About Jesus Christ: Chapter 10
WHAT DO THESE CONVERSATIONS TELL US?
After going through significant Scripture from both Old and New Testaments, we come to a final question: What’s it all about? What do these conversations have to do with me today? Well, it’s about all of us—you and me. I am convinced that the God of Creation, who has put all of the galaxies, stars and planets around us would not leave us in the dark as to what it’s all about. There is a reason we are here.
Up to this point, we have talked about how the first century Jew would understand that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. We have read through conversations Jesus had with individuals and small groups as well as larger crowds. Can you agree that the evidence was there for any open-minded Hebrew to make the connection between the God of the Old Testament and the Son of God of the New Testament? I am hopeful of that. But what about the rest of us—the clear majority of our world’s population—is there room for us to be included in the sphere of God’s interest?
Here we are now in the 21st century, A.D. So many voices are shouting for our attention. Everything from the stock market to the latest sale at the super market wants us to spend time with them. Yet, there is really only one voice that we must pay attention to: God’s voice!
Begin again with the earliest of promises from this God, back at the beginning of human history. God said to humanity, “Yes, yes! I have created you to have relationship with me, the God of Creation!” You’ll find as you read the first few chapters of Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament, when Adam and Eve rebelled, God did not abandon them.
Although they had broken their covenant with him, God came back to Adam and Eve with restoration. The long history of humanity’s failure to keep faith has been met every time with God’s offer to take us back. And God keeps coming back to bring us home! From the many examples we can select from Scripture, we’ll take one more example that we haven’t yet mentioned. This story displays God’s great desire for all of us.
God had a prophet during Old Testament times that we’ll call “The Reluctant Prophet.” There were at least three reasons why this prophet was “reluctant” when he declined God’s invitation to preach in a foreign city. As you might guess, it was a Gentile city. Not only were they Gentiles, but the people of this city and it’s king were sworn enemies of Israel. To top it off, this prophet was on record of prophesying against this city and it’s king (II Kings 14:25). Yet, Israel had prevailed against this neighbor to the north and they were now doing pretty well. It’s at this time that God sent a message to this prophet.
Just what was the message that God wanted Jonah to deliver to Nineveh, the capital city of Assyria? The message was simple and direct: “In forty days, God is going to destroy Nineveh.” That should have been an easy one for Jonah to deliver. It sure fit into what he thought should happen to that city, filled with people who were the enemies of Israel. If you read the book of Jonah in the Old Testament, you will discover what Jonah’s problem was: He was afraid of what that message and his preaching might do!
At first, Jonah ran away from the city where he was asked to preach. But God finally got Jonah’s attention inside the belly of a fish. He agreed to deliver God’s message to Nineveh. Jonah’s worst fears then came true:Nineveh, its king and its people from the lowest to the highest repented of their evil ways (Jonah 3:1 – 10). That was where Jonah’s emotions got in the way of his message: He was afraid God would forgive these evil Gentiles who had battled against God’s chosen people, Israel.
Listen to Jonah’s bitter protest against God after God stepped in to forgive Nineveh:
“But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, Is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1 – 3).
Jonah didn’t want to preach to Nineveh but God turned him around rather dramatically.
He had an important message for Nineveh and its people that would be heard by people even in the 21st Century A.D. God’s forgiveness is available to all who repent—not just Israel. God has invited all people to be part of his Heavenly Kingdom.
God’s message of forgiveness and restoration to relationship with him has always been open. Yet, there are times when good people try to restrict that message to just certain individuals. Let’s look into the New Testament to see how the early apostles of the Christian church responded when God’s gifts and offer of fellowship were made available to Gentiles.
The Apostle Peter and the other apostles had been fearful of preaching to Gentiles because Jewish law prohibited them from meeting and eating with non-Jews (see Acts 10). This story is another one that God wanted us in the 21st Century to hear. God’s message of forgiveness and fellowship with him is open to all who receive him in repentance and faith. As you read Acts 11:1 – 18, you will see how the apostles finally got it. Again, God used a Gentile to get through to them. (See also: Luke 7:1 – 10).
Certainly, Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, qualified to the Jewish members of the early church as an outsider to be excluded. After all, it had been Rome’s authority, in cooperation with Jerusalem’s religious leaders that had nailed Jesus to the cross. But exclusion is not part of the Gospel. Here is the Gospel as Jesus explained it to a prominent teacher of Israel, a person we looked at earlier.
One evening, after the crowds and disciples had gone to their homes, an important member of the Jewish Sanhedrin went to visit Jesus. By his own admission, this man, Nicodemus, had come to see Jesus because he thought that God was with him. After a few exchanges between the two men, Jesus got to the really important message that God had for Israel and for all of humanity. Jesus began with an Old Testament event that Nicodemus, like most Jews of his time, would be familiar with.
Hear how Jesus introduced the most important part of God’s plan for mankind to a very important man in the Jewish community: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up . . .” Earlier in their talk, when Nicodemus did not understand what Jesus was talking about, he threw this question at Jesus: “How can this be?” But not this time! Nicodemus was not confused or perplexed; he understood where Jesus was going because he knew the story from the book of Numbers!
And what was Jesus revealing to Nicodemus? Nicodemus, shortly, you are going to see this story reenacted, where Moses put up a brass serpent on a pole and anyone who looked at that serpent was restored to health. (See Numbers 21:4 – 9). Only this time, Nicodemus, it won’t be a brass image—it will be the Son of Man, the one now speaking with you! To this first century Jew, Jesus tied an Old Testament story to a future event. And although he didn’t know it at the time, Nicodemus was going to witness the event Jesus described! (See John 19:38 – 41).
And this time, Nicodemus, it won’t be a cure from a snake bite. It will be a restoration into God’s family, the eternal cure to the “sin bite” for all who accept the man who would be nailed to that wooden cross! What, then, did this story mean? Let’s get the whole picture of Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus. You may recognize these verses. They are among the most frequently quoted and memorized verses in the entire Bible:
14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:14 – 18).
Jesus was telling Nicodemus and any who would listen that God’s gift was open to everyone. There are no national boundaries or racial requirements to receive God’s gift. His gift is open to whoever accepts Jesus, God’s gift to the human race.
Nicodemus arrived at Golgotha on that Friday that is called good, and he helped his friend Joseph from Arithmathea bury the body of Jesus, King of the Jews and Son of Man. On the following Sunday, Nicodemus and Joseph, with a handful of other followers celebrated Jesus’ resurrection.
Today and each Easter, millions and, yes, billions of people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the grave and their own restoration into God’s eternal family. From the very beginning, he has spoken through the centuries to this very day. He has used every method that now includes the Internet, to reach us all.
Only one question remains: Have you heard? Have you believed? Have you responded?
If you haven’t, he is still waiting for you.