As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:14–21)
Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”
The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4–9)
The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23)
Through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)
Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
The lips of an adulteress drip honey
And smoother than oil is her speech;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death…
You can do many things to put off your physical death. Staying healthy and keeping yourself safe will prolong your life and delay death. But, in the end, you will still die, and you cannot actually escape it. It's hopeless. And your fight against sin (spiritual death) is even more hopeless. Why? Because the moment you were born, you were already dead in sin. In order to escape from this death, you must be brought to life, resurrected, set free. And there's only one way for that to happen. Through the power of Jesus Christ, which is where we ended up last time:
IN ORDER TO KILL SIN, YOU MUST BE A CHRISTIAN.
Let's go back to Numbers, and let's walk through that passage, because it's an excellent illustration of the effects of sin, its prevalence in our lives, and how we can escape it.
Death Is Imminent
Sin is lethal. And its consequence, death, is imminent. None of us have died physically yet, but we've all been bitten by the snake. And God has provided a cure, which Jesus says is Himself. Some of us have looked upon the cure and been spared from imminent death, and some of you are still under a sentence of death, just waiting for the poison of sin to bring your life to an end.
Feel the weight of that.
It’s drawn out more fully in what Jesus says in John 3:
God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:17–18)
Now, I think most of us really think we're good people. We haven't murdered anyone, and we actually enjoy doing nice things for people. We like people to be happy, and we don't like it when people suffer through painful tragedy. In fact, according to man's standards, we can be pretty righteous. Here's what John Calvin says:
According to carnal [natural, fleshly, external] judgment, man seems to know himself very well, when, confident in his understanding and uprightness, he becomes bold and urges himself to the duties of virtue and, declaring war on vices, endeavors to exert himself with all his ardor toward the excellent and the honorable.
But he who scrutinizes and examines himself according to the standard of divine judgment finds nothing to lift his heart to self-confidence. And the more deeply he examines himself, the more dejected he becomes, until, utterly deprived of all such assurance, he leaves nothing to himself with which to direct his life aright.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a twentieth-century British pastor, said,
Until you awake to the fact that your nature itself is evil, until you realize that your trouble is not that you do this and that which is wrong, but that you yourself are wrong, and that your whole nature is wrong, until you realize that, you will never have felt the need of a Savior. Christ cannot help or advise or comfort you until He has first of all saved you, until He has changed your nature.…It makes no difference who you are or what you are, it makes no difference how good you may appear to be or how much good work you may do. You may have been inside the church all your life and actively engaged in its work, but still I say (and I am merely repeating what is said repeatedly in the Bible) that unless you have at some time or other felt that your very nature itself is sinful, that you are, in the words of St. Paul, "dead in sins," then you have never known Jesus Christ as a Savior, and if you do not know Him as a Savior you do not know Him at all. "They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick" [Mark 2:17].
Notice what the Israelites were originally indicted for. What caused God to sentence them to death? Was it that they were murdering people? Were they engaged in sexual immorality? No (not this time, anyways). What was their awful sin? "The people became impatient," and they "spoke against God" and His prophet. Then, did you notice what they actually complained about? They said, "there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food." Do you know what they were complaining about? Do you know what "miserable food" they were deriding?
Manna! The bread God had miraculously caused to fall from heaven so that they might be sustained in the desert. It was God's gracious provision for them, an unmistakable sign of His love and care for them, and a constant source of strength and health in a place where they should have died. They complained about manna, and that's why God sent a plague of lethal serpents into their midst.
So, for the moment, examine your righteousness by this one question:
Do you love and submit to the Word of God?
Scripture is the bread from heaven that God has sent to sustain us in this world. Is the Bible a wonderful thing for you to feast on every day, or is reading God's Word a drag? Do you see it as plain, bland, miserable food you wish you didn't have to bother with? Do you see the preaching of the Word of God as vital and sustaining, or is it boring?
