Sunday, September 30, 2007

Snakes and ladders

On Friday lunchtime I found myself sat in a lecture theatre at the University of Bath. I have mixed memories of the venue, I've seen it packed with people hearing about Jesus but it's also where I found myself desperately struggling to understand fluid dynamics some eight years ago. I was there for a talk on 'who is Jesus?' - hosted by the CU as a talk to be followed by questions. The speaker was running a little late and as the most 'senior' student worker in the room my fingers flicked open the copy of John's gospel in front of me and began pondering what I might speak on if the speaker didn't show!

John 3 was in front of me. What could I say? We find Jesus met at night by religious leader Nicodemus. Nicodemus has heard a bit about Jesus and comes with more questions. He's a bit like the kind of person who comes to a 'who is Jesus?' talk - not entirely clueless, interested but still needing answers. And sometimes a little embarrassed to be asking such a direct question. Jesus tells him that contrary to his understanding of theology and biology he needs to experience a second birth if he's to enter into God's kingdom. Nicodemus is bewildered but Jesus continues.

1. Jesus, Son of God, was sent from heaven to speak to us (v12)
Often we struggle with the idea of knowing God because we think, how could we know him. He's unseen. And yet there is one very simple way we could know our Maker. God the Father sends God the Son to us. The shocker here is that while some followed Jesus the vast majority of those who met him rejected and despised him.

2. Jesus, Son of God, was sent to die to save us (v13-14).
But, Jesus isn't just sent as God's messenger. He comes as God with a very specific task to undertake. Nicodemus has the background to understand it. Once, God's people were in the desert on their way to take old of the land God promised to give them. They rebelled against him so he sent snakes to bite them. And then God told their leader Moses to make a bronze snake to be lifted up. If the rebellious people would look at the snake they'd be saved from the snakes. Not because of the power of a piece of metal, but because this look would reveal a change of belief.

And Jesus says - I'm the new bronze snake. In love God the Father sent his Son to be lifted up (v15) not just to save from physical death but to save from eternal death and so bring eternal life. A new life beginning now and lasting beyond death that centres upon Jesus. Like Piper asks Christians - would you be happy in heaven if Jesus was not there? Who is Jesus? Not one sent to condemn the world for it's rebellion against God - (v17) everyone already stood guilty by default for not looking to God's Son, for apathy to his infinite glory (v18). Jesus is the one sent to speak and reveal God, and sent to die to save us to an eternity of enjoying him.

How can you or I find our eyes lifted to look on him? On when God does what Jesus told Nicodemus was necessary - causes us to be 'born again' or 'born from above'. That's Bible language for something God had said centuries before, that God would take our rebellious hearts out of us and put his Spirit into us. See the finger of God intervening to save us! A world of rebels under judgement for apathy to God the Son. So God the Father sends his Son to be looked upon, and his Spirit to change our hearts. This is his love for a world who defaults to hating him by outright rebellion or indifference to our Maker. Remaining on that course of indifference ends with us under God's wrath, having God rescue us from it ends with us enjoying God's favour for all time.

Bob Kauflin riffs on some lyrics by John Newton who wrote of Jesus looking on us that both convicts and saves. Jesus invites us to look upon him and to believe...
Forever etched upon my mind
Is the look of Him who died
The Lamb I crucified
And now my life will sing the praise
Of pure atoning grace
That looked on me and gladly took my place
As it turns out the speaker turned up soon after, and so I never had to deliver these thoughts about Jesus, not this time anyway! With a bit more time there might have been a clearer approach I could have taken and there certainly are other angles (who is Jesus is a message that jumps off most pages of the Bible)... another thought I had was the end of John 1, where we find Jesus described as Jacob's Ladder - the one and only way we can meet with God. Snakes and ladders, but without the games.

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