Searching the Scriptures
“Search the Scriptures…They are they which testify of me.” John 5:39
Author: Bob Moses
In our last article on “Contrast and Comparison” we mentioned two contrast, namely “Nicodemus, the Pharisee”, and the “Woman at the Well of Sychar”. I wish to expound on these two most interesting contrasts. I shall take up the one on Nicodemus first, which is somewhat short and in our next article that of “The Woman at the Well of Sychar” which will of necessity be much longer, for there is much more detail concerning the latter than the former.
Regarding Nicodemus, we find very little in his historical account. Unger’s Bible Dictionary page 792 informs us that his family is unknown, but possibly the brother of Josephus the historian. We do know that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and counted as one of the three richest men of Jerusalem. However later in life he was counted as poor and conjecture surmises that this was the result of the persecutions he received for having embraced Christianity. Tradition has it that he publicly declared himself a follower of Jesus, and had been baptized by Peter. He was displaced from his office and expelled from Jerusalem. Perhaps the turning point was when he defended Jesus before the Sanhedrin by saying unto them; “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doeth?” It is also known that he assisted at the burial of Jesus. He brought forth a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight, to anoint the body, and assisted in its embalming and burial.
At the outset it appears that Nicodemus was a worldly man; even though a Pharisee. He wanted to talk with Jesus, but he came by night. Undoubtedly because of his fear of the Jews and a regard for his reputation. Nevertheless he approached Jesus on the elevated plateau of “Rabbi”. Let us follow the narrative; “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.” John 3: 1—2.
It is worthy of note to observe that the motivating factor which caused Nicodemus “a ruler of the Jews” to approach Jesus was his “miracles”. The Jews always look to “what is seen”, verses what is “not seen”. The Jews have always looked for a sign, but there shall no sign given. Luke 11:29. In the desert the children of Israel followed the miracles of Moses, they had no faith in God, therefore, all those who left Egypt died before they reached the “promised land”. It’s the old story, “show me” as opposed to “I believe”. Nicodemus was caught up in the miracles of Jesus, not of who He was.
“Jesus answered, and said unto him, verily, verily (truly, truly), I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, how can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it willeth, and thou hearest the sound of it, but canst not tell from where it cometh, and where it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered, and said unto him, how can these things be? Jesus answered, and said unto him, Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, we speak that which we do know, and testify to that which we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?” John 2: 3—12.
Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus the “new birth”, that of the spirit. But the teaching goes right over the head of Nicodemus. He does not get it. Alas, many today are the same. You can explain until you turn blue in the face, but if the Holy Spirit does not take the scales off their eyes, and unstop their ears, they will not understand. These are spiritual things and not all are open to receive their instruction. Perhaps the rest of the narrative of this Chapter 3, will help enlighten some.
“And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man (Christ) who is in heaven. And, 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. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten, Son (Jesus), 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, (Jesus the Christ is that light), and men loved darkness (sin) rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.” John 3: 13—21
Allow me to explain the phrase “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up”. Vs.14. To get our explanation we must go to the Book of Numbers, 21: 5—9. “And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread (the mana from heaven). And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. (These were poisonous snakes; that is what is meant by fiery, as the heat of the poison spread thoughout their bodies). Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned; for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole; and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole and it came to pass that, if a serpent had bitten any man, when be beheld the serpent of bronze, he lived.”
The picture is quite clear. The bronze serpent represents Christ, as the people “looked up” they were spared death, even after they had been bitten. It is a picture of us. We too can be spared from the bodily death and live on, by looking up unto Christ and receiving the second birth, or new birth which is spiritual. Again, this is the message which Jesus was trying to convey to Nicodemus.
The Five Must’s
You will note here in Chapter 3 of John, that twice Jesus uses the word must. Vs. 7: Ye must be born again” then in vs. 14: “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines must as: expressed compulsion, obligation, requirement or necessity. What are we to make of this? On the surface is it obvious that Ye (man) must be born again, whereas the Son of Man (Jesus the Christ) must be lifted up. One is spiritual, the other earthly but in this illustration by Jesus it is converse one to the other.
Man must be born again and it is universal. Why, because the term “must”, applies across the board. It bears upon all alike. It speaks to the drunkard, and says, “You must be born again.” It addresses the most rigid teetotaler, and says, “You must be born again.” It speaks to every class, to every condition, to every grade and shade of character, to man in every rank and every clime, to every creed and every denomination, in its own clear, emphatic, sweeping style, and says, “You must be born again.” It bears down with far more weight upon the conscience than any appeal that could be made on the ground of moral conduct. It does not interfere in the least with the question of moral reform, in any one of its many phases. It allows as broad a margin as any sinner or moral reformer may desire. It does not disturb the various distinctions which society, public opinion, law or equity has established. It leaves all these things perfectly untouched, but it raises its clear and commanding voice above them all, and says to the sinner; to man as born of a woman, to the worst and to the best of men; “You must be born again.” It demands not reformation, but regeneration; not amendment, but a new life.
