- Sermon Notes
The Serpent Who Saves
That title is hopefully intriguing, although it might also sound provocative. How is it possible that there could be a serpent who saves? What’s even more intriguing is that it’s a picture of Jesus on the cross. What’s even more interesting is that it was Jesus Himself who connected the events in Numbers 21 to Him being lifted up on the cross.
When you come to Numbers 21, Israel has been in the wilderness almost 40 years. The issue in this chapter is the complaining and grumbling by the sons of Israel against God and against Moses. It’s almost 40 years later!
Israel wanted to pass through the land of Edom in order to get to the promised land. Edom controlled the trade routes and passing through their territory was the most direct route.
Moses sent emissaries to request permission, but they refused to allow Israel to pass through.This was discouraging and disheartening because the Edomites were the descendants of Esau and were therefore brothers. And because they were brothers, Israel did not wish to fight against them.
So Israel headed south to go around the land of Edom. They traveled so far south as to pass near the Red Sea, at the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba.
But Israel became impatient because of the journey. Many commentators believe this would have been during the hottest part of the year and therefore a difficult time to be traveling this far south in the wilderness. Frankly, it would’ve been difficult no matter what time of year was.
In their complaining the people spoke against God and against Moses with the same complaint we have heard many times, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to die in the wilderness?” They insulted God even further, however, when they said untruthfully, “For there is no bread and no water.” There most certainly was.And then they brought their complaining to new heights when they said, “And we loathe this miserable food.” In other words, they hated and despised God’s provision of manna.
God uses difficult times to train and prepare you for what He knows is coming into your life in the future.God is building character and strengthening faith.
What did God expect? God expected them to persevere; to master the wilderness before it mastered them. Yes, the wilderness was difficult; it was adversity. But God chooses difficulties and adversities to bring spiritual maturity. Wouldn’t it have been better if they could have responded by saying, “Yes, this is hard, but God is preparing us for better things to come.”
I. Complainers Complain
- A tree is known by its fruit. The root of discontent and complaining is the heart. Complainers complain. There’s always something for complainers to complain about.
- These are the children of complainers. Do sons have to be like their fathers?
Numbers 14:18, “The Lord is slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, forgiving iniquity and transgression; but He will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations.”
- It means that God will visit the children to the third and fourth generations to see if the iniquity of the fathers continues.
- You do not have to be like your father; this can end. It can end with you and it can end right here. Let this be the generation in which God does a new work.
A. Rise above your circumstances
- There is a bigger picture; there are deeper things. Some people live only in the moment and according to the circumstances.
- They were weary, impatient and tired. They had to turn south. That’s not the right direction and they knew it; it made them discouraged.
- It’s one thing to complain, but it’s another thing to complain against God and that’s what they were doing.
- Jesus said that the word of God is sown among men with different types of hearts. Some hearts are hard and cannot receive the word of God at all. Some receive the word with joy, at least at first, but when affliction or adversity arises, they are offended. And in this they accuse God.
- For those who have a heart to complain, there’s always something to complain about; because there’s always something wrong. But can you rise above your circumstances?
- Other people seem to always find something to be thankful for, and that is what God wants in each of us.
1 Thessalonians 5:18, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
- In other words, learn to be content.If Israel cannot learn to be content, they will never be content with anything.If they could learn to be content in God, they could be content anywhere.
Illus- This is an important lesson for people who are single.The best marriages come from two people who are content and mature in God.If someone is unhappy and discontent when they’re single, they will be even more discontent when they’re married.
- The key is to learn to be content in God; for when the soul is content, you can rise above your circumstances.
B. Agree with God and acknowledge
- Verse 6 -- God sent fiery serpents among them.
- More than likely, they were called fiery because they were poisonous; their bite would have burned painfully; and many people died.
- There are many serpents or snakes in that region and God may well have been keeping them away from Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness.But now, their complaining has brought them face to face with the reality of their sin.
- A serpent has long been a symbol of judgment as well as sin. When Satan appeared in the Garden of Eden, he came as a serpent.
