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The Bronze Serpent: Just Look

July 1, 2012 Series: Gospel Witnesses: The Unfolding Glory of Jesus

Topic: Default Scripture: Numbers 21:4–21:9

You have expectations in every realm of life. You came to Redeemer today expecting there to be music and a sermon. You woke up today and expected the Sun to be shining.

And we also have expectations that aren't met. Maybe you expected your life to be different than as it stands today; your job, relationships, marriage, or if you are single -- things may not be going as you planned.

One of our greatest needs as humans is to clear up fuzzy expectations about sin and about God. There is a lot of confusion today over sin and over God. Numbers 21 helps us.

Here's the first thing we see...

1) What to Expect from Sin

Verse 4

They are in the 40th year of their wilderness wanderings -- they are almost to the promised land. They could see the land at the end of the tunnel, but they had to take the long way around.

They expected to be there by now -- they become impatient and sin against God.

Expect sin to look for opportunities in unmet expectations.

Count on it. Sin will be waiting around the corner and the demonic forces will slither, and tempt you to sin against God or your neighbor. Stand guard. 

Expect sin to pit you against God and His ways and God’s people.

v. 5 - They sinned against God and Moses.

• "God can't be trusted. God doesn't care about you. God must not be concerned about your needs."
• "Moses, what a hack. I'm smarter than Moses. Moses...pfft, I'd like to show him a thing or two."

Impatience is an expression of not trusting God. Lack of faith. Murmuring and mumbling is nothing more than not trusting God.

God is in control. God knows what He's doing. God's been doing his thing for a long time. You've been doing this life-thing for a little bit less than God -- I'd trust him. What are you mumbling about today? What are you impatient about?

Impatience reveals a sense of entitlement. We are entitled to nothing but God's wrath -- everything else is grace. Everything else is a blessing from God. Impatience is adult brattiness.

If you are a Christian today -- confess your impatience, your sin before Him, repent, and trust Him. If you don't, it's only going to escalate and get worse.

Expect sin to evolve and grow -- with a steroid strength.

Sin wants to grow to it's utmost potential. Sin upgrades itself when unconfessed.

• Anger wants to become murder.
• Lust wants to become adultery.
• Discouragement wants to become apostasy. Abandoning the Faith.

We don't go from mild mannered Bruce Banner, to the Hulk. Sin isn't like that. Sin erodes you. What used to be a stream, overtime becomes a canyon. What used to convict you, unconfessed and unrepented of, now excites you.

Here in the wilderness, follow the progression, they went from discouragement, to impatience, to complaining, to accusing God and slandering his blessings.

v. 5

"Why do you hate us?" See the growth? Unmet expectations, impatience, complaining, to attacking God.

Sin is irrational. It makes sense in the moment, but afterward we see the nonsense. Look at what they said in verse 5, "Why'd you bring us out of Egypt!?" Oh, because Egypt was that great!? Slavery, having your children murdered, being brutally treated, no hope, no future -- that was a blast!

Additionally, sin will cover the truth.

Look at what they say, "There's no food or water." Is that true? God has been giving them Manna -- bread from Heaven and just one chapter back, in Numbers 20, God gave them water from a rock, which Paul says is Jesus in 1 Cor. 10.

Sin will cover the truth.

You will end up despising and badmouthing God's blessings.

End of v. 5, they say, "We loathe this worthless food." We hate this light, belly-still-hungry and pointless food. Thats' what they are saying.

"Hey God, thanks for the bird feed."

When Natalie and I were dating and infamous sandwich was made. I came to her apartment on a Saturday. She made me a turkey sandwich and served it to me on the couch. I take a bite and notice something. Before I said "Thank you" I say, very ungratefully, "2 slices?" Immediately, I could tell -- that was the wrong thing to say. That was all the lunch meat left. It was enough, I just wanted more. Here Israel is saying, "2 slices! God -- We are sick of it."

What they are ultimately saying is, "God we are sick of relying on you." That's where unbelief will take you. You'll believe things would be better on my own. More sin leads to more sin. That should resonate with all of us. We try to sin our way out of sin. Never works.

Christians should want to flee sin. Non-Christians, you want to as well, but you may not believe it's possible. It is with God. We should all be motivated to move away from sin, because look at what we can expect from God.

2) What to Expect from God

v. 6

Expect God to deal with sin.

God sent in fiery serpents, poisonous, aggressive snakes to punish the sin of the people. God will judge sin --- every time. Sin will never go unpunished. He may wait. He may put his judgment on delay -- but be sure, it will indeed come.

In the people of Israel, some really loved God and some didn't. Some really were his people and some were not. Just like in churches today. Some really are Christians and some are not -- The Lord knows.

God sent the snakes. God will send tests and refinements to purify his people. The serpents were a punishment/judgment on the unbelievers and a discipline to the believers. And notice the same event can serve two different purposes.

Non-Christians, expect punishment.
Christians, expect discipline. Discipline is for correction, to help. God does that for us, because he loves us.

So Christian, do not be surprised when you sin blows up in your face. It's God's love. It his his grace for our sin to be ousted. Praise him for it.

Also, expect this from God:

Expect God to forgive all who confess, ask, and believe.


God is willing to forgive. God will save you from sin and destruction. The people confess their sin and submit themselves to God's grace. That's a beautiful church culture. Messed up, but don't hide it, confess, and submit to God's grace.

Let's apply this here, because we may forget this. If you acknowledge your sin, don't just go off and correct course -- go and confess it to God. That's what we need. Confess your sin to God. We need to go before God and say, "I have sinned against you, help me, cleanse me, empower me to follow you."

Confession, robs sin of it's oxygen. Sin can't survive in a culture of confession before God.

Toxic mold can only thrive in dark, and dingy environments, it can't make it in the sunlight. It's too powerful. The Bible says that we are to walk in the light, because the toxic mold on our hearts won't survive in before the light of the world. His grace is too much. His love is too compelling. It eradicates sin.

In that moment, with the stench of sin still on you, in the middle of the worst thing you've done, in the midst of that sin you continue to battle -- right there! -- know Jesus loves you. Jesus came for that moment. He died for it.

Do not hear God saying, "See, I told you so." That's not God. Hear God say, "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. You are forgiven --- go and sin no more."

Unbeliever, God will pardon you if you go to him. I don't know what you've done -- but he does. And you are still alive -- God's grace is still available for you. Unbeliever and Believer alike, expect a God that is willing to forgive.

Sometimes us Christians forget that about God. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleans us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

To expect this of God you have to have faith in Him.

3) The Bizarreness of Faith

Moses prays for the people and God agrees to help them. But notice the strangeness that occurs. Here...the gospel aroma begins to rise.

vv. 8-9

That's weird. God is willing to help. Why not just send the serpents away? They confessed their sin, they were sorry. C'mon God, send the snakes away.

Why do they then have to look at a bronze serpent lifted up on a pole. 

Here is why, hear me:
Because you can be sorry that you've sinned, you can be grieved at the effects of your sin, you can broken over the consequences of your sin, but to really be freed and forgiven you need to have faith in God.

You can be sorry for your sin and not be saved. You need faith in God.

These Israelites were saved by grace, through faith, and not of themselves. They couldn't boast about this. This was the free gift of God, for any who would believe that by looking at the serpent, they would be saved.

Let me illustrate this.
There two Israelite men, Rick and Todd, and they can't believe what is happening around them.

  • Rick says, "Todd! Can you believe this!? These snakes are killing people. We are going to die. This is awful!"
  • Todd says, "Won't die. God said to look at that serpent Moses made, over there on the pole."
  • Rick asks, "Really? This is scary stuff here. I just don't know Todd. There has to be more to do that and just looking -- but I will. I'll look."
  • Todd says back, "We must look. That was God's word through Moses. Don't fear, just look."

We'll they both get bit, they both look. Who was saved from the serpents? Both of them. They looked. Whether it's strong or feeble faith, faith is faith. Faith isn't what saves, it's the object of faith.

You imagine being there? You've been bitten and all you have to do is look at some bronze snake. It sounds ludicrous. It, hear me, sounds foolish. It's as though God chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27).

Church, this is the gospel. This whole account is pointing forward to Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus said so himself, in John 3:14-16

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

As Moses lifted up that serpent, so to Jesus was lifted up on a cross, that whoever would look or believe -- have faith in Him, will have eternal life. Looking is believing. It's putting all your hopes on that, that's lifted up.


Now, why in the world is Jesus comparing himself to a snake? That seems odd.

From Genesis 3 on, serpents and snakes are a sign of the curse -- they aren't good things. So when God sends serpents among the people -- it's a curse on them.

So why is Jesus saying he's like that serpent? Why not a lamb lifted up?

They had to look upon the curse so they could live. They had to gaze at the curse, to be blessed.

Jesus became a curse on the cross, so we could become blessed.

Galatians 3:13
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”

Jesus saves us from our sin, by becoming our sin.

Notice from Numbers 21, the serpent lifted up is only for bitten people. People who are filled with the poison of the curse -- and obviously not everyone looks -- because people are dying. Everyone here today, we have been bitten by Eve's bite of the fruit the garden. The poison of sin is coursing through our souls --- and if we look to Jesus, his death for sinners, his resurrection -- we can be saved from the wrath of God to come.

Do you know that you've been bitten?

Where are you looking? What are you believing? Just look at Jesus. Look at Him and you will be saved. Look at him today.


• Look at the innocent one bearing your guilt.
• Look at him sweating drops of blood.
• Look at the nails, the blood, and the cup of God's wrath being passed by you and poured out on Him.
• Look at the Son of God, our sin upon his shoulders.
• Look at His love for you.
• Look at him, dead, lifeless.
• Look at him..alive. Empty tomb.
• Look at the King.

Look not in pity; but look to praise.

• Look at him high and lifted, in two ways -- up on the cross and hight and lifted up on the throne.

Isa. 52:13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.

• Look at the King on the throne.
• Look at him reigning over the universe.
• Look at the Angels around him singing, "Holy, Holy, Holy!"
• Look at him, intereceding and pleading for you.

Look at Jesus. Look for your salvation.

Look at Jesus for your depression, discouragement, rebellion, complaining -- Look at Him, the author and perfecter of our faith.

If we lack a missional life? Keep looking at the great missionary, the savior of your souls. We lack zeal of mission, because we lack looking at Jesus.

When you are thrilled by Jesus, you want others to know him.

Keep Looking.

Throw your expectations onto God. Trust the Lord, not your self. When your expectations aren't met -- look to Jesus.

Look to Him high and lifted up. Lift him up high in your heart -- and you will find life.