I believe that the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ is one of the most important facts of human history, if not THE most important historical event. It is at the cross of Christ that God demonstrates how deeply He loves us and cares for us. In the third chapter of John’s Gospel Jesus shares a lengthy witnessing opportunity with a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus. During this conversation Jesus challenges Nicodemus to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is during this conversation that Jesus makes this amazing and startling statement, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life,”(John 3:14-16 NIV). Nicodemus would have heard the words of the Lord Jesus Christ through the filter of legalism and the worldview of having strictly followed the laws and the traditions of men for his entire life. He would have had a hard time grasping the transparent simplicity and overwhelming majesty of Jesus’ words, just as he had a hard time understanding the concept of being “born again”.
But Jesus used an analogy that Nicodemus would very much have understood. The story that is found in Numbers 21 tells of the complaining, griping Israelites to whom God sent a plague of snakes as judgment. When they prayed and confessed to Moses their sin, God instructed him to put a snake on a pole and anyone who looked on that snake would be cured of their snake bite. Jesus was saying that He too would be lifted up on a pole (understand cross) and that those who look upon Him in faith and trust would be saved and receive eternal life. The Jews of Jesus’ day vainly conceived that the Messiah should be sent only in love to their nation. But Jesus makes it very clear to Nicodemus with the analogy of the snake on the pole that He had come for the whole world so that whoever believes in Him can have eternal life.
Whether or not Nicodemus understood the words that Jesus taught him in John 3, we do not know. What we do know is that Nicodemus is one of two people who took the body of Jesus down from the cross, with Joseph of Arimathea. I have to believe that he came to understand the picture of Jesus being lifted up in order to draw all people to Himself when he saw Jesus hanging on the cross. The important question that we have raised throughout our study that occurs once again, is not what Nicodemus thought of the cross, but what do you think of the cross? To know the meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ is to understand and know how deeply God loves us and cares for us. The greatest personal discovery that we can make is to understand that Jesus was lifted up on that cross in order to draw all people to Himself, including you and me. I hope that you have come to understand the true meaning of the cross of Jesus Christ.
In the Kings service,
Pastor Rich Sivo