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The Serpent, the Sorrow, and the Savior (John 3:10-21)

Pastor Brian, Sermons, Subject Studies

The Serpent, the Sorrow, and the Savior (John 3:10-21)

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The Serpent, the Sorrow, and the Savior

John 3:10-21 (Pastor Brian)

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven–the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”


Pauline and I were discussing the comparison Jesus makes with himself and the serpent in the desert (this is a symbol of evil – Satan tempted Adam and Eve in the shape of a serpent). Yet, Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so must the Son of Man.”

This passage is very familiar – when Jesus meets with Nicodemus at night. Nicodemus said, “I believe you must be from God because no one can perform such miracles without help from God.” Jesus said, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Unless born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

Then, he brings up this comparison – like Moses in the wilderness.

If you go back to the OT and see the real events that happened there (Numbers 21) Because the Israelites disobeyed the Lord, they would not enter the Promised Land.

Numbers 21:4-9

Arad Destroyed

1 When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. 2 Then Israel made this vow to the LORD : “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy their cities.” 3 The LORD listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.

The Bronze Snake

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Manna = wafers with honey – God provided – but this was ALL they could eat day-by-day. So they complained.)

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

Bronze / brass = symbol of judgment. The people who complained were judged, but the Lord told Moses to make a bronze serpent, raise it up, and the people who were bitten and looked UP – would live.

Ever get discouraged? It’s much better to complain TO God than complain AGAINST God. Check out the Psalms, Jeremiah, the prophets, Habakkuk.

Interview: Ever get overwhelmed by problems? Yes, I give them over to the Lord. I think about Psalm 44 and 88. David poured out his heart to the Lord and complained TO God. (In fact 88 ends “in darkness”).

This interviewee had parents who were alcoholics, his “father” he recently discovered was not actually his father. But his hope was in the Lord and he was trusting Him.

About this passage: “How often we / I take our blessings for granted – to think them worthless.” (Is this manna just so-so?) Sometimes we lose the import and impact of the Word, but we need to continue treasuring it in our hearts.

“The only remedy is for fiery serpents to awaken us to our need – and how our very sinfulness has been crucified and laid on Jesus.”

It can be difficult and painful to experience our own wilderness journeys. But the Israelites did not do this – so they suffered the consequences of the Lord in discipline. Sometimes we also suffer the discipline of the Lord – but not because he is mean, but so that he can make us HOLY.

Sometimes, we go through struggles and discipline, and at the other side, we are more like Christ.

Why “fiery serpents”? Probably because the sting was fiery hot.

Paul: “Yield the shield of faith to extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy.”

Thankfully, the people realized their mistake and asked Moses to pray for them that the serpents would be driven away. They then trusted in the Lord to make them go away. And Moses interceded for them, prayed, made the brass serpent, raised it, and the people who were bitten looked upon it and were saved.

2 Cor 5:21 “He made him who had no sin to BECOME sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.” He was treated like a sinner, though he was holy and sinless. Yet he was making a substitutionary sacrifice for us – taking the death we deserved, and transferring us his own righteousness. Whoever believes in Christ receives this righteousness from Christ – who took our place in death in sin.

God in this way loved the world.

This harkens back to how Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert. Jesus, likewise was raised up on a tree (cross) and those who look to him will receive healing, forgiveness, and the gift of eternal life.

In the OT, we see the prophet Isaiah foretold of this sacrifice.

Isaiah 53:6 “All we, like sheep, have gone astray. We have turned, everyone, to our own way. And the Father has laid on him the iniquity (sin) of us all.”

Isaiah 45:22 “Look to me and be saved all you ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other.”

So the serpent represents our sin, and the curse that sin brings with it – the curse of the Law – which was placed upon Jesus.

Galatians 3:13 “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us. For it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (cross).’ He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus.” The Promise of God is now for ALL the nations – who accept Him.

We can be similarly blessed by having faith in Christ.

Deut 5:28? The blessings and curses that the Israelites pronounced on themselves: blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience.

It’s great to read about the blessings~! “You’ll be blessed in you life; the head, not the tail; blessed and fruitful in your work.” (The head decides, the tail gets dragged around).

