Sugar Land Bible Church
Dr. Jim McGowan
Law & Grace 008: At Whom are you Looking?
5-27-18 Numbers 20:4-9
Good morning, it’s wonderful to be here again with you today and I thank you for your presence, I thank you for listening to the voice of the Lord and showing up. And Father, I just thank You so much for what you’re doing today in the midst of Your church. I pray for those that are here locally, Father, I pray for those that are viewing online, we pray that each might be blessed and encouraged and strengthened this morning. We pray, Father God, that You might uplifted and glorified in everything we say and do. In Jesus name, Amen.
Let me start out this morning by letting you know that Dr. Woods is currently not here as you can see and recognize but he is actually at the Memorial Day Conference in Connecticut at North Stonington Bible Church and he’s speaking seven times so if you would hold him up in prayer I know that he’s speaking today and I think he’s going to be speaking again tomorrow so I encourage you to please pray for him. He has Anne and Sarah with him, they’re going to stretch it out and have a few days of vacation also so be praying for traveling mercies and just for a time of rest and relaxation after this seven speaking engagements here. Also I’d like to mention to you that Pastor Woods, he said to me now be sure you tell everyone that if anyone needs the Daniel quiz that it’s out on the table. He said to let you know that you’re not getting off the hook today just because he’s not here. So the Daniel quiz is there, he will be back in the pulpit next Sunday and he expects everyone to have their answers fully completed and I believe he said there will be a checking and grades taken. [Laughter] No, maybe he didn’t actually say that.
Let me also just mention the fact that obviously today is Memorial day and of course this is the day when we honor the men and women who have died while serving in our military and I find it interesting that this particular holiday had a different name but was started in 1868. Isn’t that amazing, right after the Civil War, and it was held on May 30th until 1970 when there was a federal proclamation, I guess, where they decided to move it to the last Monday of May, that started in 1971. So perhaps you know someone who has a family member, perhaps you have a family member that may have died serving in the military and we just want to stop and take a moment to recognize the lives that were given. We would not be here doing what we’re doing this morning if it were not for the freedoms that were purchased at the cost of our brothers and sisters and so we’re very grateful for that. So praise the Lord! This morning we’re going to continue on with our study on Law & Grace. This is going to be Session 8 and there’s the outline for you.
- Purpose, Aim, and Objective
- Session 7
- At Whom are you looking? (Numbers 21:4-9)
- General Information
- Comments & Commentary
We always take a moment to review the purpose, aim and objective and again, just to remind you that the reason we’re doing this is because Law and Grace are very, very distinct things, very distinct topics and we need to understand how they relate, the one to the other and it’s especially important for us as New Testament believers. I’ve given you this quote before so I won’t read it again but the issue really comes down to the fact that much of Christendom, perhaps even the majority of Christendom today is operating under what C. I. Scofield would call a form of Galatianism. And of course we don’t want to be like the Galatians.
Here’s a quote that I haven’t given to you before but I would like to share with you. This is from William R. Newell. Newell was one of my favorite authors and he writes this: It is because Reformed theology has kept us Gentiles under the Law,—if not as a means of righteousness, then as “a rule of life,” because of that all the trouble has arisen.” He says, “The Law is no more a rule of life than it is a means of righteousness.” He goes on and says, “Walking in the Spirit has now taken the place of walking by ordinances. God has another principle under which He has put his saints:” and that is, “Ye are not under law, but, under grace!” [(italics mine) Romans Verse-by-Verse (p. 274). Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library.]
So if we’re truly under grace and if we’re no longer under Law it’s important for us to understand what that means and so what I’m endeavoring to do in these sessions is to show you contrasts and comparisons to help us with that.
So this morning let’s take a moment to discuss just briefly a review. Last time we talked about the passage in Numbers 20:1-13. You might want to go ahead and turn to Numbers 21:4-9, that’s what we’ll be covering this morning. But by way of review we talked about the event that took place there in 20:1-13 where you’ll remember just very quickly that God told Moses to go and speak to the rock and he didn’t do that and that caused some severe consequences. We had some principles that we pulled from those passages there. One was that wherever you are and wherever you go on earth you’re always passing through.
Another one was that allowing our feelings and emotions to reinterpret God’s Word is never a good idea and of course that’s what Moses and Aaron did in that instance. We talked about the faith train and that it’s very important to make sure that we have faith and emotions and feelings and circumstances in their proper order, that faith is the train and all the other things come after that. And we don’t just put our faith blindly into something but we put our faith into the revealed facts that we find in the Scriptures.
Another principle that we talked about last time was that our best intentions just aren’t good enough. Moses thought well, you know, I’ll smite that rock two times, I know we got water the first time so maybe if I hit it the second time we’ll get water also and that was a big mistake. And then another principle was that earthly disobedience now always has consequences. And of course we know from our study last time that what happened was because of Moses and Aaron’s disobedience they were not allowed to enter the Promised Land, were they? Another principle was the fact that the Lord may bless people does not mean that everything that they are doing is right. Did water come out of the rock when he smote the rock the second time? It did, but that was not an endorsement that what Moses had done was right.
And so we said that all of those things that we learned, all of those principles from those passages, as 1 Corinthians 10 says, are an example for us, and it’s for our instructions. So that’s one of the reasons why it’s important for us to make sure that we do go to the Old Testament, we do study the Old Testament, we do understand these principles that God is setting forth, even as he deals with the children of Israel. And we also said that it’s very important to keep in mind that we very seldom see what God is actually doing in our lives. We see the top of that iceberg but really what’s going on, the real meat of what God is doing is happening below the surface. And that’s our review. Was that quick enough for you. I want to be quick this morning. All right.
All right, so let’s talk about Numbers 21:4-9 and I’m going to have it on the screen here for you, if you have your Bibles you might want to read along with me. So in Numbers 21:4-9 it says, “Then they” this is the children of Israel, “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.  The people” then what? they “spoke against God and Moses,” and here’s what they said, “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.”  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 will 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.”
And so there’s sort of a pictorial representation of what we’re going to study today and this issue of this bronze serpent. So let’s start with some general information first of all. I have a map here for you. And so if you look at that map you’ll see that we get a real picture here of this whole idea when we talk about how the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. Here’s kind of the idea of what’s going on; this is the wilderness area and they’re just continuing going back and forth, back and forth and here and there, never really getting out of the boundaries of this wilderness area. And they’re doing this for how long was it? Forty years. Now imagine that, imagine God saying to you now I’m going to move you, you’re going to move when I tell you to move and the area that I’m going to let you traverse is the Houston area. So today you’re going to be in Stafford, tomorrow you’re going to be in Sugarland, the next day you’re going to be on the outskirts of eastern Houston and then we’re going to take you over to the Woodlands and after you’ve done that for three or four times you’ve kind of seen everything, haven’t you? And so you kind of get a picture for what’s going on here. So here we go.
So we’re looking at this passage this morning and we’re presenting just a small idea, a glimpse of what’s been happening for the last forty years and so you’ll recall that starting in our last session and up to this session we’re now at the end of this forty year time frame. We’re just about at the point where we’re going to transition on into the Promised Land. So that’s something that’s ahead for us.
One of the things we’ll really notice about this passage is that it is a brief passage, right? And it’s the shortest one that we’ve addressed so far in this section, this is section eight. I would encourage you to go back and review previous sessions to try and get caught up if you haven’t been watching or listening. The fact that this is a short passage doesn’t in any way suggest that it’s an unimportant passage. And so that’s the reason why we want to watch and we’re going to discover that this is a very pivotal passage for Israel and also for us as we contemplate it. So this is the last time, as far as we know, as far as we can see from Scripture, that the children of Israel gripe and complain. And I imagine that the reason for that is that based upon what we just read they probably decided that being bitten by snakes was probably not the best outcome when you gripe and complain. And so I think probably they came to the conclusion that maybe we need to find a different way to do things and so we don’t see them griping and complaining any more after this point in time, which is kind of interesting.
We also notice that the manna that God had provided, which you notice how they refer to that? They said it was this miserable food. The manna that was provided, and you’ll also see that the serpent, they both pictured Christ, and we’ll be talking about that shortly, and that’s one of the reasons why we say that this is, in fact, a pivotal passage. So let me start with some commentary here. We’re going to attack this passage today as if it’s a boxing event so there’s going to be four rounds and we’re in round number one right now. Do you like that picture? All right.
So round one, here we go. Here’s what it says there, it says: [Numbers 21:4] “…the people became impatient because of the journey, the people spoke against God and Moses,  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.’” We’ve already mentioned the fact that this was the last time they griped but in this particular instance how did this episode begin? The children of Israel, as we saw, they come to Moses and they’re complaining. Notice that when they came to Moses they complained. Did you notice that? They said it was God’s fault but it was also Moses’ fault.
