Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered February 1, 2003 by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Jesus Our Serpent

Numbers 21, John 3

I have a Quiz for you this morning:

All the same answers.

Believe it or not Jesus is our serpent in the book of Numbers 21. Now this is an amazing story. Numbers 21:8,9. The Lord said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

What must the dying person behold to be saved? He had to look. He had to behold the serpent on the pole. The serpent! Do we dare compare a slithery slimy hissing snake to Jesus? I don't like snakes. Do we compare a snake to Jesus? I shudder at the thought. Yet it's here in the Bible.

Come over here to John 3, where The most famous verse in the entire Bible is preceded by two verses that not one in a hundred could guess their words. And they have to do with a snake. John 3:14-16 "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that everyone who believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

So here the Bible compares Jesus to that bronze serpent on that pole. That's unique, isn't it. And then I read Desire of Ages by EG White, p. 174. "The lifting up of the bronze serpent "The lifting up of the brazen serpent was to teach Israel an important lesson....by looking upon the serpent their faith was shown. They knew that there was no virtue in the serpent itself, but it was a symbol of Christ;" Patriarch and Prophets, p. 430 - EG White. DA 431. Well, that is very clear, isn't it. Was this serpent a symbol of Christ? Absolutely.

Whenever I think of a Snake I think of the Devil. Isn't that what you think of when you think of s snake? But here is one of the most overlooked symbols of Jesus in the entire Bible and one of the strangest to say the least! Why would the Bible present Christ as a snake of all things?

I admire the symbolism of Jesus. He is called by 210 different names in the Bible. That's a lot, isn't it. He is a Rock, He is a Rose, He is a Lion, He is a Lamb, He is a Lilly, He is a Vine, and of all things, He is a Serpent.

If we can discover how this came to be, perhaps we can stumble onto something that is really profound, something that is amazing. There's some big spiritual blessing here if we can wrap our minds around why this came to be and what exactly this represents for our lives. So let's get a pick and a shovel and open the mine of God's word. Let's come back here to Numbers 21 and let's look at the story.

Numbers 21:5 The story opens with bellyaching! ...they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!" Have you ever complained about the food? We used to do it when we were back in Indiana Academy, I know that. But, it was good food.

You know, when all you've done for 38 years is walk around in the same hot desert and stare at the very same food for 41,610 consecutive meals, things get boring. They were sick of manna! God's people had been waiting 38 years to enter the promised land. Much like we have been waiting a long time to enter Heaven. It's the same predicament.

Now, to God's credit, I want to say that He had been very good to them. They hadn't missed a meal in 38 years. You could look at it that way, too. You could either complain about the food and say, "Look at all the food we've eaten. And, God had provided water for their thirst. Even their shoes did not wear out. They didn't even have to fight a war that whole time and there were none feeble among them. They had a lot of blessings. But here they were, bellyaching and complaining. They had grown too accustomed to God's blessings. And we do that sometimes ourselves, I'm afraid. They said, "We detest Moses' monotonous mushy manna! We hate this stuff. We'd like some french fries and..."

They viewed the daily miracle of manna with scorn. They began criticizing God. Then they began eating roast preacher....Moses. They started criticizing Moses. They felt that God was their enemy, not their friend. They began to fret, they began to criticize the leadership. Now it might be fun to throw mud at the leadership of the United States, to throw mud at the leaders of the church. That could be fun. But I want to tell you, that at the exact moment they became critical snakes started slithering into the camp. That's what the Bible says there in Numbers 21:6. It says, then the snakes came. As soon as they became critical the snakes came. They started slithering into the camp. They crept under the tents. They wormed their way into the bed rolls. Slipped into the food bags. They were under the bushes and rocks. They were everywhere. You would reach down to get your manna and there would be a snake! It was a bad situation.

Look at Numbers 21:6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; These were not just garter snakes, or black snakes. These were all venomous snakes sent by the Lord among them and they bit the people and many Israelites died. So, they had a bad problem, didn't they.

Now, did God send these snakes? Is that what the Bible says? I don't think He did send the snakes. Now the Bible says, God sent the snakes. You say, "Well, that's what the Bible says. Well, did He send the snakes? I don't think He did. You see, for 38 long years nobody had been bitten by a snake. God s people had been preserved and yet snakes were common to that land. You can read about this in Deuteronomy 8:15. They had been protected even though hundreds of snakes and scorpions naturally infested that desert place. It had been a continual miracle. You know what I think? For 38 long years nobody had been bitten by a snake. Heavenly Angels, like celestial cowboys, had rounded up snakes and cleared a safe path for God's children to walk where He led them. Now they complained. So, He called His angels back and removed the hedge from His people and let the natural consequences come. and the snakes came. I think that is what happened. Does God really send death to us. I think He allows the natural consequences to happen more often than not. And they were so quick to complain. And when we complain, things might even get worse. It did get worse for them. So, let's be thankful for what we have.

