The Serpent in the Wilderness
Devotional from David Niednagel, Pastor/Teacher, Evansville, IN. (David uses the S.O.A.P. method for his morning study time: study, observe, apply, pray).
8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
Nicodemus was one of the top teachers in Israel, but he did not understand the necessity or the way a person could be “born again.” So Jesus used an illustration that Nic knew well. He spoke of Moses “lifting up the serpent in the wilderness”, and said it was a picture of what would happen to Him.
In Numbers 21 the people of Israel were complaining against the Lord about their wandering in the wilderness, and God sent “fiery” (poisonous) snakes into the camp to bite them. They soon realized their sin was the cause of this terrible situation and cried out to Moses to appeal to God for mercy. And He did. He instructed Moses to fashion a serpent out of bronze and put it high on a pole in the center of the camp, and told the people they could be spared death only if they did one specific act – they had to somehow get to the location of that pole and serpent, and look at it. It may have seemed foolish, but when they got desperate enough they went and looked, and were delivered – instead of certain death, they got an extension of life. Jesus told this story and added that in a similar manner, He would be lifted up.
But why did he tell this to Nicodemus? Because He was saying, “Nicodemus, you are a teacher of Israel, and you have come to compliment Me and talk about the Kingdom of God. But just like the people of Israel, you are a sinner. You have been bitten by sin, and you are going to die and nothing you can do can get rid of the poison. But I am going to be lifted up (on the Cross) as God’s only provision for deliverance. IF you (and everyone else) will trust that I alone can provide forgiveness for all your lifetime of sin, you will not perish, but you will be “born again” – and you will receive eternal life! You are correct that God did send me here, not to condemn the world, but as the only way the world can be forgiven. Whoever believes in Me will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe in Me is already condemned, because you/they have already been bitten. You already have the poison in you and there is no other way to be forgiven than trusting that I am God’s only provision. You must believe in Me!
Lord Jesus, Thank You for being willing to take all the poison into Yourself – to suffer physically and spiritually for my/our sin. You did not sin – ever! You are the only One who did not deserve a horrible death, but You loved us who sinned against You and died so we would not. And thank You that instead of requiring something impossible from us, Your only requirement is to admit we are full of poison, deserving death, but trusting that You took our penalty and will give us eternal life, which is the opposite of what we deserve. You are infinitely wonderful!
Lord, in all the sermons I have heard about John 3:16, or about being born again, I have almost never heard anyone explain this like Jesus did. And yet this makes it so clear! Use me to train others to tell everyone this story and what You have done. Amen and Amen!