Hezekiah broke in pieces the brass serpent which Moses had made; for until that day the children of Israel burned incense to it, and he called it Nehushtan (a piece of brass), 2 Kings 18:4.
Nearly 700 years (!) earlier, Moses had made this brass serpent in obedience to God’s instruction, Numbers 21:1-9. The people had sinned and poisonous snakes had come among them as judgment. Those who looked at this serpent of brass held aloft on a pole were healed. In John 3:14, 15, the Lord Jesus used this incident as 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. When Moses destroyed it, how do you suppose the people felt?
What do you suppose would happen some Sunday morning if a pastor, holding up a wooden cross, would stand before his people and, after announcing, “This is just a piece of wood,” would break it into pieces? It might depend on the church, but we suspect a ripple of shock would sweep through the congregation, much like the shock when a priest tore up a picture of Pope Benedict after Benedict announced his retirement.
We’re so used to hearing about “the cross.” But the cross itself has no more power to save than that brass serpent of old. Even the cross on which Jesus died was “just a piece of wood.” Other men may have died on that same piece of wood. Their deaths held no meaning. Why did His? 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 forbidden fruit. Yet they did not die, at least physically, that day. Instead, animals died and Adam and Eve were clothed with their skins, Genesis 2, 3. Further, 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 the Lord Jesus.
2. The death of Jesus was a SATISFACTION.
God has instituted physical and moral laws which govern all life. Breaking these laws has 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 cannot and will not overlook or 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 – the sacrifice – of the Lord Jesus, and v. 11 says that God was “satisfied” with that offering.
What does this mean to you and me?
3. The death of Jesus was a SUBSTITUTION.
2 Corinthians 5:18-21 says 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 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 for them, 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 in this way 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 a decoration on a building. It’s more than just a “sign.” It’s the instrument on which Jesus died for sinners. It is His death and His death alone which gives any hope for sinners like you and me.
Do you believe like this 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, Hebrews 9:27?
(originally published May 13, 2013.)