The Amazing Story of what Jesus has done for each one of us
And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life' (John 3: 14). Clearly this is a reference to Jesus' death on the cross, but the verse also gives us a way of understanding what happened on the cross. Jesus would be lifted up 'as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness'. This incident is recorded in Numbers 21:4-9. As Moses was leading the people through the desert after their escape from slavery in Egypt, the people lost patience and began speaking against God and against Moses. At this, we are told, God sent fiery serpents among the people and their bite brought death to many. The serpents were a sort of physical manifestation of the sin that they had allowed to take hold of their hearts and minds; sin that, like the serpents' bite, would lead to death, a spiritual death in their relationship with God. The people then understood what was happening and repented of their sin. What God asked Moses to do next may seem very strange and puzzling to us, but it was a prophetic gesture wonderfully pointing to the work of salvation that God was going to accomplish in Jesus. Moses was told to make a bronze serpent and raise it as a standard. Those Israelites who had been bitten would be healed if they looked upon the bronze serpent.
Notice carefully what God required Moses to do. He had to raise up an image of the very thing that was poisoning them - the serpent. The serpent, itself an image of the sin that was corrupting them, was raised up and became the means by which God would transform his people and restore them to life. We can start to grasp the astonishing claim Jesus is making and obtain an insight into the meaning of his death on the cross. Moses lifted up the serpent - an image of sin itself, transfixed upon a standard. In the same way Jesus will be lifted up. Are we ready to grasp the shocking truth that is being revealed here? Jesus will be raised up, as an image of sin itself. As Jesus dies, broken upon the cross, so too is the power of sin broken and destroyed. Sin's power can only be destroyed with Jesus' death if somehow Jesus and sin become one, become identified. Who would dare even begin to imagine the amazing thing God was bringing about on the cross? It was Paul who dared to put it into words: 'For our sake (God) made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God' (2 Corinthians 5:21). God made him into sin! Somehow Jesus on the cross became sin personified. He took all sin into himself and allowed it to be destroyed even as he himself died.
Have you ever looked at the cross in this way? Have you considered that Jesus dying on the cross is also the death of the sin that so much rules our hearts? As Jesus said to Nicodemus, 'whoever believes in him may have eternal life'. Looking on the cross in this way, as Jesus invites us to do, will bring to birth within us a new heart and a new spirit. Most of us who were baptized as infants need at some moment in our lives to embrace, with faith, Jesus lifted up on the cross. We need to acknowledge that, as Jesus died, all that is sin in us, all that belongs to our sinful nature, all of the old creation has died with him. As we do so, a new desire to give ourselves to Jesus and his service comes to birth within us.
Reproduced from Bible Alive (Lent 1997)
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