There is a knock on the door one night. It is Nicodemus. He wants to talk to Jesus. Privately. As a Jewish leader he doubtless worries about guilt by association with this new Teacher on the scene who is working wonders.
Amid the soaring truths about a new birth and God’s plan of salvation, Jesus points the old scholar back to the Old Testament: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
We might wonder, “What a strange remedy for God’s Old Testament people…snake-bitten…that they should cast their eyes to a bronze snake on a pole!” (Numbers 21:4-9). Certainly it was not the bronze snake itself. Moses sets up no graven image to worship. In fact, centuries later, good king Hezekiah destroyed the bronze serpent which had been preserved since the days of Moses – because the people of Israel had begun to superstitiously worship it. They forgot the Savior to whom it pointed.
But again, what a strange type or shadow of Christ! A serpent, a snake. Did not God place a curse on the serpent in the beginning, that instrument of Satan? But here, lifted up on a pole, is a serpent that has no poison, a serpent dead and lifeless, the symbol of that which has been cursed strangely set up as the cure. Paul said to the Galatians: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. As it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’ “ Listen to what Paul said to the Corinthians: “God made him, who did not know sin, to become sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.”
So this is not so strange after all. Christ became for us what we were not to do for us what we could not and to die for us that we might not. He who had no sin became, in the Father’s eyes, the most cursed sinner in our stead, making our guilt His guilt, our sin His sin, our punishment His punishment.
So these snake-bitten rebels in the wilderness find relief from God’s judgment and from sin’s terrible consequences by looking to the curse for a cure – by looking to this bronze serpent. Was the promise hard to believe? Just look to the bronze serpent, hanging there dead and cursed on a pole, and you will live? Is it hard to look at Christ, dying and dead, cursed and pierced, hanging on the tree of the cross and believe that anyone who looks to Him in simple faith will live, will be saved now and forever?
Could it be that people hide their faces from a bloody Christ and avert their eyes not because of the blood and gore, but because they find it offensive that this is what sin does, that this is how deep Christ had to sink to save us? But to whom shall we go with our guilt if not to Christ? Christ alone shall be of sin the double cure, and cleanse us from its guilt and power.