So they’re complaining now both to God and to Moses about the conditions that they’re experiencing. And interestingly the children of Israel (we’ve mentioned this) have been traveling in the wilderness for some forty years almost and as I mentioned nothing’s changed. Right? Nothing’s change, the scenery, you know, we’ve been around this gorge multiple times, we’ve been in this valley multiple times, we’ve seen these sights over and over again and so I suppose that this idea of just repeating things over and over again kind of got down inside their souls. And so it’s not surprising, or shouldn’t be surprising to us that the complaints don’t change very much either. Right? Because if you’re basing your joy on your circumstances and your circumstances aren’t changing then you’re griping and your complaining isn’t going to change very much either.
So here they are, they come and they’re complaining about what? Being hungry and thirsty. Now imagine… what did we talk about in the last session? They were complaining about being hungry and thirsty and God just miraculously provided for them. But I guess they’ve forgotten that. It’s a chapter later, who knows how long it’s been, they’ve forgotten that. We’re not like that, are we?
So the main focus of the last great gripe here is in reference to the manna which they referred to again as “this miserable food.” Can’t you just hear them, we’re so sick of this miserable food. You remember how the manna worked, right? The children of Israel started their wondering in the wilderness and the manna would miraculously appear every morning and they would do what? They would go out, they didn’t have to hunt for it, it was right there, step outside your tent, oh, manna, and they’d just start picking it up, there was your food. They were instructed to collect as much as they needed for that day you remember. But you know, even at the very beginning what happened? They tested God didn’t they? God said just get enough for one day but they didn’t do that. He said only get what you need for that day, but some people thought well, you know, I don’t know if we can trust God really, you know, I mean, I know He brought us out of Egypt, we saw the plagues, I know He brought us through the Red Sea, man, that was awesome, I know that we got the Law on the top of Mount Sinai and that was amazing, God actually spoke to us.
But I don’t know if we can really trust God, and after all, you just never know when you’re going to need a little manna snack. Right? Now that was a joke, there should have been something from the congregation. You never know when you need a little manna snack. Okay. Well, I’m going to have to get better on the jokes, I can see that.
So imagine their surprise, right, when they reach into the bag, because they collected too much, and they’re so excited, they want that midday snack and they pull out a seething, swarming, stinking, rotting handful of manna and worms. Mmmmm, yum, can’t you just taste it? So that’s our first encounter with this manna.
Now you do remember that there was one exception that God made about the collecting of the manna and that was that before Sundown on Friday, which would start the Sabbath day, they were told to collect enough to get them through the Sabbath. And can you imagine that that very first time after they had collected too much and they had this worm manna and then the Sabbath and they go in and you know they’ve got to be saying oh God, please, please, please, please no worms. Right? And they reach down into the sack and oh, manna, thank goodness, because they get to eat that day. So that was the one exception. And by this time most of the children of Israel had grown up with a diet that consisted mostly of manna. So we kind of get this picture here.
Now I love this, think about it; it’s manna, manna, manna, manna, so they could have it grilled, they could have it baked, they could have it broiled, they could have it sautéed, they could have it boiled, they could have it crispy, they could have it soft, they could have it soupy, they could have it in cakes, they could have it in pita or like a tortilla but no matter what, no matter how you dressed it up it was always manna. Yum! Imagine that. When someone said what’s for breakfast? What’s for lunch? How about dinner? The answer was always the same, would you like manna or manna?
By the way, it’s probably important for us to mention the fact that what is it that the word “manna” means and it literally means “what is it?” I’ll never forget when my wife, who’s teaching the pre-kindergarteners she would always come in and she would have very elaborate set ups for the kids and she would find ways to engage these little tiny children and one day she decided to do something about the story on the manna. So she had all this stuff set up and she had the Israelite camp and she had a stream and she had little pieces, I think it might have been donut holes, I’m not sure what it was, all scattered all over the floor (or course in a sanitary way) and so guess what happened when the little kids come walking in the room? They got all excited and they looked at her and they said what is it? They had no idea that the lesson that day was about manna.
Isn’t that interesting how God does things. So “what is it?” They didn’t know. But after several decades you can imagine how eating this manna began to wear on them. It might have tasted good in a limited exposure, right? Maybe the first time you picked it up, the Bible does say that it tasted like honey and coriander seeds, I like honey, that’s not so bad. But imagine having that every day. So eventually they began to refer to this daily miracle (remember this was a miracle) as this miserable food.
