The Serpent in the Wilderness (John 3:14-15) – Nana Yaw Aidoo

Nana Yaw Aidoo

We all know the story about Jesus Christ and Nicodemus. The Bible tells us that one night Nicodemus went to Jesus Christ and told how He believed that Jesus was from God (John 3:1-2). However, since Jesus knew that the reason Nicodemus was there was to know more about the kingdom, Jesus told him that unless a man is born again, he cannot enter the kingdom (John 3:3). This was strange to Nicodemus because he was old. So, he asked again, “How can a man be born when he is old?” (John 3:4). Christ then threw more light on His words by saying that to be born again was to be born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5).

At this point, most of my acquaintances do not read any further. However, the discussion does not end here but continues even to verse 21. When you keep on reading, you find when you get to the ninth verse that Nicodemus still did not understand. Therefore, he asked how these things could be. Instead of going back and forth on what being born again means, Christ went further by telling Nicodemus how the new birth would be possible. He said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

Friends, the importance of the Old Testament is seen in how frequently it is quoted in the New Testament. In trying to show how the new birth would be possible, Christ went back to an incident that happened whiles Israel was in the wilderness. On their way to the Promised Land, Israel kept on murmuring and murmuring. One of these incidents is recorded in Numbers 21. At one point, the Bible says they spoke against God and against Moses. “Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread” (Num. 21:5). Bless their hearts. Because of this, God punished them. He punished them by sending fiery serpents into their midst and, folks, the Bible says many of the people died (Num. 21:6). Most often when speaking about sin, we leave out murmuring. However, if you learn nothing at all from this article, this you should know. When we murmur against God’s will, we have sinned against God because we have spoken against Him. Israel found this out in the worst possible way, and we are to learn from them so we don’t make the same mistakes they made.

So, Israel murmured against God’s will and God punished them by sending fiery serpents their way. Eventually, Israel found out that they were dying because of their sin, so they asked Moses to pray so that the Lord would forgive them and take the snakes away (Num. 21:7). God listened to Moses’ prayer, but He did not take the snakes away. Rather, He asked Moses to make a serpent and set it on a pole and that those who were bitten should look at it so they live (Num. 21:8). Moses did, and those who looked at the snake received their healing (Num. 21:9).

Friends, this is the account that Christ was referring to when He was trying to show Nicodemus how the new birth would be possible. Over here in John 3, He likened Himself to the serpent that Moses raised and said He would also be lifted up. That lifting up took place on the cross. When Christ was nailed to the cross and raised, He was like the serpent that Moses put on the pole and raised. Just as the Israelites had to look at the snake in order to live, so today men must look up to Christ in faith and be saved. This is the beautiful picture that Christ paints, and there are some things we can learn from this statement and the original account in the Old Testament.

First of all, we learn that the wages of sin is death. God hates sin and because He hates sin, what He gives as payment for sin is death. It has been like this since the beginning of the world. We see this in the Garden of Eden. In Genesis 2:17, God told man that if he ate the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, he would die. When man did, he started to die physically and spiritually; he was separated from God. Also, we see this in the fact that when the Israelites sinned against God in the wilderness, they started dying. The wages of sin is death, and that is exactly what the apostle says in Romans 6:23. Sin separates us from God, a separation, which is death (Isa. 59:1-3; 1 Tim. 5:6). And yes, that includes even your favorite sin or that sin you are willing to wink at. We have made lies, gossip, and backbiting “respectable,” while thinking that those who in a moment of weakness succumbed to fornication have committed the unpardonable sin. Some beat their wives at home and think nothing of it because they are “doctrinally sound” and can “give it to the liberals.” Such are self-deceived heretics. There is an even worse consequence of sin, folks. The Bible calls it the second death (Rev. 21:8), suffering, which is beyond our wildest imaginations. The point I want to make is that sin moves with death. They are like two sides of the same coin. The wages of sin is death, and this is the first lesson we get from the statement of Christ and from Numbers 21.

