Lent Devotion for March 14
"Serpent on a Pole"
Reader: “Everyone who believes in Him…”
Response: “…will have eternal life.”
SCRIPTURE: Numbers 21:4-9
4 Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, 5 and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”
6 So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. 7 Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 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!” 9 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!
SCRIPTURE: John 3:14-18
14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
16 “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
This is one of the more unusual passages. Why in the world did God tell Moses to make a bronze replica of a poisonous snake? Here we have a complaining, ungrateful people railing against God and Moses. God had miraculously provided water and daily food. A lack of gratitude and hard hearts led the people to rebel. They happened to be in a region of the world where there are many poisonous snakes, even today. God brought judgment in the form of allowing the local serpent population to go into action! With the deaths of many, the people repented and came back to Moses and asked that he pray for deliverance. As a result of Moses’ prayer and obedience, he erected a bronze snake on a pole. If the people would look to the snake on the pole, they would be healed. But why a snake on a pole? The snake represented their rebellion and sin. The bronze serpent was a reminder of their sin and rebellion. Looking to the pole indicated acknowledgment of their sin, repentance, and trust in God again. And God granted healing to those who looked.
By Hezekiah’s day some 700 years later, the bronze snake had become an idol of worship, and was treated as magic! (II Kings 18:4). In another 700 years, we arrive at John’s gospel. In this pericope, Jesus is involved in a discussion with Nicodemus, one of the Jewish leaders who certainly knew the story about the bronze snake on the pole. In explaining the way of salvation, Jesus identified himself with the sin symbol of the serpent on the pole. He would be lifted up as the serpent was in the desert carrying all the sin of the people. He explained to Nicodemus that all who turned to Him in belief would be healed of the plague of sin. The role of the serpent on the pole was not to condemn the sinful people but to bring healing to them. (The serpent on the pole is the symbol of medicine today.) Jesus, being lifted up on the cross, was not meant to condemn people, but to bring healing and forgiveness of sin. After Jesus’ crucifixion and death, Joseph of Arimathea, along with Nicodemus helped take Jesus’ body to its burial place in Joseph’s tomb. The truth of the serpent on the pole is not a magic healing power, but rather it points to God’s gracious forgiveness to all who repent. The power of the cross is not the cross, but the transaction of God leading to an eternal life of which the cross plays an earthly part.
MUSIC: “The Old Rugged Cross” by Alan Jackson (Country, nice!!)
O Jesus, poor and abject, unknown and despised, have mercy upon me and let me not be ashamed to follow thee.
O Jesus, hated, calumniated, and persecuted, have mercy upon me, and make me content to be as my master.
O Jesus, blasphemed, accused, and wrongfully condemned, have mercy upon me, and teach me to endure the contradiction of sinners. O Jesus, clothed with a habit of reproach and shame, have mercy upon me and let me not seek my own glory.
O Jesus, insulted, mocked, and spit upon, have mercy upon me, and let me not faint in the fiery trial.
O Jesus, crowned with thorns and hailed in derision;
O Jesus burdened with our sins and the curses of the people;
O Jesus, affronted, outraged, buffeted, overwhelmed with injuries, griefs, and humiliations;
O Jesus, hanging on the accursed tree, bowing the head, giving up the ghost, have mercy upon me, and conform my whole soul to thy holy, humble, suffering Spirit.
–John Wesley, 1703-1791