Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

by Chassidy Rogers

It had been about two years, that’s all, since the Hebrews had seen and been a part of miraculous signs and wonders. With a mighty hand and outstretched arm, the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had defeated the strongest earthly ruler and empire of the time. Pharaoh’s magicians and taskmasters and chariots and horsemen were simply no match for the power and majesty of “I AM.”
 
You’d think that after a front-row-seat to the ten plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the destruction of the Egyptian army, that the Hebrews’ faith would be set-in-stone. Yet as we flip through the pages of the Old Testament, wel see that time after time they grumbled and complained, they disbelieved, they romanticized the slavery of Egypt, and they misunderstood the LORD and his messenger.
 
Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, knew this history. It was his history after all. We can imagine his surprise when, after being told by Jesus the shocking and confusing truth that he had to be “born again” to see the Kingdom of God, he is then reminded of this somewhat disgraceful past of the Israelites.
 
“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” Jesus says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
 
We find the true story Jesus is referencing in Numbers 21. The Israelites were still wandering in the wilderness, and had been for at least two years at this point. They’ve won some battles and lost some battles, received the Law and all kinds of guidelines and stipulations for worship, and they’ve (you guessed it) grumbled, complained, disbelieved, and misunderstood. Sure, they had their moments of belief and obedience, but they were quickly followed by disbelief and rebellion.
 
In Numbers 21, Israel has just defeated the Canaanites. They set out to go around Edom (unlike going on a bear hunt, they couldn’t go through Edom- they wouldn’t allow it- See Numbers 20).
 
In the midst of this roundabout trip, the people again become impatient. They again speak against God and against his messenger, Moses. “Why are we out here just to die? We don’t have food and water. Okay well… we do have food, but we don’t like it. And…..you did just give us water FROM A ROCK, but that’s not the point. We’re miserable out here. This is the worst.”
 
God’s response? In Numbers 21:6 we read that the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. These likely weren’t flaming snakes, although that image is frightening enough. They were more than likely venomous snakes with a painful bite. And it’s unlikely these snakes simply fell from the sky.
 
Matthew Henry helpfully points out in his commentary on Numbers 21 that, “The wilderness through which they had passed was all along infested with those fiery serpents, as we read about in Deu. 8:15. And yet until this point, God had wonderfully preserved his people from receiving hurt by them until now that they murmured and God sent them to chastise his people.”
 
In response to this surprising reptilian judgment, the people come to Moses and confess their sin. They ask him to mediate on their behalf, to be their go-between before God. Moses prays for the people, and the Lord tells him to make a serpent out of bronze and set it on a pole.  If anyone is bitten by the serpent, but then turns and looks up and upon the bronze serpent, he’ll live and not die.
 
It seems as though Jesus has plucked this story from obscurity in the pages of our Old Testament. Of all events, why this?
 
Matthew Henry points out, “Jesus Christ came to save us by healing us, as the children of Israel that were stung with fiery serpents were cured and lived by looking up to the bronze serpent. 

See the deadly and destructive nature of sin, which is implied here. The guilt of sin is like the pain of the biting of a fiery serpent. The devil is the old serpent, subtle at first, but ever since fiery, and his temptations fiery darts, his assaults terrifying, his victories destroying. 

See also the powerful remedy provided against this fatal illness. The case of poor sinners is deplorable; but is it desperate? Thanks be to God, it is not. The Son of Man was also lifted up.”
 
He was lifted up upon his crucifixion, resurrection, and his ascension. He is lifted up as his gospel is preached and as both believers and unbelievers alike turn to him.
 
Herein lies some good, good news. We who grumble, complain, and disbelieve….we who romanticize our slavery to the flesh, misunderstand the LORD, and so often spurn his messenger, the Christ…even we can be healed and saved as we turn and look to Christ.
 
Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion
For more than conqu’rors we are!
 
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

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