So then we come to this slide, you might recall that Jesus referred to Himself in John as “the bread of life” in John chapter 6:35-51. And this is part of what we call the seven sayings of Christ. I have them listed there for you.  I AM the bread of life, 6:35, 48.  I AM the light of the world, 8:12; 9:5.  I AM the gate, 10:7.  I AM the good shepherd, 10:11, 14.  I AM the resurrection and the life, 11:25.  I AM the way and the truth and the life, 14:6.  I AM the true vine, 15:1, 5.]
And in each one of these one of these instances what is happening here is Jesus is actually asserting His deity. Literally in the Greek, and this is something you might want to write down, what Jesus is saying in these passages in John is He’s saying I being in fact God AM the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way, the truth and the life, and the true vine. And if you don’t think that He’s declaring His deity just go look at the response that He got when He made those statements.
There are some liberal theologians who like to take what Jesus is saying here and they want to say well, Jesus really wasn’t declaring that He was deity; that’s not what He was doing. In fact, they even strip Him of any claim to deity; they reject it. But I like what C. S. Lewis said and I’ve got a little picture there with what’s known as trilemma argument and here it is. He says: “Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord; Jesus cannot be, as some claim, a truly good person or someone who’s life we should all emulate. Absolutely not because He Himself claimed equality with the Father. The resurrection firsthand eyewitness evidence along with the lives of those who have been forever changed demonstrates that Jesus was neither a liar nor a lunatic. Therefore He must be who He claimed to be and that is the God/man, the Lord.”
I like what Chuck Colson said in this quote: Look at this. He says, “I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world – and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.” So if the resurrection is true then we have to also conclude that Jesus deity is also true.
Here’s John 6:35-51, I’m not going to read this to you but I do want to highlight a few points about this passage.
[John 6:35, “Jesus said to them, “I AM the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.  “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.  “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, ‘I AM the bread that came down out of heaven.’  They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves.  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.  “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.  Not that anyone has seen the Father, … …the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.  I AM the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died . This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I AM the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”]
There are four times in this passage when Jesus declares “I AM” and we see that in verses 35-38 where He says “I am the bread” and He mentions that He’s come down from heaven. Is there any confusion on that? Do you understand what He’s saying here? He says “I AM” which is the very same expression that God used when He spoke to Moses and He’s also adding emphasis to it because He’s telling them I came down from heaven. There’s no way that you can misunderstand what Jesus is saying here. So we see that here in this passage; we also see it in verse 42 where He says, “I AM the bread that came down from heaven.” Now in this case the Jews are quoting Him and as I mentioned before if you don’t think Jesus is claiming deity just notice their response to what He says.
Also I might mention here it says “the Jews,” I have “the Jews” underlined there. Let me give you a little background information on that term. This is from Dr. Constable’s notes and he says, “In John’s Gospel he often used the term ‘the Jews’ to represent the Jews who opposed Jesus during His ministry. So we need to be very careful when we say “the Jews” that we don’t just throw a blanket over the whole nation of people and assume that they were all opposing Jesus. That’s not the case. The truth of the matter is it was referring to the religious leaders predominantly.”
He goes on to say that this term, the Jews, became something of a technical term as John used it. Again, in verse 48 we see Jesus saying “I AM the bread of life,” and again He says “that came down from heaven.” And in verse 51, where He also says again, “I AM the living bread that came down out of heaven,” so there’s no way that we can confuse this issue.
Another point that’s pivotal in this passage as well as in the Numbers passage is that everyone, in verse 40… let me back up, look at verse 40, “…everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life.” “Will have eternal life!” Isn’t that interesting. Think back of our passage we’re studying today. In verse 49, towards the end of the passage Jesus makes this statement, “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.” But he goes on to say in verse 50 that He “is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Do you see any contrast there? So we’re saying here Jesus is the source of light and He made a significant contrast and comparison between the manna and Himself who is the bread of life.
Notice what He says here. On the one hand those who ate the manna for forty years, what happened to them? They ultimately all died. They got miraculous manna and they still died. But on the other hand, Christ, who is the bread of life, said repeatedly (as we noted) that one who partakes of Him does not die and He equated eating of the bread of life with believing in Him. And that is the one and only condition for eternal life… BELIEF!
