Discourses on John 3:1-21


John 3:14,15

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
In these verses our Lord proceeding as he had begun, to teach Nicodemus spiritual truths, by earthly and sensible[perceptible] things, applies the history of the brasen serpent to himself. I formerly preached from the passage to which he refers: Numbers 21:8,9. [1] But it was so long since that though the illustration of the same subject, may lead me to many thoughts which I then offered, it will not I hope be a tiresome repetition.
In the history of the brasen serpent, we may consider the occasion, the place, the person who set it up, and the method of the cure. Each of these we have the fullest warrant from my text to expand in a gospel sense.
1. The occasion
The occasion was the sin, ingratitude and murmuring of the people, and the punishment with which the Lord visited them. He sent fiery serpents which bit, tortured and killed them. Sin is the great plague and the cause of every other evil, the wages of sin is death, death armed with a sting. The awakened conscience is beset and wounded, with terror, remorse, guilt, and temptation; these are like so many fiery serpents which torment and threaten to destroy, and they have power not only over the life that now is, but that which is to come likewise unless grace interpose.
2. The place
The place was a wilderness, where no medicine or physician could be procured. Such a wilderness is the whole world with respect to any help against the wound of sin. Neither earth, sea, air or sky afford the least remedy, but sinners must have died and perished eternally if the Lord himself had not provided and revealed the means of cure.
3. The person who set it up
The brasen serpent was set up by Moses at the command of God. They had despised Moses's law and therefore suffered, but Moses could not relieve him[them] by his law. The brasen serpent was not given him on Mount Sinai, but was a dispensation of mere grace and mercy, in a case where Moses and the law must have left the people to perish. As it was with Moses then so it is with his law now – it can only convince and condemn, it cannot relieve, yet in the hand of the Spirit it is a schoolmaster to Christ – pointing him out in the Levitical ordinances, and enforcing the necessity of a Saviour by its sanction and curse denounced against all transgressors.
4. The method
The method of the cure consisted in these things:
  4.1 The appointment of the brasen serpent – the similitude of those by which they had been bitten. It looked like one of the serpents, but had none of the fiery venom. So Christ was made in the likeness of sinful flesh, made sin, though he was without sin, made a curse for us to redeem us from the curse we were fallen under.
  4.2 The serpent was lift[lifted] up on high, placed on high, that all might see. The lifting up of the Son of Man was threefold:
    4.2.1 on the Cross: John 12:32,33 [2]
    4.2.2 in the preached Gospel: Isaiah 11 [3]
    4.2.3 in glory: Acts 5:31 [4]
  4.3 On the people's part, the cure was performed by looking, a fit emblem of faith. Who could say the Remedy was not suited and equal to the disease, since it was:
    4.3.1 near, Romans 10:8,9 [5]
    4.3.2 cheap and common, [Romans 10] verses 12,13 [6]
    4.3.3 easy only to turn the eye. