John 3:9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. (ESV)
Jesus said that eternal life was this:
John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
How about a little word substitution? Check out John 3:15 from above with the word substitution:
John 3:15 that whoever believes in him may know the only true God. (ESV)
So in the context of John 3:9-15 what is Jesus talking about? This one might stretch you a bit but if you get it, wow! it will blow you away. OK, here we go.
I think the key verse is this one:
John 3:14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (ESV)
Jesus is talking to Nicodemus about the Kingdom of Heaven and being born again. Jesus is telling us that to “see” and “enter into” the Kingdom of Heaven there is a flesh and spirit transformation that happens. In our fallen human nature just like Adam we run and hide from God in our shame. Humans have an inherent irrational fear of God just like Eve after eating the wrong fruit. The knowledge of good and evil has so consumed our thinking that we judge everything including ourselves. The product is shame and guilt and condemnation. God comes to cover our shame and pull us out of the bushes. Religion is based on a fallen nature way of thinking that pushes us deeper into the shadows of the bushes manufacturing more self-constructed fig leaf coverings. Jesus comes to remove the condemnation, change our way of thinking and restore us to a right relationship with God so we don’t fear Him anymore.
So now Jesus refers to a well-known story. It isn’t that long so here is the whole thing:
Num 21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. 5 And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” 6 Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (ESV)
Now remember to use your mind of Christ. What does Jesus say?
Mat 7:7 “ Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (ESVST)
And again in Luke with the added bonus of the Holy Spirit (which we need to see!).
Luk 11:11-13 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (ESVST)
What if it wasn’t God who brought the serpents but it was God who saved them from the Serpents?
This is where it all comes together. Moses had a fallen-human processor. Moses only knew a God of good and evil. Moses never made a reference to the devil (that I have found). In his fallen understanding he would blame God for everything both good and bad. I know blame is a strong word but you get the idea. So maybe we can think differently with our mind of Christ and “see” the Kingdom and “enter” into the Kingdom to experience eternal life, the knowing of the true God as revealed in Jesus, not the limited understanding of Moses. Ask yourself a simple question. Who benefits when serpents are killing Israelites that are God’s people?
So maybe God is saying this: “The thing that is hurting you I will hold up for you to see so you will be healed. The thing you fear the most I will put on a pole and you will know I am for you. You blame me for the serpent and have always done so. You fear me because you believe I send the serpents. I will show you that you don’t need to fear me. I am the one saving you not the one hurting you. When you live in hell and condemnation in the shadows, hiding from me, I pull you out. When you think you have life from sin and it is actually paying you with death, I am the one who gives you life. I am the one who saves you. You complain and gripe and look for greener grass instead of trusting me. When you do this you are pulling away from my mercy. You are fighting against my Grace. You are struggling like a cat over the tub when I’m not trying to drown you but clean you. All of your thrashing and hiding and running and complaining and blaming me makes you a subject to the hell you are already in. I am protecting you with my mercy. Every breath you take is because I give you life. Just like the manna in the wilderness I am feeding you and providing for you. When you curse my provision you are calling in the enemy. He is waiting to devour you. He is waiting to kill you. He is waiting to destroy you. He is waiting to steal from you. He is the serpent. I am not the serpent. He brings the fangs and venom of death. I didn’t send him. When you fight me and blame me and run from me you run into him. Then you say in your arrogance “look at what God has done to me, I must deserve punishment because I am so horrible.” Or you say “God is mean and angry and vicious. All I wanted was some steak instead of this stupid bread. See how he repays my request? I told you so.” All the while it is the devil that hurts you. It is the enemy who wants you dead. It is your stubborn independence that gives the devil opportunity. I am the one waiting to save you. I put myself on that pole like the serpent so you will know it isn’t me who wants to hurt you. If you turn to me and believe in me you will come to know me and then you will trust me for everything instead of blaming me for anything.”
I don’t know if that is too much of a stretch for you. I can go on about Job and how he blamed God for something the devil was doing. I can show you how Jesus corrects our misunderstanding about “fire from Heaven” and “generational curses” and more. That would make a great book but my objective isn’t to convince you. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. What I can do is provide an opportunity for you to ask a question. Ask God to reveal Himself to you in Jesus. He is way better than we can imagine. Our missteps, our sins our outright rebellion is miniscule compared to His Holiness in love. He is so far above our grumbling and complaining. He is so far above our blaming. He is so far above our misunderstanding. But he comes all the way down to our level and even below our level to show us He isn’t the one to fear but the one who saves. Can you even fathom a God like that? It blows me away.
Jesus was lifted up. He became everything we fear…angry-God, sin, death, punishment, destruction, wrath…so we wouldn’t fear. He became everything that makes us hide…shame, guilt, condemnation, unworthiness, self-loathing…so we wouldn’t hide. This is why we He came. He shows us who God really is. He isn’t pulling out a gun to shoot His three-year-old who is complaining in the grocery store. He is rescuing a human race that doesn’t know who He is.