Second, we learn that without God’s grace, man is helpless to save himself from death. Those who were bitten by the snake could not do anything to save themselves. If they could, they wouldn’t have asked Moses to pray for them. The only way by which they could be saved was for God to provide a remedy. If God didn’t, they would all have died that day except for Moses. In like manner, because we have all sinned, we are lost and are on our way to destruction. The only way we can be saved is for God to provide a remedy. This He has done by sending Jesus Christ. While we were yet sinners, God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son. Hence, the remedy for sin today is no one but Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). There are some things we need to know about the remedy that God gave to Israel.

First, it was a heavenly remedy. It did not originate with man.

Second, it was sufficient. God did not tell them to obey His conditions and then to add their own conditions.

Third, it was simple. They didn’t have to attend special classes and learn some formulas in order to understand it. Also, it wasn’t anything onerous. Wherever they were, they could just lift up their heads and look at the snake.

Fourth, it was effectual. All who looked at it were cured on the spot.

Fifth, it was the only remedy given. Even though many people were bitten, God gave them only one serpent to look at. I believe that if someone had raised his own serpent and looked at it, that person would have died that day.

Likewise, the remedy for sin today is heavenly, sufficient, simple, effectual, and the only one. This remedy could not have been available without God’s grace, and so if we are saved today, may we not for a moment think that we were saved by our own strength. Rather, let us always remember that without God’s grace, man is helpless to save Himself from death.

Finally, we learn that man is saved when he has faith in God’s remedy for salvation. God could have taken away the snakes, but He didn’t. Rather, He told Moses to erect a brazen snake and for the Israelites to look at it. They had to have faith in what God had provided for their salvation in order to be saved. Those who had faith in God’s remedy looked at the snake, and when they did, they were healed. I believe you would agree with me that anyone who died among the Israelites that day had only him or herself to blame. In like manner, in order for us to be saved from sin today, we need to have faith in the remedy that God has provided. As I have already mentioned, God’s remedy for sin today is Jesus Christ. Just as the Israelites had to have faith in God’s remedy, we also need to have faith in Christ. Thus, you’d see that in His conversation with Nicodemus that Jesus Christ said that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. We cannot be saved if we don’t have faith in Christ (John 8:24).

However, can we claim to have faith in Jesus Christ and reject the way by which He saves men? Can we claim to have faith in Christ without obeying Him? I do not believe so. It is no coincidence that in the same chapter the Bible says, “He that believeth on the Son hath eternal life; but he that obeyeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36 ASV 1901). At one point in His ministry, Christ said, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Therefore, it goes without saying that whoever rejects the way by which Christ saves men today cannot claim to have faith in Him. How then does Christ save men today? Please permit me to quote the words of Christ Himself in Mark 16:15-16: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” After Christ had been lifted up on the cross as He told Nicodemus would happen, He sent His disciples into all the world to tell them that He had died for their sins, that He was buried for their sins, and that He had won victory over death for their sins. Therefore, because of what He had done, they could have fellowship with God once again. He sent His disciples with this message. This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, dear reader. He promised that when men hear this gospel, those who believe it and allow themselves to be baptized, them He will save. Folks, this is how Christ saves men today, and we must faithfully obey this provision in order to be saved by Christ (Heb. 5:8-9).

What is the conclusion of the whole matter? It is that God has provided the remedy for our sin, and we need to have faith in His remedy in order to be saved. Jesus Christ is the antitype of the serpent in the wilderness. Only by Him, in Him, and through Him can any accountable person receive salvation from sin and death. There might be some reading this who have not yet tasted of the Lord. Please don’t let anything stop you from taking that step today. Let nothing stop you from obeying the gospel of our blessed God and Savior Jesus Christ today (2 Cor. 6:1-2). One of the devil’s most effective lies is telling people that they have a lifetime to get right with God. Please don’t fall for any of that. Christ is still telling us to come to Him and that He will give us rest (Matt. 11:28). Take the step today, and Christ will save you.

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