What then, are we to do? How are we to get this new life? Our Lord’s second “must” furnishes the reply. “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”. This makes it all plain. A second Man has entered the scene (Jesus). There are two men and two “musts”. As to the first man, he must be born again, and as to the second Man, He must be lifted up. In a word, the Cross is the grand solution of the difficulty, the divine answer to the “How”.
Am I completely struck down by the first “must”? Am I overwhelmed by the insuperable difficulty which it proposes to me? Am I on the very verge of despair as I contemplate the apparent impossibility of what, nevertheless, must be? Oh then, with what power does the second “must” fall on my heart! “The Son of Man “must” be lifted up.” Why must He? Because I must have the opportunity for a new life, and this life is in the Son, but it could only be mine through His death. The death of the second Man is the only ground of life to the first. Death to Him; life to me. One look at Christ, as lifted up for me, is life eternal; refer back to Moses lifting up the bronze serpent for the children of Israel.
The soul that simply believes in the Son of God, as dead, leaves us with a dead God. However, if He is taking my sins upon Himself at the cross, then arising from the grave (the resurrection), this is the soul that is “born of water and of the Spirit”; he hath everlasting life, he is passed from death unto life, from the old creation into the new, from the first man to the Second, from guilt to righteousness, from condemnation to favor, from darkness to light, from Satan to God. May God the Spirit unfold to the reader’s heart the beauty and power, the depth, the comprehensiveness, and moral glory of these two “must”.
“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; which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; that being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life”. (Titus 3: 5—7).
We see then that the first “must” (Ye must be born again), refers to the spiritual welfare of mankind. If we be born again, we gain eternal life through our belief that Jesus is indeed the Son of God; that he died for our sins and arose from the dead and is now at the right hand of God the Father. This is Spiritual. Secondly, the fact that Jesus “must” be lifted up (upon the Cross as the blood sacrifice for the sins of man) is the earthly portion. And paradoxically the crucifixion was carried out by man, the very one’s whom Christ came to make the oblation for.
Next we come to the Third “Must”. This is even more profound than the first two. Chirst speaking to the Woman at the Well of Sychar. She says to Him: “Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye (the Jews) say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Jesus saith unto her; Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in sprit and in truth.” John 4: 20—24.
This immediately takes us back to foreknowledge, predestination, and the omniscience of Jesus the Christ. He knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed within 70 years; that one stone of the temple would not stand upon another. Those who sought the Salvation of the Lord would worship from afar, no longer in the temple, no longer upon this mountain in the hills of Sychar, but in spirit and in truth, wherever they may be. Thus He states: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in Spirit and in Truth”. Vs. 24
Keep in mind dear reader that in John; 4: 4—6; the gospel writer was inspirited to write: “And he must needs go through Samaria. Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour (noon)”. This is not one of the “must” spoken of by Christ, which is the subject of our attention, but noteworthy nevertheless. There are actually ten “must” recorded in this Gospel of John, however due to limited time and space, we are only addressing the five spoken by Jesus.
We are compelled to skip around just a bit on the fourth and fifth “Must”. One may wonder why Jesus “Must need go through Samaria”. The answer is not far from us. God does not pose any question without supplying the answer. Let us turn to John 10:16. “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold (Israel): them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice (Gentiles); and there shall be one fold (both Jew and Gentile); and one shepherd.
The Puritan Trapp, whose work has been out of print over two hundred years, gives an excellent commentary regarding this verse as provided to us by A.W. Pink. “Other sheep—the elect Gentiles, whose conversion to Christ was, among other types, not obscurely foretold in Lev. 19: 23-25—“And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised; three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the Lord your God. The fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the Lord your God’. The first three years in Canaan, the Israelites were to cast away the fruits of the trees as uncircumcised. So our Saviour planted the Gospel in that land for the first “three years” of His public ministry: but the uncircumcision was cast away; that is, to the uncircumcised Gentiles, the Gospel was not preached. The fruit of the fourth year was consecrated to God: that is, Christ in the fourth year from His baptism, laid down His life for His sheep, rose again, ascended, and sent His Holy Spirit; whereby His apostles, and others were consecrated as the first fruits of the Promised Land. But in the fifth year, the fruit of the Gospel planted by Christ began to be common, for the Gospel was no longer shut-up within the narrow bounds of Judaism, but began to be preached to all nations for the obedience of faith”.
Thus, we see why Christ “Must bring”, the other sheep which are not of the fold of the Jews. “And they shall hear my voice: and there shall be one fold (Jew and Gentile), and one Shepherd.
While we are in this territory of the Book of Leviticus. Allow me to digress from our subject and observe Chapter 20: verse 28; “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh, nor print any marks upon you. I am the Lord.” Could this possibly refer to tattoo’s? I leave it to your discretion. Isn’t it amazing how the Scriptures are ahead of their time and yet apply to us all. My God, My God, what a God we have; He who knew the end from the beginning. Talk about foreknowledge and predestination, what better example, than what we have just read.
