Trusting Jesus or Yourself

Are You Trusting Jesus or Yourself?

Tomlinson Seizing the Good LifeExcerpt from Seizing the Good Life: Discover Peace and Joy through the Study of John’s Gospel by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson.

Chapter Three
Look Away from Yourself and Live

Nicodemus and his fellow rabbis were teaching others that righteousness came from strict adherence to the Jewish Law they were in charge of overseeing, and their list of rules continued to grow far beyond God’s original commandments. Jesus was asking Nicodemus to acknowledge what we all know: Nobody can be that perfect.

Regardless of how we try, we can’t “will ourselves right.” We need Jesus to save us, and we need Jesus to sustain us. He is more than willing and always ready, but we must be intentional about laying hold of the promise. Jesus is about to remind Nicodemus of another story that will be familiar to him and underscore this necessity.

11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Nicodemus has already confessed that he and his peers knew Jesus to be from God. By using both plural and singular pronouns, Jesus states the greater reality: He is more than an emissary from God; He is One with God. He is God’s promised remedy for what ails man, and He came to Earth to heal all who would look to Him and believe. Jesus was alluding to an incident in the twenty-first chapter of Numbers. I’ll sum the story up while you watch to find us in it.

It’s set in the wilderness. Israel is traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land when God does a weird but wonderful thing. As punishment for their sins, deadly snakes are loosed among them. The bites prove fatal unless those bitten look toward a bronze snake God instructed Moses to make and attach to the top of a pole. By looking away from the painful snakebite and toward God’s answer for it, they could be healed. The people would die if they ignored the bite (“I’m not a sinner!”) or self-doctored it, (“I can manage my sin, my way”). It’s in the context of this story that Jesus speaks of Himself being lifted up for salvation and speaks the famous words of John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Imagine, if you will, Jesus looking at the rabbi with compassion and speaking tenderly to him, imploring him to be part of the “whosoever.” He is always inviting us to look away from ourselves and look to Him to live. He’s inviting us to believe again, today, on top of all the other days we have believed. To believe that whatever sins are plaguing us and whatever fears are assailing us, we can’t overcome them in our own virtue or strength, but we can thwart the enemy’s assault and find healing by looking away from ourselves and looking to Jesus again!

Would Nicodemus decide to protect his way of life, or would he come to the Light and live? We’ll find those answers later in John’s writing. For now, we’re lowering the curtain on that famous scene. I want us to explore one more passage from the end of Chapter Three.

22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized—24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. 25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

The disciples of John the Baptist were afraid their firebrand teacher was becoming irrelevant. That sounds loyal, but I wonder if we’re hearing hints of the self-interest that motivated Nicodemus. Could it be that John’s disciples secretly worried about being only as relevant as their teacher? I ask because we’re susceptible to falling into a similar trap. We’re prone to favoring the movements of men over the message of God, too. Do we want Jesus to be famous because we’ll finally be seen as the cool kids instead of the strange Bible geeks? Or do we want Jesus to be known for His glorious, soul-saving Self? Choosing the first goal results in more emptiness; the second one, increasing joy.

The reality is that there’s no end to our ability to make everything about us. It’s ugly, but there it is. We can even make our pursuit of God all about us. Is that embarrassing? Yes, but we’re the better for owning and exposing it. I’m willing to put my hand up and ask Jesus to alert me when I’m falling into that snare and save me from such living. I’ve asked Him before and I’ll ask Him again, because living for human affirmation is a downward spiral whether we’re after secular recognition for worldly talents or churchy acclaim for our Jesus talk. Ouch. John the Baptist knew the secret of the fulfillment we’re chasing. He realized the back seat was the best seat, and the way to enjoy the ride was to make more of Jesus, less of John. Let’s pray.

Order your copy of Seizing the Good Life: Discover Peace and Joy through the Study of John’s Gospel by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson.