Acts 6:5-9:43: Men, Martyrdom and Miracle

In this portion of Acts, we have the first lapping of the “water of life” beyond the shore of Jewry.  If one takes Acts 1:8 as the “outline” of the book, then chapter 8 gives us preaching “in Samaria,” and then the first convert from “the uttermost part of the earth,” i.e., the Ethiopian eunuch.  In this portion, we note the beginning of changes from a narrow and limited view of evangelism to a wider world-view, all in accord with the revealed will of God all along, Genesis 12:1-3; Matthew 28:19.  God’s purpose in grace has never been as narrow as some would make it, although, to be fair, neither has it been as wide as others tend to make it.

This section focuses of four men of martyrdom or miracle:  Stephen, Philip, Saul and Peter.

1. Stephen, 6:5-8:4.

His Ministry, 6:5-8.  Chosen as one merely to help in the distribution to the poor, Stephen evidently soon excelled.  SInce the early Christians seem greatly to have been filled with the Spirit, he was probably one of many such men, but he is noteworthy because his life in particular impinged on and greatly influenced a young man named Saul of Tarsus, 7:58.  Also, Saul may have been one of “them of Cilicia” who were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke, Acts 6:9-10, although that isn’t certain.

What an encouragement this young man is to us – and what a rebuke to our expectations!  We want huge crowds and wonderful “ministries,” but even in the ministries of men like Spurgeon – may God raise up some men like him! – the working of God’s Spirit is always “one-on-one.”  As an encouragement to us – here was a young man apparently cut off very early in his life, yet his testimony was part of the means of the conversion of one who forever influenced the church.  We have such a narrow, sometimes fatalistic, sometime ineffective, view of the sovereignty and purpose of God.

His martrydom, 6:9-8:4.  Stephen’s witness before the Sanhedrin is a masterpiece.  It isn’t simply a collection of facts, or a mere historical recitation, but a careful account of God’s dealing in grace throughout Israel’s history, not leaving out their rebellion and sin, which ultimately consisted in their murder of the Messiah, 7:51-53.  He probably never got to finish.  His mention of God in v. 56 would have been intolerable blasphemy to the Sanhedrin, v. 57, and for that they killed him.

2. Philip, 8:5-40

Philip was another of “the seven,” and like Stephen was greatly used of God.  He is interesting for several reasons.  He was used in a great city-wide “revival,” for lack of a better term, and yet was caught away in the midst of it all to go way south to talk to a single individual.  What we said about Stephen is also applicable here.

One result of his ministry was the “conversion” of a man named Simon.  A lot of discussion centers around the question of whether he was actually saved or not.  I don’t think he was, but then I don’t really know.  We can’t see the heart of people.  According to our Lord in Matthew 7, there will be a great number of people who can say, “Lord, Lord,” who will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is not without reason that another of these four men – Peter – warned his readers to make your calling and election sure or certain, 2 Peter 1:10.

3. Saul of Tarsus, 9:1-31.

In the audience listening to a heretic named Stephen was a young, zealous Jew named Saul of Tarsus.  This same Saul later preached a sermon which echoes the sermon of Stephen, Acts 13:16-41.  We doubt he ever forgot that episode or that preaching, for we believe it was the means of his eventual conversion.

But even though the seed had been sown, it was not yet God’s time for the harvest.  In the meantime, we believe that Saul fought tooth and nail against what he had heard.  In some circles, there is a great and often heated discussion about whether God’s grace is effectual or whether it can be resisted no matter what God might try to do.  I think Saul indeed had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the border of the kingdom of God, 8:1-3; 9:1-2, 5, but when he found out who Jesus really was, he “willingly” walked into it.

4. Peter, 9:32-43.

Just because the Gospel emphasis is beginning to shift from Jew to Gentile does not mean that things were not happening with the Jews.  Peter was still being mightily used  of God.  This section shows him being moved into place for what was not his final ministry, but it is the one we Gentiles are the most concerned in, for it shows the door of faith being opened wide to us.

March Memories: Just A Piece of Wood.

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.)

 

The Baby at Bethlehem.

I belong to a facebook group where there’s been a rather spirited and lengthy discussion going on about celebrating Christmas.  There are earnest people on both sides of the question. Though I personally don’t like all the trappings that obscure the true meaning of Christmas, I have no problem with celebrating His birth.  Apparently, some do.

I thought the best post of them all was by a person who included a cartoon.  The cartoon showed the nativity scene with Mary, Joseph and the Baby, but also showed Santa, a chair, an elf and lights and a camera.  Santa has his arms outstretched, but Mary is holding Jesus away from him, and the caption, which I have altered slightly, has her saying to Santa, “Why in the world would we want a picture of Him with you?”  I’d have included it here, but my low-tech mind hasn’t figured out such high-tech thingys.

Anyway, that’s not what this post is about.  Perhaps some of you who have been with me for a while will find the rest of the post familiar.  Though not completely copied, it is taken from a post published last year at Christmas.

In all the celebration of Christmas, even with the nativity sets included, have you ever thought about the fact that the Lord Jesus is the only historical figure who apparently never grows up.  Nelson Mandela died the day before my birthday, which is how I can remember it.  This year, there was a news item about his being remembered.  It was very short, yet it was from the standpoint of his life, not about his birth.  And yes, I know there are those who deny the Lord’s historicity.  Not interested in that here.

Someone commented to me that we do celebrate Jesus’ death at Easter.  That is true, for without Christmas there would have been no Easter.  Still, we don’t normally associate those two events, His death at Christmas or His birth at Easter.  When we observe the birthday of any other figure, George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., etc., we talk about what they did, not so much about their births.  Only Jesus stays in the manger on Christmas day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Could it be that nobody’s threatened by a baby?

True, Herod was, but his was a unique case.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way.  They have no real interest in the youngster, no responsibility toward him or her.  He certainly poses no threat to them.

What about the Baby in Bethlehem?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now there weren’t ignorant pagans in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  They were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  After all, they were the chosen nation.  No other nation had ever enjoyed that privilege.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they had to repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

Jesus told them that unless “their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the Pharisees especially were looked up to as the height of virtue and righteousness.  And there were good Pharisees, who lamented the “street-corner Pharisees,” as much as our Lord, who scolded them more than once for their hypocrisy.  Still, the idea that something more than what they had was unthinkable.  After all, they were the guardians of Israel and her heritage.  No wonder they perceived Him as a threat to them and to their way of life, cf. John, 11:48.

Even though Jesus was mostly against the leaders of the nation, it  doesn’t seem to have taken long for them to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20; John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat for folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way.

But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, then He’s a threat.  People don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told they’re sinners and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love”, not righteousness, about a “better place”, not that other place.  They want “health”, not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.

 

 

Voices of Christmas: The Babe in the Manger.

At last we come to the central figure in the nativity story.  The series hasn’t worked out quite like I thought it would when I started it at the beginning of the month.  There are “voices” not heard, and so much more that could have been heard from the ones that were.  Nevertheless, here we are:  someplace near a feeding trough for animals – a makeshift bed for the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and of each and every one of us, because there was no room for Him elsewhere.  We understand the situation.  It wasn’t because of the hardheartedness of people.  There was just simply no room.

We could get sidetracked here about the evil government that had created the situation, but that’s not our purpose.  Our purpose is to focus on an unknown infant in an obscure village in a small, troublesome nation, an infant generally ignored in the hustle and bustle of the happenings of the day.  Pretty much like today.

Even among Christians.

And nativity scenes.

And the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

The celebration of the birth of our Lord brings about a curious situation.  Have you ever noticed that the Lord Jesus is the only historical character never allowed to grow up? (And, yes, I know that some think He never existed.)  I made a comment somewhere on a blog about this and someone replied, “Easter.”  That’s not what I meant.

What do I mean?

Nelson Mandela died a few weeks ago.  In the future, when his birthday comes around, the focus will not remain on his birth among the Tempu tribe in Transkei, South Africa, on July 18, 1918.  That will no doubt be included, but the focus will be on what he accomplished in his life.

By way of contrast, the Lord Jesus remains forever a Babe on Christmas Day.

Why do you suppose that is?

Nobody’s afraid of a baby.

I don’t know what the situation was back in the Lord’s day, but folks today will come up to the parents of a little one and “ooh” and “aah” over how cute he or she is.  They’ll smile at the little one, want to know his or her name, and then go their way because he or she isn’t theirs.  They have no real interest in that little one beyond today’s cuteness. But the baby certainly poses no threat to them or their well-being.

What about the Baby in the manger?

He grew up.

The Lord Jesus began His ministry by commanding people to repent.  He talked about sin and death and judgment and hell, where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” Mark 9:43-48.  Now these were not ignorant heathen in some out-of-the-way place somewhere.  These were people who for centuries had prided themselves on being God’s people.  They were the chosen nation.  And no doubt many of them did know the Lord.  But the idea to some of them that they should repent just like Gentiles who converted was just too much.

He told them that unless their “righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” they would “by no means enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:20.  You have to understand that the scribes and Pharisees were looked upon as the paragons of virtue and righteousness.  The idea that something more than what they had was required – why, that was unthinkable!  More than once, the Lord publicly scolded them for their hypocrisy.  No wonder, they perceived Him as a threat to them and their way of life, cf. John 11:48.  Granted, this was the leaders of the nation, but it apparently didn’t take much to incite the crowds later to cry out, “Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!” Luke 23:20: John 19:15.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby poses no threat to folks.  They can ignore Him and go their way. But as the incarnate God and Judge of all mankind – well, He’s a threat.  They don’t want to think about things like death and the judgment to follow.  They don’t want to be told that they’re sinners, and that, apart from faith in the Lord Jesus, they stand condemned in the sight of God.  They want to hear about “love,” not righteousness, about “a better place,” not that other place.  They want “health,” not holiness.  Riches, not redemption.

