Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 78:1-2,34-38; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17
I really love the connections that are made between this incident with Moses putting the serpent on the pole so that any who were bitten by the poisonous snakes could look upon it and be healed ... with Jesus telling Nicodemus "And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
This meditation from The Word Among Us makes the reason we should care about that connection even clearer so I am reprinting it in full here.
What a strange feast this is! We are so used to seeing crucifixes in our churches and homes that we may not have forgotten how shocking it is that Christians reverence the instrument used to kill our God. Would the relatives of a death row inmate display a picture of the electric chair in which he died?
And what a strange reading this is! God punishes complainers by sending poisonous snakes, relenting only after Moses pleaded with him. Then, God tells Moses to erect a remedy very much like the idols of their pagan neighbors!
The poisonous serpents that wreaked such havoc among the people are a good symbol for the people’s sin. They see no harm in complaining against Moses. They have no idea how poisonous their negative attitude is. But God knows that they’re really rebelling against him—the One who liberated them from their enemies, led them through the Red Sea, and fed them in the wilderness.
By mounting the serpent on a pole, Moses forced them to see their sin for what it was: rebellion that poisons their life as God’s chosen people. God wanted to teach and purify them, not to destroy them. So he made it possible that as soon as they acknowledged their sin, they were already looking at his merciful means of forgiveness.
When we gaze upon the cross, we also see our sins. Ours is the disrespect that strips the dignity of those who disagree with us. Ours is the indifference that condemns others to suffering by denying them meaningful work at a living wage. Ours is the stubbornness that silences the voices of contemporary prophets.
But we also see something else: God’s remedy for our sin. We see the outstretched arms of the one whose love is undying and unconditional, the one who forgives his enemies and promises paradise to all who repent. So the cross is a fitting symbol for Christians. Like a wedding ring, it reminds us of our Beloved’s fidelity. Like a child’s handprint or an ancestor’s heirloom, it makes present the one who has passed from our physical sight. Let’s exalt the cross today in our prayer!
“Father, thank you for providing the only remedy for our sins. Help me to acknowledge my need for you and so experience the fullness of your redemption.”