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THE SERPENTS AND THE SAVIOUR

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, March 8, 2015

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:8-9).


The people of Israel became discouraged as they journeyed through the wilderness. And the people spoke against God, and against their leader Moses. They said, “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water, and we hate this light bread.” God had sent manna from Heaven to feed them, but they hated it. They called it “this light bread,” this worthless bread. The Psalmist called the manna “angels’ food” (Psalm 78:25), but the people of Israel grumbled and murmured against God and Moses. They said, “Our soul loathes this manna” – we hate it.

This is a commentary on human nature. It shows the depravity and sin of man’s heart,

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God” (Romans 8:7).

The Bible says,

“They are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:9-10).

Man’s heart is set against God. That’s why we tend to complain and murmur against God. Man in sin is no better, and no different, than those Israelites in the wilderness.

“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died” (Numbers 21:6).

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The Bible says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).

But the people who were left came to Moses and said, “We have sinned…pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people” (Numbers 21:7).

We must remember the great mercy God had showed them. God had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. God had led them through the waters of the Red Sea – on dry ground between walls of standing water. They sang about this great deliverance throughout the rest of the Old Testament. And God fed them with manna every day. There was water gushing from a rock, enough for the whole nation and their cattle. God had delivered them from their enemies with mighty power. God had led them with a pillar of fire by night, and a cloudy pillar by day. The shekinah glory of God was with them continually.

But they did not praise God. Instead they remained unbelieving. They rebelled. They murmured and complained against Moses and against God. Dr. John R. Rice said,

Suddenly among the people, slithering in the grass, creeping into the tents, there were poisonous snakes, fiery-colored evil things “and much people of Israel died.” Here God’s punishment and God’s mercy are shown in one event. Here are wrath and grace. Here are sin and the Saviour manifested in the wilderness (John R. Rice, D.D., “Snakes in the Camp,” Blood and Tears on the Stairway, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1970, pp. 34, 35).

We would not think about this incident very much if Jesus had not repeated it in the New Testament, in the third chapter of John.

A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. He was the main teacher of Israel. He was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. He believed that Jesus was “a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).

But Nicodemus didn’t know how to be born again. Jesus told him, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). Nicodemus said, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9). He had no idea how to be born again, how to be saved. Jesus reminded him of the serpent in the wilderness, to show him how the new birth happens.

The new birth is called “regeneration” by theologians. The Reformation Study Bible says,

Jesus showed surprise that Nicodemus was puzzled by the demand to be born again. Nicodemus should have understood from the Old Testament that he was a sinner, and in need of a new life…Regeneration [the new birth] is the gift of God’s grace. It is the immediate, supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in us. Its effect is to quicken us [make us alive] to spiritual life from spiritual death… (The Reformation Study Bible, Ligonier Ministries, 2005, p. 1514; note on John 3).

Now turn to John 3:14, 15. It’s on page 1117 in The Scofield Study Bible. Here is how Jesus explained the new birth to Nicodemus. Nicodemus knew the Pentateuch by heart, the first five books of the Bible. Numbers is the fourth book of the Bible. Nicodemus knew it so well that he had memorized much of it, probably all of it, by heart. So Jesus used the account of the fiery serpents to explain to him how to be saved, how to be born again. Please stand and turn to John 3:14 and 15.  It's on page 1117 in The Scofield Study Bible. Jesus said to Nicodemus,  

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).

You may be seated. To look and live, to believe in Jesus and be saved, is the very heart of the Gospel of Christ. Notice three things in the passage.

I. First, the sting and death of sin.

If a man went into his tent, the snakes were there. If he sat down to eat, they were there. When he uncovered his bed, there those serpents were, writhing, ready to bite him. And when those serpents bit a man, it stung and burned like fire. Inside the victim’s body was a fever, then there was convulsion and death! Everyone who was bitten died a horrible death.

Now listen to Dr. W. A. Criswell, the renowned pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Dr. Criswell said, of those snakes,

This is a type [or illustration] used by our Lord of the universal depravity of the human heart, the universal presence of sin in human life. This depravity is in our hearts, our houses, our homes, our uprisings and our downsittings… Inescapable is the universal presence of sin and death. Humanity is a depraved and fallen race; and however we philosophize, the harshest fact in human life and in human history is this: Men are lost in sin and transgression. We are dead in our sins…these serpents are a type of the destructive power of sin…Oh, the wasting, destroying power of sin!
      These venomous, fiery serpents were everywhere. And the people were dying in physical death, in spiritual death, in moral death, in the second death, and in eternal death…
      Mankind has lifted itself out of ignorance, superstition, and a thousand other darknesses; but in our hearts, we are still just the same…We are still on the same moral, spiritual plane with Adam and Eve. We have never found a way out from the universal affliction, waste, destruction, and judgment of sin (W. A. Criswell, Ph.D., “The Brazen Serpent,” What a Savior!, Broadman Press, 1978, pp. 49-51).

