Other comments on this day's readings can be found here.
Reading 1 - Num 21
Jesus expressly connects this parabolic event of the brazen
serpent (Num 21) with his own death:
"Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son
of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal
life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John
In making comparison between those former Israelites and those
to whom he was then speaking, Jesus was plainly intending to stress two points
The first -- between the "snake-bitten" then and the
"sin-bitten" now -- is easy to grasp because we remember the role played by the
serpent in the garden. Because sin entered into the world through the first
couple's acceptance of his suggestion, the serpent became the fitting symbol of
sin. He was in fact the true Bible "devil" (Rev 20:2): the teller of lies and
the deceiver of men. By extension, then, the Bible "devil" now dwells in each of
us because we bear the condemned nature of Adam, a nature susceptible to the
rebellious thinking first seen in the serpent.
So, Jesus says, this generation is dying because it is bitten
by "sin". He scarcely needed to say that every generation since Adam has met or
will meet the same fate. We are born of the flesh, "born in sin", and dying just
as surely as the Israelites fell in the wilderness -- unless a divine miracle
brings us back to life.
Thus the way is prepared for the second intended comparison:
between the serpent lifted up on the pole and Christ "lifted up" on the cross.
The serpent was the symbol of sin, and therefore the serpent on the pole was the
symbol of sin conquered. When Jesus spoke of himself being "lifted up", he
unquestionably meant his own crucifixion (John 12:32,33). His crucifixion was to
be the defeat of sin.
This of course implies that in some sense "sin" was attached
to Jesus. But we err if we call him a "sinner":
"He committed no sin" (1Pe 2:22).
"He has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet was
without sin" (Heb 4:15).
"Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John
How then did Jesus the sinless man partake of "sin"? How could
he -- with any reasonableness -- be symbolized by a serpent? Paul gives the
"For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened
by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh,
and for sin. And so he condemned sin in the flesh" (Rom 8:3).
Jesus was associated with sin because he possessed "sinful
flesh": a nature susceptible to sin. The death of Jesus accomplished in full
what the setting up of the brass serpent had done in part. It condemned sin, or
the serpent, in human flesh; it destroyed it; and it provided a focus for the
faith of those who needed forgiveness and deliverance from their sins.
No individual Israelite in that day was able completely to
destroy (by his own will and strength) the "serpent" or "devil" ("diabolos") in
his bosom. And neither can we! But one special member of the human race, with a
nature just like theirs (and ours), totally subdued the evil desires of the
flesh in himself, and finally took that serpent-nature that inevitably tended to
sin and impaled it -- lifeless and powerless -- upon a tree. What a wonderful
picture of our redemption is that serpent of brass!
Reading 2 - Pro 15:1
"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up
anger" (Pro 15:1).
"We have read many times that 'A soft answer turneth away
wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.' We know that the proverb is true. We
may desire that wrath should be turned away, the stirring up of anger may be the
last thing in the world that we should want, yet when the occasion comes how
many of us can find the soft, healing words? How many can resist the temptation
to use grievous words if we chance to think of something which we consider apt
and telling, and which in any case gives relief to the feeling of the moment?"
(Islip Collyer, "Principles and Proverbs").
What dangerous fires of hatred are kindled by words spoken in
haste! That's why taking time to think about what we should say is so important.
Restraint can bring peace to many an ugly situation, as is illustrated by this
story: An old Englishman was greatly loved because of his positive influence.
One day an angry young man who had just been badly insulted came to see him. As
he explained the situation, he said he was on his way to demand an apology from
the one who had wronged him. "My dear boy," the elderly man said, "take a word
of advice from an old man who loves peace. An insult is like mud; it will brush
off better when it is dry. Wait a little, till he and you are both cool, and the
problem will be easily solved. If you go now, you will only quarrel." The young
man heeded the wise advice, and soon he was able to go to the other person and
resolve the issue.
How often the tongue pours fuel on a fire that would go out if
left alone! "Do not be rash with your mouth... let your words be few" (Ecc 5:2).
Perhaps you have a problem with someone and have decided to "tell him off." Why
not wait? It's easier to brush off mud when it's dry. And pray for the one who
offended you. It may dry the mud a little faster.
Reading 3 - Eph 1:7
"In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness
of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace" (Eph 1:7).
The simple truth of the transaction of redemption is contained
in the key passages that equate redemption with the forgiveness of sins (Eph
1:7; Col 1:14). What has been forgiven cannot also be paid for. The sacrifice of
Christ, the culmination of a life of perfect obedience and dedication, was the
price paid for our salvation. That is to say, it was necessary that Christ give
himself as a suitable basis for the declaring of God's righteousness in offering
mercy to sinners. But God's offer requires a corresponding "payment" on the part
of those who would accept it. Since they are to be redeemed out of death, they
must repudiate that which brought death, which is the world and sin (Rom 6:1-7,
for example). They must live sober and godly lives, repudiating all iniquity, as
a special people belonging exclusively to God (Tit 2:14).