Now we come to the fourth “must” in the order; yet arguably the most powerful of the five “must” spoken of by our Lord. John 9: 4: “I must work the works of Him that sent me”.
What were these works? To reveal the perfections of God and to minister to the needs of His creatures. Such “works” the Son Must do because He was one both in will and in nature with the Father. But no doubt there is another meaning in these words. The “works of Him” that sent Christ were not only work that were pleasing to God, but they were works which had been predestinated by God. These works must be done because God had eternally decreed them. “The night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (9: 4, 5). Christ here teaches us both by word and example the importance of making the most of our present opportunities. His earthly ministry was completed in less than four years, and these were now rapidly drawing to a close. He must then be about His Father’s business. A Divine constraint was upon Him. May a like sense of urgency impel us to redeem the time, knowing the days are evil (Eph. 5:16). What a solemn word is this for the sinner: “the night cometh, when no man can work”! This is life’s day for him; in front lies the blackness of darkness forever (Jude 13). Unsaved reader, your “night” hastens on. “Today if ye will hear his voice harden not your hearts” “Behold now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor. 6:2).
The instruction we have learned in this “Study” are most complex, nevertheless the rule of comparison and contrast are vivid in our lesson. Jesus views Nicodemus as a spiritual “teacher of Israel”, and speaks to him as such but Nicodemus understands not. Hence the reprimand by Jesus; “Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things”? Nevertheless, Jesus goes on to attempt to explain the earthly verses the spiritual with the five “must”. The first two: Ye “must” be born again”, to receive any spiritual blessing. Then secondly the “must” that Christ “must” be lifted up; the earthly sacrifice to please God the Father. Yet Nicodemus still fades away into the darkness from whence he came. Not enlightened, not encouraged, not satisfied nor fulfilled because even though he spoke with the Saviour, he did not comprehend Him. Much like I often say; “many claim Him, but they do not know Him”. Nicodemus spoke with Him had a discourse with Him, but never recognized Him. To claim Him is one thing, to know Him is quite another.
A reflection of what has been recorded as the “Five Must”, spoken of by Christ, is both merited and offered. The first “must” was unto Nicodemus “Ye must be born again” speaks of the Spiritual domain. The second “must” is the earthly, in that Christ, the Son of Man, “Must be lifted up”; upon the Cross of for the sheading of “blood” for the sacrifice for all mankind. The third concerns worship: “they that worship him (God the Father, God the Son as well as God the Holy spirit—in other words the Triune God) “must” worship him in Spirit and in Truth”. The Fourth deals with the Gentiles; “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold (Israel): them also I “must” bring”. Then Jesus declares in the fifth; “I “must” work the works of Him that sent me”. This is His obedience to the Father, which was decided back there in the halls of antiquity, before the earth was ever created. This we discussed in a previous chapter. The Key however is enfolded in the death, burial, and resurrection of The Holy One, Jesus Christ the Son of God. Without the resurrection, all is for nought. How can one worship a “dead” God? What power does he have? Without the resurrection of Christ we practice a “dead” religion. The resurrection occurred on the morning of the third day after his death. It is manifest from the Gospel accounts of his appearances during the forty days and of His visible ascension. The testimony of the Scriptures as to the reality of the resurrection is most ample, and without a note of discord as to the essential fact itself. The witnesses were not few, but many; in one case over five hundred at one time; 1st Corinthians, 15: 4—8.
Why five “must”? Because five is the Scriptural number of “Grace”. Grace is the root of each of the “must” we see before us. “Ye must be born again” as mentioned in the above is Spiritual, and encompasses the path to which the Father welcomes us into His Heavenly Kingdom. The Son, must be lifted up, speaks to our salvation due to the sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross. Worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth overrides the where we might worship. Any can come to Him no matter one’s geographical location. The Other Sheep offers the olive branch to the Gentiles, that they too may come to the Redeemer. And His work addresses His ministry to both Jew and Gentile, to become a part of His “fold” the Church. The Bride of Christ. All this is offered upon the power of Grace. Man does not seek God, God seeks man and provides the way. What is this way to heaven and the Kingdom of God? “Jesus saith; “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6.
May God bless you in the understanding and discernment of much of this “Study”. I owe much to C.H. Mackintosh in his book The Mackintosh Treasury, originally published in 1898 and reprinted by Loizeaux Brothers, Inc. Neptune, New Jersey 1976. Particularly as it pertains to the “Two Must”. Of course A.W. Pink and his writings upon this subject, as well as Unger’s Bible Dictionary.
My readers must be thinking if this is the shortest of the two “Studies” one on Nicodemus and the second on “The Woman at the Well of Sychar”; the second will undoubtedly go on forever. I promise to try to keep it as short as possible but there is much to learn from that upcoming “Study”, so I pray that you will bear with me. I have included much of it within this “Study” which may help shorten the next. I will get it out to you as soon as possible. I have not written it yet but I have copious notes. Until then; May God bless you and yours.