And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up:…
The difference between the Gospels and the Epistles is that between seed and flower. Christ gave men the seeds of truth, and left inspired apostles to develop them. Paul has been charged with inventing the doctrine of the atonement, but it is in this verse in germ. Notice here three analogies —
I. IN THE DISEASE. The poison of the fiery serpents was fermenting in the Israelites; that of sin is fermenting in us.
1. Men are sinners: a trite observation, but Paul devoted three chapters in Romans to prove it. Our very righteousness is as filthy rags, and you may endeavour by moral improvements to wash them, but you can no more wash them clean than an Ethiop can his left hand by rubbing it with his right.
2. We are all sinners. There is no difference. Irrational animals come short of the glory of God; but men "fall short." The idea of a fall underlies all human history: hence culpability. Some men have fallen more deeply, but there is no difference in the fact.
3. All are under sentence of death. "Guilty before God," subject to penalty — death. The wages never fall below that.
4. Not only so, but we are polluted, morally sick. What brought death upon us wrought it in us. The venom of the serpents would assuredly terminate in death, in spite of all self or other help. We all sinned in Adam, but Adam continues to sin in us. Sickness is contagious, health never. The Jew transmitted his depravity, not his circumcision: you impart your sin to your posterity, not your holiness. Each has to be regenerated anew.
II. IN THE REMEDY.
1. Our salvation comes through man. The Israelites were bitten by serpents, and by a serpent they were to be healed. By man came sin; by man comes salvation.
2. Not only by man, but the Son of Man, one who in the core of His being is closely united to every other man. According to the ancient law, the Goel or nearest relative alone had the right to redeem. Christ is the nearest relative any man can have.
3. The Son of Man lifted up. The tendency is to make the Incarnation the centre of Christianity: the Bible makes the Cross that. A glorious display of condescending grace was made at Bethlehem; but on Calvary God and man were reconciled. Christ suffered(1) with man in virtue of His keen sympathies;
(2) for man, in that He suffered martyrdom rather than forsake the path of duty;
(3) instead of man, for He bore the wrath of God.
4. The necessity for our atonement. Not shall, but must. The "must" of ver. 10 indicates the necessity for a radical change in order to salvation; that of our text the necessity of an atonement on the part of God. Sin must be published. God's righteousness must be upheld, and all its demands met.
5. Jesus Christ uplifted is now both physician and remedy to His people. The brazen serpent could only heal our disease: Christ saves to the uttermost(1) degree of perfection,
(2) degree of continuation.
III. Is THE APPLICATION OF THE REMEDY FOR THE DISEASE. The Israelites were not bidden to apply poultices, but to look. You are not enjoined to improve yourselves, but to believe.
1. Through faith in Christ the sinner has permission to live. Two words are used in this connection; forgive — give for; remit — set free; corresponding to χαρίζομαι, to show grace, and ἀφίημι, to discharge. These must not be confused. As Broad Church theologians contend every one has been forgiven, but in the first sense. God has "given for" man all that Almighty Love could offer. But men are only forgiven in the second sense when they accept God's pardoning grace.
2. By faith we acquire the right to live — this is justification and more than pardon, permission to live.
3. The power to live — regeneration.Conclusion:
1. In Christ's days faith in everlasting life had become practically extinct.
2. Christ revived it, not simply teaching it, but imparting it.
(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: