Crocodiles, Snakes and the Saviour

Our church just finished an exciting yet exhausting week of Vacation Bible School called “Crocodile Dock” (published by Group). We held a special finale to which all parents were invited in our Sunday morning service yesterday. Ben Reimer had been serving as the Bible teacher during the week of Crocodile Dock and so it was appropriate that he also give the message in a VBS-style on Sunday morning. His text was Numbers 21:4-9,

ESV From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way.
And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”
Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”
So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

It just so happened that early on Monday morning as I navigated my Internet browser to DesiringGod.org (to watch the next John Piper sermon in the series that I have been slowly working through on the Gospel of John), Piper’s sermon text was taken primarily from John 3:13-15,

ESV No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,
that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

The Holy Spirit effectively preached the Gospel of Christ to me both through Ben’s sermon Sunday morning (in which he duct-taped a stuffed toy snake to a broom handle and passed out gummy worms/snakes to the kids to illustrate the text) and through Piper’s sermon preached way back on April 5. Here are the main points that made an impression on me, taken from both sermons but without distinguishing which is from which:

  1. God told Moses to make a metal snake to lift up on a pole as the cure for the lethal snake bites afflicting the people. The remedy was a picture of the deadly problem. Isn’t that the way it is with the Gospel? Jesus became sin (2 Cor 5:21), He became the very curse (Gal 3:13) from which we need saving.
  2. The remedy of the lifted-up metal snake didn’t primarily address the lethal poison but the wrath of God. Numbers 21:6 says, “Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people…” So the remedy which God provided directly rescued from the punishment which God had sent in His anger over the sin of the people. Isn’t that also like the Gospel? Romans 3:25 says that “God put [Jesus] forward as a propitiation by His blood”, meaning that God provided Jesus as the one who would absorb the whole wrathful punishment of God which our sins deserve.
  3. All that the Israelites in the wilderness could do to be saved from the snake-bites was look at the metal snake on the pole
    after they had been bitten. The people asked Moses to pray that God would take the snakes away (verse 7). But God told Moses that anyone who had been bitten and wanted to be saved would have to look at the bronze serpent and, “when he sees it, shall live” (verse 8). Isn’t that too just like the Gospel? We have to know both our sin and our plight before we will even both to look for salvation. And yet there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves: all we can do is “look” to the Saviour whom God has provided, the Lord Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. When Jesus Himself referred to the text in Numbers about the bronze serpent, He put it like this: “…that whoever believes in him (Jesus) may have eternal life” (John 3:15). Just look. Just believe. That’s it. If you ever wondered what “believing in Jesus” really means you can take it on Jesus’ authority (since He was the one who quoted the story about Moses lifting up the bronze serpent for the people to look at) that it means simply “looking” to Jesus to save you from the wrathful punishment of God that your sins deserve.
  4. For the snake-bitten Israelites and for all the sin-bitten people who know they are dying (and not just physical dying but real, Hell, forever dying), the solution that brings life is only ever found by looking outside ourselves to the gracious provision of God in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (see the very next verse in John: John 3:16).