MORE ABOUT JESUS PART 3 — LOOK TO LIVE
by Pastor Mike Fortune
March 21, 2007
Morris Vendon, in his book Modern Parables, tells a story called “Cadaver and Friends”. “It is about a guy named Cad and his friends in the anatomy lab, his last name Aver. Cad Aver. Two medical students go off to school to study medicine. One of the first things they are introduced to is the anatomy lab. In this lab there is a heavy silence, it’s kind of cold, and things are really dead there. But these med students are anxious to make a good showing so they analyze the situation. They notice there is a good deal of unity in the lab. There don’t seem to be any fights going on. Nobody is vying for the highest place. They're all in the same position. As the med students consider the situation, they become convinced that what these patients need is improved health. They try introducing the patients to a new diet, but nobody seems to care about eating. They tell the patients about the benefits of exercise, but no one seems interested in that. These students determine that there must be an even deeper problem. They wonder if the problem with these people in the lab is that they don’t have any fellowship, but that turns out to be a dead end street because the patients there refuse to be sociable. Next, they try to develop a statement of mission for these patients but that is ignored as well. In the end, the med students discover to their dismay, that the people in the lab all have a common problem. They’re not breathing. They’re not even alive.”
Last time, we talked a little bit about some clues to determine if you’re Christian. And while it wasn’t my intent, I imagine some of you felt a little uncomfortable afterward. Hopefully you didn’t have difficulty of breathing. Because to be honest, none of us have all the clues of Christianity present in our lives all the time. Mine included. And that’s okay, because none of these so called spiritual disciplines are done for His sake. Or anyone else’s for that matter. God doesn’t need them. Or require them. We’re not saved by reading the Bible. We’re saved by knowing the author of it. Now, it’s easier to know the author if you’re familiar with His book. Right? Which is where reading the Bible for a relationship comes in. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t have all the clues you’re Christian in your life all the time. None of us do. The best of us will continue to fall and fail. And we’ll talk more about how to handle those crash and burns in our Christianity later on. Because the devil wants you to give up. But Jesus wants you to look up. When you’re experiencing shortness of breath, when your Christianity feels cold, when you’re not even sure you’re alive—look up. Look to live. And if in those times of doubt we do, like Nicodemus, we will live.
Those of you who used for your relationship reading this past week the verses I handed out to you from John 3 may remember this, but just in case you don’t, let’s remind ourselves what kind of person Nicodemus was. Shout out some descriptions for me. He was highly educated. As highly as one could be in Christian education. Secondly, Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He was a talented leader. Pharisees were people who believed you earned your goodies. For them, it wasn’t who you know. It was what you do. To earn your favor with the Father. Thirdly, he was good liver. Nicodemus did everything right. He lived by the rules. He obeyed the laws. He stayed out of trouble. He was faithful with his tithes and offerings. He put his kids in Christian schools. He helped out in the soup kitchens in the afternoons for the needy. Supported the local temple with his money. He was what you might call a 4 th generation Jew. He grew up that way. He was pedigreed. He was at the top of the pile. He was a church leader.
Jesus meets with Nicodemus
And since hearing about Jesus, Nicodemus had been searching the Scriptures trying to find out what the Messiah would be like and whether or not the things he was seeing in Jesus lined up with the things the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about the Messiah. He had begun feeling convicted that Jesus was special. He wasn’t sure if he was the Messiah. But he was convicted that Jesus was special. So he finally decides to come one night to talk to Jesus. And he begins his talk with Jesus by offering some compliments. In John 3:1-2 (NKJV) says, “There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.’”
Now, I have taken the liberty to summarize what I call question number 1 that Nicodemus basically presented to Jesus. Question 1 really was: You’re a good teacher, could we have a religious discussion? It’s interesting what Jesus says in reply in John 3:3 (NKJV), “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”
Jesus is saying without a new birth, you can’t even see the kingdom of God. I used to think that what that meant was you can’t get to heaven. I thought the kingdom of God was heaven. And while that is one very appropriate Biblical truth, that is not what Jesus really means in this verse. What he said was, if you haven’t been born again, you can’t even see spiritual things. In essence, he told Nicodemus, “You want to have a religious discussion with Me, but you wouldn’t have a clue. There’s no point in our discussing anything with spirituality because you wouldn’t get it. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned and you wouldn’t get it (1 Corinthians 2:14). He didn’t say you can’t go to heaven. He said we can’t even talk about heaven much less any other spiritual thing without the new birth.
There are other Scriptures that help us drive that point in a little deeper. Matthew 13:13-15 (NKJV) says, “Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand...For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.” Another one is found in 2 Corinthians 4:3 (NKJV), “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded.”
Have you ever felt that reading the Bible was about as exciting as reading a dictionary? Pick up the Bible and find yourself yawning very quickly? Reading down a verse or two and then wondering what you just read? Reading it again and again and again without making any difference? Ever fall asleep praying? Ever wonder why it seems so hard to focus on spiritual things? I have some good news for you before we go any further. If you have that dilemma now or if you have had that dillemma in the past and you have felt about it, it’s not your fault. If you don’t get something out of God’s word when you read it, it’s not your fault. You were born with a heart that is not naturally drawn to spiritual things. That’s why Jesus said there is something wrong with your first birth! If you’re going to see spiritual things, you’re going to have to have a new birth, a second birth. So don’t beat yourself up if you fall asleep praying or you find reading the Bible as exciting as reading the dictionary. And stay with me, because there is more good news about this too.
Learning to read the Bible for relationship is like staring into those 3-D hieroglypics pictures in dental offices. You stare at these blue and red dots long enough until a 3 dimensional image pops out at you. You don’t know when it will occur. I really don’t even know how. But it happens.
Die daily; be born again daily
Nicodemus had come to discuss theology and Jesus said you’re not even going to see it until you’ve been born again. Nicodemus had heard John the Baptist preach, but he’d felt no overwhelming conviction because after all he was a 4 th generation Jew, a good liver, he was benevolent, he was liberal in his offerings, he was secure and he was startled to think there was a kingdom too holy for him to enter. He thought he had it all together. And his pride struggled against Jesus’ words. So tonight if you’re struggling against Jesus’ words and your pride is saying to yourself “Come on Pastor Mike, why are you talking to us about Nicodemus and conversion and a relationship with Jesus. We’re already Christians! We’ve been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt. Well, Paul said in ? that we must “die daily.” So if we die daily, we must also be “born again” daily. Right? So even if you have been converted once, do you think being converted once is going to be good for the rest of your life? Milk doesn’t stay fresh too long, even in the refrigerator. And neither does your conversion experience with Jesus. If I’m going to die daily I’m going to be born again daily so the new birth is worth looking into for all of us all the time. So we don’t need to be offended. Nicodemus hung in there even though his pride had to be hurting. He didn’t tune Jesus out or walk away. And in John 3:4 he comes to Jesus with a second question.
How can I be born again?
“Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?’” So what is his second question? Question number 2 is: How can a person be born again? Question number 1 is: Could we discuss? Jesus says, “I would if you could but you can’t so we won’t.” Question 2 is: how can a person be born again? If I can’t understand till I have a new birth, then how can I have a new birth? Good question. Right? I understand that question. If I can’t understand anything from the Bible that makes sense to me and touches my heart, if it’s boring to me until I have a new birth, then how can I have a new birth? I want that! Don’t you? That’s his second question. Jesus didn’t debate. He repeated more strongly. And then he told him about the effects of the wind. John 3:5-6 (NKJV), “Jesus answered, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
In essence, Jesus is saying to Nicodemus. “You must be born again but you can’t make it happen yourself. It is a supernatural thing. A miracle. And until that miracle occurs, spiritual things just aren’t appealing. Nothing clicks or makes sense. It stays boring. It’s like trying to force yourself to fall in love with someone you don’t. It’s like trying to improve the health of a cadaver. Until you have this miracle, it just won’t work. And you can’t make it happen. Only the Holy Spirit can do it. And then Jesus went on to describe it in John 3:7-8 (NKJV). “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
There is evidence that you can tell there is wind and that it is having an effect. That’s how the Holy Spirit is. You don’t know where He’s coming from or where He’s going, but when He touches your life, you will know something has happened. Ignition. Take off. More of the clues of Christianity miraculously appear in your life. But when they do, you’re usually the last one to know. Other people around you will recognize them in you before you do. That’s the way the wind blows. And so Nicodemus comes back to Jesus with one more question. Here’s the sequence so far. Could we discuss? Jesus says you wouldn’t understand it. You have to be born again. Nicodemus says how can I be born again. Jesus says you can’t make it happen. It’s a Holy Spirit thing. Then, Nicodemus answered in John 3:9 (NKJV), “Nicodemus answered and said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’ He is saying, “If I have to have the Holy Spirit do something I can’t do and I have to have to have what you said before I can even see spiritually, then how can I get my hands on the Holy Spirit? Is there anything I can do? Is there anything? Question 3 is “How can these things be?” I want the change. How is it accomplished? Can I hurry the Spirit? Can I place myself in some situation, in some relationship to the Holy Spirit where this miracle can happen more readily and more quickly? Isn’t there something I can do? Good question. Weird answer.
Look to live
And at this point, Jesus referred to a snake story. In John 3, Jesus refers to a story in Numbers 21. In Numbers 21, the children of Israel are in the wilderness, they have left Egypt, they’re in route to Canaan, they’re wandering around. There comes a point where they begin being bitten by a whole slew of poisonous snakes. And apparently, the poison is so serious that people are dying like flies. Moses goes to God in prayer and says the people are dying. Is there anything I can do? What do I do? You remember what happened. Numbers 21:8-9 (NKJV), “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.”
John 3:14-15 (NKJV). Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
He’s borrowing from a weird story in the Old Testament to answer Nicodemus’ question: Is there anything I can do? Now let’s take a look for a moment back at that snake. You know this is where the American Medical Association gets its symbol? You know that cross with the snake around it? Borrowed from this. Suppose you had been bitten by a snake and you heard that if you wanted to live you needed to go look at the snake. Were there any conditions attached to this look in order for it to work right? Were the people told that if you look, but you don’t believe or understand or even like what you see, then nothing is going to happen. Were they told that? No. Was anybody told, “If you look once but get bit again, it won’t work the second time?” Was there any expiration date on the look to live? Any conditions time related? No. But what about if you looked once, but got bit again because you were actually playing with and teasing the snakes on purpose deliberately putting yourself back in harms way? Would it not work then? No conditions. It was pure and simple. There was life in a look. But you had to look to live.
Read for relationship
What is Jesus saying? He is saying even if you pick up the Bible and turn to the Gospels and open the book of John and you don’t get anything out of it, no 3-D images pop out, it’s not your fault. But if you will look and keep looking, eventually they will. If you take a look at the uplifted Savior, Jesus promised Nicodemus the Holy Spirit will blow through you like the wind through the trees. And the cool thing is it doesn’t matter if you even believe what you’re reading at first. Some of it may sound pretty weird! It doesn’t matter if you like it at first. Or are bored silly at first. Why? Because there is life in a look. If we only look to live. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” All He wants is for us to join Him on the Way. And then He takes care of the Truth and your Life.
“Not through controversy and discussion, is the soul enlightened. We must look and live” (The Desire of Ages, 175). Nicodemus learned to read the Bible for relationship instead of research. Previously, he read to find proof texts and evidence for doctrine to make sure he had his theology correct. So if anyone disagreed with his understanding of Scripture, he had enough bullets in his gun to blow them away. I have the truth and I can prove it! And as he began reading for relationship, studying the Messianic prophecies in Isaiah 53 about Christ on the cross and then seeing Christ on the cross a little while later, the miraculous occurred. Something clicked. And suddenly he saw clue after clue after clue about Christ everywhere he looked. Not an ordinary day in his life passed that he wasn’t reminded in some small previously insignificant way of the power of God to save and to sanctify.
In John 1:29, John the Baptist said, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” In John 12:32 (NKJV), Jesus Himself said it this way, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” There is life in a look. If we look to live. And read for relationship.
But specifically, how do we do that? In order to die daily, how are we born again daily? I think it begins by repeating our ABCs each day. Of asking Jesus in (Revelation 3:20). Of believing what the Bible says about Jesus and us (John 1:12). And confessing our desperate daily need of Him (1 John 1:9). Then, even if it’s awkward, boring, or confusing at first, we look to live. We spend some personal, private, daily time reading the Bible for a relationship with Jesus. And Jesus promised in John 3:14-15 and John 12:32 that if we look at Him lifted up on Calvary, He will draw us or rekindle in us a relationship with Him.
But some people say, “Yeah, I get it Pastor Mike. Look to live. Read the Bible for relationship. Even if you’ve chosen to wander away from Jesus. Or played with the snake. Look to live because there are no strings attached or conditions applied. But how is what you’re recommending any different than what Nicodemus was doing before? He was working hard obeying the laws and being a good Pharisee and he’s working just as hard now. Carving out time alone for God. Reading the Bible for relationship not research. Waking up early. Looking to live. Moment by moment instead of week by week. That’s all hard work! I know because I’ve tried. And I’m not good at it. How is working at a daily relationship with God any different than working without a relationship with God? Which is a good question. And the answer is, long story short, that God never said beginning or rekindling a faith relationship with Him was easy.
It's simple, but not easy
There’s a difference between simple and easy. It’s simple to ask Him into our lives, believe what the Bible says about Him and us, and confess our need of Him. It’s simple to wake up each morning (Isaiah 50:4) and before you go to work or your normal routine, spend some time reading about Jesus. Numbers 21:9 and John 3:14 imply it is simple to look to live. But make no mistake, it is not easy. In fact, 1 Timothy 6:12 (KJV) says it is a fight. “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called.” Carving out daily alone time with God to fight this good fight of faith will be the hardest thing you do each day until Jesus comes again. Why? Because we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against what (Ephesians 6:12, KJV)?
If starting or rekindling a relationship with Jesus is the way to abide in Jesus and with Him all things are possible (John 15:5, NIV), the last thing on the face of the planet the devil wants you to do is start or rekindle such a thing. He knows you can’t beat him. But He also knows God can! And repeatedly does (1 John 4:4). So he is going to try his hardest to discourage you from spending alone time with God. He will try to convince you the Bible is boring. Or too hard to understand. Or that you’re not good enough to even try. But the beauty of the Gospel is that the smallest child can understand it (Matthew 18:2–3, KJV). The simplicity of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone is that it becomes reality because God meets us where we are. Not where He is.
When did Jesus meet Nicodemus? Right before supper? After the crowds had gone home to eat? No, he agreed to speak with him in the middle of the night! The reason there is hope for all of us is because we serve Immanuel. John 6:37 NIV says “Whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” And all He asks of us in return on any given day is to look to live. So even the weakest spiritual weakling can open their eyes. Any of us can look at Jesus lifted up. And He promised in John 3:14-15 and John 12:32 that if we do, He will draw us closer to Him. Day by day. Moment by moment.
There is a saying that goes: Absence makes the heart grow fonder. While that may be true in some relationships. It is not true in your relationship with Jesus. Absence in your relationship with Jesus just makes the heart want to wander. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Because Jesus isn’t asking you do something impossible. Anyone can fall out of bed and to their knees right? Starting or rekindling a relationship with Jesus is simple. He accepts us as we are. But He loves us too much to leave us that way. So He promises to draw us closer to Him from there. But what if you miss your time with Jesus one morning? Are we saying we’re saved by reading our Bible? No. You read the Bible for relationship not salvation. And how much you read depends on how much you need. It’s different for everyone. And we’ll talk more about that soon.
But for now, will you choose to spend some special personal and private time with your Bible looking for Jesus each day? Or are you too proud to concede you still need a Savior? Will you read your Bible for relationship in addition to research? Are you convinced it’s about who you know and not what you do? Does Jesus’ love for you draw you out of bed and to your knees each day where you usually look forward to spending some time with Him? If not, it’s never too late to start over or begin. For each of us has to die daily and be born again daily. That’s the secret to a life worth living. Each day. It’s about who you know. So let’s look to live.