The death of Jesus Christ upon the cross is central in all the Scripture. All that goes before leads up to the cross. All that follows, in the New Testament, looks back upon it. The Lord's Supper is planned to keep us looking back upon Calvary.
The remarkable events in today's Scripture (Numbers 21: 4-9) happened in Old Testament history nearly 1500 years before the crucifixion. But Jesus explains how it pictures His death, John 3:14, 15.
What a scene! The Hebrew people, weary from their long detour around Edom, are rebelling against Moses and God. We should have stayed in Egypt and not tried for the Land of Promise, they wail. There is no food and water.
Suddenly, someone cries out in pain. Then another and still another cry. They are being bitten by poisonous snakes. The serpents were sent by God to plague the people for their willfulness and disobedience.
However, God is not only just and holy, He is merciful and loving, so He makes a plan of atonement possible. Moses is instructed to shape in brass a replica of the fiery snakes and raise it up on a pole in the camp. Any poisoned victim looking up to that brazen serpent on the pole will be healed, God says.
Now, Jesus teaches us this episode is a picture of the atonement which He made upon the cross. "Atonement" means "a making at one." God and man are separated because of our sins. An "at-one-ment" has to be made. We are guilty of sinning and offending God, but He lifts His Son up on the cross -- as Moses lifted up the snake. When we look in faith toward Christ, we are saved from our death in sin.
Study carefully John 3:14-15 and notice how Jesus compares Himself with that brass snake which Moses made and put up on the pole. Shocking? Not if you understand what Jesus meant. Let us now analyze God's plan of atonement. Surely you will then want to have Jesus Christ as your very own Saviour.
I. NECESSITY OF THE ATONEMENT
"Even so MUST the Son of Man be lifted up."
Like so many today, the Israelites were so busy complaining and caring for their daily needs that they little realized their grave danger from the reptile plague. But as the suffering and dying multiplied, it got harder to explain away and overlook.
Here was an old grandfather dying in agony by the roadside. Over there, children were crying for help. And another thing, there was that shiny, brass snake up on the pole. It flashed in the sun.
It is exactly that way today. The evidences of the serpent's bite are everywhere. There is worldwide anguish -- suffering and sin, people crying "why?" Even international "epidemics" called wars. This plague of sin shows up in the lives of little children who go astray from birth. None require instruction in order to do wrong. It comes to them quite naturally. Something is wrong in our world!
Another matter. Look up on the hill of Calvary. See Jesus, like the serpent, raised up skyward. Why is He there?
He is dying there because atonement is a MUST. Sin is just that real. Just that offensive to God.
What was at the very bottom of Israel's problem? Why were the people dying? It was more than just the poison. The poison came from fiery reptiles crawling among them. But why were the snakes there? The people had offended God with their rebellion. God was punishing the guilty.
It is the same with men today. God is not smiling at sin. All men have offended God and are declared guilty before Him, Romans 3:9-23. Notice, as this Scripture says, all the character and efforts of men fail to make one single soul right with God. That is why Christ Jesus had to die.
II. SUFFICIENCY OF THE ATONEMENT
Many reason: God is good, thus there will be no punishment for sin. Notice in Numbers 21:7 that the people cry out to God in earnest prayer. Their idea was, if only God will remove the snakes all will be well. No. God will not do that.
Now hear the unexpected, amazing plan God reveals to Moses. He is to make a replica of the fiery serpents and place it on a pole, "anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” verse 8.
Far more amazing is the uplifted Saviour on Calvary's cross. There He became the replica, or rather, the representative, of our problem-- sin, 2 Corinthians 5:21. Then, God dealt with Jesus as if He were the sinner. So He dies in my place!
Just as Numbers 21:9 says, "Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived."
It worked powerfully. How much more is "the Son of Man" a sufficient atonement "that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him," John 3:14, 15. Now, let's add the key text of all Scripture, verse 16:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
III. AVAILABILITY OF THE ATONEMENT
I can picture Moses running to the center of Israel's camp and raising up the pole with the shiny serpent on it. Then he calls and calls to the suffering, "Look! Look, and live!" No, they were not told to make a long, painful crawl to the pole. Nor to make their own replica and worship it. Nor even to crush the serpents. But they were to look in faith on God's upraised object of atonement.
Now, that is what we are to do -- look away to Jesus Christ who died to put away sins by the sacrifice of Himself.
Many there are who refuse to look. They purchase "snake medicine" instead; that is, they try their own way of gaining God's favor and hoping to rid themselves of sins. However, the basic thing that is wrong with us today is exactly that which was ruining the Hebrews. We have all offended God. And, He has made only one way to find forgiveness! CHOOSE JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR SAVIOUR. ACCEPT HIS DEATH AS PAYMENT FOR YOUR SINS.
Right now as you think over these words -- if it is clear to you that Jesus took your place and punishment before God, then thank Him for it in prayer. Look and live.