Pastor James J. Barker

Text: NUMBERS 21:5-9; JOHN 3:14-18


  1. There was a teenage boy who had good Christian parents but was not saved. He wanted to be saved but could not understand the simplicity of the Gospel.
  2. One Sunday morning it snowed heavily and he was unable to attend his usual place of worship. He stepped into a Primitive Methodist chapel and sat down.
  3. Because of the big snow storm there were only about a dozen or fifteen people there that morning. The pastor himself was unable to get to church. So, one of the members volunteered to preach.
  4. He was not prepared to preach, and had little experience preaching, so he just kept repeating his text over and over. His text that morning was Isa.45:22, "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else."
  5. He went on like this: "My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, Look. Now that does not take a deal of effort. It ain’t lifting your foot or your finger; it is just `look.’ Well, a man need not go to college to learn to look…Anyone can look; a child can look. But this is what the text says. Then it says, `Look unto me.’ Ay, many of you are looking to yourselves. No use looking there. You’ll never find comfort in yourselves. Jesus Christ says, `Look unto me.’ Some of you say, `I must wait the Spirit’s working.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ.’
  6. He went on like this for about ten minutes and then looked directly at the teenage visitor sitting in the back of the auditorium. He said: "Young man, you look very miserable. And you will always be miserable – miserable in life and miserable in death – if you do not obey my text. But if you obey now, this moment you will be saved."
  7. Then he shouted at the young visitor: "Young man, look to Jesus Christ!" And the young man did! Later on he would write: "There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; I could have risen that moment and sung with the most enthusiastic of them of the precious blood of Christ and the simple faith which looks alone to Him."
  8. That teenager was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who went on to become the greatest preacher England ever produced!
  9. I want to preach a similar message today, though I have chosen a different text. Someone once complained to Spurgeon that all of his sermons sounded alike. Rather than be offended, he replied: "Yes, I take my text anywhere in the Bible and then make a beeline to the cross."
  10. It certainly is not difficult to make a beeline to the cross today (cf. John 3:14,15). We will look at the story of Moses and the fiery serpents in Numbers 21, and make our beeline to the cross as our Lord Himself did in John 3.



    1. The people were complaining and griping. They sinned in two ways: by speaking against God (vs. 5), and against Moses, God’s appointed leader (vs. 5).
    2. Sin always brings God’s judgment.

"The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezek.18:4).

"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23).

    1. The fiery serpents that the Lord sent among the people symbolize the fact that the venom of sin in fallen humanity is Satanic in origin (vs. 6).
    2. The devil came to Eve in the form of a serpent (cf. Gen.3:1,14,15; Rev.12:9).
    3. Many worldly people like to play with snakes. I have seen pictures in the papers of people with snakes wrapped around them – that is a vivid picture of the deluded sinner being slowly choked to death by sin!
    4. Sin is like a burning snake bite, and if not dealt with, will lead to death (vs. 6). The physical death of the Israelites foreshadows spiritual death. The Book of Revelation speaks of "the second death" (Rev.20:6,14), i.e. eternal separation from God, eternal punishment in the lake of fire.



    1. I say, "should lead to repentance," not "will lead to repentance." Unfortunately, some sinners refuse to repent no matter how severely they are being judged by God.
    2. Think of Pharaoh. God kept warning him, and judging him, and God turned the rivers to blood, and God covered the land with frogs, and sent lice, and a grievous swarm of flies, and God sent pestilence, and hail, and still Moses refused to repent!
    3. After all of this, Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said: "Thus saith the LORD God of the Hebrews, How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me?"
    4. When sinners reject the will of God, then the judgment of God must follow. But when sinners repent, God is gracious (vs. 7).
    5. Once the people said, "We have sinned…" (vs. 7), help was on the way. Perhaps there is someone here today who needs to get right with God. Admit this to God. Tell Him, "I have sinned." He will save you if you mean business.



