The Brazen Serpent

John

The Brazen Serpent

May 31st, 1964 @ 7:30 PM

John 3:1-15

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 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.
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THE BRAZEN SERPENT

Dr. W. A. Criswell

John 3:1-15

5-31-64    7:30 p.m.

 

On the radio, I am sure you think you are tuned in on the New Jerusalem.  Almost, but not quite!  You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  And it does my soul good to see these junior board members, after they have taken up the offering, trying to find a place to sit.  And some of them climbed clear up there to the highest chandelier.  This is a great, holy, God-honoring hour.  I would think if God would answer a prayer of my own soul, I wish He had set me on some planet somewhere surrounded by a choir of seraphim and cherubim that Mel referred to just now, and all God’s saints out in front of me, and just let me preach until I finally finish one glorious sermon.

What a gladness and what a joy to welcome these teenagers, these young people from the First Baptist Church in Wichita Falls.  Seated here, waiting for my time to come and looking at you and listening to you sing, I thought back to the day when I held a revival meeting in the First Church in Wichita Falls.  At that time, Dr. Jimmy Landis was pastor.  He is now president of Hardin-Simmons University.  At that time, Hooper Dilday was educational director and major-domo and high factotum of all of the congregation of the Lord, and he is now running the whole state of Texas over here in the Baptist Building.  And I got to thinking about you, and I do not think you all were even born that long time ago.  And Neil at that time was in the First Church at Nashville Tennessee, leading God’s people over there and singing the praises of Jesus.  So we are all here tonight, and God bless and sanctify this holy convocation, and especially the appeal we make in the name of Jesus.

Now in our Bible, turn to the Gospel of John, chapter 3; the Gospel of John, chapter 3.  These evening services, I am preaching through the life of Christ, and we have come to chapter 3 in the Gospel of John.  And the title of the sermon is The Brazen Serpent, and we shall read together the first fifteen verses down to verse 16.  The Gospel of John, chapter 3:1-15, and if your neighbor does not have his Bible, share yours with him.  And let all of us read it out loud together.  Chapter 3, the first fifteen verses in the Gospel of John; now all of us reading out loud together:

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews:

The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto Him, Rabbi, we know that Thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Nicodemus saith unto Him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, or whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?

Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that We do know, and testify that We have seen; and ye receive not Our witness.

If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?

And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven.

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 3:1-15]

And this is the text: “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].  And of course, what our Lord said refers to a type in the Old Testament, in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers:

And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

Therefore the people 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.

And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that anyone 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 21:6-9]

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:14-15].  So the Son of Man must be lifted up.  It is the ordinance of God.  It is the mandate of heaven that our Lord Christ be lifted up between the earth and the sky.  But not on a throne set in Herod’s palace, not on a dais in Caesar’s court lifted up high above the earth, but like a serpent, dead, motionless, its fangs extracted, limp, slain, killed [Numbers 21:8]; even so must the Son of Man be lifted up [John 3:14].

The exaltation of our Lord Christ is according to the elective purpose and sovereign will of God.  He shall have a name above every name; “Above all principality and power, above all things present and things to come” [Ephesians 1:21].  Our Lord shall be lifted up, exalted, high above the earth.  But this place of dignity and honor shall not accrue through the conquest of war, or through the flaunting of banners, or through the blowing of trumpets—lifted up like a serpent, dead, giving His life for the sins of the people [Matthew 1:21].  It all came to pass in that incident that I read in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers [Numbers 21:5-9].  The people sinned and these fiery serpents were everywhere on account of their transgression.  There was death outside the door.  There was death in the room and in the house.  There was death on the way to work.  There was death at play.  Wherever they turned, there were those slender, tenuous, venomous vipers.  And when they struck, the outward mark could hardly be seen, but on the inside there was the swelling, and the fever, and the convulsion, and the death.

This was God’s picture of the universal presence of depravity and sin in the human heart and in the human life.  Everywhere, everywhere; there’s not any house, there’s not any home, there’s not any heart, there’s not any life that is untouched by the venom of this awful damnation.  We all feel it.  However a man may extenuate it, however a man may argue concerning it, however a man may excuse it, the one great, harsh, terrible fact that damns mankind to perdition and to inevitable death is the universal presence of sin.  You have felt it.  You have sensed it.  Whether you choose or not, it’s a part and a concomitant of our daily life!  And these serpents are everywhere.  I do not know of a more fervent and horrible amen to the universal depravity of mankind than the endless tears, and heartaches, and penitentiaries, and asylums, and cemeteries, and open graves that scar this earth and that hound mankind.  These serpents everywhere, types of sin.

