Genesis 12:1-4a1. Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.
2. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
3. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
4. So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.
Psalm 1211. [A Song of Ascents.] I lift up my eyes to the hills– from where will my help come?
2. My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
3. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
4. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5. The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.
6. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
7. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
Romans 4:1-5, 13-171. What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?
2. For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3. For what does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”
4. Now to one who works, wages are not reckoned as a gift but as something due.
5. But to one who without works trusts him who justifies the ungodly, such faith is reckoned as righteousness.
13. For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
14. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
15. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
17. as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)– in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.
John 3:1-171. Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.
2. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”
3. Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
4. Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
5. Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
6. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.
7. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’
8. The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
9. Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?”
10. Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11. “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony.
12. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
13. No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
14. And just 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, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
- “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” – Genesis 12:3
- 16. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us). – Romans 4:16
- And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. – John 3:14-15
“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness…”
What is Christ referring to here? What is he comparing his coming crucifixion to?
Jesus is referring to a passage found in chapter 21 from the book of Numbers. In this chapter, the people of Israel have just obliterated an army of Canaanites, and instead of praising God, they start to bitch and complain (as we all would) because they never seem to be done wandering in the wilderness of the desert, while being beset at every turn with bloodshed and war. So Old Covenant God sends his wrath upon these “impatient people” in the form of fiery serpents whose venom caused great fevers and death. The Israelites cry out for mercy, and God instructs Moses to create a bronze serpent and place it on a staff as a symbol for all too see, and any who look upon it will not die if they are bitten.
Now, for a moment, set aside the horror the scene just described, set aside your distaste for a God that would visit such pain and suffering upon his “Chosen People”, and let us remember this is all the language of ancient metaphor and examine it in that context.
God told Moses to raise up a symbol of the very thing causing them fear, suffering and death, and from that symbol would come healing, mercy and life. How astounding!
And isn’t even more astounding when we realize that this metaphor of “creating good from bad” is exemplified in the real-life medical utilization of snake venom:
Snake Venom is collected and processed to create treatments for:
- Snake Bites (anti-venom)
- Blood Clotting
- Blood Thinning
- Parkinson’s Disease
So much “good” has been created from something so “bad”!
Now we turn to our passage from John 3, and we can’t help but wonder now, what was Jesus getting at?
Jesus purposefully references the bronze snake on the staff, “… And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…”, and later refers to himself as the Son of God, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…”
In the person of Jesus, both the Son of Man and the Son of God are being raised up. Mankind and God are being raised “upon the staff”.
Is Jesus saying that there is a direct correlation between raising the thing that is “bad” to create from it something “good”???
This is an incredible statement from Jesus, and it carries a profound meaning in metaphor that has been lost in modern Christianity:
Just as the snakes were the source of suffering and death in the book of Numbers, so God and Mankind are the source of suffering and death in the book of John!
And Jesus is hinting, that like the venom of snakes, from the evil things of God and Man are to come wonderful and life-saving things.
Let’s look first at the most controversial aspect of the two, God as a source of evil:
- It’s not blasphemy to posit that the ancient people of Israel thought of God as a source of suffering and death. In the passage from Numbers 21 itself, the snakes that are killing people are sent by God!
- In John 3, Jesus’ death upon the cross is the moment where God is symbolically declaring that this understanding of God’s nature is to cease and be no more. Whether God was the source of suffering and death, or whether this was only a primitive attempt to rationalize bad things that happen to them, it does not matter: God is declaring an end to all of this understanding.
- Like venom into medicine, God’s wrath becomes God’s mercy, God’s jealousy becomes God’s everlasting love, and God’s Law becomes God’s Grace through Jesus!
And now we turn to the more problematic aspect, Mankind as the source of evil:
- We cannot deny the evil humans do to each other. From the smallest act of betrayal found in relationships, to the mass-murder of millions of our brothers and sisters in God, we humans are capable of incredible evil.
- Like venom into medicine, Mankind’s greed becomes charity, selfish living becomes selfless living, revenge becomes forgiveness, and works righteousness becomes Grace through Jesus,!
In Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection is contained the first rudimentary reactions of the process of spiritual chemistry that will transform the venoms of our fallen human condition into the very cures. We simply need to look upon the “snake raised up in the desert” and we shall live!
In that snake is represented God and Man, and through Jesus’ blood atonement is made for both Mankind and God. Yes, both.
Whether God needed atonement, or our understanding of God needed atonement is up to you, the believer. Yet it cannot be denied that on that one good Friday 2000 years ago, atonement was made. That atonement was for God (or our understanding of him) and Mankind, and they were changed and redeemed in our hearts and lives like snake venom into medicine.