The Lord Jesus as a Baby is safe.

But He grew up.

Thank you, Lord.

Happy Birthday.

The Gospel According to the Book of Romans

It’s interesting that the Apostle Paul wrote to an established church that he was ready to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome also, Romans 1:15 (NKJV).  He wanted to impart… some spiritual gift to them, that [they] may be established, 1:11.  How could that be?

Perhaps the answer lies in the possibility that “the gospel” is about so much more than just “getting people saved”.

Even a cursory look at Romans reveals a wide range of topics, all of which, in my opinion, make up “the gospel.”  Even after 50 years of “being saved,” I still need this “gospel” as much as someone who’s never even heard of it.  Regardless of where you are in your journey through life, so do you.

What do I mean?

Well, let’s take a stroll through the book.

1.  Salutation, 1:1-17.

We’ll not do an exhaustive survey of the book – that would take a large book in itself!  This will probably wind up being a long post, anyway!  In these verses, Paul introduces himself to a church he hasn’t yet visited.  He describes himself a little bit, then writes of his desire to visit them for the reason we quoted above.  Providentially hindered until now, he wants them to know that they’re on his heart and he wants to meet them face to face.  He declares that he’s ready to preach the gospel to them – a gospel he isn’t ashamed of, because of its origin and power, as well as it’s outcome: ‘the just shall live by faith,” 1:17.  He begins his exposition of the gospel by describing why we need it to begin with:  the dark area of man’s

2.  Condemnation, 1:18-3:20.

If Romans had been written by a modern Christian, perhaps v. 18 would start, “For the love of God is revealed from heaven….”  However, Paul knew that man’s relationship to God isn’t that of a wayward son, trampling on the love of a Father, as some today seem to think, but that of a willful rebel, a traitor against the rule of his King, a criminal defying the laws of God.  Paul describes that rebellion in these verses.

Mention of the creation of the world, v.20, leads me to believe that this is a description of early man after the Fall.  There are those who believe that between the Fall and the giving of the Law at Sinai, man was pretty much left to the guidance of his own conscience.  However, Job said, “I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food,” Job 23:12.  Of Abraham, God said that he had “…obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws,” Genesis 26:5.  These men both lived long before the giving of the Law, so what “word” or “voice” did they “obey?”  There are other indications sprinkled throughout Genesis that there was a substantial revelation given to men, of which we have only incidental records.  Further, there was the interaction of Abraham and Melchizedek, who was called a priest of God Most High, Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7:1, 2.

My point is that when Paul wrote of these early inhabitants of our planet, he wasn’t just saying that they knew “about” God, but that they knew Him – and turned away from Him.

The terrible things recorded in 1:18-32 are a result of the judgment of God on their rebellion; note please that He gave them up, vs. 24, 26, 28, to the depravity of their fallen natures. Paul did not say that He gave up.  He let them go.  He gave them what they wanted – their way, not His.  He turned His back in judgment on those who had turned their back on Him.  One has to wonder what application these verses might have to the US in view of recent and ongoing events.

But it wasn’t just “early man” who sinned against God.  The Gentile world in general since then has turned away from God, even though their understanding that there is a “right” and “wrong” puts them under the same judgment as their ancestors.  Even the Jewish people, who had been given a revelation of God through the Mosaic Covenant, and who had, generally speaking, turned away from it, to the point of crucifying their Messiah when He came, were guilty just like the Gentiles, whom they despised.  Paul’s conclusion: all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23.

3.  Justification, 3:21-5:21.

I believe it was Socrates who said that there might be a way for the gods to forgive man, but he didn’t know what it could be.

Paul knew.

There used to be a bumper sticker which said, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”  While the first part is certainly true, the second part is, well, lacking….  We are so much more than “just forgiven.”  In this section, Paul declares that we have been justified.  That’s a big word that means that we have been declared righteous by God, even though in and of ourselves we are anything but righteous.  But, we’re not declared righteous because we have somehow been able to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps or because we have been able to cobble together a kind of obedience to the law.  We’re declared righteous through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is His righteousness we need, not some cheap knock-off we might be able to put together.