May I speak now of their power to destroy?  And if a man was bitten, immediately there was swelling, and convulsion, and death; the power of sin to destroy is the one common denominator of all mankind.  There’s no exception.  There’s no exception in our lives.  There’s been no exception in any life.

The strongest man who ever lived, with his locks shorn and his eyes gouged out, said to the boy, the lad, that led him by the hand, “Place one of my hands on the great pillar that holds up the building, and place my other hand on the other great pillar on which the building rests,” and then, bowing his head, and in his sightless eyes, cried to God, saying, “This one time, O God, hear my prayer and let me die with the Philistines” [Judges 16:26-30]; God’s strongest man.

God’s wisest man [1 Kings 4:29-34]; in the latter years of his kingdom he turned his heart away, listening to the siren song of those who seduce and destroy [1 Kings 11:4].  And he bequeathed to his son, the following successor of Solomon, he bequeathed to his son a dissolving and a divided kingdom; God’s wisest man [1 Kings 11:9-13].

God’s man after His own heart [Acts 13:22]—and Nathan said, “The sword shall never depart from thine house” [2 Samuel 12:10].  And the story of the lineage and line of David is written in blood and in tears, in the sword and in death.

 “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].  “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]; physical death, mental death, moral death, spiritual death, eternal death, the second death [Revelation 20:14].  And the people were bitten by the serpents, and they died [Numbers 21:6].

May I speak now of our helplessness before it?  Would any man stand up here in this congregation or any assembly where mankind’s story has ever followed, would any man stand up and say, “I have the power to live above the encroachments of sin”?  There is born in us, innate in us, congenital with us that black drop that courses through human veins.  “All of us have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23].  “There is none righteous, no, not one” [Romans 3:10].

This earth is millenniums old, and generations have come and gone, but we’re still lost and undone.  Mankind has pulled himself and lifted himself out of darkness, and ignorance, and superstition, but he is spiritually the same!  With all of our vaulted and boasted achievements in science and in the wonders and marvels of this moral world, we are still on the same spiritual plain when Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24].  There has never been in the story of mankind, from the day of creation until this, one advance in the moral life of humankind.  We are still as we were in the beginning, lost, undone, a sinful and a dying race [Romans 5:12].

And the Lord God looked upon it, and He saw Moses down on his knees with his hands outstretched toward heaven pleading in behalf of the people [Numbers 21:7].  And the Lord God said to Moses, “I see My people bitten by serpents, damned by sin, destroyed by transgression, with the sentence and mandate of inevitable judgment and death in their lives.  I see them,” says the Lord, “and I have compassion upon them.  Moses, make thee a serpent, cast it out of brass, and raise it high on a pole in the midst of the camp, and it shall be, and it shall be if a man is bitten, and if he recognizes that he is dying, if he will look upon the serpent of brass, he will live” [Numbers 21:8].

And God did that, that they might have a type, a foreview of the great atonement and expiation and preparation for our salvation in Jesus Christ, lifted high on a cross beneath the sky above the earth [Matthew 27:32-50; John 3:14-16].

Now look.  Now look.  What an astonishing thing.  What an astonishing thing!  First of all as I look, I think of the insignia of health and healing through all the generations and through all the centuries.  Did you know there is no language, and there is no people, and there is no culture, and there is no race where the caduceus, the serpent on a pole, is not a sign of healing and of health and of strength?  You’ll see it on every hospital, that caduceus, a serpent twined around a pole.  You’ll see it on the doctor’s car, on the doctor’s office.  You’ll see it on the stationary of our great healing instruments and institutions.  Wherever mankind is lived, the serpent twined around a pole has been a sign of health and of healing.  So it is in the providence of God and in the elective wisdom and purpose for us for our salvation.

