Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Gospel of the Snake on a Pole

One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Thursday, March 14, 2013:  Numbers 21:1-22:20

Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.  Numbers 21:6-9 (ESV)

In many folks' minds, there is a major disconnect, a major difference between the Old Testament and the New in terms of how God deals with His people -- almost like two different books.  It is common to picture the Old Testament as LAW and the New Testament as GRACE.  In this view, the Old Testament is a harsh picture of God the Father, while the New Testament is a meek and mild picture of Jesus the Son.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

It is worth our time to explore further the ways God has revealed His truth as it flows down to us through the epochs of biblical history.  It is, however, a major mistake to think that there is no grace in the Old Testament (and also no law in the New Testament).  God does not have a split personality, having one face in one place and totally different face in another.  God is not a quick-change artist.  The Old Testament was not a failed experiment that now is replaced with a different covenant and a different gospel.  In other words, the Gospel of Jesus Christ appears throughout the Old Testament.

The entirety of Scripture points to Jesus!  We find it nowhere more vividly than in this short story about Moses, fiery serpents, and a bronze snake on a pole.  The setting is familiar.  God's people have once again been complaining and whining.  They had once been thankful for their daily provision (manna) but now they complained saying it was "worthless bread."  They spoke out against God Himself, as well as Moses.

Scripture says that God brought judgment by "sending fiery serpents" among them.  This was judgment.  It would be a fascinating study to look further at these "fiery serpents", but suffice to say that for our study here they represent SIN and the AFFECTS OF SIN. 

To me the most interesting part of this story is THE CURE.  God told Moses to fashion a bronze snake resembling the very thing that was killing the people.  He affixed this bronze serpent to a pole and lifted it up before Israel so that all who looked upon it were healed. 

Scriptures says again and again, "The just shall live by faith."  This is the good news of the Gospel.  THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.  This is the Gospel that was preached to Israel through the bronze snake on the pole.  They were simply commanded to LOOK AT IT.  That's it.  Nothing more.  In that day, TO LOOK was to be healed.  They were not commanded to do any works or to keep any law in order to be delivered.  The commandment was TO LOOK.

A.W. Tozer, in his great book The Pursuit of God, says of this story, "'Looking' on the Old Testament serpent is identical with 'believing' on the New Testament Christ."  He goes on to say (and I love his phraseology), "we conclude that faith is the gaze of the soul upon a saving God." 

This is what Jesus said in John 3:14-15: "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."  Looking is believing.  David writes of this in Psalm 34:4. saying, "They looked upon Him and were radiant, and their faces were not ashamed."  The "looking" brings radiance and removes all shame.  Again and again, throughout Scripture we are called to TURN OUR EYES UPON JESUS. 

Faith is the gaze of the soul upon a saving God.  Faith is not about the works that we do.  It is not about our meritorious actions.  Faith is looking at Jesus in all His glory.  When we do this, we find that healing flows.  He changes my broken heart.  Though the sting/snake bite (wages) of sin is death, the gift of God is eternal life through the One upon Whom we gaze.  This is life in the Son.

What are you looking at?  Are you focused on yourself -- your unworthiness -- or your self-sufficiency?  Are you contemplating your inadequacies or your short-comings?  Fix your gaze on God.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  Again to quote the Psalms: "In Your light, we see light."  (Psalm 36:9)

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