John 3:14. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
Nicodemus inquired after the Kingdom of God. Christ told him that he was morally unable to see it, that in his present state he could not be a subject of it. On his expressing surprise and doubt, Christ
1. Rebuked him for his sinful ignorance.
2. Showed him the unreasonableness of his unbelief.
Having shown him the change which he must himself undergo in order to seeing and entering the Kingdom, Christ proceeds to unfold its doctrines.
A simple method of unfolding the truths contained in the text may be to pursue the striking comparison which is here instituted by Christ.
1. The serpent was lifted up by Moses, in the midst of the wounded and dying.
1st. The people had sinned, had been bitten, and in numbers had died. Amongst them the serpent had been lifted up.
2nd. In like manner, Christ has been lifted up amongst the wounded, the dying and the dead. The serpent, the devil, has stung mankind.
(1) There are, therefore, dead souls in hell.
(2) There are dead bodies in the earth.
(3) We feel the fatal poison in our bodies.
(4) The souls of men even on the earth are dead – we need not look into hell.
(5) But some are thus beyond remedy, in eternity.
(6) Others are at various stages of disease.
3rd. Some of you feel the sting of death – which is sin.
4th. Others are so far gone as to be insensible.
2. Through the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness, the dying were restored to health.
1st. If any man had been bitten, when he beheld the serpent of brass he lived.
2nd. In like manner, life is the blessed result of the work, and the accepting of Christ.
3rd. The one restoration is from disease, the other from death.
(1) The sentence is reversed.
(2) Spiritual life is actually imparted.
(3) Remaining disease is gradually removed.
(4) There is a final restoration to eternal life.
4th. The one was a respite from death the other a final deliverance from it.
5th. Some of you will not believe that you have life, because you feel disease.
6th. Some will not believe that they are dead, because they do not feel deadness.
3. When Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, that which removed the malady had a resemblance to that which produced it.
1st. By fiery serpents the people were bitten; by the likeness of a fiery serpent they were restored.
2nd. In this particular, the resemblance holds good.
(1) By man came death. By man came also the resurrection from the dead.
(2) Man’s fall was by a moral wound. Man’s redemption is by a moral wound – by death, death is destroyed.
(3) Man’s fall was a defeat. His rise is by a seeming defeat.
3rd. Have you seen death to be necessary to your life?
4th. Have you drawn life out of death?
4. In order that the brazen serpent might exert its healing virtue, it had to be lifted up. “Set it upon a pole.”
1st. The brazen serpent was so raised up that all might see it.
2nd. The Son of man has been lifted up:
(1) Upon the cross – to atone for sin.
(2) To the right hand of God – to intercede and to reign.
(3) In the gospel – to be seen, and to be believed on.
3rd. In the gospel, Christ is seen both dead and alive.
4th. You must contemplate Him in both states (Rev 1:18).
5. The serpent, to heal, had to be looked on.
1st. If the people did not look to it, they died under a double sin:
(1) Their original murmuring.
(2) Their obstinate unbelief.
2nd. In like manner, Christ must be believed on if we would not perish. If He is not looked to, there is:
(1) Original guilt.
(2) The guilt of unbelief.
3rd. The people had only to look.
1. Stewart (1813-1846) was a minister latterly in Aberdeen. For a sketch of his life, see the issues of this magazine for October and November 2000.