So that gets us to round number two; we’re setting up the battle here, right? One of the things I want to do before I go any further is I want to make certain that I just warn all those who are suffering with ophidiophobia, just raise your hand if you’re suffering with ophidiophobia. Well excellent, I don’t have to worry about this then. What is that? That’s an abnormal fear of snakes. So do I need to ask again, does anybody have… nobody is going to admit anyway, right.
So the reason I’m doing this is because I am going to show some pictures of real snakes and so if you suffer with ophidiophobia I would just ask you to avert your eyes for a few slides and what I’ll do is when we get beyond that I’ll tell you when you can look back up again. And again, my jokes are just falling flat today… it’s terrible.
Okay, so let’s look at this. Here we go. There were serpents in the region in which the children of Israel were traversing in the wilderness. They were naturally occurring and obviously when you have that many people, upwards of two million people traveling you know they encountered snakes from time to time. And so no doubt the encountered some of these species, these in fact are species found in that region, so they had the horned vipers there, they had puff adders, they had carpet vipers, they had cobras and they also had black snakes. Five different kinds of poisonous snakes! Doesn’t that sound like a fun forty years, right? Can you imagine waking up in the middle of the night and having a snake in your bed. Well, maybe that didn’t happen, I think I saw that actually on a Rifleman episode where a rattlesnake called up in his sleeping bag, so sorry, that was non-biblical.
Let’s talk a little bit here about what was going on. So there’s no way of knowing, of course, which of these naturally occurring varieties of snakes might have been used of God. We really don’t know; the passage doesn’t say . But one of the things the passage does say, which is fascinating to me, is that these particular serpents were sent specifically by God. And why? He was sending them against the children of Israel to judge them regarding their griping and complaining. So God sent these serpents on a special mission. The text doesn’t specify so we have to sort of speculate a little bit here but it may be that the children of Israel that these serpents were more aggressive and instead of responding like you would normally expect a snake to respond if it were surprised, by fleeing off, perhaps these serpents actually sought out and pursued the children of Israel. We really don’t know. There was something different about them though.
One of the things that was different was they’re referred to as fiery, and the term fiery most likely refers to the burning sensation from their bite and the venom. But there are those theologians who have suggested that these snakes could possibly have had some kind of reddish spots on them that when the people saw them, and you can imagine if you saw a snake suddenly coming your way, in your fear you… you know, fear has a way of sort of changing your perspective on things… yikes, there’s… that snake has fire on it. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter, this issue is that the snakes weren’t just painful when the bit someone, they were fatal… they were fatal! Let me just let that slide sit there for a second. This is a little comic from Jeff Larson and he put the complaining Jews were literally snake bit in Numbers 21:6. He goes on and says “and the first Snake Handler Church of the Old Testament is inspired.” I don’t know if that’s true or not but that was kind of a funny representation.
Let’s talk a little bit about discipline then and now. Although the children of Israel were under the Law and although we’re under grace, the Lord, who of course loves us, still disciplines us. Doesn’t He? Why does God do that? Why does God discipline us? Well why do you discipline your children (if you have children)? Because you love them, of course. Although they were under the Law and we’re under grace the Lord disciplines us because he loves us. There are two reasons why believers go through the difficulties that they do. One is explicit discipline having to do with disobedience and the other is not walking with the Lord… let me try that again, the first one is explicit discipline having to do with disobedience and not walking with the Lord, and the second reason is the experience of normal trials that the Lord may allow in the life of the believer who is, in fact, walking in fellowship with Him. So the point we want to bring out here is that God has a purpose for both: He has a purpose for trials and difficulties. And I would suggest to you that trials and difficulties are gifted purposefully to the believer and that’s when we come to Hebrews 12:4-11. And I just have some highlighted portions of this passage.
[Hebrews 12:4-11, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin;  and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, And He scourges every son whom He receives.”  It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
You’ll notice it says, ““My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, Nor faint when you are reproved by Him;  For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines….” Why does He do that? Because God is dealing with you as with sons; God loves you; He deals with you as sons. The latter part of that section says that [10b] “He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” Notice what are we going to share, “we may share His holiness.”  “All discipline for the moment seems not to be to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
So God loves us, He disciplines us because He wants us to share His holiness; discipline isn’t joyful but guess what? We’re being trained by it and it yields a fruit which is “the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” How wonderful that is. So it’s important for believers to recognize that the Lord disciplines believers who are not walking in fellowship with Him but also that the Lord will allow trials in the life of believers who are walking in fellowship with Him. And it’s all about God’s conforming us to the image of Christ.
