THE BRAZEN SERPENT
T. Pierce Brown
In John 3:14-15 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.” Thus, Jesus points to the serpent as a type of Himself. From this, we can get some important lessons.
Of what does the type consist? The Israelites were a sinful people. We are a sinful people. The wages of sin is death (Romans6:23) and we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans3:23). The cure was not found in men searching for an antidote, killing the snakes, compromising and making an offering to the serpents, examining their wounds and applying a mustard plaster, but in lifting up the serpent that they might look upon it and live. The antitype is Christ being lifted up and our trust being put in Him. If there is any one verse in the Bible that shows that believing in the Son includes obeying His commands, John 3:36 does. “He that believeth on (pisteuon) the Son hath everlasting life and he that believeth not (apeithon–which means, “does not obey”) shall not see life.” To state it another way, “Saving faith is always an obedient faith.”
It does not really matter whether the command to them was “Look and live,” or “Crawl out and touch the pole and live,” the principle is that when the Christ was offered for our salvation from the poison of sin, there was a God-given method of appropriating the cure. No one was offered life on any other basis.
If a man had been too weak and sick to look on the serpent, would it have been fair for God to let him die just because he could not do what he was unable to do? Most of the denominational preachers I have known and many of those whom we have called our brethren reason that way today. There are two great truths we need to know about that sort of situation. We have no right to decide what would or would not be fair for God to do. Whatever God does will be fair and right. Second, we need to know that if a man bitten by the serpent died, he died because the serpent bit him. He did not die because Moses was not nearby, or did not get the brazen serpent up in time, or because he was too weak to look, or even because he did not choose to look. Those may be contributing factors, but the prime cause was that the serpent bit him.
The point is that the prime cause of man’s condemnation is sin. If a man falls into the water and drowns, the thing that causes him to drown is not that he fell into the water, or that he cannot swim, or that you fail to throw him a rope, or that he refuses to take hold of the rope. The thing that causes a man to drown is that he gets water in his lungs and does not remove it in time. You can prove this logically to yourself if you realize that many men fall into the water and do not drown. Many cannot swim, but do not drown. Many men do not have you to throw a rope to them and do not drown. Many may refuse to take a rope, but do not drown. But all that get water in their lungs and do not get it out will drown.
You are guilty of contributory negligence if you see a drowning man, can throw him a rope, and do not. You are guilty of failing to obey the Lord if you know a man in sin, have the opportunity to teach him the gospel and do not. But you are not the cause of his being lost. Sin, and only sin, is the cause of a person being lost. Of course, if we wanted to use a more complete logical analysis and talk of “instrumental cause,” “contributing cause,” “formal cause,” “final cause,” “material cause,” “transeunt cause,” “immanent cause,” or another philosophical division of causality, we might do that. The primary point I am now making is that whatever other related events may or may not take place, the primary cause of a man’s being lost is the man’s own sin.
So, the religious, or irreligious world that finds a sinner, on his deathbed or any other place, who died without looking in trusting obedience to Christ, has no right to blame God for his being lost. He is lost because he sinned. We may be lost if we fail to care about his condition and deliberately fail to help him find salvation. This is one reason any specific evangelistic outreach that helps you to evaluate how much you really care about the lost can be very valuable. If you do not care enough to help, you will not be lost because you did not help with that particular program, but because you did not really care about lost souls at all, and thus show that you do not really respect and love Jesus.
This is why, when I urge persons to assist in specific local or world wide evangelistic efforts, I do not stress money-raising per se, but stress the fact that the loving Savior that died for you asked you to help in the task of redeeming mankind. He sacrificed His whole life. Have you and I really sacrificed anything at all? Do we intend to? If so, when and how?
We are not responsible for the sins of lost mankind. We are only responsible for ours. Whereas many are lost because of the sins that society finds contemptible, we may be lost because we simply do not love our Lord enough to help Him in the task He died to accomplish. God is not responsible if we sin, then neglect salvation until it is too late to receive it, or never get a chance to receive it.
The Bible teaches that God’s justice demands punishment for sin, but nothing in the Bible suggests that God’s grace demands that he offer more than one chance for a man to do the right thing. God may offer two or a thousand chances, but if a man rejects the first or the first nine hundred, for a man to presume that God is not merciful because the man did not take the last one offered is unduly presumptuous, as man is wont to be. Don’t sin by presumption and also by indifference!