Friday, October 23, 2009

The Dead Cannot See

Last time, we talked about the concept of spiritual death, or what's often called "total depravity." We saw that the Bible's assessment of humanity is that we are spiritually dead, and that if we are going to have any access or relationship with God, we must be born again. This doctrine vividly illustrates how absolutely powerless we are to gain favor from God. We do not contribute to our salvation any more than a baby contributes to being born. Or, said another way, we don't contribute to our salvation any more than a corpse contributes to being resurrected. For these reasons, this doctrine is also often called "total inability."

But as I started to say at the end of the last post, what does it mean to be spiritually dead? I mean, non-Christian people are alive, right? They’re walking around, going to work, having families, doing things. What in the world does the Bible mean when it says that people are dead? Well, in Jesus' interaction with Nicodemus, we find some insight into the nature of this spiritual death, as well as the nature of the new birth that He says is necessary.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Now, why in the world does Jesus respond to Nicodemus in such a way? Nicodemus comes to Him respectfully. He calls Him, "Rabbi," and "teacher." He even comes praising Him for the signs and wonders that He’s performing. And he even testifies of Jesus' divinity, acknowledging that God is with Him! You might think Jesus would respond by commending Nicodemus. But He doesn't. Not even close. He tells him, "Unless you're born again, you can't see the kingdom of God." What is that about?

Jesus chooses His words quite purposefully here. He responds the way He does because Nicodemus can’t really see these miracles he’s talking about for what they are. What do I mean?

Well, in Matthew 12:28 Jesus says, "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." He identifies the miracles he works with the kingdom of God. So when Jesus tells Nicodemus, who is praising Him for His miracles, that he can't see the kingdom of God, it's not a coincidence. In effect Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, “Listen, you might think you’re coming here praising me for this signs that I’m doing, but you can’t really see those signs for what they are and for what they were intended to do. Because you're spiritually dead. You need to be born again to see these things, to see the kingdom of God.”

Jesus is telling Nicodemus that He can't believe because He can't see. He talks like this elsewhere.

  • John 8:43-47 – Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. … He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.
  • John 10:24-29 – … But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. …

"You don't understand me because you can't hear my words" (John 8:43-47). "You don't believe me because you're not of My sheep, and only My sheep believe me" (John 10:24-29). And so here: "You don't believe because you can't see."

So Jesus is telling Nicodemus -- and all of us -- “Unless you’re born again, you can’t see the kingdom of God.” There is a connection here between new spiritual life and the ability to see. That connection is also borne out in John 1:4: "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men."

So here we have these two concepts intertwined again: Life, and Light. John 1:4 teaches that true, spiritual life is found only in Jesus. And so Jesus Himself is the Light that rescues men from the darkness. He is the Light that enables them to see (cf. also John 8:12, 12:46).

"But wait a second. What do you mean Nicodemus can't see? He's looking right at Him! If He can't see the miracles, how'd he even know to praise Jesus for them?" "What do you mean, 'You can't hear My words' (John 8:43)? If they can't hear You, why are You talking to them?"

These are legitimate questions. Evidently, all of us can look at something, perceive it with our eyes, and not really see it. Apparently we can listen to someone speak, and not really hear them. The Bible often speaks this way.
  • Matthew 13:13-14: Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE.
  • Deuteronomy 29:2-4 – And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, “You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh and all his servants and all his land; the great trials which your eyes have seen, those great signs and wonders. Yet to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear.”

We can hear with our ears, but not understand with our heart. We can see with our eyes, but not perceive with our heart. Because our heart is dead. One more verse:

2 Corinthians 4:3-6 – And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

So what do we mean when we talk about spiritual death? How does spiritual death manifest itself?

Spiritual death is the absence of the Light necessary to see Jesus and His kingdom as they actually are, namely, as glorious and supremely desirable.

Spiritually dead people can look directly at the glory of Christ -- whether they be rulers of the Jews in the Ancient Near East witnessing miracles, or Americans reading their Bibles -- and they can be entirely unaffected. Jesus looks foolish. Or He looks like a mythical, psychological crutch made up for weak people. Or He's just boring. Because unless we're born again, we can't see Christ for what He is.

So these passages teach us that faith in Christ -- our spiritual life -- is the same thing as seeing Jesus Christ as ULTIMATELY and INCOMPARABLY GLORIOUS!

So here’s the picture. The picture is: we are dead, which means we can’t see things as they are. When we are regenerated -- when God decides to graciously grant new life -- we get new eyes so that we can see. Now, we’re able to evaluate things as they truly are… to evaluate sin as it truly is, and to evaluate Jesus as He truly is, compare the two, and make a choice. And now, finally seeing the perfect glory of Jesus in all His fullness, and seeing the rotting garbage of sin and worldly “pleasures” right next to Him, with your brand new eyes that can actually see things, you choose Jesus.

That is the moment of faith. You are spiritually awakened, which means you are given eyes that can actually see. You see the beauty of Christ, and you believe that He is the Son of God who became man, who lived a perfect life and died in your place to pay the penalty that you incurred for your sin. You believe that there's no other way to commend yourself to God than on the basis of His righteousness. And because you finally see Him, He is so sweet to you. You love Him! You can't resist Him! And you embrace Him with the glad, open arms of faith, and you are saved.

If that's happened to you, I rejoice with you! Let me exhort you to understand your new birth in this way, that is, as finally being given eyes to see the glory of God in the face of Christ for what it is.

If that's not happened to you, I rejoice that you've read this. Let me exhort you to recognize and admit that you are, as the Bible says, spiritually dead. Recognize that you've never been given eyes to see, and so Jesus hasn't ever been this compellingly glorious, supremely desirable person; He's been boring, or foolish, or silly. Confess that to God. Tell Him that you're sorry that you've never regarded His Son as He deserves, and pray that He'd grant you spiritual life, that He'd give you eyes to see.

For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,”
is the One who has shone in our hearts
to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God
in the face of Christ.

- 2 Corinthians 4:6 -

For this is the will of My Father,
that everyone who beholds the Son
and believes in Him
will have eternal life,
and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.

- John 6:40 -

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