Summary: Let nothing--nothing!--turn your attention from your snake on the pole--let nothing distract you from your Savior on the cross. Through such seemingly silly ways, God gives to you--not a snake on the pole--but His Son on the cross.
That whole snake-on-a-pole thing must have sounded insane to some of the Israelites. Stare at a bronze serpent and you’ll be healed? That sounds ridiculous. It must’ve sounded just silly enough that some Israelites started looking for more reasonable solutions to the snake bites.
In our minds this night, let us take a journey back in time to see how some of the Israelites may have reacted to God’s Word about the bronze snake on the pole.
I see right away that some folks back in Moses’ day began the time-honored discussion of why bad things happen to good people. I can just imagine the more sensitive among the Israelites listening to a particular elder; we’ll call him Elder Self Esteem. Now Elder Self Esteem couldn’t bear telling the people that these poisonous vipers were the result of God’s judgment on their bad behavior. He didn’t want to wound people’s self-worth and inflict irreparable damage on their sensitive inner-child. So instead of directing people to the snake on the pole, he set up support groups, hoping to make people feel better about themselves. And, it’s true, the people did have high self-esteem--but they still died, because they never bothered looking at the snake on the pole.
We can chuckle about that story, but don’t we think the same way? Don’t we prefer pastors who tell great stories in their sermons and make us feel good about ourselves instead of making us squirm in our seats, exposing the specific things each of us has done wrong? What happens when sermons only make us feel good about ourselves? We never see that we’ve been bitten by sin and are dying. And we never look to the snake on the pole--I mean, the Christ on the cross--to get the life that God is giving.
Let’s look at some others ways that the Israelites could have responded to the snake on a pole. One spiritual-looking elder in camp believed that the real problem was the people’s lack of faith. “We need to speak faith into this situation,” Elder Look Within shouted. Now he said that he wasn’t against the snake on the pole. But he said that it’s faith that saves, and so Elder Look Within taught people to look to their own faith for salvation instead of looking at some impossible-to-believe snake on a pole. What did it matter, anyway? The snake merely represented what God was doing. And so some of these inward-looking people died because they refused to look at the snake on the pole.
Some in the camp were angered that Moses, a man, wouldn’t allow women to help hold up the snake on the pole. One woman was heard to say, “I’m not going to look at any ‘snake on a pole’ that only men are allowed to hold up.” Soon after that she died of snakebite and a candlelight vigil was held in her honor.
A major point of contention for some became the inspiration of Moses. Did God really say to Moses to do this snake-on-a-pole thing? One group led by Elder Higher Criticism felt that this was merely Moses’ opinion. Any healings that had taken place could easily be explained by natural causes. But wouldn’t you know it: Elder Higher Criticism fooled many people, especially as he liked to lead worship in a way that looked, sounded, and smelled like true, Old Testament worship of Yahweh with ritual, chanting, and incense.
Another group doggedly defended the divine inspiration of Moses. Elder Fundamental led this group. He wanted worship to be simple and easy, because he didn’t want to seem like he was in league with Elder Higher Criticism. But sadly, Elder Fundamental’s overreactions reduced the opportunities for people to see the snake on the pole. What was really important to him was that people realize that what Moses said was true. However, when people were wondering if what Moses said was true, they weren’t looking at the snake, and some died.
One elder believed that each person had to decide for the snake, on whether or not to look at the snake on the pole. And so Elder Make A. Decision concentrated on that. Elder Decision began having large gatherings where he would first condemn the horror of poisonous vipers and later invite the people to come forward and decide to look at the snake on the pole. After some had decided to look at the snake, they began to sing songs that centered on--not on how God had chosen to save them through the snake--but on how they had chosen to decide to look at the snake. How strange, singing songs that focused on them instead of God and how He had saved them through the snake.
One elder agreed that the situation was, indeed, very drastic. But he thought the idea of immediately directing people to a snake on the pole was a bad business model. “We should find out what people are looking for,” he said. Elder Synagogue Growth asserted that it might take up to six months of working with “snake-seekers” before they would be willing to look at the snake on the pole. So instead, he asked the people what they wanted. Some wanted aerobics so that they could more quickly run away from the snakes. Others wanted to learn real-life, practical principles for living in a camp infested with snakes on the loose. Others wanted only to get together and sing lighthearted, emotional songs and forget about the snakes. While they waited for people to be willing to look at the snake on the pole, many died.