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Friday, January 29, 2010

The Snake on the Pole

Read: John 3:14-18, Numbers 21:4-9

Not far from the famous Scripture, “For God so loved the world . . .” in John 3:16, we come upon another passage that is more cryptic: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15) What is this “lifted up snake” thing all about?

We find the answer back in Numbers chapter 21. The Israelites were wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt and, as was often the case, they were mumbling and grumbling against God, complaining about how miserable their life was. They were sinful and disobedient (just as we often are). And God brought a well-deserved punishment on them: poisonous snakes that slithered through the camp biting the people. The snakebites were fatal.

The people begged Moses to intercede with God on their behalf, and he did so. God, in His endless mercy, provided salvation from the punishment for sin: a bronze snake was crafted and lifted up on a pole. The bronze snake cured the poisonous snakebites. There was just one catch: salvation was not automatic just because the snake was lifted up. Each individual had to choose to turn his head and look at the snake in order to be saved. Anyone who refused to do so would die.

The interesting thing is that Jesus himself said that his crucifixion would be just like Moses lifting the snake on the pole. Just like the snake, God provided Jesus on the cross to take away the penalty for our sins. And just like the snake on the pole, this salvation is not automatic because of Jesus’ completed work. We have to “look at the snake.” We have to turn our eyes upon Jesus and accept by faith His free gift of salvation.

Scripture doesn’t tell us whether any of the Jews refused to look at the snake, and died instead. Maybe some of them said, “I just don’t believe in bronze snakes,” or “the snake may be right for you, but it’s not my truth.” Today, however, we live in the world in which millions of people choose not to look at Jesus on the cross and put their faith in Him.

Maybe there are one or two who need to hear your testimony today.

~ Prof. Brad Jacob, Regent University School of Law

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