[Numbers 21: 4- 9]
“Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. And the people spoke against God and Moses, “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 miserable food.” And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery [serpent,] and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, John 3:14-16 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
This was a prophecy that Jesus would be hung on the cross. Here, Moses lifting up the serpent is recorded in today’s passage in Numbers chapter 21.
Then, what is the lesson of this incident and how is it related with the cross of Jesus?
Through this message, let us remember the meaning of Jesus’ being hung on the cross once again and realize how we should lead our Christian life.
I pray in the name of the Lord that you will receive great grace and strength in the name of the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the happening in today’s passage Numbers chapter 21 took place after the Exodus of the people of Israel.
Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 400 years and cried out to God to save them. So, God sent Moses, showed His amazing power through him, and set the Israelites free from the slavery.
They left for the Promised Land, Canaan, with great expectations. But soon, they realized the reality was quite different from what they had expected.
They thought that they would go into the land flowing with milk and honey immediately after they left Egypt. They thought that they would enjoy only glory and blessings after the exodus from Egypt, as God’s chose people.
But God first guided them to the wilderness. It was because they had to have the qualifications to enter into the blessed land. They had to prepare the vessel to receive blessings by overcoming hardships relying on God.
But the Israelites did not understand the will of God and whenever they faced difficulties, they only grumbled and complained. Finally, even after they reached the land of Canaan, they could not show their faith to take that land, so they had to go through the 40-year trials in the wilderness.
During the trials for 40 years, they kept on complaining against God and grudged against Moses whenever they had hardships. Then, every time, Moses prayed to God and opened the way to go through all the hardships.
They could continue on their journey through the faith of only one person, Moses. The people’s resentment and complaining brought about a great disaster. They could not go into the land of Canaan directly but had to wander around in the wilderness, and they complained about this greatly.
Numbers 21:5 says, “And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘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 miserable food.”
God saved them from the 400 years’ of slavery but now they were complaining that God was going to let them die in the wilderness. Also, about the Manna that God Himself gave to them, they said it was miserable food.
God was angry with them, and suddenly fiery serpents with deadly poison appeared. It was only after many people had died because of the serpents that they came to Moses and repented.
When Moses prayed for them, God gave him a way to avoid the disaster. He said, “Make a fiery [serpent,] and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.”
This is the story of today’s passage. Then, what are the lessons that God wants us to learn here?
First, it is that we have to receive the answer from God whenever we have any problems. God the Almighty is the one who controls not only the fiery serpent but also all things of the world.
It was God who allowed the fiery serpents to appear. It was also God who saved the people from those serpents. Of course, God did not just let the fiery serpents appear suddenly. In the wilderness there the Israelites were traveling, there were many fiery serpents and scorpions. But these things could not harm the people because they were under God’s protection.
Now, the people sinned by complaining against God. So, God did not protect them any more, and the fiery serpents could not harm the people.
Therefore, the people of Israel had to find the cause of the problem in their relationship with God and gain the solution to the problem from God. It is not only about the people of Israel. We also have to go before God and find the answer to any kind of problem that we go through on this earth. Here, the fiery serpent refers to the enemy devil and Satan.
In Genesis 3:14 God says to the serpent that tempted Eve, “And dust shall you eat All the days of your life.” Here, the dust refers to Adam and his descendants, who sinned and went back to the flesh. Since Adam’s fall, the serpent, namely the enemy devil, brings about trials and tests to the people of flesh who live in sins, taking them as their food.
The worldly people attribute everything to coincidence when they get a disease or meet disasters, accidents, problems, and difficulties. But God’s children should never do this.
1 John 5:18 says, “We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.” Even though there were many fiery serpents, when God protected the Israelites, the serpents could not harm them. Likewise, there are many disasters in this world, but they don’t have to face with tests and trials when God protects the believers.
Therefore, when believers have problems, they have to find the reason why they could not be protected by God. Just as the people of Israel repented and came before Moses, they have to repent of their wrongdoings and come before God.
If they repent thoroughly and tear down the wall of sin, and come to the light according to God’s word, any kind of problem can be solved.
The second thing we should realize from today’s passage is that when we go through the trials of faith, we should receive them with only thanks and joy.
James 1:4 says, “And let endurance have [its] perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God allows trials of faith to His children so that they might have faith as pure gold and prepare their vessels to receive blessings.
The patriarchs in the Bible also went through the days of trials with many kinds of hardships until they received the blessings that God had promised them. King David, even after he was anointed as the king, had to run away from Saul who was trying to kill him.
Joseph suffered from many hardships for 13 years until he became the prime minister of Egypt at the age of 30. While they were going through the hardships, they humbled themselves more and more, cast off all sins, and finally prepared the vessel to receive the blessings.
Only if we prepare the proper vessel to receive blessings, God will comfort us for all the trials that we have gone through and reward us with overflowing blessings. The trials that the Israelites had to go through in the wilderness were also a step to get the blessed land of Canaan.
Deuteronomy 8:15-16 says, “He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, [with its] fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end.”
If the people truly believed in and trust God, they should not have complained about the difficulties in the wilderness but have thanked God for His blessings and changed themselves. After going through the trials with thanks and joy, they could surely go into the promised land of Canaan.
Only when we prepare the vessel to receive blessings through trials and prove our faith by passing the tests, can the enemy devil not object to it when God gives us blessings.
But if we complain and grumble in the hardships, the trials will not end but last longer, and blessings will not come. Speaking the words of complaints and resentment is the proof that you do not have the vessel prepared to receive blessings.
Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Also, James 5:11 says, “Behold, we count those blessed who endured. You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome of the Lord’s dealings that the Lord is full of compassion and [is] merciful.”
I hope you will give thanks to God and endure until the end by trusting the merciful God in any kind of situation. Also, I hope you will enjoy all the blessings that are prepared for you by changing yourself as God wants you to be.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the third point you can realize is that of the love of the Father who helped the Israelites gain faith by looking at the bronze serpent. When they were bitten by the fiery serpents, they could live if they looked at the bronze serpent. The almighty God could have healed them with His power without making them look at the bronze serpent.
Just like the centurion who confessed, “Just say the word,” if the Israelites had faith, God could just say, “Be healed.” But they did not have that kind of faith.
Regardless of the greatness of God’s power, if they did not believe, they had to die by the poison of the fiery serpents. So, God gave them a symbol to look up to help them have faith more easily.
The serpent was hurting them, but when they saw the shape of that fiery serpent that was hung on the standard, they could more firmly believe that God already saved them from the disaster of the fiery serpents.
In my childhood in countryside, after people killed a snake, they hung it on a fence or a tree. It was to see that the snake was completely dry and dead. Likewise, when people believe something, there is a big difference in their confidence according to whether or not they see it with their eyes. The reason why our church has to show the evidences of the living God lies here.
John 4:48 says, “Jesus therefore said to him, “Unless you [people] see signs and wonders, you [simply] will not believe.”
Even though the Bible talks about the almighty God and preachers say, “Believe in the Lord,” those who have hardened hearts are not willing to believe.
Even among the believers, there are many people who compromise with the world and do not live by the word of God. But if people see, hear, and experience the powerful works of God, even unbelievers are more likely to accept God. Also believers can have true faith and live by God’s word.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, then, how is this incident of the people of Israel receiving salvation by looking at the fiery serpent on the standard related to us today?
As said in John 3:14-15 says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life,” this incident symbolizes the cross of Jesus. The sinless Jesus took the all sins of sinners and was hung on the cross like the fiery serpent was hung on the standard.
However, while serpent is Satan, how can we say looking at the serpent on the standard and looking at Jesus on the cross are the same thing?
It is because Jesus’ taking the cross means the destruction of the enemy devil and Satan. Looking at Jesus on the cross is to look, with faith, at the destruction of the enemy devil and Satan’s authority of death. And through this faith, we gain eternal life. In the message of the cross, you already listened to the providence of breaking the authority of the enemy devil and Satan by Jesus’ crucifixion.
Because the wages of sin is death according to the law of the spiritual realm, Adam and his descendants, who became sinners as a result of Adam’s fall, had to be punished.
Namely, they had to live under the authority of the enemy devil and Satan suffering from all kinds of tests and trials. Then after they die, they had to fall into hell. To save mankind Jesus came to this earth. At this time, the enemy devil instigated evil people and killed the sinless Jesus on the cross.
The devil thought they would enjoy the authority of death forever only if they killed Jesus who came as the Savior. But by doing this, the devil lost the authority of death.
According to the law of the spiritual realm, the death penalty applies only to sinners. So, the enemy devil and Satan violated the law of the spiritual realm by killing Jesus who had neither original sin nor self-committed sins. Since they violated the law of the spiritual realm, they had to pay the price, too.
Namely, they had to give up their authority over death of all those who believe Jesus as the Savior.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the crucifixion of Jesus is a clear historical fact, and anyone can be saved if he believes in Jesus who was hung on the cross as the Savior.
Also, when we pray with the faith in the name of the Lord, we can get away from all kinds of tests and trials. But even though Jesus redeemed all men, those who do not believe this fact cannot receive salvation. The people of Israel could be saved only if they looked at the serpent on the standard. But those who had hardened hearts and did not obey had no choice but to die of the poison of the fiery serpent.
Similarly, even today, we can just accept Jesus Christ and look at Him with faith, but those who do not believe cannot be saved, and they will still fall into hell after suffering from hardships and trials.
How thankful it is for you that you believe the cross of the Lord and are saved! Also, because you witness numerous evidences of the power of God in this church, you can surely believe in the Lord, cast off sins, and lead a spiritual Christian life.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, everyone who looks at the cross of the Lord can avoid all curses and disasters. When God’s children face some kind of problem or if they want to solve a certain problem and receive blessings, they should not just confess in their prayers saying, ‘I believe’. They first have to repent of their sins.
Then, they have to change their heart into truth and come out as God’s true children. The reason why God cultivates men on this earth is to gain true children who love God from the depth of their heart.
If you truly love God from the depth of your heart, you will not face any trials but receive blessings in all things. But when some people are faced with problems, they want to solve that problem only, and ask and demand of God like children.
In the eyes of others they seem to be repenting and coming before Him with faith. Some people do not try to change their inner heart by checking themselves. Still others reluctantly practice the word because they feel God is a fearful God rather than feeling His love.
But because this is not true faith, it is difficult to receive the answer with this kind of heart. Also, even if they receive the answer by asking God persistently, next step is the problem. They keep away from God as time goes and finally fall away from salvation.
How can this be a blessing?
Therefore, the important thing in solving your problem is not just persistently asking God. You have to find your sins and evil with a humble heart and change yourself to love God. That way, you should touch and move God’s heart by offering Him prayers of love and goodness.
Then, God will certainly hear your prayer and answer to you in the name of Jesus Christ who died on the cross for us.
I hope you will always remember the love of the Father who has given us His one and only Son to bless us.
I pray in the name of the Lord that you will quickly recover the lost image of God, live a blessed life on this earth, and also dwell in the glory of New Jerusalem in the kingdom of heaven.