By the way, this is the last record that we read about them complaining about the food. They don't complain about the food any more. They learned their lesson. I wonder if the snakes were a problem from then on, until they crossed the Jordan. The Bible doesn't say there was a reprieve. Maybe until they crossed the Jordan river those snakes were there and they had to keep looking at that bronze serpent.

The poisonous snakes represent what? They represent the devil, Satan. At least the poisonous snakes do.

There are several interesting things about a snake that remind us of the devil. Did you know that a snake can't go backwards? They can't do it because of the scutes. They can only scute forward. (The scutes are the scales that line the underside of the snake's body, and they overlap so that they can only go forward.) Like the snake that he really is, the devil would not back down in the Garden of Eden. Once he made that decision, he would not back down during the rebellion in heaven. His scales of Pride would not let him back up and do what is right.

If we carry this analogy a bit further because this analogy is about Jesus, Jesus who is typified by the bronze serpent here, and cannot go backwards either. Jesus is the same. Once He makes a statement it doesn't change. You can always depend on Jesus. He never changes. And, that's a good thing about Jesus.

Another thing about snakes, is that they bite you on or near the heel. "Snakes bite at the heel." Genesis 3:15. The heel is the lowest part of the person, and it's the back side of us. The Devil attacks us from behind and when we are at the lowest point. That is how he attacked Jesus when He also was in the wilderness for forty days and was hungry and weak. And the snake came and attacked Jesus. It's a very similar parallel here. He attacked Him when He was hungry and when He was weak.

Another interesting thing about snakes. Snakes always have their eyes open. They never close their eyes. The Devil always watches for an opportunity to bite us. He wants to do it.

The Bible says the snakes were all venomous. "Fiery." They had fire in their fangs which produced a burning pain like your blood was on fire. It was bad, and you were going to die. All faced eventual death. Everybody faced eventual death. Here in Numbers 20:6 says the snakes bit the people. I imagine they bit all the people. I don't know, possibly all the people. Have you ever been bitten by a snake? I never have, but actually we all have, you know. We've all been bitten by a snake: Satan. We all face death. They all faced death. We are all dying. They began to collect the "wages of sin." We are all terminal, infected with sin. Romans 3:23. All have sinned, and (continue to) fall short of the glory of God.

Once the children of Israel were bitten, once they were dying they began to confess their great sin. That's the right thing they should have done. They started to confess their sins. Numbers 21:7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

That is what you call Intercessory prayer, right? Moses interceded in behalf of these people. And, what happened? Prayer changed things. Their critical spirit stopped. They started confessing their sins. It might be fun to criticize God and throw mud at His leaders but they stopped doing it because it lead them to death. I Corinthians 15:56 confirms that sin is the sting that results in death. according to the New Living Translation. The people ceased their fault finding. "We shouldn't have criticized Moses, we didn't really mean that." And they began to freely admit their sin. They realized they were all going to die unless an antidote could be found. You can't stop bad behavior until you admit you're a sinner, until you develop a hatred for sin. Jesus would like for us to come to the point where we would rather die than sin.

Mink trappers in England have an interesting way to trap mink. They go to the den of the mink and cover the entrance to the den with grease and position the trap in such a way that the mink has two choices. The mink will come to that point and had to make a decision. "Am I going to soil my beautiful coat with grease? Or am I going to go across the area where there is not grease, where I think there is something that ought not to be there. And the mink almost ninety-nine percent of the time will choose the trap and lose his life. He would rather die than soil his robe. And that's what we ought to be. We don't want to spoil our robe. Don't go out there and commit that sin. Don't do what's wrong behind that closed door. You stand up for what's right.

All Israel were apparently snake bitten and they were all facing death. Notice God's solution: Numbers 21:8 "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."

Where did Moses place that pole? In the Tabernacle? No. Outdoors in public view so that everybody could see. Just so Jesus was publicly executed on the cross.

What saved the people? They were saved by looking at a snake. How does a vaccination work? You're aware that in Chattanooga this past week they started vaccinating now for small pox. There are people now in Chattanooga now that are vaccinated. In a vaccination, the agent of death becomes the agent of life. They claim this procedure is fairly modern but God has been using this discovery for centuries. You look at the snake and you are healed from the snake bite.

This remarkable Scripture is the source of a famed emblem of the American Medical Society which has two serpents on one pole. This represents healing. And all healing to this very day comes from God in one way or another.