- The point is that sin is poisonous.It hurts and burns in the soul, it’s painful, and ultimately leads to death. There was no cure and that’s why it represents sin so powerfully.
Illus - In the book of Acts, Paul was a prisoner of Rome, taken by ship to stand before Caesar, but on the way, they encounter a raging storm for two weeks only to get shipwrecked off the coast of Malta. They somehow make it to shore, but as they are collecting branches for a fire, a viper latches onto Paul’s hand.
I think a lot of people would’ve panicked; vipers tend to do that. I know I would have. One time, Jordi tried to put a snake down the back of my shirt; it scared me and I flinched, so it whipped around and bit her.
- I think a lot of people in Paul’s situation would have been offended at the Lord. In other words, they would have shipwrecked their faith, “All right, Lord, I’ve had all I can take. Here I am, serving You, and I get attacked by a crowd, there’s a plot to kill me, I sit in prison for two years in Caesarea, I have to go through a raging storm for two weeks, I get shipwrecked on this island, and now this, bitten by a viper? How much can a man take?”
- Not Paul. He gets bitten by the viper and calmly shakes it off into the fire. When you’ve been through as many storms as Paul, it begins to change your perspective.
- Verse 7 -- Israel immediately recognized their sin and asked Moses to intercede for them.
- There is great spiritual significance to the confession of sin.
Psalm 32:5, I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.
- Moses interceded for them, but God didn’t simply remove the serpents.He gave to them, and to us, a picture of his Son, Jesus Christ.
II.Look unto Jesus and be Healed
- Verse 8 -- God told Moses to make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard, a pole of wood, perhaps with a cross beam, and lift it up for all the people of Israel to see.Anyone who looked upon the serpent that was lifted up in the wilderness would be healed.
- God was giving them a prophetic picture of the cross of Jesus Christ and the healing from the mortal wound of sin.
A.Jesus is the serpent of our sin
- That statement may seem provocative, but this is a powerful spiritual point.
- God told Moses to make a fiery serpent and set it on a standard, a wooden pole and lift it up for all to see.
- Clearly, the serpent was a picture of their own sinfulness, the complaining and discontent and bitterness that was in their heart. It represented the sting of death that sin would bring.
- The serpent, then, could be a picture of our own sinfulness as well.
- Jesus was the one who taught that that serpent lifted up was prophetic of Himself.
- A man named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus at night…
John 3:14-17, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.”
- How is it that Jesus could be pictured as a serpent?That is a powerful question and requires a powerful answer.
- In fact, Jesus said that this has everything to do with whether a person will have eternal life.
2 Corinthians 5:21, He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
B.God did what we could not do
- The people were dying and could not heal themselves.In fact, all along, God provided for them what they could not provide for themselves, if they could have only seen it.
- God also does for us what we could not do…
Romans 8:3, For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh,
- What was it that the Law could not do?It couldn’t make you righteous.That’s why it says in the very next verse…
Romans 8:4, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
- There are two parts of 2 Corinthians 5:21. First, that Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin on our behalf.Second, that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
- That is why this is good news – the gospel – there is anti-venom from the sting of sin and death. He brings life out of death.
C.Simply look with eyes of faith
- In order to be healed, the people simply and only needed to look upon the serpent lifted up in the wilderness.
- The serpent on a tree has become a symbol of healing even today.
Illus – In fact, the whole medical community uses the symbol of a serpent on a pole to represent the healing aspect of their profession.
Illus-It’s not the symbol that has power, look upon the Son, God’s only begotten Son. He is the answer. Unfortunately, the brass serpent became an idol later in the history of Israel.During Hezekiah’s time the people began worshiping the bronze serpent, so Hezekiah broke it into pieces shouting, “Nehushtan!” which means simply, “It’s just a piece of brass, people.”
- Simply look to the cross and believe!
Hebrews 12:2, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith,
Isaiah 45:22, “Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”
Illus – What must I do to be lost? Nothing, keep doing what you’ve been doing. What must I do to be saved? Simply look to Jesus.
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