The Serpent Who Saves
The serpent who saves is an intriguing thought. Is it possible? How is it possible that there could be a serpent that saves? What's very interesting is that it is actually a picture of Jesus Himself on the cross and what's even more interesting is that Jesus is the one who taught it, connecting Himself directly to these verses that we're studying today.
When you come to Numbers 21, Israel has been in the wilderness now almost 40 years. Since the time that we met together last week, almost 40 years has passed and even if you have set your clock back an hour.
The issue in this chapter is complaining and grumbling by the sons of Israel against God and against Moses. I say again, it's been 40 years and it's still about grumbling and complaining.
What had happened was this, Israel was getting near to the time that they were going to enter into the Promised Land. They wanted to pass through the land of Edom in order to get to that land, but Edom control the trade routes and passing through their territory was the most direct passage. Moses sent emissaries to request permission from either Edomites to pass through their land saying to them, "We will only stand or stay on the King's Highway. We will take nothing", but the Edomites refused to let Israel pass through. In fact, they said, "If you come into our territory, we will come out with a large force".
This was discouraging. This was very disheartening to hear because the Edomites, if you remember, were direct descendants of Esau. Jacob and Esau were brothers, so Israel saw the Edomites as their brothers. This is very disheartening and because they were brothers Israel did not wish to fight them. Israel headed south in order to go around the Land of Edom, traveling south so far as the past near to the Red Sea in the Gulf of Aqaba.
Israel became impatient on the journey. Many commentators believe this would have been in perhaps the hottest time of the year, but frankly, anytime year in that part of the world would be difficult. It's hot. It's a wilderness. It's a desert and they went very far out of the way.
In their complaining, the people spoke against God. They accused God in it. They spoke against Moses with the same complaint that we've heard many times. "Why have you brought it up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?" Then they insulted God even further, "There is no bread or water", but there was.
Then they took their complaining to new heights when they said, "We loathe this miserable food." They're speaking here about that miraculous provision that God gave to them. How do you feed two million people in the desert for 40 years? He did a miracle every day in the providing of this manna. It was wonderful in taste and very good for them, very nutritious. "We loathe this miserable food."
God uses difficulties, adversities to prepare for what he knows is coming into your life. God is building character. God is strengthening faith. I like to ask this question when I look at what is happening here in the book of Numbers, what did God expect? What did God want? What did He expect? He expected them to persevere. He expected them to master the wilderness before the wilderness mastered them, to endure. God uses difficulties and adversities to bring about spiritual maturity.
Wouldn't it have been so much better if they could have responded by saying, "Yes, this is hard, this is adversity, but God is preparing us for that which He has promised to give us yet to come"? To stand firm would have been such a glorious declaration.
Let's read it, Chapter 21. We'll begin in verse four. We're only going to read five verses. "Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea- ", the Gulf of Aqaba then as an extension of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of this journey. The people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of the land of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no food, there is no water, and we loathe this miserable food." The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many of Israel died.
The people came to Moses and they said-- Would you read this verse? It really is a key. It's actually a monumental shift into something that's good. It says they said to Moses, "We have sinned." It's a glorious day when they acknowledge. "We have sinned because we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Intercede with the Lord that He may remove the serpents from us."
Moses did. He interceded for the people but notice verse eight because it really is a key. The Lord, Jehovah, said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent." He's going to make an image out of bronze. Make an image of this bronze serpent and set it on a standard, a wooden pole. Lift it up that everyone who was bitten by the serpent shall look upon this fiery bronze serpent lifted up and he shall live.
Moses made a bronze serpent set it on the standard. It came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked upon the bronze serpent, he lived.
I. Complainers Complain
This is very, very monumental in the history of Israel and there's a lot for us to apply to our lives. I like to begin with an understanding of human nature and maybe say it this way, complainers complain. It's the nature of the complainer to complain. A tree is known by its fruit. The root of discontentment, complaining is the heart. Complainers complain. There's always something to complain about. Here's what I want us to see out of this story, these are the children. These are the children of the complainers.
In other words, here's the question. Do the sons really have to be like the fathers? Does this need to be passed? Is it so? Do children, must they be like their fathers?
If you've had a great father, then praise God for that. Stand on his shoulders and be even greater, but if you've had difficulty with your father and many people have, the question still remains, must it be? Do we have to carry those sins? Can it end?
I want to give you a very key verse, Numbers 14:18. Moses is quoting the Lord here and he says, "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 father's on the children to the third and fourth generation."
What does that mean? I tell you it's been misinterpreted for a long time. Many presume it means that he will take the iniquities of the Father and put them on the children up to the third and fourth generation. That is not what it means. What it means is that he will visit the children to see does this thing continue, is the sin still remaining? He will go even to the third and fourth generation to see has this thing ended? Are you still carrying this? Are you still doing this thing?
Children of alcoholics oftentimes become alcoholics. My father was an alcoholic. Children of those who are abusers oftentimes become abusers themselves. Does this thing need to keep going generation to generation or can it end?
A. Rise above your circumstances
I tell you one of the most glorious revelations that ever came into my life was when as a young man, I understood the Lord pressing in this point to me. No, you do not have to carry the sins of the father with you anymore. This thing can end, and this thing can end with you. This is the generation that it will stop.
It is true for you as well. I don't know what you're carrying that you brought with you from your father, but I can tell you that it can end, and it can end right here. It can end this morning. It can end right now because God is the one is doing in the work in you. Amen. Can we give the Lord praise?
This is what He's showing us to apply to our lives. It is this, rise above your circumstances because there is a bigger picture. There is something deeper at work. There's a greater spiritual meaning in life, but some people, they only live in the moment and they only live according to their circumstances. If their circumstances are good, then they feel good. If their circumstances are bad, then they complain.
There is a deeper work. There is a greater picture. Okay, Israel was weary, they were impatient, they were tired, they had to turn south. That's not the right direction and that made them discouraged. Here's the thing, it's one thing to complain, but it's a whole different thing to complain against God so as to accuse Him. Jesus gave a parable that really did explain the condition of man and the problem of the heart. He said the Word of God being sown is like a farmer sowing a seed on different types of soil, so there are different types of hearts. The heart that is hard cannot receive the Word of God at all.
The next type is the type of soil or the type of heart that I want us to see. He said on that type, the soil is quite thin, because of the rocks in it, it is thin. It does receive the word and it even receives the word with joy, but when the heat comes-- See it has no depth of root, so when the heat comes it withers.
Which is to say, when adversity comes, when persecution arises, when difficulty comes, they shipwreck their faith, because the accuse God, they're offended. "You say you're Lord, you say you're God, but look at the troubles of my life." They accuse God in this. For those who have a heart to complain, there's always something to complain about because there's always something wrong.
We live in a broken world, and I'll tell you right now, there's always something wrong. There's always something to complain about. The question is this, can you rise above your circumstances? For there are other people who always seem to find that which to be thankful for. They know that there's a deeper meaning in life. They know that there are greater things, and they are thankful. They look and see what is happening, and they can find that which is to be thankful for.
1 Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God and Christ Jesus for you." In other words, learn to be content. It's a spiritual point of maturity. If Israel cannot learn to be content, they will not be content with anything. If they cannot master the wilderness, the wilderness will master them, but if they could learn to be content in God, then they can be content anywhere.
Paul said that he has learned the secret of being content. He said, "I've learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am", whether he has much or little. "Whether I have abundance or suffering need." He says, "This is it. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. He is the strength of my heart. He is the strength of my life. I can be content in him, even if I'm suffering need."
It's a tremendous lesson whenever I have an opportunity to speak to young people, particularly single people. I want to help them to see this spiritual lesson of contentedness, because single people oftentimes have the idea in their mind, that if they could just be married, it would solve all the problems of their life.
Yes, now those who chuckle right now are no doubt married.
B. Agree with God and acknowledge
You know it doesn't solve all the problems of life. Here's the thing that is so important to grasp, because it's a spiritual principle, if you are not contented in your singleness, you will not be contented, married. If you are contented in your singleness and contented in God, then you are going to bring that contentedness into your marriage. You're going to bring a maturity in Christ, and you will find that you can rise above your circumstances. The key is to learn to be content in God, for when the soul is content in God, you can rise above your circumstances and know that God is doing a greater thing.
That's why when we look at Numbers 21 as a tremendous application, when we recognize this principle, agree with God and acknowledge, something monumental happens in these verses, God sends fiery serpents among them. More than likely they were called fiery because they were poisonous, their bite would burn painfully, many died. There are many serpents, snakes, vipers in that region and God may well have been keeping them away from Israel in their journeys, but now their complaining has brought them face to face with the reality of their sin.
There's the serpent, the viper has long been a symbol in the Scriptures, been a symbol of sin, a symbol of judgment. When Satan appeared in the Garden of Eden, he came as a serpent.
The point is that sin is poisonous, and it is a mortal wound and there is no cure. It's a mortal wound, there is no cure, except for one. Except and only one, that which God himself has provided. That's why the serpent is a powerful representation here. Is a powerful picture of that mortal wound of sin.
In the Book of Acts, there is a picture of the very contrasting thing to this. It's so interesting in it's contrast, we have to bring it up. Says in the Book of Acts, that Paul, taken as a prisoner to Rome, he is on a ship. On this ship being taken to Rome to stand before Caesar as a prisoner of Rome, they encounter a storm. Two weeks they're in this storm, at the end of which they sense that they're near land, so they begin to take soundings. Then they decide because it's the black of night, they decide to cast four anchors, that tells us that the anchors were cast at 90 feet. Interesting detail. Then they waited for light.