The Apostle Paul compared the sin of Israel to our sin, as a warning,

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents. Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer. Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (I Corinthians 10:9-11).

Sin brought judgment on them – and sin will bring judgment today. “All these things happened unto them for [examples] and they are written for our admonition [for our instruction],” I Corinthians 10:11 – and that takes us to the second point.

II. Second, the cure for sin and death.

Moses heard the cry of the people. They were bitten by the snakes. They were screaming and dying. The serpents were everywhere.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:8-9).

When you go to a hospital, there will usually be a sign. It will be a pole with two serpents wrapped around it. You may see that sign in a doctor’s office or on his stationery. It is the sign of someone in a healing profession. How strange that the sign of health, healing and salvation should be a snake hanging on a pole! It’s not a real snake. It’s a serpent made out of brass and raised up high on a pole.

And the Scofield note is right when it says, “The brazen serpent is a type of Christ, ‘made sin for us’ in bearing our judgment” (note on Numbers 21:9). All of our sins were placed on Christ on the Cross,

“Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree…by whose stripes ye were healed” (I Peter 2:24).

Jesus Himself said to Nicodemus,

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up…” (John 3:14).

The “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite name for Himself. He said, “I’m going to be lifted up (on a cross) like the brass serpent was lifted up by Moses.” What a picture of the Saviour!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
   In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood;
   Hallelujah! What a Saviour!

Lifted up was He to die,
   “It is finished,” was His cry;
Now in heaven exalted high;
   Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
(“Hallelujah, What a Saviour!” by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up…” (John 3:14).

And that brings us to the third point.

III. Third, the way to receive the cure for sin and death.

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14, 15).

To believe in Jesus is to look to Him. To look is to live, to believe and be saved, to wash and be clean! There is nothing hard about it! Look to Jesus by faith. Every member of our church has done that. It couldn't be hard or my wife wouldn't have been able to do it the very first time she heard me preach the Gospel!

“And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

When a man looked to that serpent of brass, he lived! A man who had already been bitten could look! A man who was almost dead could look! They were saved by a look at the serpent of brass! And we are saved by looking to Jesus!

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

It couldn't be hard! Millions of people have looked to Jesus! Looking unto Jesus! Looking unto Jesus! Looking unto Jesus! That is the way to be born again! Looking unto Jesus! That is the way to be regenerated! Looking unto Jesus! That is the way to be pardoned and cleansed from all sin! Looking unto Jesus! That is the way to be saved – for all time and for all eternity!

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine!
   (“Moment by Moment” by Daniel W. Whittle, 1840-1901)

If you from sin are longing to be free,
   Look to the Lamb of God;
He, to redeem you, died on Calvary,
   Look to the Lamb of God.
Look to the Lamb of God, Look to the Lamb of God,
   For He alone is able to save you,
Look to the Lamb of God.
   (“Look to the Lamb of God” by Henry G. Jackson, 1838-1914).

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live,
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!
(“Look and Live” by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897).

“And it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:9).

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live,
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!

When Spurgeon was fifteen years old he came out of a snow storm into a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. The minister wasn’t there. He was “snowed in.” There were only about fifteen people there. A thin little layman stood up to preach. With faltering language he gave out the Scripture text,

“Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 45:22).

He pointed directly at young Spurgeon and said, “Young man, you look miserable. You will always be miserable if you do not obey my text. Look! Look! Look to Jesus.” Spurgeon said, “I did look, and Jesus saved me when I looked to Him by faith.”

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live,
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!

I don’t care what Paul Washer says! “It is only that you look and live!” I don’t care what Dr. MacArthur says! “It is only that you look and live!” These are nice men, but “It’s only that you look and live!”

The thief on the cross beside Jesus didn’t have time to make Him Lord of every area of his life! He was dying! He didn’t have time to make Christ Lord of any area of his life! He was dying. No time! No time! No time! He only had time to do one thing. He looked to Jesus by faith! “It’s only that you look and live!” That’s all Spurgeon did! That’s all you need to do!

Hallelujah! That thief on the cross was saved! Jesus said, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Look and live, my brother, live!
   Look to Jesus now and live!
‘Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
   It is only that you look and live!

(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Numbers 21:5-9.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Look and Live” (by William A. Ogden, 1841-1897).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE SERPENTS AND THE SAVIOUR

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived” (Numbers 21:8-9).

(Psalm 78:25; Romans 8:7; 3:9-10; Numbers 21:6;
Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Numbers 21:7;
John 3:2, 7, 9; 14-15)

I.   First, the sting and death of sin, I Corinthians 10:9-11.

II.  Second, the cure for sin and death, I Peter 2:24; John 3:14.

III. Third, the way to receive the cure for sin and death,
John 3:14, 15; Hebrews 12:2; Isaiah 45:22; Luke 23:43.