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Receiving the Gift (part 3)


People sometimes brace at the thought of simply believing as the means to receive Jesus. This attitude goes back to the beginning of time. As Jesus spoke to Nicodemus he recalled a simple story from Numbers 21 to illustrate his point.

“Then the people of Israel set out from Mount Hor, taking the road to the Red Sea to go around the land of Edom. But the people grew impatient with the long journey, and they began to speak against God and Moses. ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness,’ they complained. ‘There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!’

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and many were bitten and died. Then the people came to Moses and cried out, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take away the snakes.’ So Moses prayed for the people.

Then the Lord told him, ‘Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!’ So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!” (Numbers 21:4-9, NLT)

Nicodemus would have been familiar with Jesus’ illustration. Do you find it interesting that God didn’t solve the problem by removing the snakes? The snakes remained in the camp and people continued to be bitten. God’s plan wasn’t to remove the problem. God’s plan was to overcome the problem through faith. The bronze replica was made, impaled on a pole, and lifted up. Anyone who looked to the replica was healed.

Another interesting aside is that the text reveals that “anyone” who looked was healed. The choice of words allows us to meditate on the fact that though this remedy was available to all, not everyone took advantage of it. Like their modern day counterparts, there were some who preferred to kill snakes than express faith by looking to the replica.

Jesus then made a bee-line to his own purpose and forthcoming sacrifice.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15, NLT)

In my mind’s eye, I can see Nicodemus scratching his head as he connects the dots. The Israelites’ problem points out Nicodemus’ problem, and ours for that matter! We are bitten from birth and the poison of sin runs through our veins. What is the solution? Look to the crucified God! Believe!

How can God extend the opportunity for us to simply believe? We can respond to God’s salvation by faith, which is made possible by God’s grace. Or said another way, faith is my response to God’s grace. Grace is the way God gives himself to us. Grace is God extending his kindness to us in our impossibility for his glory in spite of our unworthiness.

I served on a church staff once with a guy who viewed grace as a license to excuse every responsibility in life that he didn’t want to undertake. Whenever he dropped a ball or let something slip through the cracks, he’d plead for others to extend grace to him. The grace of God isn’t opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning. By God’s grace we are offered the opportunity to believe. It’s not done through earning. We could never do or be enough.

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