The Brazen Serpent
April 30th, 1967 @ 7:30 PM
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-30-67 7:30 p.m.
On the radio, turn to the Gospel of John chapter 3. You are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Brazen Serpent, or Look and Live. The Gospel of John chapter 3, we shall read the first fifteen verses. And if you did not bring your Bible, your neighbor will have one; share it. Let us all read it out loud together. This is truly one of the great, great chapters in the Word of God. Chapter 3, Gospel of John, the first fifteen verses. 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 the 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 everyone 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 you 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.
And the text are the last two verses that we read:
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.
"Lifted up," the Son of God shall be lifted up high, between the heaven and the earth. But not on a throne in Herod’s palace and not on a raised dais in Caesar’s Praetorium. Lifted up, high and conspicuous, like a serpent dead on a pole. The raising, the exaltation of Christ is sure and certain. God hath given Him a name which is above every name, above all principalities and powers and hosts in heaven and in earth. Christ shall be lifted up. But this ascendancy, this precedence, this exaltation will not come to pass by man’s choice or fiat. He will be raised; He will be exalted; He will be lifted up; not by the power of armies, not by the prerogative of political achievement, not by the flowing of banners and the blowing of trumpets. He will be lifted up, high above the earth, like a serpent dead on a pole. Made sin for us, Him who knew no sin, dying for a lost humanity. "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].
The type is known to any child who has attended Sunday school: "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness." In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Numbers, we are told that as the children of Israel
. . .journeyed from Mount Hor, Mount Sinai, by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
And the people spake against Moses, and against God, Wherefore have you brought us forth out of the land of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread; neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this manna.
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. We have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; 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 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.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him," looks to Him, trusts in Him, "shall not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:14-15]. Now there is not anything in God’s Word that is more filled with the truth of the gospel experience in our lives, and in the message that we preach, than this type in Numbers and this presentation of the gospel message in the Book of John.
First, it begins with the sting of death, the bite of the adder, the strike of the scorpion; death, death everywhere [Numbers 21:6]. Those slight, tenuous serpents were in the house; they were in the yard; they were in the road; they were everywhere. And wherever the people turned there were those serpents of death. The bite of it was hardly seen, so slight, but the inward life was feverish and convulsed, and finally died.
This of course is God’s picture of us: we face death on every side, on every hand. "The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], "and the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And however a man may philosophize or extenuate, the harshest, darkest, realest fact I know in life is the fact of sin and of death. Among the young, among the old, in childhood, in feebleness, there is no era of conscious life that does not know sin; the sting of the adder, the bite of the scorpion, and the penalty of death that inevitably follows after.
The old-time preacher used to preach about total depravity. You never hear it anymore; never referred to anymore. We make light of the original guilt and sin that we inherit from our forefathers, and the sin in our own lives is lightly described and delineated; it is a peccadillo. It is a pimple, it is not a fatal disease. It is just a stumbling upward, maybe. But the old-time doctrine of total depravity was not that we are as vile as we could be, but that sin has entered all of our faculties, our thoughts, our minds, our imaginations, our emotions, the deeds of our hands, the whole life totally depraved. There is no part of our life that escapes. We are sinners [Romans 3:23], and all humanity has fallen into that curse. The bite of a serpent is everywhere and there is death everywhere.
It is like the old man of the sea that has jumped on the shoulders, the back of mankind, and rides it to death; so sin, and the bite of the serpent everywhere. And its power to destroy is illimitable, and the people die, and they die, and they die. So the curse, and the wages of sin brings death and death and death [Romans 6:23].
The strongest man that ever lived, they bound him and they put out his eyes and they made him grind at the prison mill [Judges 16:21], for sin binds and sin blinds, and sin grinds and it grinds and it grinds. And Samson bowed his head and prayed, saying, "O God, let me die with the Philistines!" [Judges 16:30]. This is the story of the strongest man that ever lived. The story of the wisest man that ever lived is no different. And in his age, sin turned his head and destroyed his life and ruined his heart [1 Kings 11:1-10]. And in his age, the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, bequeathed to his son a divided kingdom and a wretched kingdom [1 Kings 11:11-43].
It destroyed the man after God’s own heart; for Nathan the prophet was sent from the Lord to say to David, "And the sword shall never leave thy house" [2 Samuel 12:10; Acts 13:22]. And the story of David and of David’s family is written in tears and in heartache and in blood. This power to destroy is illimitable, and it destroys us.
The wages of sin, the bite of the serpent, is universal, and the judgment is upon us all. Our helplessness before it is known. There is no one in divine presence tonight but who could stand and say, "Pastor, there is no syllable of the sentences that I do not know in my own life." Our helplessness before it; "I will be good, and I will not transgress, and I shall obey God, and I shall keep His commandments, and I shall live perfectly and holy in the way of the Lord." And the next moment, we have fallen into error. And the next day we are more vile in sin than we were the day before. And however our magnificent resolutions, we are still sinners before God. There is a drag to our human nature; there is a ball, there is a chain, there is a downwardness in human life that we cannot overcome.