IF they obeyed, they would be blessed.

But then, go read the curses – it’s pretty horrific. If they disobeyed, they’d be cursed: “The tail, not the head; families would not be blessed, etc.”

This all happened to them, because, as humans, they gave into temptation and sin; punished and disciplined. YET always with the Promise to return to him if they repented, forsook their sins, and returned to Him. This is the same for all humanity. Repent, forsake your sin, return to God.

The solution to the problem in the desert: LOOK upon the pole, and be healed. Jesus says the same, “Look upon me” – he bears the curse and our sins. When you look upon him, you also will receive forgiveness, and eternal life.

The Divine Exchange: Jesus became the curse of sin.

He was punished that we might be forgiven. He bore our shame and punishment. He was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.

He was the Suffering Savior that we might be made whole and well. Spiritually, physically, emotionally – God WANTS us to be prosperous in these things in general. “He delights in the prosperity of his people.”

  • Jesus was wounded that we would be made whole.
  • He was made sin that we might be made righteous.
  • He died in our place that we might have life: abundant, eternal life.
  • He became poor that we might become blessed.
  • Poverty in that time was a “curse”.
  • He was buried in a borrowed tomb, that we might be enriched in life.
  • He was hung on a cross naked and shameful, bearing our shame that we might become partakers in his glory.
  • He bore rejection, the worst kind, betrayal, rejection of his own father. Jesus bore that rejection – he’d always had communion with his father, but as sin on the cross, the father turned his face away and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!”

It was bearable for the disciples, his closest friends to betray him and flee, but when his own father rejected him, it was unthinkable. Yet, Jesus bore this rejection so he is able to empathize with us.

He also bore the curse of sin so that we might receive his blessing.

Let me now share an extended testimony: Charles Spurgeon (prince of preachers) – in his autobiography, he shares how he was saved.


I think I might have been in darkness until now, if not for Christ sending a snowstorm one morning. I was going down the street, but turned elsewhere, and went to a Methodist church. There weren’t many people, but I wanted to know how I might be saved. The minister couldn’t make it, snowed in. At last, a small man, a shoemaker perhaps, went up to preach. It is well if preachers know how to preach – but this one was stupid. He was obliged to stick only to his text (this text) “Look to me and be saved all the ends of the earth.” He didn’t even pronounce the words correctly. He began, “The text says, ‘look’ – this ain’t hard. You needn’t go to college to look. You could be a big fool, a poor fool, or a child. Anyone can look.

Look unto ‘ME’ – many of you are looking to yourself, but you’ll find no comfort there. Some look to the father – yes, later. The text says, ‘Look to CHRIST.'”

After about 10 minutes, he was finished – unable to say much more. He then looked at me (15 years old) and noticed I was a stranger. He fixed his eyes on me: “Young man, you look miserable.” Mmm, that’s true, but strange. “And you’ll always be miserable in life and in death unless you obey my text; but if you obey now in this moment, you’ll be saved. Young man, LOOK LOOK LOOK to Jesus! You have nothing to do but LOOK and LIVE.”

I didn’t know what else to do. I’d been waiting to do 50 things. But when I heard that word, it seemed so charming, I LOOKED – the cloud was gone, and I could have risen that instant and sung with the most enthusiastic of them.

Oh, that somebody had told me that before! “Look to Christ and be saved.”

That happy day when I found the Savior was a day never to be forgotten by me. I listened to the word of God and that text led me to the cross of Christ.


He went home that day and his family could immediately see the change in him.

Spurgeon suffered much of his life with depression. In one of his first sermons, someone cried out “Fire!” as a joke. Everyone rushed out and a handful of people were killed – he carried that burden for years. He suffered depression for much of his life. But he never forgot that particular day when he was saved by grace and realized the Lord is his strength.

We all struggle, have trials and temptations because of our personal sins – OR just because we live in a fallen world. When these terrible things happen, sometimes we may be tempted to complain against God or authority.

But I hope this sermon is a reminder to cast your cares on him because he cares for you.

Let’s pray.

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So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Listen
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