7 Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born anew.' 8 The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit." 9 Nicodemus said to him, "How can this be?"10 Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this? 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 but 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."
Meditation: Do you know the healing power and victory of
the cross of Jesus Christ? Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of a "new
birth in the Spirit" which would come about through the
victory he would accomplish through his death and rising. The
Hebrew word for "spirit" means both "wind" and "breath". Jesus
explained to Nicodemus: You can hear, feel, and see the effects of
the wind, but you do not know where it comes from. In like manner,
you can see the effects of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those
whom the Spirit touches with the peace, joy, and signs of God's
power and love at work in them.
The "lifting up" of the Son of Man
Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the "Son of Man" must be "lifted up" to bring the power and authority of God's kingdom to bear on the earth. The title, "Son of Man," came from the prophet Daniel who describes a vision he received of the Anointed Messiah King who was sent from heaven to rule over the earth (Daniel 7:13-14). Traditionally when kings began to reign they were literally "lifted up" and enthroned above the people. Jesus explains to Nicodemus that he will be recognized as the Messiah King when he is "lifted up" on the cross at Calvary. Jesus died for his claim to be the Messiah King sent by the Father to redeem, heal, and reconcile his people with God.
Jesus points to a key prophetic sign which Moses performed in the wilderness right after the people of Israel were afflicted with poisonous serpents. Scripture tells us that many people died in the wilderness because of their sin of rebellion towards Moses and God. Through Moses' intervention, God showed mercy to the people and instructed Moses to "make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live"(Numbers 21:8). This miraculous sign was meant to foreshadow and point to the saving work which Jesus would perform to bring healing and salvation to the world.
Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD), an early church father, explains the spiritual meaning of the bronze serpent and how it points to the saving work of Jesus Christ:
"This story is a type of the whole mystery of the incarnation. For the serpent signifies bitter and deadly sin, which was devouring the whole race on the earth... biting the Soul of man and infusing it with the venom of wickedness. And there is no way that we could have escaped being conquered by it, except by the relief that comes only from heaven. The Word of God then was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, 'that he might condemn sin in the flesh' [Romans 8:3], as it is written. In this way, he becomes the Giver of unending salvation to those who comprehend the divine doctrines and gaze on him with steadfast faith. But the serpent, being fixed upon a lofty base, signifies that Christ was clearly manifested by his passion on the cross, so that none could fail to see him." (COMMENTARY ON THE GOSPEL OF JOHN 2.1)
Our new birth in the Holy Spirit
The bronze serpent which Moses lifted up in the wilderness points to the cross of Christ which defeats sin and death and obtains everlasting life for those who believe in Jesus Christ. The result of Jesus "being lifted up on the cross" and his rising from the dead, and his exaltation and ascension to the Father's right hand in heaven, is our "new birth in the Spirit" and adoption as sons and daughters of God. God not only frees us from our sins and pardons us, he also fills us with his own divine life through the gift and working of his Spirit who dwells within us.
The Holy Spirit gives us spiritual power and gifts, especially the seven-fold gifts of wisdom and understanding, right judgment and courage, knowledge and reverence for God and his ways, and a holy fear in God's presence (see Isaiah 11), to enable us to live in his strength as sons and daughters of God. Do you thirst for the new life which God offers you through the transforming power of his Holy Spirit?
1 The LORD reigns; he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed, he is girded with strength. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
2 your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting.
3 The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice, the floods lift up their roaring.
4 Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!
5 Your decrees are very sure; holiness befits your house, O LORD, for evermore.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: He descended so that we might ascend, by Augustine of Hippo, 354-430 A.D.
"Spiritual birth happens when human beings, being earthly, become heavenly. And this can only happen when they are made members of me. So that he may ascend who descended, since no one ascends who did not descend. Therefore everyone who needs to be changed and raised must meet together in a union with Christ so that the Christ who descended may ascend, considering his body (that is to say, his church)6 as nothing other than himself." (ON THE MERITS AND FORGIVENESS OF SINS AND ON INFANT BAPTISM 1.60)