And I see that in all of human history. Thousands of generations have come and gone, but the human race is spiritually the same. We have lifted ourselves out of darkness and out of ignorance and out of superstition, but as a people we are the same as we were yesterday, a thousand years ago. With all of our education and our lauded achievements and our technological advances, we are on the same spiritual plain with Adam and Eve when they were driven out of the Garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24].
Wouldn’t you think that reformation could deliver us? Wouldn’t you think that education could save us? Wouldn’t you think that culture and civilization could deliver us? My impression of the younger generation as they live in a more affluent society – and a more technical society, and a more cultural society, and a more educational society – my impression of young people is the more the affluence, and the more the education, and the more the culture, the more restless and meaningless they become in their lives!
I was in a hospital yesterday and waiting to see a patient. I looked at a television and they had a program on, a "jive" session, a rock-and-roll session, a going-on session; I never saw such a thing. And all those teenagers there, oh! they were a-jumping, and a-jumping, and a-jumping, and a-jumping, and a-jumping. My land, they looked like idiots to me, ah! Ah! And I thought, this is some way that they have of rebelling against all of the so-called technical and financial advances that we have made in American life. There is a cheapness, there is a shallowness, there is an emptiness, there is a barrenness, there is a sterility, there is a nothingness about human advancement that is oppressive. And the more the advancement, the more our youngsters apparently feel it. I’m just illustrating the helplessness; we find ourselves before the sting of the adder.
And the people were dying as we are dying, and the people were helpless as we are helpless, and the people turned to God as we must turn to God. If there is any meaning in life, it has to come from above. If there is any purpose in existence, if there is any existential philosophy that has any meaning to our souls it must come from heaven. "And they went to Moses and they said, We have sinned. Pray to God for us that He will take away the serpents. And Moses prayed unto the Lord" [Numbers 21:7].
And the Lord gave a remedy, and what an amazing remedy! And that remedy is the sign of healing from that hour until this. I never saw a hospital in my life but that had a caduceus upon it. I never saw a doctor who had a sign on his automobile or on his stationery or in his practice but that he had a caduceus on his automobile or in his office or on his stationery. Wherever in the world, and this is one of the most amazing phenomena I know, wherever in the world there is a sign of healing it is a caduceus, a pole with a serpent upon it. Isn’t that an astonishing thing, that that should be the sign of healing, of forgiveness, of salvation; a serpent hanging on a pole?
"Make thee," said God, "a brazen serpent, and lift it high in the midst of the camp, a serpent of brass" [Numbers 21:9].
Not a real serpent, not a real serpent, not an actual serpent, that would just remind us how many others were still alive. Not a real and actual serpent, but a representative one. And this representative serpent of all the serpents – of all the sins and of all the sinners – this representative serpent lifted high in the camp, dead, motionless; its fangs extracted, limp, and lifeless. No more power to sting, no more power to inflict death, a representative serpent in the midst of the camp, raised high on a pole. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up" [John 3:14].
Not another sinner who needed to die for his own sins. Not another thief crucified on the cross, but the representative Man who took upon Himself all of the sins and the condemnations and the judgments of mankind [1 John 2:2]. And there, bearing our sins in His own body on the tree, He hangs lifeless, limp, helpless. The fangs of sin have been extracted. In His own body, the poison, the curse, the damnation, the judgment, He’s received it all into Himself. And He hangs there dead. So certainly dead that they need not to break one of His bones, and He hangs there limp and lifeless [John 19:30-33]. Sin is dead.
"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" [John 3:14], the God-Man, Christ Jesus; hanging dead. "For God made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him" [2 Corinthians 5:21]. Sin is dead and it hangs limp, lifeless, dead. And the way of salvation, "that whosoever looks to Him should not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:15].
And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole,
and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man,
if any man has sinned, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
It was a moral act, turning and looking to be saved. Less could not have been required. So small a thing for a man to do; to turn and to look. Less could not have been required, more by many, could not have been offered.
I can see in that camp: men, women, dying of the serpent’s bite. And somebody brings the good news, "If you will look, if you will look, you will live." And with the last ounce of strength to be commanded, he turns and looks on that serpent of brass, raised in the wilderness. The look, the turn, showed that he believed God’s promise. He accepted God’s word; he was willing to obey God’s voice, and he expected God’s healing. And he turned and he looked; and the Book says, "And all who looked, lived" [Numbers 21:9]. God’s way of salvation.
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.
