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The Bronze Serpent

Numbers 21:4-9

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. [5] And 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." [6] And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] 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. [8] 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 shall live." [9] 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. (NASB)

The Singer sisters, say they have been loyal customers of Filene's Basement, an Ohio based discount chain, for years but recently received a letter from the chain of stores asking them not to return. David Sherer, Vice President of loss prevention wrote a letter to one of the sisters in May. He said, "Given your history of excessive returns and your chronic unhappiness with our services, we have decided that this is the best way to avoid any future problems with you and your sister."James McGrady, chief financial officer for the chain admits customer bans are "extremely rare."He noted that the sisters had returned an "incredible" number of items and said sales associates were spending too much time handling the sister's returns and complaints. McGrady added, "There comes a point in time when you say enough is enough on both sides." 

The sisters acknowledge they have returned many items and occasionally complained about the service and that they've had a few run-ins with store mangers, but neither sister felt their actions were excessive. (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

The Singer sisters had nothing on the Children of Israel. After years of oppression at the hands of their Egyptian captors, God sent Moses to deliver them. En route to the "Promised Land" God provided for their every need, yet they weren't satisfied with God's provisions. Verse five says, "And 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.'" There is a reason we call them the "Children of Israel," listen to them-don't they sound like a bunch of spoiled children? In one place they say they have no food. OK, being without food is a reason to complain. But then they say, we "loathe this miserable food." So which is it? Do they have food or not?

Philippians 2:14-16a gives some good advise to everyone who tends toward being a complainer. It says, "Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…." (NIV)

God punished them for their complaining. He sent fiery serpents to bite them. Some say these snakes are called "fiery" because of their color, others because their venom burnt as it entered the body. We don't know for sure which it is, but we do know that their bite was fatal, and the punishment brought the people to their knees. Verse 7 says, "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."

Notice what they confessed to. They confessed that their murmuring against Moses was also against God. They also confessed that their complaining constituted sin. But also notice what they wanted God to take away-the punishment. They asked God to remove the punishment, but did not ask Him to remove their sin.

Like the Children of Israel, we are quick to ask God to remove our punishments and slow to ask Him to remove our sins. Have you ever considered what sin cost us? I don't know of anyone who has ever quantified what sin cost, but the other day I read a news release about a report conducted by the University of Michigan who tabulated the cost of the common cold.

The study surveyed 4,000 homes by telephone nationwide. 75% of the households surveyed reported suffering from a cold within the last year, with an average of 2.5 episodes a year. The households were asked to report their doctor bills, cost of over-the counter medication, and the cost of prescription drugs. They also reported days of work or school missed due to a cold. 

The study found that Americans spend $2.9 billion on over-the-counter drugs and another $400 million on prescription medicines for relief of cold symptoms. Researchers discovered $1.1 billion dollars is spent every year on 41 million antibiotic prescriptions for cold sufferers, though antibiotics have no effect on a viral illness. 

The battle against the common cold costs the US economy $40 billion dollars annually, more than other conditions like asthma, heart failure, and emphysema. 

Mark Fendrick MD, from the Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation, and Cost Effectiveness at the University if Michigan says the cost of missed days at work and school due to colds is often overlooked. He adds some of the costs may be unnecessary. Fendrick said, "What was a surprise, is how often the public uses the health care system to treat a cold. From a bottle of cough syrup to missed time at work and school, the price tag of catching a cold really adds up." 

(http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

I wonder if you could tally up the cost of sin what it would total? Personal pain. Betrayal. Eternal damnation. I don't know what the total cost is, but I do know what its price was, Jesus' blood. Let's return to our text to read verses 8 and 9. "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 shall live.' [9] 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."

Moses made a bronze serpent, and raised it above the people on a pole and asked them to look at it after a serpent bit them so they would be healed.

John 3:14-15 says, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; [15] that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life." (NASB) 

Looking to the bronze serpent was not casually glancing at a work of art-it was them placing their faith in it. It was not seeing the serpent that healed them, it was believing in God that healed them. When the Psalmist wrote, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." Psalm 121:1 (KJV) he wasn't glancing toward the hills, he was looking for help.

As a castaway would look to the horizon for a ship to rescue him, so the children of Israel looked to the bronze serpent for healing. In their original request, they asked God to remove the punishment, but didn't ask them to remove their sin-which was a sin of not accepting God's provisions. In looking to the serpent, they went beyond a confession of their sin to repentance. They were once again accepting God's provisions. They were putting their total trust in Him.

And that is precisely what we must do today. No, we don't look to a serpent raised above the earth-we look to a cross, and when we do, we see our God bearing our sins on our cross. We don't glace at the cross-we look to the cross. We place our trust in this sacrifice for our eternity.

Have you ever placed your trust in Christ? Have you given your life to Him and accepted Him as your Lord and Savior. If not, you can do so today. With a simple prayer, tell Him that you've sinned and that you're sorry for you sins. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to take them away from you. Tell Him you'll live the rest of your life for Him and that you'll serve Him until your dying day. Tell Him that you are willing to exchange your life for His death. Ask Him to save you.

If you do. He will.

Romans 10:13 says, "Whoever will call upon the NAME OF THE Lord WILL BE SAVED." (NASB) 

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