Brazen serpent

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What is faith?

Often people think of faith as a special quality that the religious happen to possess.  It’s like some magic elixir.  Apparently some people have lots of faith coursing through their veins, others have very little.

But how does Jesus think of faith?

Well when Jesus wanted to explain faith to a bible scholar, He retold the story of the brazen serpent.  It’s a bit of an odd one, but let me give you the details:

The Israelites have been wandering through the wilderness and they’ve been doing what they do so well: grumbling.

the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. (Numbers 21:4-5)

How seriously do we consider grumbling?  It’s the characteristic sin of the Israelites in the wilderness.  And it provokes the LORD’s anger more than any other sin.  Here is a God who wants our hearts, and who takes discontentment as a personal affront.  He sends judgement:

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. (v6)

Here is a handing over of God’s people to diabolical powers.  Serpents remind us of that ancient serpent from Genesis 3, the devil.  The people are given over to Satan in judgement.

But judgement is not God’s final word.  Judgement is the context for the LORD to reveal His salvation:

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.  And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. (v7-9)

The people are saved when they simply behold the bronze serpent.  The very thing that caused them harm was to be their salvation if only they looked.

It seems such a strange story.  Why would Jesus be so keen to draw attention to it?

Well here’s what Jesus says:

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:  That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:14-15)

The story from Numbers is our story.  We are the faithless grumblers.  And we’re sick with sin, awaiting death.  There’s only one cure – behold the One lifted up.  He became the very thing that afflicted us – He became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21).  And now, what must we do to be saved?


That’s it.  Just behold.  We are simply to “look and live” (Numbers 21:9).

Don’t ignore the snake bites.  Don’t try to reason with God.  Don’t try to suck out the poison.  Don’t offer up some sacrifice of your own devising.  Don’t turn to some voodoo spell.  Don’t run to Moses to seek salvation.  Just look to the One lifted up.

So what is faith?

Faith is not a quality you find within yourself.  Faith is looking away from yourself.  Faith is not a thing you conjure up.  Faith is beholding something (someOne) else.  Faith is looking to Jesus.

How do I become a person of faith?  It should be obvious: Behold!  Behold Christ, the One lifted up for you.  On the cross, He became our sin, so that we might become His righteousness.  Don’t look to yourself, don’t look to Moses (through some regime of law keeping), just look to Jesus.


whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (John 3:15-16)

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