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Lifted High

Author: Charles Hegwood

As we go through this season of Lent, we want to take a moment and reflect on the conversation that Nicodemus had with Jesus. Their conversation went from being born again to the cross. The mention of the cross may sound odd to our ears. However, as John wrote his gospel, the shadow of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb is found throughout. Even in the conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, we see that the cross has much to do with our spiritual birth and our spiritual birth has much to do with the cross.

 

So let us first talk about this term born again. What does being ‘born again’ mean? This is a phrase that is tossed around Christian circles throughout the world. The reason we hear this phrase so much is that Jesus uses the term in John 3. Today we will look at what Jesus meant by being born again and its relation to the cross. We will see that Jesus is telling us that our spiritual birth is from and accomplished by the power of God. Therefore we must run to God to have a spiritual birth. It is the only way we can be saved.

 

The Context

 

Before we dive into Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, we need to look at what happened right before this story. Jesus went into the Temple and drove out those who were selling sacrifices to make dishonest money. The old way of belief and spiritual practice was broken down. Sin had polluted people’s worship of God at the Temple. This part of the story is important to understand what follows. We, like the people in the Temple, have polluted our worship of God. Sin has corrupted us. We thus need to be cleansed and cleaned. What we need is the same as the Temple needed. We need Jesus to purify our hearts. We need a new heart.

 

Jesus’ purifying the Temple by running the people out with a whip earned him the ire of the Pharisees. This is why Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He does not want to be seen talking with Jesus. This would be hazardous to his career. But Nicodemus is interested in Jesus’ teaching. He desired to hear what Jesus had to say about the matter.

 

New Birth

 

Nicodemus realized that Jesus was from God. That is how the conversation began. However, Jesus side stepped Nicodemus’s comment and instead talked about a second birth. Here Nicodemus is confused. He knew that Jesus was not talking about a literal second birth. That would make no sense, but what was a spiritual birth? And how do you do that? How does someone get spiritually born again? To Nicodemus’ ears, both a literal and spiritual rebirth sounds odd and impossible. He is not far off.

 

Jesus first pointed to the reality that we must have a spirit change to be born again. New birth results in a new creation, a new nature. So how do we do that? Jesus’ answer to that is spiritual birth comes from God and God alone. This is not something we accomplish. Your work will never lead you to a new spirit. You cannot purify your own heart. But God can and does.

 

The Shadow of the Cross

 

As mentioned earlier, John wove the shadow of the cross in this story. And to this point, you may be wondering where it is. Jesus then shifts the conversation to a story from the book of Numbers in which venomous snakes were attacking the people of Israel in the wilderness. A bronze snake was raised up and all that looked upon it were saved, quite literally from the poison.

 

And now you are thinking that the Old Testament story is all well and good, but it is not the cross. But let us look a bit closer. Jesus now connects the story of the bronze snake to Himself. The story from the Old Testament was a shadow and illusion to the cross. He will be raised up when He is crucified. All that looks to his death and resurrection will be saved. But whereas the story in Numbers was a shadow, Jesus is the substance. Looking at the bronze snake may have saved your life for a moment. Looking to Jesus will save you for eternity. It leads to new birth and being purified by the blood of Jesus.

 

Jesus said that through his death on the cross we can experience new birth because his death creates in us a new spirit. This is the way that Jesus chose to purify our very souls. So that now the old corrupt sinful nature is dead and we are given a new nature, one that desires God. This is a new birth. We are, as Paul said, a new creation in Christ.

 

Conclusion

 

So let us take a moment and reflect on the cross. As we think about what it means to be born again, let us never forget that new birth is entirely God’s strength and work. His death on the cross purifies us and brings us into a true fellowship with the Father. Being born again is looking to the cross, so that Jesus purifies our heart, birthing us into a new creation that longs to worship God rightly. We cannot have a new birth without the cross. Jesus did not hide that reality. He embraced it. So should we.

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