by J.C. Metcalfe
THE DAWN OF A NEW LIFE
"He that hath the Son hath life ..." 1John 5:12
At the end of the previous chapter we saw that the only way in which a man could receive the gift of new life from God was by means of being born again. At once the question is certain to come into our minds as it did to that of Nicodemus, "How can a man be born when he is old?" (John 3:4). The answer of course is by trust in a crucified Savior, and it is this answer which I wish to try and explain in this chapter.
In His teaching about the new birth, the Lord Jesus Christ uses an Old Testament story as an illustration. You can find this story in Numbers 21:5-9. The children of Israel had been guity of murmuring against God, and as a result "the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died". Moses prayed to God that the people might be spared, and in answer to his prayers was told to make a serpent of brass, and to "set it upon a pole". "And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived". Healing power was given to the serpent of brass by God Himself; and new life flowed through the veins of all who obeyed the one condition, and looked believingly at it.
When asked to explain the new birth the only answer given by the Lord Jesus was: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14, 15). Many years ago a man trying to show others the meaning of being born again drew this picture which is worth studying. In the center there is a pole with the serpent of brass nailed firmly to it. THE CROSS is the center of all God's dealings with us, and nothing can take its place. Moses is seen standing to one side holding a stick in his hand, with which he is pointing directly at the serpent. He is doing the only thing that any preacher can do, he is pointing men to Jesus. He is doing what John the Baptist did, who when he saw "Jesus coming unto him", said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). You can almost hear him calling out to those within reach of his voice - "Look and live!"
Right at the foot of the pole is a man in an attitude of prayer. He is certainly kneeling at the right place, and surely he must be one who has listened to the call of Moses and found healing and safety! If, however, you look carefully at him, you will find that this is not so. He is not looking at the serpent at all. His eyes are fixed on Moses' face, and he is, therefore, still in grave danger, if not on the brink of death. Some think that if they belong to a Church, or have been brought up in a Christian home, they are, therefore Christians. They may have been near the Cross, they may even have listened to the Gospel faithfully preached, but if they are relying on this for their salvation, they are still dead in sins. Some place their faith in a man. They say he is a good man, and they believe his teaching: and perhaps they can even quote to you many of the things he has told them. Loving and following men can never lead you into the Kingdom of God. You must look only to Jesus or perish. Once a girl came to me after a service, and told me, "I have a good mother". "I know you have," I replied, "I know your mother." "My mother has taught me the gospel," she continued; and I soon discovered that it was her mother's goodness in which she was trusting, and not in her mother's Savior. Before she could enter into life it was necessary for her to look away from her mother, and look into the face of the Lord Jesus, to whom her mother was seeking to point her. There is no Church that has ever been formed, and no man or woman who has ever been born, who can bring another into touch with God. All that a Church, a preacher, or a friend can do for us is to say with Moses - "Look and live", for "there is life for a look at the Crucified One".
If you will now look to the right side of our picture you will see a man fast asleep, and at his side is a serpent ready to strike. A man who is asleep is unconscious of what is going on about him. I wonder how many times men have slept while thieves came and stole their property! If a man is taken to hospital to have an operation performed on him he is in these days sent to sleep. In this way he does not feel the sharpness of the surgeon's knife, nor is he conscious of anything that goes on about him. There are many drugs which make men sleep so that they are unconscious of the reality of spiritual things. Some Church members are self-satisfied, and asleep to the facts of heaven and hell. Many men of the world are sent to sleep by material comforts and prosperity, and do not see that the day of judgment must come, and that sin will lead them into outer darkness forever. To sleep is dangerous! Supposing you were walking through a village, and saw a man's house on fire, and knew that he and his family were asleep inside, what would you do? Would you not if you were his friend do everything in your power to rouse him? The apostle Paul writes strongly to those who think that they can be Christians, and yet live in sin. "Awake to righteousness," he cries, "and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame" (1Corinthians 15:34) - and again - ""Awake thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light" (Ephesians 5:14). Yet again in writing to the Romans he tells them - "It is high time to awake out of sleep ... the night is far spent, the day is at hand" (Romans 13:11,12). The work of salvation is urgent. Not one of us can afford to let self-satisfaction lull us to sleep, and we Christians should be ready at any time to go to the help of those who are asleep, and are, therefore, in danger of missing the way. The man in our picture is within such easy reach of the means of life and healing, and yet is unconscious either of his danger or of God's mercy. Men need to be awakened to spiritual realities.