["There is Life for a Look," Amelia M. Hull]
Why, bless you, the greatest preacher that ever lived, outside of the Bible I hold in my hands, the greatest preacher that ever lived was saved just like that. If you’ve ever read very many of his sermons, he will refer to that night of his conversion. Again and again, in a thousand different ways, he’ll bring it in. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a young fellow and was burdened with his sins and was seeking a way of life, and on a wintry Sunday night, he turned into a little Methodist chapel. They had no preacher, but a layman was there before the tiny congregation. And he was speaking on the text in Isaiah, "Look unto Me, all ye ends of the earth and be ye saved: for I am God, and there is none other" [Isaiah 45:22].
And, as the laymen spoke on that verse, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved," He pointed to young Spurgeon and said, "Young man, you look so miserable. Young man, look to Jesus! Look to Jesus!" And Spurgeon said, "That night, I looked, and I lived!"
So simple! Pastor, I just can’t get in my mind a theology like that! Why, it’s inexplicable, it’s not reasonable! But God is in it! We are not saved by theology. We are not saved by our profound intuitions or eruditions or our understandings. We are saved by faith, by trust, by commitment [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8].
Like the woman with the issue of blood, "If I but touch the hem of His garment," she said, "I will be well again!" How do you explain that? You don’t explain that! That’s God and you can’t explain God. And she touched the hem of His garment and she was saved [Matthew 9:20-22]. The thief on the cross turned to the Lord and said, "Lord, when Thou comest into Thy kingdom, remember me" [Luke 23:42]. And the Lord said, "Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:43]. What is that kind of theology? We don’t explain it! It’s God! When he turned, and looked to Jesus, he was saved! When the Lord entered glory, He entered not alone. By His side was this convert who was crucified with Him on the cross.
Look and live, my brother, live,
Look to Jesus Christ, and live;
It’s recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
["Look and Live," William A. Ogden, 1887]
For as Moses raised high that serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in Him," looks to Him, trusts in Him, "should not perish, but have eternal life" [John 3:14-15]. There is life for a look at the Crucified One.
May we pray together? Dear, precious Savior, this is the gospel. This is the good news. This is the evangel from heaven. We are a dying people. We know the bite of the serpent, the sting of the adder, the strike of the scorpion. We know. We face inevitable and certain death. Who can save us? How shall we be saved? Lord, is there a way of escape? Can we see Thy face someday? Lord, can heaven number us in its redeemed throng? O God, how? Show us. And God answers, "Look." Look in faith, in trust, to Jesus, dying for our sins on the tree, raised for our justification, our Mediator and Intercessor in heaven, look to Jesus, look to Jesus! O blessed Master! Praise God for the day when we looked, and live.
While our people pray, is there somebody in front of you who ought to come tonight to give himself to Jesus? Is there somebody behind you? Is there somebody to the right or the left of you? Who is that somebody? Is it you? Is it you? Should you give your heart to Jesus tonight? Should you look in faith to the Son of God? "Lord, forgive my sins. Write my name in the Book of Life. May I see Thee someday, either coming in glory or in a translation, when the Lord shall call for me."
Oh, are you ready? Give your life to the Lord, triumphant, abounding, overflowing, the love, the grace, the glory in Christ Jesus. Look to Him, look and live, really. Young girl, young boy, Satan beguiles you. He says, "This is life." And he points to the waywardness and the prodigal and the derelict. That’s not life, that’s death! Young fellow, look to Jesus. This is real life, abounding life. Look to Jesus, and live. A family you, a couple you, while our people pray, make a decision for Jesus. "Here I come, preacher, tonight."
Our Father, are there families here that ought to come? Are there couples here that ought to come? Are there one somebodies here who ought to come? O Master, as we sing our song of appeal, may this be the night of decision, "I look to Jesus, and here I come. O God, open wide the gates of glory; I am coming home." Do it, Lord; speak the words. We shall answer with our lives. In our Savior’s precious name, amen.
Now let us stand, and let us sing our song. And while we sing it, come. Somebody you, a family you, a couple you, a youth, a child, as God shall speak the word, make it now, while we sing, while we sing.
THE BRAZEN SERPENT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The type of the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:4-9)
B. Son of Man lifted up – high and conspicuous; dead, on a pole
C. His exaltation certain and sure (Philippians 2:9-10)
D. Place of dignity and power not attained by man’s choice or fiat
II. Story begins with the sting of death
A. Sin is a terrible reality (Ezekiel 4:20, Romans 6:23)
2. Old-time doctrine of total depravity
B. Sin has terrible power to destroy
1. The strongest man (Judges 16:30)
2. The wisest man (1 Kings 11:39-43)
3. The man after God’s own heart (2 Samuel 12:10)
C. We are helpless before it
III. The remedy
A. Resembled the disease (Numbers 21:6-9)
1. The caduceus
2. Brazen serpent representative of them all, dead on a pole
B. So Christ represented all mankind (2 Corinthians 5:21)
IV. The call to look to Him (Numbers 21:9)
A. The moral act to turn and look (Mark 5:21-34, Luke 23:42)
B. There is life for a look
1. Conversion of Charles Spurgeon (Isaiah 45:22)