And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.(John 3:13)
Nicodemus was a Religious leader, the ‘Rabbi of Israel’. But he was drawn to seek out the obvious wisdom of an ‘untrained’ itinerant rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth. It was the miracles of Jesus as well as his teaching , that compelled Nicodemus and other leading rabbis to acknowledge that God was with him.
Jesus wasted no time at all in the interview, informing Nicodemus that he would have to be born again to be able see or enter the Kingdom of God. Indeed the nation, Israel, was in need of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy about the new heart that God would give them.
But as most people do, Nicodemus balked, he feigned ignorance. The proud heart of fallen man is loath to admit that he needs a new birth. Perhaps a little improvement here or there, but to become as a dependant child and start all over again? Maybe a prostitute or a swindling tax collector needs to be born again, but a proud Pharisee, noted for his piety?
Thus Jesus takes Nicodemus, and all of us, to the very heart of our problem; the very core of our false religion, even that very perversion of all that is ‘true religion’ but which so distorts it as to render it the very antithesis of that for which it was intended by God.
The problem is at foundation level. At the bottom of every false religion, is a false premise. The same false premise runs through Hinduism, Islam, The New Age movement, the secular religions such as Evolution, socialism, communism, and even the seed of false christianity.
The false premise is that man can rise up, from the earth, by his efforts and become “as gods”, as the serpent promised our first Father and Mother. This belief is like an incurable spiritual disease, no matter how hellish the results, man cannot let go of this belief.
This premise is called the “mystery of iniquity” ,in 2 Thessalonians 2,
“For the mystery of iniquity doth already work…” and is described as being embodied by one final representative of all who across the world will finally embrace this dark belief.
He is the “man of sin” the champion of a world which has succumbed fully to this premise. His public demeanor is an ongoing illustration of this mystery,
“Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.”( 2 Thess 2:3-7)
Look at the miserable “Utopias” of the last century! The new ‘Scientific’ Man was going to rise up and make his own earthly paradise, he was going to be more equitable, more merciful, and more just than God himself! This is the true principle underneath all of man’s religious history.
What are the Pyramids and ziggurats that have been built on every continent, but religious aspirations “steps to ascent” unto godhood, degrees of advancement in religion.Even the Judaism as it developed in the days of Nicodemus and the Rabbis and sages, contained this principle of advancement by good works, ascent to heaven for those at the top levels, never-ending toil in pursuit of the goal.
But Jesus rebukes this error of Nicodemus and most of the world by this simple but ultimate statement, “No man has ascended to Heaven…”. No one. Not even the greatest sage! Not Mother Teresa, not Ghandi, not the most benevolent philanthropist. Human religion cannot save anyone! There is none righteous ,no not one…by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified!
If the false religion, the “mystery of iniquity” is the undying, rebellious faith that man can “become as gods”, what is the true spirituality?
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh…(I Timothy 3:16)
…but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man. (John 3:13)
No, man isn’t going to ‘rise up’ and become as little ‘gods’. Man is ruined. He is too spiritually and morally bankrupt, and is not fit for the kingdom of heaven. He is powerless, and impotent, he is blind, lame and “dead in his trespasses and sins”.
If man is going to be saved at all, God himself is going to have to come down to us, the Son of Man is going to have to descend, there is going to have to be an incarnation.
One of these spiritualities is very exalting to man, it promotes his sense of pride, independence and accomplishment. The other is very humiliating, for man must admit to his own impotence, he must confess his sin, it doesn’t boost his “self-esteem”.
Which one will be the ‘popular religion’? Which one will most of humanity embrace, other than an intervention of grace? Who wants to be a “wretch”( as in Amazing Grace) when you can “still believe in yourself?