Tag Archives: bronze serpent

Why We Need to Be Born Again

Why Jesus is My Hero #12 of 52

Do you ever have days when you wonder if you’re good enough to get into heaven? You look at your
life, and all you see is your apathy and spiritual half-heartedness. You know you don’t love God
nearly as much as you ought and you love your neighbour even less than that. Compared to some of
the heroes of the faith that you find in the pages of scripture, your life looks like one big compromise.

Where exactly does God draw the line? You know he’s merciful, so surely he’ll be willing to overlook
some of your flaws – after all, he knows that you’re only human, doesn’t he? To find out, it’ll be
instructive for us to look at the entry exam for a character called Nicodemus in John chapter 3. If
anybody was going to get let into heaven, you’d expect it to be Nicodemus. He’s a leading Pharisee –
a religious group utterly committed to radical holiness in all areas of life; he’s described as “a
ruler of the Jews” – an important man who is clearly respected by many; he’s polite and clearly
recognises something special in Jesus. His spiritual credentials look seriously impressive – if
anybody was going to pass the test and get into heaven, it would surely be Nicodemus.

Yet Jesus’ first words to him are these: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he
cannot see the kingdom of God.” The image of being ‘born again’ has become a bit overfamiliar to us
so it’d be easy for us to miss the impact these words would have had on Nicodemus, but it’s a bit
like Jesus saying “your chances of getting into heaven are so far gone that you’d need to have
lived a different life – you need to start again from scratch if you want to see heaven”. You’ve
missed your chance, Nicodemus – you’ve stuffed up. You’ve blown it, you’ve failed the test. In fact,
Jesus goes further: Nicodemus was never really in the race to start with. “That which is born of the
flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Nicodemus is made of entirely the
wrong kind of stuff to get into heaven – he’s “fleshly”. It’s a bit like if I wanted to be King of
England, I’d need to be born again into an entirely different family. The Geerses are never going
to be monarchy, because we’re not in the royal line. I’d have to have lived an entirely different
life, be born again, if I wanted to be King. Only people born of the Spirit can get into heaven,
and that rules out all of us born into Adam’s sinful race. And if Nicodemus can’t enter the kingdom of
heaven then there’s no hope for any of us. No amount of human effort and trying harder and seeking
to “be a good person” can fix the fact that we’re fleshly people and not Spirit people. I prove that
fact every day by my failure to be a good person – by the fact that despite my good intentions I
simply cannot fix my innature predisposition towards doing the stuff God hates.

So what hope is there for any of us? Thankfully, Jesus doesn’t end his conversation with Nicodemus
hanging there – he goes on to describe God’s wonderful plan of salvation for sinful people, with
these words:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that
whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15)

He’s making an allusion to Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel had rebelled against God in the
wilderness, and so in an act of judgement he sent poisonous snakes amongst them. But in his mercy,
God also provided a means of salvation: he instructed Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and
put it on a pole and lift it up; all the Israelites had to do was look at this snake, trusting in
God’s solution, and they’d be protected against the snake bites.

Jesus says he himself will be like that bronze snake: he will be ‘lifted up’, and though we are
under God’s judgement and barred from seeing his kingdom, all we need to do is look to Jesus and
believe in him, trusting God’s solution for our sin, and we can be forgiven and receive eternal
life. What is this ‘lifting up’ that Jesus will experience? Well, it is both his exultation – that
he will be honoured in the sight of all who believe in him, as we look away from ourselves and our
sinfulness and instead look to him – and his humiliation, as he is nailed to a cruel wooden cross
and left to die, naked and bruised for all to see.

As long as Nicodemus thought it was all about him and his good works and his religious credentials,
he could never see the kingdom of God. But for all who are prepared to forsake their efforts to
earn their way into heaven, for all who are willing to recognise that they can contribute nothing
to their salvation except their need for it, and who will look to Jesus and place their hopes for
eternal life upon his shoulders, there is the hope of being born again by the Spirit and
receiving the free gift of life in God’s kingdom. That’s why Jesus is my hero.