Jesus Journey: 40 Days in the Footsteps of Christ

Day 12

Just One Look

Read John 3:1–17

I stand on Mount Nebo facing east, thousands of feet above the Jordan Valley. The land of Jesus unfolds before me like a 3-D Google map:

On my left and to the south, there’s the Dead Sea, where those prophecies about Jesus were preserved for two thousand years.

A little to the right of that, I can trace the contours of the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem.

Directly below me, snaking to my right and north, the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized.

Just beyond it lies the city of Jericho, where the vertically-challenged Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a better view of Jesus above the crowd.

Looming above Jericho are the mountains of the Judean wilderness, where Christ was tempted by Satan himself.

Because the Jordan River valley sits below sea level, a 3,300-foot mountain on its edge has quite a spectacular, unobstructed vista.
In fact, this mountain is in the Bible because of its view. It’s the place where Moses — 1,400 years before Christ — saw the Promised Land.


There’s a church behind me on the mountain commemorating that story, the Church of St. George. And immediately to my right, behind the church: A metal statue of a snake twisting up a pole.

This weird sculpture comes from a fascinating story in Numbers 21:6–9. Because they had rebelled against God, the Israelites were punished with an infestation of poisonous snakes. They were dying from the poison in their blood. The situation seemed hopeless.

And then God instructs Moses to do something strange: Make a bronze serpent on a pole. It’s an image similar to the icon of the medical profession, the caduceus. God says to lift it high in the air. Anyone who simply looks at it will be miraculously healed.

So what did it mean when Jesus said, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14–15)?


To really understand this, you have to know who Jesus is talking to here. He’s saying these words to Nicodemus. Thanks to John’s detailed description, we know a lot about this guy.

Nicodemus was a Pharisee. That meant he was one of the few, the proud, the spiritual Marines of his day. There were never more than six thousand Pharisees, even in their heyday. That’s because, to become a Pharisee, you had to take a vow to devote every moment of your life to keeping God’s law perfectly.

They wrote down volumes of extra rules they’d invented to ensure they wouldn’t even come close to breaking one of God’s laws. Eventually, their rule book developed into something called the Mishnah. Just one example of how strict they were: There are twenty-four chapters in the Mishnah on how to keep the Sabbath holy. That’s two dozen thick volumes on one commandment alone.

Nicodemus was also a member of the Sanhedrin. This was a select group of men who ran all the religious affairs of Israel. They had authority over every Jewish man in the world.

Not only that: In verse 10, Jesus calls him the Teacher of Israel. Nicodemus apparently had a position of prominence and celebrity.

So you filter the general population down to six thousand elite Pharisees, then to seventy more elite members of the Sanhedrin, and finally to one Teacher. That guy was Nicodemus.

If you had asked Nicodemus about God’s plan of salvation, he would probably have handed you a few heavy volumes of rules and said, “Start reading!”

Jesus tells this guy, let’s talk about God’s plan: You know that story about the Israelites and the poisonous snake bites? Well, the Son of Man will be lifted up just like that bronze snake. And everyone who looks to him will be healed spiritually. Period.


What did Nicodemus think of all this? Well, he is mentioned later in John as one of the men who took charge of the body of Jesus and placed it in the tomb, so he was probably at the crucifixion. Apparently he was a follower of Jesus by this point.

I wonder when the light bulb went on above Nicodemus’ head? Maybe it happened when he witnessed Christ lifted up on the cross and remembered this reference. Jesus Christ was actually lifted up on a pole at his crucifixion. And all who look to him are saved.

And maybe he also remembered how Jesus gave him a God’s eye view of the situation:

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. John 3:16

Not “whoever is strict”;
not “whoever understands”;
not “whoever jumps through every hoop.”

But “whoever believes.”

Simply look to God’s Son and be healed. Not of snake venom, but of a much more serious blood disease: Sin.


If you think about it, this is the only way of salvation possible. God is so far above us in purity that our absolute best attempts at living holy lives must seem quaint to him.

Imagine I spied through my telescope a group of people below me on the plain of the Jordan River trying to jump up to my perch on Mount Nebo. Some could be Olympic athletes and others couch potatoes, but no amount of effort would make a perceptible difference from my perspective. All their efforts would be similarly in vain.

God is much further above us, in moral perfection, than I am above the Jordan Valley. None of our efforts could ever reach him. None of our thoughts could ever comprehend him. None of our writings could ever accurately describe him. Unless God himself became both Revealer and Rescuer.

And Jesus explains to Nicodemus that this is exactly what has happened.

God made the jump. All the way down.

Why? Why would an all-powerful deity care about little ants down in the valley? Jesus says God has a strong motivation for not leaving us distant and dying. In fact, it’s the strongest motivation in the universe.


God so loved

This is a mind-blowing revelation. God’s Son speaking to Israel’s Teacher says that, for all his knowledge, Nicodemus has missed one thing. God’s love. For…

…the world. Not for Israel alone, or any other group or country. The Messiah’s kingdom is universal precisely because people can simply look to him for healing. They don’t need to convert first to any culture or system.


You might feel you’re stuck in the wilderness with a poison in your blood and without the means to heal yourself. You’d be right. But God so loved you that he sent his Son.

Look to him instead of yourself.

Like those ancient Israelites, our problem also began as a rebellion. Since the poison in our blood was introduced because of our decision to reject God, the poison begins to be removed with our decision to receive God. One heart at a time.

My time on Mount Nebo recalling Christ’s conversation was enriching. But I was about to discover what it’s like to lose a loved one in the ancient maze of streets in Old Jerusalem.


Thank God today for his love for you. Pray that you will shift your focus from yourself to him.