Actually, could that bronze snake cure snakebite? No Way! This serpent represented Christ. It was a symbol of Christ. Shamefully, this artifact later became an idol that God's people worshiped. See II Kings 18. What was it that held the bronze snake up high so everyone could see it? A wooden pole with a cross beam near its top! This is an early symbol of the Cross! Jesus said: John 12:32 "But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."

Desire of Ages by EG White, pp. 174-175 gives good insight: "As the image made in the likeness of the destroying serpents was lifted up for their healing, so One made in the likeness of sinful flesh (Romans 8:3) was to be their Redeemer." It was made in the likeness of the snake. Jesus was made in the likeness of sin. Notice that Both saving agents hanging on wooden poles were made in the very likeness of that which represented sin.

What a wonder that our pure precious Lord would condescend to be symbolized by a snake. Galatians 3:13 says He was made a curse for us. The brazen serpent had no venom in itself, just the form of a poisonous serpent. Just so, Christ had no sin in Him but Romans 8:3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh

II Corinthians 5:21 God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin. How were the people saved? When the dying person beheld the symbol on the pole he was healed. They were Saved By looking! They were saved by faith because the serpent on the pole represented the future coming of the Redeemer of the world, Jesus Christ.

We cannot save ourselves any more than they could save themselves. They were absolutely helpless. They were all going to die, except they look at the bronze serpent on the pole. We face eternal death except we look to Jesus. There was no other method of obtaining salvation. They certainly could not save themselves by any amount of work on their part. Only Christ can save.

When the poisoned person beheld the serpent of brass he lived. Death was replaced with life. There was a boy named Scott who planted a sunflower seed in his dad's garden. It grew tall. Scott and his friend Eddie stood looking up at the great magnificent sunflower stalk with that big head on it. Eddie determined to plant one in his dad's garden the next spring. So he did. Only do you know what? Even though he thought it was a sun flower seed it wasn't. Do you know what it was? A pumpkin seed!

What joy when one day his "sunflower" plant came up. Each day he watered and watered his "Sunflower" plant. One day he noticed it was not growing up straight and tall like it should. It was creeping along the dirt. Eddie tried to fix it. He tied up the green vine to a pole. But it kept drooping down. Eddie tried as hard as he knew how, but he could not make the vine grow up like it should. Only God could have made that pumpkin vine into a sunflower.

Only God can make a sinner into a saint. Only Jesus can bring life to a dying person. None of the Israelites could save themselves. The only solution was to look to Jesus and live.

If you are captivated by some sin, and you're slithering along on the ground, You can't change that, but God can. God can save you. None of the Israelites could save themselves. The only solution was to look to Jesus Christ. And, we pumpkins, we pumpkin vines, can not become a sunflower plant on our own steam. But Jesus can make us into one.

Now, the cure was instant. As soon as he looked in faith he was saved. Numbers 21:9 says that if Any man would look he would be saved. Who? Any person, anybody! There was no limit set to the stage of poisoning. No sinner had gone too far to be saved. If the dying person had the ability to open his eyes and look at the serpent, he could be saved. Anyone could be saved! Nobody had gone too far, nobody had gone too deep to be saved. If there was life, there was potential for salvation. Anybody could be saved. John 6:40. "For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." That points back to Moses in the wilderness.

Notice that God in His great wisdom did not remove the deadly serpents from among His people. Did this leave them helpless? Not at all. God provided an antidote. There was plenty of antidote everywhere. There was no limit in the supply. Just so God does not remove the Devil from this world. But our loving God does supply a bountiful quantity of anti-venom. This is better known as the blood of Jesus. We are saved by the blood. There is life giving power in the blood of Jesus. Only Jesus can neutralize the poisonous bite of sin.

It is time to lift up Jesus in the wilderness of your heart and be saved. It is time to lift up Jesus in the wilderness of your home and let your family continually behold Jesus.

Have you been complaining against God? Is your life a disappointment to Him? Have you recoiled and has God allowed you to experience the entwining troubles of life? Maybe they're slithering into your camp right now. Maybe you can't seem to shake them off. What you need to do is to quickly look to Jesus Christ. That's the solution. You need to look fully on Him. Just as the uplifted serpent was the only cure, just so, Jesus Christ is the only cure for sin. That's the only hope you've got.

And notice that the cure was an outright gift. How did it cost those people to look? Nothing at all. Everybody could afford it. You either accept Jesus Christ as your personal Savior or you're going to die for ever.

I would submit to you that we are saved by our good looks. By our good long looks at Jesus.

Next week we are going to have the Quiet Hour here, and Bill Tucker, and Marilyn Cotton. I think you'll enjoy that.

Hymn of Praise: #91, Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones
Scripture: John 6:39, 40
Hymn of Response: #554, O Let Me Walk With Thee
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