So we should not be surprised when trials and difficulties come into our lives. Discipline, as we said, is primarily directed at getting us to return to a consistent walk in fellowship with Him and other believers. And trials are used by God in the lives of those who are walking in fellowship with Him to induce growth and maturity. God indeed has a purpose for those.
That brings us to round three, verse 7, so when we get here one of the things we can note is that there are perhaps a number of different ways that the children of Israel could have responded to the serpents as they were being bitten, and they could have come to a different conclusion. But alas, and thankfully they responded appropriately, didn’t they? And they came to the correct conclusion. So what did they do when they saw and encountered these snakes? They went to Moses a second time but this time they were not complaining.
Notice what they said there, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you.” [Numbers 21:7] Very good, children of Israel, you’re getting the picture. So what happens here? They went to ask Moses to intercede with God for them and it’s as if they were saying at this point in time we’re getting the point Moses, God is judging us. They realized that they had done wrong and they also realized who to talk to about it. You know, at this point in time their situation is pretty serious, there wasn’t any time to just sit down and hold a council and say you know, just exactly why do you thing, these snakes are coming and attacking us; can we get a little congregational input here. No, no, no, no, they understood what was going on and they went to the right person. So that was round three, that was a quick one, wasn’t it?
Let’s look at verses 8 and 9. So what happens? They do the right thing and here’s the response. “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 will live.” So here’s God’s response. So what happens here? Let’s notice, three points to consider.
First of all, God told Moses to set up a serpent on a standard so that anyone who had been bitten by one of the serpents would live. A “standard” what is a standard? It’s merely a poll and it sometimes comes with a crossed piece or a platform, and that’s generally how you see it as depicted in that picture. Point number two, notice that (I like this) Moses did exactly as God said. Is that important? Well, let’s see… hmmm, let’s think about what happened in our last session together.
You will recall that God gave Moses three things to do and he didn’t do them, did he? Well this time I think Moses got the picture so the bronze serpent was put up where everyone, notice, who wanted to could look at it and be saved from death. And what was the result? That would be point number three, the result was that anyone who had been bitten, if they wanted to, if they looked at the bronze serpent they did in fact live. And it’s just as simple as that. Isn’t that interesting. They didn’t have to go to the local pharmacy for antibiotics. They didn’t have to hold a council to talk about well, you know, what does God really mean when He says look at the serpent on staff there, I mean, hmmm! No, very simple directions, all you have to do is follow the directions and you’ll live. And as we mentioned in the last session, you recall there were four things and Moses and Aaron didn’t get it right but thankfully Moses gets it right this time.
Now we could ask this question: Why didn’t the Lord remove the serpent? Think about this for a second. In looking at this passage here did you notice that the Lord did not directly answer their request. What was the request? Moses, ask the Lord to remove the serpent. Did God do that? No. That’s very interesting, isn’t it. Well why not? The children of Israel came to Moses… Moses, ask God to take this serpent away. But God didn’t take them away. Instead, notice what happened—He provided a solution for those who were bitten. So why didn’t the Lord just remove the serpent? I mean, certainly the Lord could have done that. Right. Very simply, I mean, He sent them, He sent them on a special mission, He could have said the mission is over.
But that’s not what He did and there were a couple of reasons for that. First of all, by having Moses place a serpent on a standard the children of Israel had to act in faith in God’s provision. If the serpent just went away the surface problem would have been solved, wouldn’t it? But the real problem was under the surface. God wanted the children of Israel to acknowledge His provision and exercise and act out in faith for that provision. That’s a really important point!
The Bible says “without faith it is” likely that you can please God… right? NO! He says it’s impossible to please God. [Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”]
So I have something that I’d like you to consider this morning—could it be that in our cries for removal of trials and difficulties we’re not always getting God’s best? Could it be that God may, in fact, answer our prayers by directing us to walk out our trials and difficulties by faith hand in hand with Him. It’s something to think about.
Secondly, by having Moses place the serpent on a standard it becomes an illustration that points everyone to Christ as God’s what? One and only provision for eternal life. That’s a very important point. In John 3:14-16 in His discussion with Nicodemus Jesus used the example of the serpent in the wilderness and He applied it to Himself. Now one thing, a little side note here is that we should take away from that is the fact that Jesus believed the Old Testament. He believed that this event really occurred, it wasn’t just a made-up story.
