Jesus hung on the cross as the antidote to your sin.
“Grace, mercy, and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus, our Lord. Amen.”
4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 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!”
6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 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.
8 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.” 9 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.
In Roman mythology Aesculapius is the legendary god of healing. Legend has it that the healing powers of this god were so great that he could bring the dead back to life. He was finally exterminated by a thunderbolt from Zeus to appease an angry Hades who was the god of the dead. The symbol for Aesculapius was a snake entwined around a staff. You will find this symbol in most hospitals and medical clinics in our country. This symbol from Roman mythology is the official insignia of the American Medical Association.
That symbol is supposed to represent healing. That symbol, I am sure you have noticed, is very similar to the symbol which the Lord directed Moses to erect for Israel’s healing in our text. Jesus said in a conversation with Nicodemus in the New Testament as you see on the front of our bulletin, “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.” Keep in mind the cross on which our Lord Jesus hung as we take another look at this familiar Sunday School lesson. Let us consider this thought:
Look at the Snake on the Pole
Understand why he is there
Know what he provides
Moses tells us why the bronze snake was made and placed on the pole for all to see. The bronze snake is there because of Israel’s sin. The people had been grumbling and complaining against God – claiming that God wasn’t taking care of them as well as he should have! For nearly 40 years the people of Israel had been wandering around in the wilderness waiting to enter the land God had promised to give them – Canaan. They spent this time wandering around as a chastisement from God for refusing to believe that God could give them the land of Canaan. Now the time of wandering was nearly over. And it seems they have another delay before they are permitted to enter the Promised Land. The King of Edom would not grant them passage through his territory. So they had to take the long way around to get to Canaan. This meant traveling through the intensely hot and desolate region of the Sinai Peninsula. During this time, Aaron died. Aaron was Moses’ brother and his right hand man. He was the High Priest for the people. The people loved Aaron. Things were looking pretty bleak. Israel became discouraged.
The people forgot that the LORD was with them. When the king of Arad attacked Israel and took some of the people captive, the LORD came to the aid of his chosen people and gave them a great victory. They had every reason to trust the Lord. The Lord kept them safe just as he always had. During these 40 years the nation of Israel should have realized that they owed their existence to the LORD. God’s word and promises kept them alive. The Lord had miraculously led them out of Egypt. Had they forgotten that their clothing and shoes never wore out during the 40 years of wandering! They had never gone without food! Every day the LORD miraculously provided them with daily bread. They forgot! They became testy! They complained!
These foolish people grumbled and complained! They said they were sick and tired of the miraculous bread from heaven. They were ungrateful for the Lord’s provisions. Spoiled brats! They forgot that they were alive and well because of God’s grace and goodness to them. But they complained anyway because “they didn’t have what they wanted and they didn’t want what they had.”
We too are foolish people! We have more clothes than we can wear. Our pantries, freezers and refrigerators are filled with food. But we complain that we have nothing to wear and nothing good to eat! We have phones and computers and televisions, cars and boats and trucks. But we always want something more, something better. Do you realize that if God withheld his hand of blessing from you, you would have nothing! Poisonous snakes came into Israel’s camp to remind them that they were completely dependent on God for their own safety and well-being!
The Bible says, “The LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.” A plague of poisonous snakes and the death of many of the Israelites was the LORD’s chastisement on his people hoping to lead them to repentance. It was Israel’s sins that brought the poisonous snakes into the camp. They were ungrateful for God’s blessing! And they knew it!
They realized what they had done, and they repented. It works that way so often in our lives! Why does it so often work that way? We have to make a complete mess of things in our lives before we confess our sins! The God of grace and mercy listens to our confession and hears our prayers just as surely as he heard the prayers of the Israelites offered to him through their mediator Moses. God promised them forgiveness through a snake on a pole!
So, understand again why that snake is there! People were dying because poisonous snakes had infiltrated their camp. People were bitten by these snakes and had a short time of grace to take God at his Word or die. You and I have been bitten by sin. The Bible says, “Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all sinned.” All people have suffered the sting of the Old Serpent – Satan – and his poisonous venom is working through our system to bring us to death and damnation. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The cure? Jesus hung on the cross as the antidote to your sin. The bronze snake in Israel’s camp was a symbol of Jesus our Savior. Your life time is the time of grace you have to receive the cure for your sins.
Therefore, look at the snake on the pole and know what the snake provides! The snake provided healing. “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 the snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
This bronze snake was not a lucky charm, a four-leaf clover or a rabbit’s foot! It was a symbol of God’s promise to forgive and heal. You know as well as I that it is impossible for a bronze snake on a pole to cure someone bitten by a poisonous snake. It is only by the Word of God that this “snake on a pole” could heal! Healing happened for the snake bitten Israelites by the grace and mercy of God.
Consider what God provides for you in the sacraments. It is impossible for water, bread or wine to wash away sin. But when God connects his promise to these elements, they do just that! Faith accepts what God tells us in his Word. It is by God’s grace and mercy that he offers and gives to us all the blessings of salvation through the sacraments.
God’s healing from sin compels us to believe his Word. By his Word God called water to come out of a rock. By his word he fed them with manna and quail for 40 years. By his word he cured snake bitten sinners. By his word, Jesus calmed the winds and the waves. By his word, he raised Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, the widow’s son from the dead. By his word, he raised himself from the dead. By his word he created the world. By his Word he gives us eternal life and salvation.
But there were those in Israel’s camp who were hardened in unbelief. They refused to look to the snake and therefore they died. God provided life for them, but they chose death! You understand where this is going, don’t you? Jesus has given you his Word to save you. But still there are many who will not accept what God says!
John reports what Jesus said in chapter 6: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” Then John wrote, “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.” Jesus died on a pole for all people to see. He encourages us to look to him dying on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, eternal life and salvation.
There was no other remedy in Israel’s camp for poisonous snake bites. There is no other remedy for the damning consequences of our sins than Jesus Christ dying on the cross in our place. Those who looked at the snake on the pole lived. Those who look to Jesus Christ live. It is all by grace. God wants all men to be saved. That is why he gave us Jesus.
The American Medical Association uses the symbol of a snake entwined around a pole to represent the healing they hope to bring to the sick. Sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. But the Holy Christian Church has the real thing. We have Jesus. He hung on the cross to bring healing and life to every sin-sick sinner. Don’t waste this time of grace that God has given you. Look to the cross. Look to Christ. He died for you. He heals you!