Life for a Look

Bible Book: Numbers  21 : 4-9
Subject: Cross; Salvation; Forgiveness; Death; Judgment

Life For A Look

Dr. J. Mike Minnix

In Numbers 21:4-9 we read an incident regarding a rebellion by the Hebrew people that occurred while they were traveling through the wilderness on their way to Canaan. Because of the rebellion, God sent venomous snakes into the camp and the snakes bit the people. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole and to lift it up in the camp. Everyone who looked at the bronze snake on the pole lived, but those who refused to look died.

Now, turn with me to John 3:14-16 and note the New Testament meaning which is bound by the Old Testament incident under consideration this morning. The bronze snake of Numbers 21 is a symbol of the blessed Savior of John 3:14-16. As the snake was lifted up in the wilderness, so the Son of Man was lifted up on the Cross just outside the City of Jerusalem. The Old Testament incident serves as a picture or illustration of the cross of Christ. I want us to draw some lessons from the Old Testament incident which will help us bow down in our hearts before the cross of our Lord today.

I. The Sinful People

First, look at how the people sinned against God in the Wilderness. It is noteworthy that God had blessed these people incredibly by delivering them out of Egypt in a miraculous fashion. Once in the Wilderness, God provided for them each day, but the people had no regard for their Creator and Deliverer. So, in what ways did they sin against God?

A. They Doubted the Lord

The people did not believe what the Lord had told them from the beginning. That is the problem with man and it has been so since the beginning. After all, the problem for Adam and Eve is that they did not believe what God told them about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In essence, not to believe God is to call Him a liar, and doing that is not very smart!

Notice also that …

B. They Despised the Prophet

It is important to note that people who refused to believe what God said, turned on the one God sent to relay the message. In other words, if you don’t like the message, kill the messenger.

Moses was the leader of the people, and he was God chosen person for the job. The people defied Moses and mocked him. Listen, if you are a person who seeks to share God’s love with people through a personal witness, don’t be surprised if people turn on you in anger or laughingly dismiss. It is true that those who hate the message will also hate the one who preaches it.

You will notice that in Muslim countries around the world it is illegal to witness to a person about Jesus. Why is that a crime? Those who embrace Islam fear the message of Jesus. They know that their people will turn to Christ once they hear of His saving love and grace.

Blessings come to those who hear God's message and believe it! He that has ears, let Him hear.

Again, note that …

C. They Detested the Food

The Hebrew people did not appreciate what God had provided for them as food in the form of Manna. They rejected it. God was giving them something that sustained them and kept them from starving to death, yet they hated the “bread” that God provided.

The rejection of the Manna in the Wilderness is a symbol of the rejection of Jesus, the Bread of Life that was to come down from heaven for us. Many don't like the provision that God has made for their sin, so they reject Him.

So, what did the people dod? They called God a liar, rejected the person God sent to lead them, hated the provision He made for their lives, and doubted that God would do what He said He would do. What was God going to do about this rebellion?

II. The Sovereign Punishment

God was not going to let this rebellious thuggery stand. He was ready to send a sovereign punishment.

Now, in our modern world there is an excuse for everything. A mother drowns her five children in the bathtub and people try to find some excuse for her. A man leaves America, joins up with a radical group of Muslims in Afghanistan and fights against his own countrymen. There are those who seek to find some reason for his betrayal.

Why do people do bad things? Maybe the parents may have raised their child improperly. Perhaps he was bullied in school. He might have been forced at dinner to eat broccoli. Again, maybe his dad took his cell phone away for a week as punishment for some misdeed and that drove the boy to kill 25 people in a school shooting.

Let me tell you why people do bad things – because we are bad people - we are sinners. We have rebelled against our Creator. We have rejected His direction and love. He sent His Son to redeem us and even then we crucified Him on a cross. All have sinned. Each has gone to his own way. There is none righteous. We do bad things because we are sinners - we don't need to make excuses!

If others wrongly influence us with their actions and words, they will face God for that, but that does not dissolve us of guilt when we act in rebellion against God. We read in our Bible text that God sent fiery serpents into the camp of the Israelites. Many of the people were bitten by the snakes and their blood seem to boil like fire in their veins. It was a real incident but it points to the fiery judgment our own sins bring on our lives.

Now just think about what these snakes did to the hearts and minds of the people that day.

A. It Was Frightening

We cannot imagine how frightened the people were. Just think how you would feel right now if snakes suddenly appeared in this building, crawling along the floor, up over the chairs and along the hallways. You get the idea, I’m sure! Frightened is not a strong enough word to express how we would feel under those circumstances. Terrified is a better word, I think.

Some of the people in the camp began to scream, “I’ve been bitten by the snakes!” People likely began to faint, others ran in every direction, while some people grabbed their children and held them above the ground to protect them.

There are some people today who mock the idea of hell and judgment. Yet, if those same people were told they a deadly disease had evaded their bodies, they would suddenly become extremely fearful for their lives. One cannot imagine how it feels to close your eyes in death and suddenly find yourself standing before God, and there to learn that everything the Bible says is true and that he or she being sent away to a place of judgment forever. We have no words to describe that. Sometimes we preachers are accused of being over dramatic - my friend, a preacher can't be too dramatic about this issue. It is frightening, to say the least. Those who laugh at the idea of judgment are whistling in the dark – covering their fear with mock joy.

Not only was the judgment by snakes frightening, …

B. It Was Final

The judgment that day was final. Unless someone did something miraculous, everyone bitten by the serpents was going to die. Outside divine intervention, there was absolutely no hope at all for the people in that camp.

Don’t you see that the same is true today? We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. Without some divine, supernatural intervention, we are eternally lost and hopelessly doomed. But, thanks be to God - there is a divine intervention - if you will accept it!

Note with me …

III. The Saving Provision

In God's sovereignty, He designed a way whereby those bitten by the snakes could be delivered – they could live. Jesus taught in John 3 that the provision for healing and deliverance from death in camp of Israel serves as an illustration of a greater deliverance made possible for the souls of men and women.

You will often hear that all religions are the same. Many people think that religion is nothing more than man’s attempt to find God. The Bible states the opposite. As humans we all wish to be free of God – in fact, we wish to be god ourselves. Listen carefully, you are not god! There is one God and He has made a provision for us to find forgiveness for our sin, peace in our hearts, and a home with Him when we leave this world.  You cannot come to God without coming His way and His way is through Jesus Christ.

A. A Saving Pronouncement

A bumper sticker read, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” Actually, God said it and that settles it, whether you believe it or not. When God said, "Let there be light," there was light and nothing could stop it. God said it and it had to be! The same is true about salvation.

God told Moses to tell the people to look on the serpent that had been fastened to a pole. If they looked, they lived. If they lacked faith and did not look, they died! It was that simple. At a time like that, it is not wise to question the plan, just accept the solution.

God has made a provision for our salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. He has pronounced that whosoever will come to Him, repent of sin and believe on Him, shall be saved! God said it and it has to be! Some people want to debate the plan. Friend, you are dying. Stop debating and start believing. Stop talking and start looking to Jesus!

B. A Sinner's Privilege

The reason some people don't like the plan is because it is based on grace. God's salvation is not based on what you do, but rather is based on what God did for you. This is not something you can earn, rather this is something fully and freely supplied through the death and resurrection of God’s Son. It is not your right to come, it is your privilege to come.

C. A Sure Promise

God said it! He told the people through Moses to look and live that day in the wilderness. The promise of God was sure. When the people looked at the serpent, they lived. Why? Because God gave them a sure promise.

God's promise for the soul is sure because God cannot lie. If we look to Jesus for our salvation, we shall live. It is not complicated.

IV. The Simple Plan

God did not offer the people 5 ways to be healed from the snake bites. He did not present them with 3 avenues for overcoming the serpent venom. No! God offered them one way - they could look and live.

It is the same with the cure for the sinner.

We have sinned.

We deserve to perish.

But God made a way for us to live.

His Son, Jesus, died on that Cross to take our sins away and give us eternal life. It is so simple many people miss it. One evening my wife and I visited a lady whom we heard was lost. She lived in a beautiful home, was very refined and likeable. It was easy to see that she was intelligent and well spoken. She wanted to know what was necessary for her to be forgiven of sin and how she might go to heaven. We presented God’s plan of salvation. When I asked if she had sinned, as the Bible says we all have sinned, she answered affirmatively. Then I asked if she believed that sin condemned a person to a separation from God at death, and she stated that she believed that. I asked if she believed that Jesus was God’s Son, that He died for our sins, and that one day He is coming again, and she said that she believed. Everything went fine until I asked her to pray the sinner’s prayer with us. She said, "I can't." I asked her why she could not pray that prayer. She said these words that I will never forget, "It is too easy. It is just too easy. There has got to be more to it than that." She went on to say that surely there was something she had to do. I tried to point out that Jesus paid it all – it is a free gift. I told her, “You can’t afford this gift, and nothing you have done, can do or will ever be able to do can merit this gift.” We talked some more and she just could not accept that God would forgive her without her having to do certain things to earn His favor. We never did convince that lady that salvation is by grace through faith and not of ourselves! I never left a home with more sadness than that night in Georgia.

One little boy was told to take a bath. He asked his mother, "Can't you just do me like the furniture and dust me off?" Jesus does not dust you off; he washes you clean and makes you a new creature. You can’t clean yourself – God does it. You can’t save yourself – God does it. In the camp of Israel everyone who believed, and looked by faith on the serpent Moses lifted up before them, LIVED! Those who did not look, DIED. It is simple. Look to Jesus and LIVE.


I read some years ago about a bus route in a city that passed a cemetery every day. The cemetery was named Calvary Cemetery and had become quite larger as the years passed, so the bus began to stop there each day to drop off and pick up passengers. People who had loved ones buried there would get off the bus to visit the graves and catch the bus to return home. After a number of years, fewer and fewer people visited the cemetery. Instead of stopping each day at the cemetery, the bus driver called out to riders as they neared the cemetery, “Anybody for Calvary today? Anyone for Calvary?” If no one answered, the driver simply passed on by.

I’m calling out today to you in this service, “Anyone for Calvary? Anyone need Jesus? Anyone need the cross and Savior? Anyone for Calvary?”

Get off the bus that is heading toward destruction and come to Jesus today. Look to Him and you will live.