If you look at John 3:14-15, verse 14 says, ““As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;  so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” Praise God for that. We’ve said previously that everything that occurs in the Old Testament occurred as an example and it’s for our instruction. So once again we see Jesus using this passage and we can take great information and understanding from it if we apply it in our lives. As the serpent was lifted up so Christ was lifted up, wasn’t He. As the children of Israel, who were bitten, were saved physically by looking in faith at God’s provision guess what? In the same manner people who have been bitten by sin are saved spiritually by looking in faith to God’s provision in Christ! Christ, who is the One who died for our sins, the One who was buried and the One who rose again so that we might live eternally. And notice that this is an important distinction. They looked at the serpent on the staff up there and what happened? They died, they lived but they ultimately died, didn’t they? Right? They lived, they got over the poisonous bite but at some point in time they died. But those that accept Christ, those that believe in Christ, that looked to Him will live for all eternity.
In the same way that the children of Israel could have said no, I don’t think so, looking at that snake, you know, that’s just not what I signed up for. Well, similarly, unbelievers today often say things like this: No, Christ’s death isn’t really that… nah, it’s not what I asked for, I’m not signed up for that. Have you ever talked to somebody like that? In the same way that the children of Israel could have said no, that’s just too easy, right, I mean, come on, give me something to do, I want something a little more involved, I want something that allows me to have a part in the process, you know… it’s just too simple. Likewise, unbelievers can and do say believing in Christ, is that all I have to do? That’s just too easy, it’s too simple. You know, this is such a big issue that certain theologians have just written volume after volume telling us that no, it’s not just believe, it’s believe plus three, four, five, eight ten other things you’ve got to add on to that.
And of course, you know in this church that we teach that it is faith, it is trust and confidence in Christ ALONE that saves people. By the way, have you ever heard anybody say God can’t save me because I’m just too bad? Have you ever heard anybody say that? I have! Let me give you something you can say to somebody when they say that to you. Here’s what you say to them, you tell them that when Jesus was on the cross there was next to Him a man that was dying along with Him and this man next to Him was a thief. Right, we all know that. But guess what, he wasn’t just an ordinary thief; he was a thief among thieves. He was one of the worst. He was, in fact, the worst of the worst because only those who were really, really considered the worst criminals were crucified.
So here he is, he’s next to Jesus, and during the course of the crucifixion he begins to come to faith; he begins to realize that Jesus is who He says He is. And what does he say to Jesus? He say, you know, Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom. Right. And what is Jesus’ response to him at that point in time. He says, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” What was the only condition that that thief on that cross had to fulfill to have a promise from Christ that he would be with Him in Paradise? He only had to believe in Him! Isn’t that wonderful. It’s the same for you and I today.
Something to consider… some of the children of Israel might have said that they didn’t have a problem. You know, it’s not really all that bad, I don’t really have a problem, sure, I got bit and it hurt but you know, it’s not really all that bad… until they died. Similarly there are unbelievers today who tell themselves that they don’t have a sin problem, it isn’t all that bad… until they die. And once you die it’s too late, isn’t it? Absolutely! Unbelievers often tell themselves that they’re not as bad as some (you’ve heard this) and not as good as some, and as long as God grades on a curve I’ll be just fine. Have you ever had anybody say that? I’ve actually heard that. You know, I’m not that bad, I mean, I’m not a Hitler, right? I’m no saint but I’m not a Hitler, as if that were the determining factor. Right? We know God doesn’t grade on a curve, does He? Unbelievers often tell themselves that they’re not as bad as some and not as good as some but as long as God grades on a curve I’ll be just fine. Unbelievers often say… what else do they say? I don’t really believe in that God stuff! Right? Aahhh, you know, that might work for them for a while, right, but guess what? They’re going to die someday and then they’re going to find out, and again it’s too late.
And you know, this was such an important thing, look what Jesus said there in John 8:24, I have that down there at the bottom of the screen, Jesus is talking to the religious leaders of His day. If anybody had a way into heaven it was them, right. At least in their mind that was true. And what does Jesus say to them? “…unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.” [John 8:24, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”]
You know, I love the statement I heard somebody one time and I thought it was really great; you know, atheists don’t believe in God but you know what? God believes in atheists. He does and they’re going to believe in Him one day also. Have you noticed how important where you’re looking is? It’s always about looking in the Bible. The person who looks at God’s provision through Christ in faith, the Bible declares, will be saved eternally. John 6:40, look at what it says here. Jesus says, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.” There’s your promise. The one who believes is the one who has looked to Christ for salvation and they’re transformed into Christ’s image. The one who has believed in the salvation continues to look to Christ and to be changed into His image. Those who have been looking in faith will one day see Him face to face. That’s you and I, right?