Then go beyond these questions, and ask yourself:
Do you love praying to God?
Do you love worship and fellowship with God's people?
Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ with all your heart and soul and might?
If not, you stand condemned before God. You are under sin and unrighteousness and therefore subject to God's judgment. These are the questions to ask yourself. Do you love God? Or are you satisfied with other people looking at your outward actions and thinking you're righteous? How do you judge your righteousness? According to the flesh or according to the Spirit of God? Are you living to please God the Father? Or are you living to please yourself? If you are living and judging yourself purely according to the flesh, God says that you must die. You are living in sin. You deserve God's judgment, because even though man looks on the outward appearance, God looks on your heart with perfect vision. And in order to escape this judgment, and live a life that is pleasing to God, you must come to Jesus Christ.
There Is Only One Remedy
Jesus lived a life without sin. He never disobeyed God's commands. He loved God perfectly with all of His heart, soul, and might. And by living a perfect life, He earned God’s blessing. He succeeded where Adam, our natural father, failed. Adam earned God's curse. Christ earned God's blessing. And Jesus tells Nicodemus, that all who look upon Him will be given eternal life, which is God's promised blessing on all those who obey Him perfectly.
So why don't people look to Jesus? I mean, can you imagine getting bitten by a snake, having the option of looking to the bronze serpent for healing, and not looking? You would have to love the darkness of their sin and rebellion in order to not look at the snake. And Jesus says that describes everyone who doesn't look upon Him for the forgiveness of their sins: they love the darkness of their sin and refuse to be healed. "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil."
But why would anyone refuse to be healed? It's the height of stupidity! Jesus tells us why: "Everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed."
In order to open this up, I want to ask the question I assume pops into many people's minds when they read this passage:
Why would Jesus compare Himself to a snake?
I mean, what's the deal? I thought Satan was the snake and Jesus is going to crush his head. I thought Jesus was the Lamb of God. After all, lambs are cute and cuddly, and snakes are, well, gross…
That's right. Snakes are gross; and they're pictures of sin and of God's curse. And that's exactly why Jesus draws a parallel between Himself and the snake. Because, not only did He earn the blessing of the Law by obeying, He received the curse of the law in His death:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree." (Galatians 3:13)
He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
God cannot simply pass over your sin. God's forgiveness of your sin does not mean that He forgets about it and pretends like it never happened. The Israelites in the desert needed a cure, and the cure directly corresponded to the nature of their curse and their suffering. The cause of their pain and death was lifted up in the wilderness for them to look at, so that they might be healed. In the same way, Jesus so took our curse and our sin upon Himself that He is the serpent lifted up. His bloody, torn, pierced flesh was lifted up, and those who see the punishment of their own sins in His wounds are the only ones who can be healed.
Listen to me. If this is boring to you. If you think revisiting the death of our Lord in such detail is same old, same old, then you ought not call yourself a Christian. The wonder of the death of the Son of God on our behalf is a mercy that should be new to us every day of our lives. If you think you're ready to move beyond the death of Christ, you haven't begun to understand the very life of the faith that was once for all handed down to the saints. Wake up!
Your Sin Must Die with Christ
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24)
Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. (Romans 6:6)
Your sinful self must die. You and all your selfish desires must be crucified with Christ.
I'll tell you a story from my own life which helps me comprehend what this means:
I remember the evening before my wedding vividly. We had our rehearsal at the church-house, and then we went to the Irish Lion for our rehearsal dinner with family and friends. After finishing up dinner and other pre-wedding duties and conversations, I got into my car to head to a friend's house across town, where my groomsmen were planning to have a small bachelor party for me. On my way, by myself in the car, I began to become overwhelmed with emotion until I was weeping uncontrollably.
