“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 a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” (Numbers 21:8-9)
What an odd verse.
Here’s the context. These verses come from Israel’s forty year wanderings in the wilderness. The book of Numbers contains stories of the multiple times when the Israelites grumble and complain against Moses and God. They are sick and tired of the lack of choices in their diet, lack of water, wandering around aimlessly, etc. In one of these complaint sessions they grumble against God and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
In response God sends venomous snakes. Many die. Then the Israelites come to Moses, repent and beg Moses to pray to God. God responds with our verses of the day.
But there is an even more poignant context we should not miss. Jesus refers to this text saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14-15). This comes right before the most famous saying of Jesus in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Here we come to the crux of grace. All that people needed to do in order to be saved from the venomous snakes was to look at the snake. That’s it. God provided a way to save people from death. Who they were, what they did, what they didn’t do – none of that mattered. The only thing that anyone needed to do was to accept God’s plan for salvation and look at the snake.
This is the scandal of grace. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Nothing. It is all God. God makes a way.
All that the Israelites needed to do to be saved was to look at the snake. In the same way, all that we need to do in order to be saved is to look at Jesus and receive God’s plan for salvation.
This too is the scandal of grace. Salvation is all God’s doing. Since we were saved by grace, it is no surprise that our salvation is guaranteed by Christ and Christ alone.
Hear the good news repeat sinners: the efficacy of salvation doesn’t depend our performance. It is all God. It is all grace. Just as our performance has nothing to do with the efficacy of salvation, our performance has nothing to do with God’s strength to love us and keep us in salvation. It’s all God. It’s all grace.
Yes, our repeat sins grieve the heart of God. So God makes a way for us to confess our sins and repent. Keep following the Son. When you fail, confess your sin, repent and trust in God’s grace. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even our repeat sins.
Keep looking to the Son. Follow him.