Hezekiah “…broke in pieces the brass serpent which Moses had made; for until those the days the children of Israel burned incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (a piece of brass)” 2 Kings 18:4 (NKJV).
Nearly 700 years (!) earlier, Moses had made this brass serpent in accord with God’s instruction, Numbers 21:1-9. The people has sinned against God, and poisonous serpents had come among them as judgment. Those who looked on this serpent of brass held aloft on a pole were healed. The Lord Jesus, in John 3:14-15, taught that this incident was a picture of His own coming death and of the salvation of sinners.
By Hezekiah’s time, the brass serpent had become an object of superstition, as if it had the power to heal. How do you suppose the people felt about this destruction?
We wonder what would happen if, some Sunday morning, a pastor holding up a wooden cross would stand before his people and, while announcing, “This is just a piece of wood,” would break it into pieces. It might depend on the church, but we suspect that a ripple of shock might sweep through the congregation, much like the shock that followed when a priest tore up a picture of Pope Benedict after Benedict had announced his retirement from the papacy.
We’re so used to hearing about “the cross”. But the cross itself has no more power to save than did that brass serpent of old. Even the cross upon which Jesus died was “just a piece of wood.” Other men, before and after, may have died on that same piece of wood. Their deaths had no meaning. Why did Jesus’? Scripture gives three reasons.
1. The death of Jesus was a SACRIFICE. From the very first, sin has brought death. Even Adam and Eve were taught this. Death had been promised them “the day” they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet they did not die that “day”. Instead, animals died and Adam and Eve were clothed with their skins, Genesis 2, 3. We can’t greatly enter into this teaching, but every time an Israelite brought an animal to the altar, he put his hand on its head. This was a symbolic confession that he deserved to die, but the sacrifice of the animal meant that he could continue to live. So Jesus came to “put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,” Hebrews 9:26. We live because of the sacrifice of Jesus.
2. The death of Jesus was a SATISFACTION. God had instituted physical and moral laws which govern all life. Breaking these laws has serious consequences. If you jump off a tall building, the consequence for breaking the law of gravity is serious injury or death. To break God’s moral law brings only death: “the soul that sins shall die,” Ezekiel 18:4; “the wages of sin is death,” Romans 6:23. God’s justice is as inflexible as His love is immeasurable and must be satisfied. God does not and cannot ignore sin. The penalty for sin – death – must be paid and there are no exceptions.
Isaiah 53:10, 11 brings these two thoughts together: v. 10 speaks of the “offering” – sacrifice – of the Lord Jesus for sin, and v. 11 says that God is “satisified” with that offering.
What does this mean to you and me?
3. The death of Jesus was a SUBSTITUTION. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 tells us that Jesus took the place of those for whom He came to die. Though sinless Himself, He took their sins as His, and, dying, paid the penalty for those sins. So completely did Jesus satisfy God’s justice as the substitute for sinners that it is impossible for a single person for whom He died ever to come under condemnation for sin. Jesus was their Substitute.
Sin will be punished. Your sin will be punished, and mine. Either we will be punished or we must find a substitute. The Lord Jesus came as a Substitute. Though sinless, He took a place as a sinner, to die for sinners. Have you taken, will you take, your place as a sinner? Will you confess that you are guilty? That you deserve to die? That God would be just and fair if He punished you? Will you turn from your sin, and turn to the Lord Jesus for salvation?
Do you thus believe on the Lord Jesus? Do you rest in His sinless life and sacrificial death as your only hope and confidence before God? You see, “the cross” is more than just a pretty piece of jewelry or an ornament on a building. It’s more than just “a sign.” It was the instrument on which the Lord Jesus died for sinners. It is His death and His alone which gives any hope for sinners like you and me.
Do you thus believe on the Lord Jesus? If so, God’s Word says you have been saved from your sins, Romans 3:21-26. If not, consider…. Are you willing to stand before God on your own account, Hebrews 9:27.