Saved, saved by one lifted up.  Notice, it is a serpent of brass that is representative of all of the other serpents that, in their venom and in their slender insinuation, entered into every house and every home to destroy every man.  Not an actual serpent, not an actual serpent; to have lifted up an actual serpent would have been just to remind us how many more were still alive.  To have lifted up an actual serpent would have been to slay a thing that needed to die and should have been killed.  But a representative serpent raised high on a pole, limp, lifeless, dead, its fangs extracted, harmless, a brazen serpent representative of all [Numbers 21:9]—so Christ is the representative man [John 3:14], not a man who is a sinner.  Had He been a sinner He would have been deserving of death for Himself!  He would have been just another crucified thief, but He was the representative man!  He represented all of us, like the brazen serpent represented all of the serpents.  The representative man; “He who knew no sin was made sin for us” [2 Corinthians 5:21].  He took into Himself all of the venom, and all the judgment, and all the death of all mankind, and He died there [Matthew 27:50].  And when He died, the power of sin died [Romans 6:6-7].  And when He bowed His head in death, limp, lifeless, sin was limp and lifeless [John 16:30], its fangs extracted and its power destroyed! [Romans 6:11].  When Jesus died for us on the cross, and so suddenly was He dead that they needed no second stroke to break His bones [John 19:31-33]—lifted up between the earth and the sky like a serpent, dead for our sins [John 3:14-16; 1 Corinthians 15:3].

Now may I speak briefly of the remedy?  “And it shall be,” said the Lord God, “and it shall be if a man is bitten by a serpent, if he will look, he will live.  Even so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whosoever looks to Him shall have eternal life, shall never perish” [Numbers 21:8; John 3:14-15].  God said, “Look and live.”  Then our salvation accrues, is mediated to us by a moral act.  By lifting up our eyes to look, a man shows that he believes the Word of God and that he expects the pardon and healing of heaven.  Less could not be asked, that a man just look and live.  More by some could not be offered.  I can just see as the snakes, those venomous vipers bit the people, I can just see some of them almost perishing, almost gone, and someone runs and says, “God hath raised in the camp a serpent of brass.  Turn your face.  Look, look and live!”  And the man has just enough strength to turn and look [Numbers 21:8-9].

More could not have been offered by some, like the thief nailed on the cross [Luke 23:32-42].  He couldn’t be baptized.  He couldn’t go down any man’s aisle to confess his faith.  He couldn’t move.  He was nailed and was dying, but God said, “Look.  Look.  Look and live.”  And he turned his face and looked to the Lord Jesus, and Jesus said, “Today, today shall thou be with Me in Paradise” [Luke 23:42-43].  Some of them terribly bitten and dying, some of them hardly bitten, but all alike; look, look.  Look and live [Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-16].

One of our greatest preachers was Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  For years he’d been seeking the Lord, and upon a stormy winter night, he turned into a little Methodist chapel where a layman had opened to the passage in Isaiah, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth” [Isaiah 45:22].  And as the layman was expounding to the best of his ability that passage, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved,” he suddenly stopped, and pointing to young Spurgeon, said, “Son, young man you look so miserable.  Look to Jesus, young man, look to Jesus.”  And Spurgeon said, “And I looked that night, and I lived.”

’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!

It is only that you look and live.

Look and live my brother, live.

Look to Jesus Christ and live.

’Tis recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!

It is only that you look and live.

[from “Look and Live,” William A. Ogden]

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,

even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, high on a cross:

 That whosoever believeth in Him, trusts in Him, looks to Him,

shall not perish, but have eternal life.

[John 3:14-15]

 

No sweeter little chorus was ever written than that one we sometimes sing:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Sing it with me:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

[from “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Helen H. Lemmel]

There is life for a look at the Crucified One;

There is life at this moment for thee;

Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,

Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.

[from “There is Life for a Look,” Amelia M. Hull]

 

“And I, if I be lifted from the earth will draw all men unto Me” [John 12:32].  Do you feel in your soul the wooing of the Holy Spirit of Jesus tonight?  Turn, turn, look and be saved [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-16].  Now, this precious, holy, prayerful hour, now, tonight while we sing that glorious gospel hymn, the one they were singing when I gave my heart to Jesus:

There is a fountain filled with blood

Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,

And sinners plunged beneath the flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see

That fountain in his day,

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

[from “There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood,” William Cowper]

And while we sing this hymn of appeal, somebody you give his heart to Jesus [Ephesians 2:8].  A couple you, put your life in the fellowship of the church; a family you, coming to the Lord and to us, as the Spirit of Jesus shall open the door and lead in the way, make it now.  Make it now.  There’s a stairwell on either side in the balcony, at the front and the back.  Come.  The great throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor.  Here I come.  I make it tonight,” while we stand and while we sing.