Paul shows that even Abraham, whom the Jews revered, was justified, declared righteous, by faith.  Circumcision was given as the sign of that truth, not as a means of salvation in itself.  Every Jewish male was reminded that his relationship with God through the Abrahamic Covenant was to be one of faith, not works, though I doubt if many of them thought of it that way.  Many of them thought that the simple possession of “the sign of the covenant” was all they needed.  Many follow in their footsteps, having been taught that what is said to have succeeded circumcision, namely infant baptism, is all they need, bolstered by “confirmation” a few years later.  But all that is a post for another day.

Throughout history, men and women, boys and girls have always been saved by faith, their own faith, not someone else’s, either in the coming Savior, or in Him after He came.

4.  Sanctification, 6:1-8:15.

God has declared His people to be “righteous,” though we are anything but.  However, He doesn’t leave us as He found us.  Through the Spirit and the Word, He sets about to make us righteous.  “Sanctification” isn’t some mysterious “experience,” some bolt out of the blue which makes us perfectly sinless – would that it were!  Ephesians 2:10 says that we are His workmanship, created for good works.  Sanctification is simply the Holy Spirit seeing to it that we look like it.  The word itself simply means “to set apart,” as a cook might wash a dish and set it on the table, ready for use.

Paul’s main argument in this is our spiritual union with Christ.  When He died, we died.  We’re to consider ourselves dead to sin and not yield our bodies to sinful things.  This doesn’t mean, as Romans 7 tells us, that sin is dead to us.  I know there’s a lot of discussion about exactly what Paul meant as he wrote.  Some think he wrote of his pre-conversion life.  I’m content to believe that he’s talking about himself as a Christian, and the struggle between what we are in ourselves and what we are becoming in Christ.  Sin may have been slain on the Cross, but its death struggles go on.

But, will this struggle ever end?  It seems to be a never-ending battle.  There’s good news.

5.  Glorification, 8:16-39. 

This is a short section, but filled with glory and promise.  It basically starts off with the idea  that we are joint-heirs with Christ, v. 16, and that nothing at any time or place can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, v. 39.  Paul takes us from eternity past when God “foreknew” us, that is, chose us, not just foresaw that we would choose Him, all the way into eternity future, where we will be “glorified,” that is, all the barnacles of sin, disease, frailty, fallenness, the Curse, will be taken away from us, and we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2.  A happy day that will be indeed.  Paul says that in the purpose of God, it’s already as good as done.

6.  Explanation, chs. 9-11.

Paul’s exclamation in 8:39 that nothing can separate us from the love of God might have brought up the question, “Well, yes, but what about Israel?”  After all, she crucified her Messiah and, for the most part, had rejected Him.  The church center, as it were, had moved from Jerusalem to Antioch and the church was rapidly becoming more Gentile than Jewish.

There is a large portion of Christendom which says, “Yes, God is done with Israel.  Her sin has indeed separated her from the love of God, and she is undergoing His judgment.  Individual Jews may certainly be saved, and are being saved, but the nation itself is done.”

This is the farthest thing from Paul’s mind.  Reminding his readers of the privileges Israel had enjoyed, 9:1-5, privileges given to no other nation on earth, Paul pointed that there had always just been a remnant according to the election of grace, 11:5.  There had never been a time when the entire nation had followed God.  Further, Israel had indeed been given up as a nation, but that setting aside was only temporary, 11:25.

One of the strangest expositions of these chapters I’ve ever heard centered around 11:12.  A brother interpreted it like this: “Now if their [Israel’s] fall is riches for the world, and their [Israel’s] failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!”  He simply would not or could not accept that “their fullness” referred to Israel as much as the two phrases he marked as theirs.

11:26, And so All Israel will be saved,… he interpreted to mean “spiritual Israel,” that is, saved Jews and Gentiles who make up “the church.”  According to this interpretation, it has nothing at all to do with the nation of Israel.  Such views, in my opinion, entirely miss what Paul was saying.  Now, Paul didn’t mean that every single Jew will be saved, as this brother seemed to think my view required, but only that every single Jew alive as the time when this verse comes true, will be saved.

The prophetic books of the Old Testament are filled to the brim with descriptions of what “their fullness” will be like.

7.  Application, chs. 12-16. 

Having answered possible questions about Israel’s future, as well as our own, with all the blessings that will happen there, he then brings us back to the present.

Because, “there” isn’t here, yet.

He lists various responsibilities believers have.  The motivation for serving God.  Our attitude toward government, especially in the areas of taxation.  How to deal with those who haven’t arrived at our understanding of Christian liberty.  There’s material here for much study.

He closes with his plans and desire to visit them, sends greetings to various members of the church and finishes up with a benediction ending with the phrase, to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever.  Amen. Romans 13:27

So, you see, “the Gospel” has a much grander scope than often imagined.  And our few words are by no means exhaustive of its treasures.  In fact, I’m not sure we’ll ever get beyond its grace and glory, even “over there.”

Just A Piece of Wood

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.