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Read |Numbers 21:4-9; John 3:14-16|
Most of us don’t see snakes as symbols of redemption. We think of the Devil taking the form of a serpent and leading Adam and Eve to sin for the first time. Maybe we are terrified of being bitten, or maybe we simply don’t want them in our houses. Aside from herpetologists and other snake enthusiasts, many people would prefer not to display a statue of a snake in their homes. But God has always used unexpected means to bring his people to trust in Him.
When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness after their miraculous deliverance from slavery in Egypt, God provided for all their physical needs. He made bread fall from heaven, sent quail into the camp for meat, and caused water to flow from a rock. But the people grumbled against God over and over again. They preferred slavery, with its relative security and predictability, over a freedom where they had to depend on God every day for guidance and provision.
Often God showed his people patience, but sometimes he assigned consequences for their mistrust. In Numbers 21, they complained to Moses yet again: “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.” (Numbers 21:5, ESV). God responded by sending “fiery serpents” into the camp, and many of the people died of poisonous snake bites.
Later, God would prove His love for His people by offering them an escape from the death they had brought upon themselves. God told Moses to make a serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole. God made it so that anyone who had been bitten could receive healing and live, simply by looking at it. The act of looking to the bronze serpent, on account of His promised healing, would be evidence of renewed trust (willingness to rely) on Him. The reward would be life.
Jesus references this curious story as he explains the process of salvation to Nicodemus. Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up [on a cross], that whoever believes [relies on Him as Savior] in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes [relies on Him as Savior] in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16, ESV, emphasis added).
Jesus reiterates this a few chapters later when He says, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes [relies on Him as Savior] in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, ESV, emphasis added). Just as in the wilderness, God extends this offer of salvation from a death we earn through our self-reliance and worship of what is not God: look and believe, and live forever.
Many of us, in our desire to escape the punishment of hell, attempt to jump straight to the second command: believe. We mentally assent to the truth about Jesus: that He is the perfect Son of God, sent to die for our sins and purchase our righteousness. But do we stop and truly look? Do we gaze upon the beauty of our Savior? Do we immerse ourselves in His words, and meditate on His character? Do we delight in all the foreshadowings of his coming throughout the Old Testament? Or do we skip over the confusing prophecies and repetitive stories of Israel’s rebellion to the parts where we are told comforting words of grace and salvation?
To truly look upon Jesus is to see Him in all of Scripture. It is to see Him in the words God used to create the world; as the perfect King that Israel always longed for; as the true High Priest who would abolish the need for any future sacrifices. When we see God’s patience through the centuries as His people continually turned from Him to follow other gods, we understand more about the mercy that sent Jesus to die for us. When we see the blood of the unblemished lamb spread upon the doorposts to protect against the angel of death, we better understand Jesus’ words at the first celebration of Communion: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” (Luke 22:23, ESV). Training our eyes to see Jesus through all of human history trains our hearts to love Him more.
BELIEVE, RECEIVE AND EXPERIENCE ETERNAL LIFE
But we cannot disregard the second part of the offer: we must believe. We can spend years looking, considering, and studying the minutiae of Scripture, but if we do not believe, if we do not put all our trust in Jesus, we will not receive eternal life. (John 5:39-40). The example of the Israelites in Numbers provides a good gauge for our hearts. Their sin was not trusting in God’s power, provision, and care. They did not believe that He would give them what they needed. They hated depending on God for everything. They preferred slavery and independence to freedom and dependence on the only true Savior.
Full reliance on God is a daily exercise. We must root out the lies we tell ourselves, our equivalent to “At least we had food in Egypt.” That’s why God’s instruction has two parts: look and believe. Looking combats the lies, by helping us to see the mercy, provision and power of God in Scripture. It encourages us to rely on His mercy, provision, and power for us today. And when we do fully rely on Him, we start to enjoy the wellspring of eternal life here on earth--knowing it is only a foretaste of the eternal life secured at the time we first believed.
Pray: Dear God, you have revealed yourself to us through your Word, but we rarely stop to look at your beauty. Show us your character today. Help us hold the truth of your love in our hearts so that we can fight the lies that keep us from putting our trust in you. We know you are powerful and loving - help us to live out of your power and love in every interaction, every decision and every moment of our days. In the name of your Son Jesus, who died so that we can live, Amen.
LOOK, BELIEVE, AND LIVE FOREVER WITH JESUS
Perhaps this offer to look and believe is new to you. Dear friend, hear the words of your Savior, Jesus: “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37, ESV). Look upon the beauty of His sacrifice, and believe that He died for you. Place all your trust in Jesus. He can hold your highest hopes and your deepest hurts in the hands He lifted up on the cross to secure your eternal life.
If you are ready to place your trust in Jesus for the first time, you may use the following prayer as a guide:
Dear God, I have seen that you are perfect, but I confess that I am not. I know that I have depended upon everything besides you for every part of my life. Please forgive me. I place all my trust in your Son Jesus, who died to take away my sin and rose again from the dead so that I could have eternal life. Show yourself to me, God. I want to see your beauty. I believe that you love me, forgive me, and will provide for me. Build my faith so that I can depend on you more and more. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
If you need more support in making your decision, we are here to help. Learn more here: www.earthbasic.org/way-home.html
Here is an invitation to worship with the help of our sister, Julie True. Set aside an hour of time today to be drawn to look at Him and be strengthened in your resolve to surrender your life to His perfect care daily:
Carolyn Sinclair McCalla is a daughter of God, with a passion for encouraging women to embrace the fullness of God's love for them in Jesus Christ. She leads the Be-Held Community: a group of women seeking, living and being transformed by the truth of God’s Word together.