Numbers 21:4-9; Ps. 107:1-9 (ant. 19); Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14:21
Grace, [E]ven when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places… For by grace, you have been saved through faith; and this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God … (vv. 5, 6, 8).
By the above St. Paul delivers the core of the Christian faith to which the church sings her liturgical witness; salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
Our baptism is “gift of God”. It is Christian Baptism of which Jesus teaches today. Jesus is incredulous of Nicodemus, “Are you the teacher of Israel…?”; and taught him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless one is begotten from water and [the] Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:5).
Nicodemus was nonplused, “How can these things take place?” (v. 9). Jesus explained, “[J]ust as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, in this way it is necessary that the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes might in him have eternal life” (vv. 14, 15).
Jesus employed the desert caduceus from the OT (Num. 21:4-9) to explain Baptism’s healing and our new begetting from above as “gift of God”; faith and Baptism, Baptism and faith; both of Christ and the HS, hand in glove.
Israel seemed about to enter the Promised Land, Moses planned to lead the people the long way in; again, once again they complained of God’s way and Moses’ leadership. The Land was tantalizingly in sight, just to the north; but Moses would avoid contact with Edom, Israel’s traditional enemy, by taking the round-about southern route, a longer march.
The people were impatient with the wilderness journey and lashed-out at God, complaining that his manna from heaven made them want to wretch.
God sent venomous snakes into the camp. At the moment of Israel’s imminent salvation, God unleashed death into their midst. Repentantly, the people asked Moses to intercede with God over their ingratitude and rebellion.
God had Moses fabricate a bronze serpent to be lifted on a pole in sight of the people. Whoever looked on the serpent icon in faith was healed; those holding to their complaint, refusing to accept God’s salvation in faith, died.
By this explanation Nicodemus was answered, how a new begetting above is possible, comparing the elevated fabricated serpent in the desert to his own fabrication as a man on the cross:
“for in this manner God loved the world … [sending his Son] so that whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, since he steadfastly refuses to believe in the Name of the only Son of God. This is the judgment — that the Light has come into the world and men loved the darkness rather than the Light…” (Jn. 3:16-19).
St. John’s Gospel teaches salvation offered to all by Baptism in water and Spirit; only denied those who avert their sight, from the source of faith at the cross.
In the resurrection Christ crucified is in midst of the church; at the proclamation of his kingdom, one either looks upon him in faith for unmerited grace, or continues in unrepentance, refusing to seek Life from the only manner by which life is gifted.
Refusal, of course, is irrational, but so is sin that prefers darkness according to the wisdom of men, rather than the Light from heaven in the crucified flesh of Jesus, our God and Lord graciously come to us.
So how are we informed concerning the church’s central doctrine, “by grace you have been saved through faith”? The long and short of Jesus’ explanation to Nicodemus is that in Baptism, God employs his Son’s death for our life.
Some wilderness Israelites, raised their eyes to God’s gift in their midst, and seeing in the prophesy of Christ crucified for sin, repented at the sight of the serpent on a pole. But those continuing their anger at God and Moses, died.
As with all gifts, the cross and Fruit, the death of Jesus for sin, is either gratefully received and followed, or the way of the cross is judged as folly or scandal (1 Cor. 1:23). Men prefer their own wisdom to heaven’s light revealed in Christ, rejecting the sacrificial Way of following Christ ordained to lead our entry into heaven’s promise.
There is one Way to eternal Life, Christ crucified, elevated in the midst of his people for delivery and receipt of the HS and Life in water and word.
Men may insist and believe what they will about Baptism, but God’s word stands against all contrary opinions, “unless one is begotten from above by water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God”; thus, do those being saved discern, “by grace, you have been saved through faith.”
The mystery of sin is that, against reason, men prefer the darkness to God’s Light and Life. God elects no one to hell. Salvation in Christ, by grace alone, is lifted among us; a Bronze Serpent in the desert of this world, received in eucharistic gratitude of God’s word; saving faith to all and many, there is no other Way. Amen.