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 3:14-15).  If I were to ask you to recite John 3:16, I am convinced you would do so without any hesitation.  It is arguably the most “famous” of all the verses in the Bible.  But, if I were to ask you what the two verses before that one are, I am equally convinced most Christians would have to look it up.  Now, I am not claiming you should know every verse in the Bible, but, surprisingly, almost no one knows the verses leading up to the most recited scripture in the Bible.  Those two verses, true hidden gems, are merely glossed over by the reader’s eagerness to get to ” that one.”

One of the problems of modern Bibles is that paragraphs have been “titled” for our understanding and convenience.  While that is understandable, what inadvertently happens is that we concentrate on small sections instead of paragraphs and chapters.  Nicodemus, a respected Pharisee who served in the Jewish high court, the Sanhedrin, came to Jesus at night.  Before Nicodemus could even ask a question, which I assume was, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus gave him the answer, “…Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  Jesus went on to tell the confused Pharisee that the only way to accomplish that was to be “born of the water and the spirit.” (v.5). After further explanation and assurance, Jesus says the words of v.14-15 as a preamble to v.16.

Let’s begin with some background to the selected verses.  Sometime after the beginning of the Exodus, the impatient Israelites question Moses and God with these words, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” (Num. 21:5).  The “worthless” food they loathed was the bread given to them by God.  How could they have been so unappreciative of God’s grace and mercy?  God did not take kindly to their complaining and decided to send fiery serpents among them.  Many of the Israelites were killed by the snakes, and the rest, fearful for their lives, decided to go to Moses and repent of their ungratefulness.  Moses prayed for the people, and God said to him in v.8, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

Moses did as the Lord commanded, and any Israelite who was bitten and looked at the bronze serpent was saved.  Similarly, Christ was lifted up on a cross so that we could figuratively “gaze” upon Him and be saved.  The weight of our sinful nature is too much for us to bear, and the sting of the sins we commit all leads to our spiritual death. But looking to the cross where death and evil were once for all defeated by the redemptive blood of Christ is our one chance to be saved.  Having then “gazed” upon Christ by realizing his magnificent sacrifice, we are given the opportunity to be saved from those sins.  Knowing that emphasizes the importance of John 3:16 even more, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”  Just as the only thing that could save the Israelites was looking at the serpent set on the pole, so the only thing that can save us is looking to Jesus Christ on the cross.  Without Him, we are lost, doomed to an eternity away from the presence of the Almighty God.

Comments are closed.