When morning light came, they could see that there was a beach, so they decided to cut the anchors and make a run for the beach, but they struck fast against a reef, and the waves began to beat against the ship and destroyed it. Everyone then had to cast into the sea fine planks or whatever to make it to shore.
Interestingly, on our last two or three trips back, we went there to Malta. I've actually been to the very sight of this shipwreck, and it's amazing to see it all before your eyes, because sure enough, there's a beach, there was a reef, and they found four anchors of Roman ships at 90 feet. I don't know about you but I think that's fascinating.
They come on to the shore of Malta, and they begin to build a bonfire. Paul is throwing branches onto the fire and as he's throwing branches, a viper comes out of the fire and latches onto his hands.
I think a lot of people at that moment would have panicked. Vipers have a tendency to do that in people. I know I would have panicked. I cannot stand poisonous snakes. In fact, I remember I was visiting some relatives in Arkansas when I was a young man. We went down to the river and I saw baby moccasin and it filled me with this fear. I took a rock and I threw it at the thing, I hit it and I killed it, but I wasn't done. A certain rage came up in me, I took a stone and I made water moccasin smudge soup out of it. I just kept beating the thing, it's all fear.
One time, Jordi, my wife tried to put a snake down my shirt.
Yes. I know. What happened was this, I was in my office, studying the Word of God.
When one of the kids was walking down to the church, so as they're walking, they found a garter snake. She said, "I know what-- Let's do. Let's play a prank on dad. Let's put this down his shirt." I'm in my office and my back was to the door, and so she comes sneaking in there like this. She starts to put it down my shirt, so as soon as I feel a snake going down your shirt, I jolted, right? That made her jolt, and that made the snake whip around and bite her on the hand.
No, it was good.
Yes, there's a God in heaven.
Here, a lot of people in Paul's situation, they would have been offended. They would have been offended at the Lord, and they would have shipwrecked their faith because they were offended. "Lord, I've had it. I've had all I can take. Here I am, I'm serving you. I get attacked by a crowd. There's a plot to kill me. I sit in prison in Caesarea for two years. Then I get taken as a prisoner on this ship, and I'm in a raging storm for two weeks only to become shipwrecked. Then we get saved on to this island and what should happen now, but a viper latches on my hand. How much can a man take? You say you're God, you say you're God, but look at the troubles of my life."
They accuse God in it and they shipwreck their faith. Many people would have reacted that way, but not Paul. He's been through so many trials and has seen the hand of God, that he perseveres. It's not the first time he's been shipwrecked. He's been beaten. with rods, left for dead. Oh, he has endured, he has endured, and he has endured. He knows the faithfulness of God. After going through a raging storm for two weeks and shipwrecked and now a viper latches onto his hand, what does he do? He shakes it off into the fire.
The people of Malta were shocked at this whole scene. They said, "Sin has found this man. Sin has found him out." While being saved from the judgment of the sea, yet he has been judged because the Viper has latched onto his hand. His sin has found him out. He shakes it off in the fire, and they watch to see if will he swell up and die? Nothing at all happens. It's an amazing declaration.
Notice the contrast when you go back to Numbers 21 here, Israel. He sends the fiery serpents. It's a mortal wound. Israel immediately recognizes their sin and they asked Moses to intercede. I tell you, it's a wonderful day when someone acknowledges their sin. It's a good day. That's a day that God is going to do something in that person's life. The day that they open their eyes, the day that they acknowledge, the day that they agree with God, that's a good day, because they have turned their heart to heaven for hope. They acknowledge their sin. There's a tremendous spiritual significance in the acknowledgement of sin.
Notice, Psalm 32:5, "I acknowledged my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not hide Lord. I said, I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the guilt of my sin." That, friends, is a good day. It's very key. Moses intercedes but God didn't simply remove the serpents. He gave to them this amazing powerful picture of the son who was to come, who would arise on the cross to take the mortal wound. That's why this picture is so important for us because it really is to be applied for us today. Look unto him. Look unto Jesus and be healed. That's what he's telling us.
II. Look unto Jesus and be Healed
God told Moses make a fiery serpent. Set it on a standard. A pole of woodcraft even across been lifted up for the people to look upon and anyone who look upon this serpent that is lifted up in the wilderness would live. God was giving them a prophetic picture of the cross of Jesus Christ and the healing of the mortal wound or there is no cure outside of the provision that God made through his son. That's why the key to understanding this is this word. Jesus is the serpent of our sin.
I tell you, that is a deep understanding, and some people will not understand it, and some people will be offended. "You say My Lord is a serpent?" I suggest to you that Jesus Himself is the one who said it.