1 John 3:2 says what, “…We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Is anybody excited about seeing Jesus. Yeah, got to get at least one Amen. Okay, there’s one! Thank you ! All right. Stop and think about what we just read there. “…when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.” Wow! You know, we’re going to have a new glorified body. Everybody goes yeah! So the issue is first looking to believe to be saved and looking in belief to be changed and transformed. And that’s what God is doing in your life today as a believer. He’s asking you to behold Christ to His Word so that you will be changed and transformed. It’s an issue of spiritual maturity and growth.
That brings us to our conclusion. So there’s a contrast in Numbers 21:4-9. We’ve been talking about comparing the serpent on the standard with Christ and we’ve noted that there are certain similarities but we’ve also noticed that there’s some very sharp contrasts and one that we didn’t mention that I should not overlook is the fact that the bronze serpent did not love the children of Israel. Hmmmm! In contrast to that, what does God’s Word tell us? John 3:16 tells us that God so” what? “loved the world that He” what? “gave….” Galatians 2:20 tells us that Christ what? “Loved,” and what did He do? He “gave.” And we see that repeated there in Ephesians 5:2 and verse 25 on the screen. God loved and He gave. [Ephesians 5:2, “and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”] God loved and He gave. Jesus loved and He gave. And that’s the reason we’re here today. Praise the Lord for that; isn’t that wonderful! Unlike the serpent Christ loved and gave and that is why in Hebrews 12:1-2 it says, listen to this, “…for the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame….” [Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”]
Why would Christ do such a thing? Why would He take the sins of the world upon Himself? Why would He suffer the agony of the pre crucifixion trials and this treatment, why would He do such a thing? There’s a very simple answer to that—because the love of God compelled Christ to do that and because He was compelled in His love He gave. Christ loved and He loved those He died for, every single one. Have you stopped and thought about that lately? That Christ didn’t just die for the world… He died for YOU! That He loves YOU! That He gave Himself for YOU! Sometimes we find it difficult serving the Lord, we get tied up with all kind of things that are going on in our lives, you know those trials and difficulties we mentioned, and we get our focus on those, don’t we. And then we find ourselves operating out of confusion. We find ourselves operating, really in a cloud sometimes, don’t we? And I’m convinced that if we would stop, just for a moment we would say wait, wait, wait, wait, who am I in Christ? What did Christ do for me? I think that would just bring us right out of that, what I call that spiritual funk that we get into sometimes.
So you’re loved today and guess what, you’re loved whether you feel loved or not. You know, we all like to have the accolades, the warm fuzzies from other people, don’t we. I like them, you like them but the most important thing is for us to walk out of this building this morning when we leave knowing that God loves us individually, personally and wants to have intimate relationship with us. So guess what? You’re the recipient, right now, this very moment, whether you believe it or feel it or not it’s the truth, God’s Word says it. You’re a recipient of God’s continual ongoing eternal love. Do you appreciate that this morning? Are you reflecting on that? I encourage you, during the course of this upcoming week to just maybe make that your meditation for the week, I’m going to meditate on the love of God for me. Let’s pray.
Abba, Father, I thank You for providing ample information in Your written Word that demonstrates the contract and comparisons that we see between the Law and grace. I would pray this morning that you would help us NOT to be seduced, as were the Galatians, back under the Law, which Your Word clearly says is a ministration of death and of person. Thank You, Father, for loving us and giving us Jesus, Your only begotten Son. You tell us in Your Word that when we were still dead in trespasses and sins, while we were yet sinners, Christ died. He loved and He gave Himself to be our Savior. Thank You, Father, also for providing us with everything that pertains to life and godliness as we behold Christ and we’re therefore conformed and transforming into Your dear Son. Finally, Father, as we sit here this morning as we reflect on Your great love for us we groan and we yearn in our spirits, as with all creation, for Christ’s soon return at the rapture. And so, Father, we say “even so, come Lord Jesus!” And we pray and ask these things in Jesus’ name, and everyone said… Amen.