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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Moses and the Serpent on the Pole – John 3:14

     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
            Again, Jesus will use Older Testament scripture to teach Nicodemus, the Jewish master teacher, Pharisee and member of the ruling Sanhedrin Council. Nicodemus would be familiar with this event in Numbers 21:4-9. Jesus is comparing this event to Himself.
            The whole Truth could not be known until Jesus because He is the whole of Truth. God revealed his plan of salvation and deliverance through His Son Jesus in types and shadows in the Older Testament. Moses and the serpent on the pole is one of these foreshadows.

Numbers 21:4-9

     God’s people have been traveling through the desert. They became discouraged and impatient because it was taking so long to reach their destination – the Promised Land. The people began to murmur and complain against God and His chosen and anointed servant Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this horrible food!” Numbers 21:5 Their ingratitude toward God and their attack upon God’s anointed one opened the door for the work of the devil. God had provided manna and water from a rock for His people, but they loathed His provision. In the New Testament a similar thing happened. The Pharisees, Sadducees and members of the Sanhedrin Council also loathed Jesus, the Anointed Bread and the water sent from heaven to feed the spiritual hunger and thirst of God’s people. Jesus is the Bread of heaven and also the Rock that sent the water of the Holy Spirit.  The Pharisees like the Jews in the wilderness spoke against God’s Anointed One – Jesus. There is a consequence in touching God’s anointed ones. God says in scripture, “Touch not My anointed ones and do My prophets no harm.” (1 Chronicles 16:22; Psalm 104:15)
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes (a brood of vipers) among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. V6 God sent Divine judgment through the brood of vipers. When God’s people reject God’s provision and speak against His anointed ones, God takes action. There was no way God’s wrath could be reversed except through confession, repentance, intercession, faith and obedience to God’s Word.  Jesus did all of this for us. When we confess our sin and repent, Jesus forgives our sin. He is our Mediator and Intercessor before the Father.
The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. V6-7 The people confessed their sin against God and Moses. Then they asked Moses to be their mediator and intercessor before God. He did so because they had confessed and repented of their sin. (Moses is a type and shadow of Christ as the Servant-Ruler, Lawgiver, Mediator and Intercessor between God and His people)
God honored the intercession of His chosen, anointed servant Moses and told Moses what to do to deliver and heal His people. “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, he lived.” Numbers 21:8-9 The Hebrew word for pole is nec meaning banner, standard or a sign. God is telling Moses to make an image of what is killing His people and lift it up on a pole for all to see. Moses had faith in God and obeyed His instruction. Why a bronze serpent? Bronze is the metal of sin and judgment. The serpent represents sin and the devil. This was a fiery serpent! The devil is going to end up in a lake of fire in the end. God was telling the Israelites to look at the source of their pain and sin, turn from it and they will be healed. In other words, “look, turn and live!” The poison of sin fueled by the serpent (devil) brings spiritual death, not life.  All of humanity are born with the serpentine nature (sin) because of the original sin in the Holy Garden of God in Genesis. We are all descended from Adam, so we all have to look at the fact that we are all sinners. God wants us to look at our sin and its source, not ignore it.  
            Those bitten by the snakes on the ground must “look up” for their deliverance and healing. This was a physical healing. The healing power wasn’t in the serpent; it was God working and showing His people the cause of their pain. Recognizing this, they were healed and turned their thoughts and lives back to God.

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

     Jesus is using the lifting up of the serpent on a pole to teach Nicodemus about His eternal salvation and deliverance which gives eternal spiritual life and healing. The Israelites were saved and received physical healing, restoration and life by looking up to the bronze serpent on a pole. In the New Testament Jesus was lifted up on the cross to save us from eternal spiritual death. Moses’ faith and obedience to God’s Word brought physical healing and deliverance to those who looked at the serpent on the pole. Jesus’ faith and obedience to God even unto death on the cross brought eternal spiritual deliverance, eternal spiritual healing and eternal spiritual life to all who believe in His finished work on the cross. Jesus also suffered and died to give us victory over the serpent and his poisonous bites (sin). The serpent had his head crushed by Jesus on the cross in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15. Unfortunately, the serpent is still active in the hearts and minds of humans through our fleshly nature until Jesus destroys the devil and his demonic host forever in the lake of fire in the belly of the earth. (see Revelation 20:10-15) Until then, Jesus has given us the power of the Holy Spirit and Truth to ward off the attacks of the enemy of the souls of humanity.
As you may recall, John the Baptist and Jesus called the Pharisees and other religious leaders who opposed them a “brood of vipers.” (see Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Matthew 12:34; Matthew 23:33) Instead of accepting Jesus, they were always nipping at His heels (Genesis 3:15) to prove Him wrong. As the teachers of Israel, these religious leaders were keeping God’s people from the Truth and the Messiah. The venom (untruth and hatred) of this “brood of vipers” was preventing people from receiving eternal life.  Many Israelites would remain dead in sin because these religious leaders talked and fought against Jesus instead of leading the Jews to Him for eternal life. The Romans (gentiles) also nipped at Jesus’ heels keeping people from coming to Jesus for eternal life. Keep in mind that Nicodemus is a Pharisee! Jesus using this particular event in the Older Testament must have troubled Nicodemus. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the devil will continually nip at your heels to keep you from receiving all that God has provided through His chosen and precious Son Jesus. Rely upon the power of the Holy Spirit and Word to defeat the wiles of the devil, just as Jesus did. The ways of Jesus are the antidote to the ways of the devil. Jesus provided the Way, the Truth and the Life. The power of His blood and resurrection will breathe new life in the Spirit and in Truth into us.
            Jesus became a curse for us. (see Galatians 3:13) He was made sin on our behalf. (see 2 Corinthians 5:21) He bore our sins in His body. (see 1 Peter 2:4) Jesus came in the likeness of flesh but He had no sin. No other human can make this claim. Therefore, God had to send His Holy Son to save, deliver, heal and give us the power of the Holy Spirit to defeat sin and the devil. The work of the bronze serpent was temporary, but Jesus’ work on the cross is permanent. Jesus became the bronze serpent for us. Just as the vipers poisoned the disobedient Israelites, all of humanity is poisoned by sin. The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s emblem of freedom from sin and Divine judgment for sin. Jesus bore the wrath of God for sin for us. Because of Jesus, God is for us, not against us.
            Jesus is our banner/standard. God wants His people to allow the Word and the Holy Spirit to put our sinful flesh to death so we will walk in the abundant spiritual life and glory that Jesus’ death on the cross provides. Every sinner’s destiny is based upon his or her response to God and His Word. Those who respond to Jesus who is the Word of God and obey it will be healed and receive eternal life. God illustrated what happens when His people reject God’s provision. Jesus is the Bread and Water of Life. Jesus said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty…..it was not Moses who has given you the bread of heaven, but it is My Heavenly Father who give you the true bread of heaven, for the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world.” The Jews pretty much idolized Moses. Jesus is saying that it wasn’t Moses but God who sent the bread of heaven. Jesus is the Living Bread of God sent from God. The manna in the wilderness in the Older Testament maintained physical life, but Jesus, the spiritual Bread of heaven, maintains eternal spiritual life.
            Moses lifted up the serpent of judgment and condemnation, but Jesus was lifted up not to condemn and judge, but to save and show us the unfailing, undying love of the Father 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.” V18 Jesus wanted Nicodemus and us to understand this. Jesus is God’s gift to mankind, but a gift is not a gift until it is received and opened.
            Jesus was high and lifted up into the heavenly throne after His death and resurrection. Jesus wants to bring us higher and higher into the high places of the spiritual realm with Him. The devil wants to bring us further and further down into the belly of the earth. The choice is ours. It is every person’s decision to receive God’s gift of His Son Jesus. We can’t have Jesus’ grace without the light of His truth. Many people gathered around Jesus when He performed miracles, signs and wonders, but when the Truth He spoke penetrated their hearts and convicted them, some walked away from Him. The Truth is for our good, not our destruction. It is the devil who wants to destroy. Because Jesus walks in Light (“In Him, there is no darkness at all.” 1 John 1:5) and is the Truth, He wants to remove the things of darkness in us so we walk in His Light and Truth and the fullness of all that Christ’s sacrifice bought for us. "He who does the Truth comes to the Light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that have been done in God.” These have nothing to hide! If we are doing something that we don’t want to reveal openly, you can be sure that your flesh and the devil are at work. There is no spiritual life in the works of the flesh. The flesh profits nothing. There is life in the Truth and Spirit of God. 
            Sometimes those of us who do love and follow Christ want to hold on to the sin within us instead of letting Jesus and the Holy Spirit free us. Letting go of the “old” opens our hearts to the “new” ways of Christ. If we hold tight to our sin, we remain entangled in the yoke of bondage instead of the new freedom in Christ. Jesus’ way is the better way! Jesus wants to establish us in His ways and truth. The spiritual door that was closed and guarded in God’s garden in Genesis is now opened in Christ so we can have the same intimate relationship with God that Adam and the Woman had before they sinned. In order to share an intimate relationship with another, we must learn of the person so we know him or her. The same is true with our relationship with Jesus and the Father. We must learn of Him to truly know Him. It is the Word and the Holy Spirit that will bring us to the true and full knowledge of Him.
            Jesus next tells us the reason for God sending Him into the world. One of the most well-known scriptures in the Bible about God's love follows the message regarding Moses and the bronze snake. God's love in sending His Son would save the world from the serpent and sin once-for-all.

For God So Loved the World

     “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.” John 3:16-17
            Love for humanity was God’s motivation for sending Jesus to earth to die for the sin of the whole world. All love emanates from God because God is love -- pure, perfect love. God sent His Son to satisfy the Law He imposed upon His chosen people as well as showing His love for humanity. In the Older Testament, God imposed strict laws upon His people that Nicodemus understood well. No doubt it was difficult for Nicodemus to accept that God loved him with unconditional love because the Law had so many demands. Jesus wants Nicodemus to understand the deep, unfailing love that God has for humanity by sending His very own Son to save them. Jesus wants Nicodemus to see God in a close and more intimate relationship – as a Loving Father to a Son and One who forgives our sin instead of imposing the sentence of death for sin.  Love for God and others is the sign that we are born again of the Spirit and Truth. (see John 13:34-35) " A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this (love) all men will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." (see also 1 John 4:7-11; Romans 13:8)
            God does not want to punish us and beat us until we come back to Him. His Holy Spirit hovers over us and woos us back to Him by His love. Notice that it is the “world” God's love is extended to in this scripture, not just a nation. The whole world is the recipient of this unfailing, unconditional love of God through Christ even though the world is full of sinners.  Jews and Gentiles are equally sinful and equally loved by God. Many sinners have never thought about God but God thought about them and sent His love to the world through His Son Jesus. The love of God in Jesus includes everyone who loves and honors Jesus and even those who don't. All who receive and believe in God's wonderful gift of His One and Only Chosen Anointed Son will have eternal spiritual life. As the Israelites were God's chosen people, in Christ all -- both Jew and Gentile -- are chosen and precious in His sight. As God chose Israel in the Older Testament, Jesus said in the New, "You did not choose Me; I chose you." John 15:16 Jesus equaled the field by including the whole world.
                                                                    (Next week: The Verdict)

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