After taking four years of college courses, I went to Houston, Texas for a Director of Christian Education Internship to finish my program and graduate. I ended up serving there full-time after graduation. In my five years there, I went to Mexico for 11 different mission trips.
I remember one of the most difficult things about those trips was talking with the locals. Not speaking the same language was a huge barrier to effective communication. It was further complicated by the fact that we didn’t have many shared experiences to draw on either because of our different cultures.
Jesus understood the problem of communicating with people who speak a different language. In many respects, it’s difficult to explain eternal, spiritual truths with people who have a finite amount of time on earth. To overcome this barrier, Jesus drew on their past experiences.
John gives us an excellent example of this in chapter 3 of his Gospel. Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, a teacher of the law:
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:12-15
Jesus explains what is going to happen to him, how he will be crucified as payment for the sins of the world, by drawing on Nicodemus’ knowledge of an event from Israel’s history. God had provided a way for the people to be healed from snake bites all the way back in the time of the exodus from Egypt. There, people who were bitten could look at a snake on a pole and be healed. In the same way, all people today are saved as they trust in Jesus, the one who was lifted up on the cross.