"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Make a snake [image] and mount it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.' " (Numbers 21:8 HCSB)
When a train hits a car, the results are never good. Each year about 600 people die when they try to cross railroad tracks--and don't make it. The railway system exists to transport people and material, not destroy them, so they do much to try to avoid such horror. "Look, Listen and Live," is one of the public safety campaigns which the railroad industry has mounted to try to end such needless death.
That counsel may have begun with Moses. He calls Israel to listen to him, and look and they would live.
Once again, God's children act like spoiled brats and whine about God's provision. Despite all He had done for them, they were not given to gratitude, but grumbling. So, God showed them what would happen if He ceased to provide for them. He withdrew His protection, so the poisonous vipers of the desert were summoned by their Creator and began to inject their venom into the complainers. They were dropping like flies!
Their criticism of God turns to cries of desperation and confession of sin, so the ever-merciful One makes a way for them to be healed. A serpent's image would be made of bronze and mounted on a pole. All that those who were bitten needed to do was look up to it and they would be healed--look and live!
Jesus reached into this text for an illustration of how we can have eternal life. He said, " Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life." (John 3:14, 15 HCSB) Look and live!
Jesus was lifted up on the cross--and that gruesome scene of torturous execution has an irresistible pull to all who are saved. So He promised, " 'As for Me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all [people] to Myself.' He said this to signify what kind of death He was about to die." (John 12:32, 33 HCSB)
The problem which called for salvation was sin. In the case of the Israelis in the wilderness, it was manifest as ingratitude. For us, it may be exhibited in hate, lust, greed, deceit, drunkenness, and many other ways. The problem is, in every case, sin.
Sin brings death. For the Jews, bitten by the serpent, it brought on physical death, but the worst of it is what it brings to every sinner--and that's all of us--the second death, the Lake of Fire.
There is no human cure. In Numbers, we find no suggestion of an anti-venom, no help from a physician, nothing they could do to recover. Neither can we overcome the poison of sin within us. It is at work in the human race--for some, the symptoms are slow to develop, and for others more rapid and intense. You can try religion, ritual, reformation--whatever you like. You cannot save yourself.
The cure was provided by God. The Lord, in His grace, instructed a mediator, Moses, on what would be a miraculous cure--the only cure--a serpent of bronze that resembled the curse that had come upon them. In the same way, our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to provide the cure. He is the cure! He did so by becoming a curse for us. He took upon Himself our sin, our condemnation, and was suspended on a cross, dying the death we deserve. His enemies had taunted Him, "You are no Son of God. You are the spawn of the Serpent." His death on the tree confirmed it to them, for the Scripture said, "anyone hung [on a tree] is under God's curse." (Deuteronomy 21:23b HCSB). Jesus was under God's curse, but not because of His own sin. It was for ours. "He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Corinthians 5:21 HCSB) That's the only cure for sin's deadly venom.
The look of faith saves. The word was given--the promise of God--just look. Look and live! It made no sense. How could simply looking at a bronze serpent bring healing? How can looking at a Jew nailed to a bloody cross 2,000 years ago deliver us from hell? It was a message that was ridiculed as foolishness by Gentiles and regarded as offensive to Jews when first proclaimed in the first century and most respond similarly today.
"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God's power to us who are being saved. ... For since, in God's wisdom, the world did not know God through wisdom, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of the message preached. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. Yet to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom..." (1 Corinthians 1:18, 21-24 HCSB).
Look in faith to Christ. Believe He died on the cross for you! Turn away and you will be doomed.
Look and live!