Jesus had a late night conversation with a devout Jewish scholar named Nicodemus. As he explained spiritual matters to an expert, Jesus referred to an obscure Old Testament story from the time of the Exodus. In John 3:14, he said: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
The story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness (found in Numbers chapter 21) was well known to Nicodemus. As the children of Israel journeyed throughout the desert, they complained against Moses and against God. The result? Snakes invaded the camp and began biting people at random so that death was a daily occurrence. The lesson? Criticism is deadly. When you began speaking words against others, eventually these words will come back and bite you!
Fortunately, God had mercy on the people and He provided an unusual solution to the snake problem. “Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (Num 21:8-9).
A snake on a pole sounds strange, superstitious and very unscientific. However, before you dismiss the story as something that only makes sense to primitive people, consider this. If you are living in a snake-infested area, every step is dangerous and you live in constant fear. The golden rule for those who want to avoid snakebites is straightforward: Keep as much distance between you and the snake as possible! Putting a snake on a pole removed the risk from ground level and put it out of striking distance. What a relief! God was attaching what was poisonous and deadly to a pole and lifting it up to make the people safe. Their own foolishness had brought about destruction but God provided the solution.
Jesus was giving a new interpretation to this story, one that placed him on the pole where the snake once hung. He was saying that He would take the poison, He would be injected with the venom of human evil and wickedness, He would be bitten with every sin and disease and punishment imaginable so that those who look to Him and believe would be spared from death and given the gift of everlasting life.
I call this The Best Deal in the Bible. In the most surprising and unusual offer ever made, Jesus was lifted up on a cross to provide a complete solution for sin. The reason for this amazing free gift of salvation is found in John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
Once you have experienced this kind of love and God’s gift of new life in Christ, you will naturally want to tell others so they don’t miss out. True, sometimes we are accused of being a bit too enthusiastic about sharing the Good News but it really is the deal of a lifetime, one that must be shared with others. When it comes to saving lives, determination and persistence are entirely appropriate!
Is there someone you need to tell?