A. Jesus is the serpent of our sin
Clearly, the serpent is a picture of their sinfulness. It's a picture of their own mortal wound. It's a picture of their complaining of their discontent and their bitterness that was in their heart. It represents the sting of death, the mortal wound, and it's a picture of the same thing for you and me, for sin is a mortal wound today, just as it was then. It's a picture of our discontent in this, our bitterness, sting of death on us but Jesus is the one who said that that serpent lifted up is a picture of Himself.
This comes out of John 3. John 3 is one of the most powerful chapters in the Bible and the situation is this, a leader of the Jews, a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, comes to Jesus at night. He says, "Rabbi, we know that you are from God." Right there is amazing statement. "We know that you are from God, for no one could do the things that you do unless God was with Him." Then Jesus began to speak to him about being born again and the life that comes from the Spirit.
It brings us then to John 3:14-17. Jesus Himself is teaching now and he said this amazing word, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up," Jesus Himself made the connection. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so the Son of Man must be lifted up that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life.
That brings us to the most famous verse in the whole Bible. John 3:16, "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 His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him." Many people, of course, know John 3:16, but they don't know that it follows verse 15, where Jesus called Himself the serpent of sin. It is a powerful understanding and it has everything to do with life that comes from God.
Let me give you a verse, perhaps one of the most important verses in all the Bible. Memorize this verse, write it on the tablet of your heart. It is so important. 2 Corinthians 5:21. It says, "He made Him who knew no sin- " That is Jesus, clearly. "He made Him who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf."
B. God did what we could not do
He was that serpent lifted up in the wilderness. He took the mortal wound. He became sin in our behalf, but it then adds that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. That is amazing. What a glorious exchange. He took the mortal wound that we deserved, He became the serpent of which paid the price, the penalty of our sin and what did He give to you in exchange? He gave to you the very righteousness of God that was found in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is good news. That is a glorious day to recognize what God has done. Amen.
Can we give the Lord Praise for what He's doing in us-
- Through these verses? Therefore, we recognize this great truth, "Hey, God did what we could never do. God did what we could not do." The people are dying. They cannot heal themselves. It is a mortal wound. God gave to them that provision that anyone who will look could have life.
He does the same for us. Romans 8:3 says, "For what the law could not do weak as it was to the flesh, God did." That's a powerful statement, what the law could not do because it was weak because of the flesh. God did it himself by 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? Couldn't make you righteous. It could not make you righteous.
C. Simply look with eyes of faith
That's why this understanding is so powerful. He becomes the serpent that takes the mortal wound that we deserve. The sting of death is gone, and what does He give to you in exchange? The very righteousness of God. That's why it's good news. That's why it's the greatest news this world has ever heard.
There brings us to this point that we want to close with. Simply look, with eyes of faith in order to be healed. In order to live, 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. You go to doctors’ offices all across the land and you will see a serpent on the tree and ambulances all over, a serpent on a tree, but it's just a symbol. The symbol doesn't heal. The symbol is not life. It's what God has done for you where you get life. It's what God Has done when He sent his son. Simply look unto Him and believe.
Hebrews 12:2 says, "Fixing our eyes, setting your eyes, looking upon Him. He is the author. He is the perfecter. He is the beginning of faith. He is the finisher of faith." Isaiah 45:22. "Look to me," He says, "and be saved, all you ends of the earth."
"I am God and there is no other."
I ask you a question. What must a person do to be lost? Nothing. They're already lost. What must the person do to be saved? Simply and only look upon Him who took the mortal wound Himself that you might have life and have it abundantly. He's the answer. He is the answer. He is the answer to emptiness lostness, death, lack of hope, loneliness, lack of meaning. He's the answer. Look, simply believe God has made a way.
Father, thank you so much. What can we say? You are amazing, what you have done for us. God, I asked today that you would move in power. Show us your heart after us. Show us your way. Show us your provision. Your son, you've given us an answer.
In church today as we before the Lord even this day, how many of you would say today to the Lord, "I'm asking that you fill me with a live that comes from God. I open my heart to you"? Church today, would you say that to the Lord? Would you open your heart?
He is the answer. He's the answer to brokenness, to emptiness, to death, to lostness. Would you open your heart? Would you say that to Him today, "God, I open my heart to you. I'm asking, fill me, fill my life, fill my heart with the life that comes from God. I need you. I need you this very hour. I need you." I'm asking, fill me with the very life that comes from God.
Would you say that to the Lord today? If you would, I want to ask that you would raise your hand in a bold way. Just raise your hand to the Lord and say, "God, I'm opening my heart. I'm asking. I need you. I need you this very hour. I need you. Fill me Lord, with your heart, your life, your way. I need you and I'm asking that you fill me with your life." Anyone else just raise your hand to the Lord.
Father, thank you for everyone the Spirit of God moved of the Spirit. God, you give us life. You give us hope. You take our mortal wound. What can we do? What can we say? We love you. We thank you. We honor you for all that you've done in us. In Jesus name, in everyone's head.