HISTORY OR HIS STORY?
"'How can this be?' Nicodemus asked. 'You are Israel's teacher,' said Jesus, 'and do you not understand these things?'
"'Very truly I say to you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.
"I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven -- the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in Him.'" John 3:9-15 (NIV).
Such familiar words that we can almost recite them from memory! But what do they mean?
Although Nicodemus was a prominent teacher in the ranks of the religion scholars and was familiar with the Word of God, it was obvious to Jesus that he did not understand the truths he was teaching. It had been so long since God has spoken and actively intervened in the affairs of His people that Nicodemus was essentially teaching history.
Jesus must have startled him by saying that, although He was also a rabbi, He wasn't teaching history; He was teaching truth from experience. He was speaking about reality because He had been in the heavenly realm; He had come from there and was relating what He knew, hence He could speak with authority.
How does one move from history to experience? Once again John brings his readers back to the main theme of his gospel -- believing in Jesus. Nicodemus had nothing more than sterile religion to pass on to his learners. He needed something much more than that to have access to the "heavenly things" of which Jesus spoke.
Eternal life is not just unending life somewhere out there when we die. It begins here and now with a transfer from the dimension of existence in a purely self-dominated and soulish way to a dimension of living in union with God, experiencing His presence and His power to live unselfishly for other people and to submit lovingly to His will and purpose.
How can this transfer happen? Jesus put it in a nutshell and in the imagery of what was familiar to Jewish readers -- Moses and the snake. This was familiar history to the Jews and to the Gentiles who had embraced the Jewish religion. They knew about Moses and the snake.
During their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the children of Israel were familiar with the inhabitants of the desert -- the "nasties" of that kind of terrain. But God protected them from their deadly neighbours until they infuriated Him so much with their complaining and rebellion that He withdrew His protection and let the fiery serpents loose on them. Many of them perished from the poisonous bites until the people cried out in desperation.
God instructed Moses to fashion a model of a snake out of bronze and lift it up on a pole. Whoever looked at the snake and trusted God for healing would be saved from the effects of the snake's venom. '
This, Nicodemus, is the key to understanding what I am telling you.' The key to their healing lay in the condition and the promise -- if they looked at the snake and believed what God had said, the miracle happened. They were rescued from death and given back their life.
Jesus would also be "lifted up" on a wooden stake for everyone to see, but not everyone would experience the life He promised. Only those who gazed at Him with faith in His promise would make that transfer from death to life. Something supernatural would take place in their spirits. They would literally "come alive" to God; they would have a spiritual awakening to a dimension of living they have never "seen", a new life thrumming with God, everywhere.
That's what changes history to His story, and our story.
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