I was not getting cold feet. I was not afraid (more than any other groom the night before his wedding). I wasn't really sad, but they weren't tears of joy, either. I simply had an overwhelming realization that the Alex McNeilly I knew—single, lazy, lonely, immature, free (in some ways)—that man was about to die. The man I once was, whether I liked it or not, starting the next day, would cease to exist. I had new responsibilities, a new body, new joys, new sorrows, and in some strange way I grieved a hopeful grief over my dying self.
Jesus Christ calls us to live a new life. But in order to enter that new life, we must enter through the door of forgiveness where our old self dies. Your sinful self must die. You must be crucified with Christ. And only then will you belong to Christ. And only when you are united with the sinless Savior will your sin be truly put to death.
This is why you must be a Christian to kill your sin.
Now, notice I didn’t say: "You must kill your sin to be a Christian."
Don’t get that backwards. Christ doesn't accept you on the basis of you killing your own sin. It's not a prerequisite for coming to Him. You come to Him so that your sin might be put to death. Don't live under the bondage of self-righteousness, which tells you that Christ will only accept you when you’re holy enough. Don't think that you need to clean yourself up in order to come to Him. Some of us are continually caught up in a battle of self-righteousness; we think we need to achieve a certain level of righteousness in order to have God accept us. Don't believe that lie. Don't live under the bondage of guilt. Don't condemn yourself where God has said that you're free. Don't wallow in sin and self-pity. Yes; see your sin and hate it, but repent and be done with it. Don't wallow in how awful you are; just praise God for His mercy in Christ Jesus and walk in the newness of life.
If you truly belong to Christ Jesus, you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Did you notice how the Apostle Paul phrases that? If you belong to Jesus, you have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
Now, if you're a Christian already, you might be wondering: But I still sin. What's the deal? Am I not a Christian? Well, understand that the death of the remaining effects of sin in your life is slow and painful, as crucifixion always is, but if you belong to Christ, the death of your sin is imminent. Just as imminent as if it had been bitten by a lethally poisonous snake. Just as imminent as if it had nails driven through its hands and feet. The work of a Christian is one of finishing the job, finally overcoming the power of sin with the help of the Holy Spirit. We'll get there next time.
But before you seek to kill one tiny little sin in your life, know and believe that there is no death of sin without the death of Christ. You can only kill the sins which Jesus has already forgiven. The first priority in dealing with sin is to look to the crucified Savior. It's not just to try harder. It's not to be more righteous by your own standards. It's not to beat yourself up and punish yourself through moping and self-condemnation. It's not to escape sin through entertainment and to pretend it doesn’t exist. The first step is to cry out with the Israelites: “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD!”
He is ready and willing to receive you. If you are not a Christian, and you feel the weight and weariness of your sin, come to Jesus Christ. He cares for sinners as a mother cares for her nursing baby. Come to Him and find rest for your soul. Be free from the guilt and condemnation of sin. All you need to do is come to Him humbly, and He will receive you. He promises, and His promises are sure; even though every man be a liar, God is true, and the promises of the Son of God are unwavering.
Don't wait to come to Him. You don't need to be clean before He'll receive you. In fact, you must not be clean. If you are clean, He did not come to save you. But if you are full of sin and wickedness, no matter how shamefully evil your wickedness is, He came to save you. Those who humble themselves before Him—those make themselves low before the mighty hand of God—He will lift them up. The more you try and try and try to lift yourself up in your own eyes and in the eyes of others, the farther you fall from the kingdom of God. Throw out all your own righteousness, all your desire to be approved of by men. Come to Jesus as you are! Let your sin be nailed to the cross with Him. Let it be lifted up and crucified with Christ.
The death of your sin starts with you placing your faith in the blood of Jesus Christ to forgive your sin.
So take your sin to the cross of Christ, that it might be truly killed.
And then (and only then) begins the work of killing sin in your life. After you place your faith in Christ, you still cannot gain the final victory by your own power, but you need the help of the Holy Spirit. But thanks be to God that Jesus promises to send His Holy Spirit to help us. Thank God. We'll look at how the Holy Spirit works next time.