    1. The serpent was the instrument of their judgment and now it was the instrument of their blessing (vs. 8).
    2. A question immediately comes to mind: If the serpent is a picture of sin and suffering and even of the devil himself, how can it be a picture and type of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:14)?
    3. The answer is this: Christ was "made a curse for us" (Gal.3:13; cf. II Cor.5:21).
    4. The entire human race has felt the serpent’s deadly sting; but God in His grace and mercy has provided the perfect remedy – He has sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross for our sins (cf. John 3:14-18).
    5. Notice that the serpent was to be made of brass. In the Bible, brass always symbolizes judgment (cf. John 12:31-33).
    6. Notice that the serpent had to be lifted up on a pole (vss. 8,9). It was not effective in Moses’ hand, or on some pedestal or platform – it had to be lifted up (cf. John 3:14; 8:28; 12:31-36).
    7. Let me give you seven characteristics of the serpent of brass, and then seven characteristics of the people:
      1. As I have said, the serpent had to be lifted up (cf. John 12:32,33).
      2. God’s grace was manifested. God could have let them all die there in the wilderness. They deserved to die. All of us deserve to die and go to hell because of our wicked sins.
      3. It is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. Way back before God created this world, the Lord Jesus Christ was "the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Rev.13:8).
      4. Everyone who looked was saved. There was no other way to be saved but by faith. These were God’s instructions: if they looked, they would live. Snakebite medicine could not help them.
      5. It was a free remedy. It did not cost them anything to just look and live. They might not have understood all there is to know about sin and judgment and salvation, but they knew how to look and live!
      6. "Everyone" had an opportunity to look and live. The Bible says, "and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live" (Num.21:8b). And then we read, "that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived" (Num.21:9b). And our Lord said, "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:14,15).
      7. It was easy and simple – "look and live." Some people try and make salvation complicated. Salvation is not complicated. Salvation is not by works. Salvation is not by baptism. Salvation is not a process – you get saved the moment you look to Jesus as your only hope. Charles Haddon Spurgeon was a religious young man but was not saved. Then a simple lay preacher challenged him by saying, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ and be saved." And he did. Unsaved friend, how about you?
    1. I just gave seven characteristics of the serpent; please allow me to quickly give you seven characteristics of the people:
      1. They were undeserving.
      2. They were rebellious (Num.21:5).
      3. They were stubborn.
      4. They were poisoned by the serpents.
      5. They were miserable and dying.
      6. They were helpless.
      7. They were hopeless.
    1. Do you recognize yourself?
    2. Salvation is provided when one recognizes that he is undeserving, rebellious, stubborn, etc.
    3. Salvation is provided when you look to Jesus Christ, not a crucifix, not a statue, not a church, etc.
    4. It is interesting to note that this brass serpent was turned into an idol by later generations, and it was destroyed on the orders of King Hezekiah about 700 BC (II Kings 18:4).


  1. In the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in England, there is a fascinating picture of Moses and the brass serpent.
  2. In the picture you can see a man kneeling and looking at Moses. He continues to writhe in pain. Since he is looking at Moses instead of the serpent, he will die.
  3. There is another man lying on the ground with a serpent at his ear whispering words of comfort and consolation. This poor dupe is slowly and surely dying of the snake bite.
  4. Another man can be seen busy binding up the wounds of a friend. They will not look at the brass serpent, they think they can heal themselves. They don’t realize that in a few minutes they will both be dead.
  5. Another man is fighting a serpent with all his might, apparently he believes in salvation by will power, human strength and determination.
  6. Moses is prominent in the picture, and back of him there is a man with a calm, peaceful look on his face. He is looking at the serpent of brass – not at himself, not at Moses, not at the others, not at the fiery serpents – but he is doing what he was told to do – he is looking at the brass serpent. He believed God’s Word and He lived.
  7. Today, are you looking up at the Lord Jesus Christ? Are you trusting in Him and Him alone? Do you see Him high and lifted up on the cross for your sins? If so, look and live!

| Customized by Jun Gapuz |