John 3:14-18 (NIV): “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. “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. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
The bronze snake that Moses lifted up in the desert (cf. Numbers 21:4-9) was an antidote for the deadly serpents that God sent on the Israelites because of their grumbling against Him and against His servant, Moses. The serpents bit the people and killed many, and so the people asked Moses to pray that God would take them away. But God did not take the serpents away. The sins of the people had earned them this judgment, and the pain that went along with it, to remind them of the cost of rebelling against their God. However, in His mercy, God allowed Moses to make a bronze replica of the serpents, and to put it up on a pole, so that it would be visible to the whole camp. When someone was bitten by one of the serpents, they could look at the bronze serpent in faith, and would not die. Some refused, and died from the bite, but all who looked to God’s method of salvation were saved.
That serpent was a foreshadowing of Jesus. Just as the serpent was lifted up by Moses so that all could see it and look on it in faith, so Jesus would be lifted up on a cross where all could see and look to Him for salvation. Just as the bronze serpent did not remove the real serpents and the suffering and pain that they brought, caused by the sins the people committed, so Jesus’ death did not remove all of the suffering and pain in the world that is caused by the sins of the people. That suffering and pain is essential, because it acts as a motivator to turn away from the sin and rebellion that has caused that pain, toward the One who can save our lives. Just as merely looking at the serpent in faith provided salvation from the poison of the serpents, so those who look to Jesus in faith will be saved from the deadly poison of sin, and be given eternal life instead. And, just as the grace given through the serpent was indiscriminate, saving WHOEVER looked to it in faith, so the grace given through Jesus is indiscriminate; WHOEVER believes in Him, looking to Him for salvation, will not perish, but have eternal life.
Just as in Moses’ day, there are some who reject God’s method of providing salvation, either determined to find their own method (and then demanding that God accept it), or denying the reality of the consequences of being bitten by the serpent in the first place. But either course dooms those who take it. In grace, God has provided ONE method of receiving eternal life for everyone, open to all who will believe in Jesus.
As Jesus clearly pointed out here, God did not send Jesus to condemn the people of the world. He sent Him to save the world from the poison of their sins, just as He provided the bronze serpent to save the Israelites from the poison of the snakes. The saddest thing in the world is a person who, dying an eternal death from sin’s poison, rejects Jesus, the only divinely provided and powerfully effective cure for what ails him or her, and dying forever separated from the God who graciously provided a way to avoid it altogether.
Father, some complain that You made the door too narrow, providing only one way to receive eternal life: Jesus. But the miracle is that You didn’t have to provide any way for us to get to You. You could have justly left us to die in the poison of our own sin and rebellion. But Your great love compelled You to give Your one and only Son as the perfect restorative for what ails us. Thank you! Amen.