We do not want to hear about judgment. We know about Jesus don’t we? He came to bear our sin, demonstrate the love of God and take the punishment and judgment of our sin upon Him on the cross and now all is good. Yet, we see so much sin, hell and disaster around us every day. What is going on?
Sin has consequences. We all know the story of the Garden of Eden. How the serpent, which we all know is the satan, God’s adversary, reasoned with Eve and convinced her to eat of the fruit she was not supposed to and on top of it all, gave Adam to eat as well, so that both of them hid from the face of God. Sin exposed them as naked, where they felt so safe in the sinless presence of God, they were not even aware of their nakedness. Very famously satan came as a serpent, a cunning snake. The use of the word serpent indicates a snake in mythological or religious context. We would write serpent and talk about snake – it is the same creature.
Here in John 3:14-15 he mentions a strange story in the Old Testament recorded in Numbers 21:4-9.
The chapter in Numbers begins with a great victory over the Canaanites, when Israel vowed to God to fully destroy all their cities if God will give the Canaanite army into their hands. The battle was won and the captured Israelites saved. Just into the next verses the complaining begins:
“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
God sent venomous snakes among them and many died. They came running to Moses to pray to God to deliver them in their fight against the snakes. So Moses prayed and God said:
“Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
We think it is terrible that so many people died. Our knowledge of God has grown in Jesus. We know God is good and intend good for us. What about sending snakes? The interpretation of life coming from the old prophets was that everything came from God – good and bad. Today we know, that the bad is the consequences of sin that keeps this world in brokenness and hostility to God. Today still people die because of sin. In all their brokenness they still reject God, while He is waiting for their cry for help to bring deliverance.
The serpents were the symbol of the killing power of rebellion against God.
The story illustrates the destructive power of complaining in your personal wilderness way. If you say your soul loathes this “worthless bread”, it is a complaint against the provision of the Lord in your life.
John Bevere shocked me into right thinking when he made the statement: Complaining is like saying to God: I don’t like what You are doing in my life and if I were You I would have done it differently.
There is so much gospel in this. Jesus declared in these verses, that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so the Son of man must be lifted up, that those who believe in him, should not perish. We could compare our modern diseases with the sting of our broken world. Sin bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Then compare the application of their remedy to ours. They looked up and lived, and if we believe, we shall not perish. It is by faith that we look unto Jesus (Hebrews 12:2).
The snakes are called fiery because of their effects. Their poison caused an intolerable heat and burning and thirst in the bodies of the Israelites, which was aggravated with the circumstances of the place: that here was no water. The method of cure was prescribed, so that it would be clear to be God’s own work, and not the effect of nature. The serpent signified Christ, who on the cross, looked like sinful man, but was not, just like the bronze snake looked like a snake but was not poisonous.
Do we trust God fully with our lives? Are we willing to submit to His healing and cleansing power when things get rough? What is your reaction to adverse circumstances? So many of us would slam the door and shout our frustration onto the bewildered loved ones around us, in stead of fleeing into our prayer-closet and submit our thinking and insight to see in the Spirit the cross as the symbol of our healing.
The story of the serpent in the desert is continued:
The verb to lift up is hupsoun. It is the same word that is used to describe Jesus being lifted up upon the Cross (John 8:28,12:32) and it is used to tell of Jesus being lifted up into glory at the time of His ascension into heaven (Acts 2:33, 5:31 and Philippians 2:9).
Jesus was lifted on the Cross, and then into glory. The one could not happen without the other.
A life unaltered is a glory-less life. First we accept the cross, then the crown. How would we as arrogant and selfish sinful man even think of the cross if we do not have to battle the snakes in our desert? Our circumstances draw us to the miracle-working God for outcome and relief. If our circumstances distance us away from God, it is the most profound tragedy of life there could be. Our circumstances are prompting us to cry out to our loving Father that will change us into His glory.
This changed life is the life of excellence we seek. A life well lived is for sure not the wealthy, super glamorous party life of excess and indulgence that the world promises.
To believe that God is what Jesus declared Him to be was difficult for the Jews, just as it is difficult today for the unbeliever to believe that God is good and wants the best for every person. For the Jews, God was a law-giver and punisher, demanding sacrifices and a price paid for sin. A loving God was almost impossible to grasp.
To believe that Jesus would know God because He is the Son of God, was even more incomprehensible. To accept Jesus, was to accept His message, to acknowledge that He knew the Father and brought absolute truth. Their rigid thinking and preconceived ideas about God made this recognition of Jesus almost impossible. Only allowing the Holy Spirit to convict of the Truth, as Jesus said He would, could bring us new insight and fuller understanding of God.
To believe is to risk everything on this truth. To cast our life and all we hold dear onto God and throw ourselves at His mercy in unquestioning obedience.
Eternal life promises we are at peace with God, at home with our Father and at peace with men to live as forgiven and forgiving those around us. We are at peace with life, believing all things would work together for good, not so much to understand everything better, but to feel safe in our evil and destructive world. Eternal life gives us peace with ourselves when we depend on Jesus for everything and are not terrified of our own weaknesses. Eternal life gives us a glimpse of the greater peace to come, a life where the best is yet to be, higher and better than we could ever imagine.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. (John 3:16-17, The Message)
This verse is everybody’s favourite. It is the essence of the Gospel.
The initiative of all salvation is in God. God sent His son. He loved us to send the sinless One to reconcile us to God. It gets rid of all the misconceptions of an angry, punishing God.
Why? Because of love. Mankind is drawn and disciplined by love. God is acting for our sake, not His own to satisfy love, not to bring things to order. He is a father and he cannot rest before his wandering children are home.
The full extent of His love is the world – not a nation or a person. He loves the whole, wide, unlovable, unlovely and lonely world. Those who reject His love and never thinks of God are ALL included.
As Augustine said it: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.”
Here it is again. The full definition of the word lying dormant in the Greek language until one man gave content to a love so great that the full extent had to be expressed in the cruel death on a cross, yet so powerful and unconquerable that it saves, redeems and renew into eternity.
Love = Agapao (verb)
Unconditional love, love by choice and by an act of the will. The word denotes unconquerable benevolence and undefeatable goodwill. Agapao will never seek anything but the highest good for fellow mankind. Agape (noun) is the word for God’s unconditional love. It does not need an affinity, chemistry or feeling. It is a word that exclusively belongs to the Christian community. It is virtually unknown to writers outside the New Testament.