A little further off you will see, as you study our picture, two men together. One of them is obviously very ill, and the other is holding him up. Both of them look utterly miserable, and neither of them is looking in the direction of the brazen serpent. How often I have met people who wish to help others, and will do anything for them but point them to Christ. What can be done for a man whose problem is sin? Some say - "Let us educate him!" Education is not the key to life and happiness. A great English statesman once said very truly - "If you give men education without Christ you will only make them into clever devils". Education cannot give the knowledge of God. Others say - "Let us give him more money, and better living conditions". The world today has gone mad over material things. The Bible tells us that "the love of money is the root of all evil" (1Timothy 6:10). To help men to material prosperity without pointing them to Christ, may well mean leading them straight to hell by way of a life of unhappiness. Others again say, "Let us amuse him. Life is hard, and we will try to take his mind off of his difficulties". A well-known English minister once wrote a little book called The Devil's Mission of Amusement. Even Churches today borrow the amusements of the world to try to keep their congregations together. They are like the two men in our picture. They have the one solution for man's need within their reach but are rejecting it. Once a man receives the gift of new life through his crucified Savior the material things of life fall into their proper place. Do you not remember the teaching of the Lord Jesus Himself? "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).
The last figure of those on the right of the pole and the serpent of brass is that of a man grasping a club in his hands. Serpents are all around him striking at him. As fast as he kills one, another takes its place. In spite of all his efforts, earnestness, and strength, he is doomed to failure. But if he were to throw his club away, and look believingly at the serpent of brass, he would be safe and free. There are many who realize that their lives are not what they should be, and who are always planning and trying to alter them without being able to overcome their sins. We must always remember that it is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost..." (Titus 3:5). No man is saved by his own efforts; but once he has looked to the crucified Savior, and received from Him the gift of eternal life, then the fruits of that life will be seen in good works. Righteousness and good living spring from the new life in Christ just as apples are the only fruit which will grow on an apple tree.
On the left side of the pole, standing next to Moses is a man, whose face is alight with peace and joy. It is easy to discover the secret of his peace if you look at his eyes. They are fixed steadily on the brazen serpent. He need have no fear of the fiery serpents, because he has believed in God's gift to him, which robs them of their power.
Let us be clear on two points:
1) You must be born again.
2) You can only be born again by faith in a Crucified Savior.
Read what the Lord Jesus says about this: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved. He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (John 3:16-19).
Let me finally try to illustrate what "believing" means. It does not mean to accept a fact as true in your mind. It means to trust. Once during the first World War I I had to leave one small ship at sea, and join another. The sea was rough, and the commander of the boat I was on said - "I dare not try to bring the boat alongside the other, but must find some other means of getting you on board. I will tell you what we will do. I will signal to them to remove the rail, where the gangway should go, and we will do the same. Then I will go as near the other ship as I can, and you must jump from one to the other". "But," I asked him, "how shall I know when to jump?" "If you will trust me," he replied, "I will tell you. You go and stand in the open space where the rail has been removed, and I will stand just where the rail begins again. At the right moment, I will call out -"jump"- do not hesitate but jump at once, and you will be safe." I did as I had been told, but as the two ships drew nearer I was afraid. If I missed my jump there seemed every probability that I might be drowned. Fortunately I had not long to wait and think. The ships drew closer and closer together, and suddenly I heard the call - "jump", and I leapt straight out towards the other boat. The next instant I found myself on my hands and knees on its deck. I had put my trust in another, and was safe.
Do you remember the story recorded in Matthew 14:22-33, how the disciples were crossing the sea in a boat, and Jesus came to them walking on the water. When Peter realized Who it was he cried out - "Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water". What a big thing to ask! I often wonder if Peter really expected the Lord to answer as He did with the word - "Come!" While Peter had his gaze fixed on the Lord Jesus he was able to walk with Him on the water, and it was the Lord who was glorified through it.
The Lord Jesus died for you, and lives forevermore. His message to you is, You cannot live, and you dare not die without Me. I will not only forgive your past sins, but will give you here and now eternal life, and you shall live a new, Christian life by My power. Will you come to Me? Will you trust Me? "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside Me there is no Savior" (Isaiah 43:11). "Thre is no God beside Me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside Me. Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is none else" (Isaiah 45:21,22).
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