "in Him" we received justice as firstborns but we also received mercy as second-borns! Isn't that amazing? God is so precise and so just!
Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, 'If you want to understand what is happening in the realm of the unseen -- the kingdom of God -- you need a spiritual rebirth from justice into mercy.' No one can understand or receive God's mercy until he is transferred from the realm of justice to the realm of mercy on which what God's way of dealing with people is based. Because God's justice has been satisfied once and for all through the cross, He deals with us all as second-borns -- mercy, mercy, mercy!
'Nicodemus, do you understand that? If you want to experience God's mercy, you need to be transferred from "in Adam" to "in Christ" and that takes a supernatural act of God. It will never make sense to you until that happens and it won't happen until you believe that I am the Son of God and that my sacrifice paid your debt and offers you mercy.'
Wow! Isn't that something! And it’s freely available for all!
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