Last week we quoted the well-known text in the Gospel according to John, chapter 3, verse 16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. This makes it look as if it is extremely easy to become a christian: just believe in Christ and you will be saved. However, we have to be careful when we make things simple, that we do not make them too simple. The great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, in a very different context, once said, “Make things as simple as they can be made, but no simpler”, and that is good advice when trying to explain to a person how to become a christian. We must not make it more complicated or more simple that the bible makes it.
In John 3, verse 16, in the original language there is a clue to this. The word translated ‘in’ is a word meaning motion towards, or motion into. In fact the same word is translated, ‘on’ in verse 18.
Jesus Himself was an expert at explaining spiritual things, and He usually did so by illustration, and that is exactly what He has done in the passage in John that we are looking at. He calls His hearers to consider an Old Testament illustration with which they would all have been familiar. We read the story in Numbers, chapter 21, verses 4 to 9. The Children of Israel were under the judgement of God because they had begun to complain to Moses, their God-given leader, that the way was difficult. They accused Moses on account of the difficulty, saying that he should never have led them out of Egypt where they were enslaved and oppressed by the Egyptians. In response to their sinful complaint, God sent fiery serpents among them. Their bite was fatal, and many were dying. This brought them to their senses and they came to Moses confessing their sins and asking him to pray to God to take the serpents away. In answer to Moses’ prayer God gave him a very strange instruction. He was to make a serpent of brass and set it high on a pole so that all could see it. God gives the promise that everyone who is bitten, if he or she simply looks at the serpent they would be completely healed and saved from death.
Now this is one of many illustrations from things that happened in the old testament which explains a very important aspect of the gospel: what it means to believe on, Christ in order to be saved. Now there are many such illustrations in the Old Testament, so we have to ask the question, why did Jesus choose this particular one? Why, in this most important of all gospel passages in the New Testament, did Jesus choose this particular illustration? It is because it, more that any other, it is the best illustration of what it means to believe on Christ in such a way as to be saved.
Yes, it is simply looking to Christ, and being saved; but it is no casual look: it is the looking of those who are under the judgement of God, and hence, perishing, and who know it for sure. They have been brought to the position where they have no hope, but that Christ was lifted up on the cruel cross in order to pay the penalty for their sins, and make them Right With God.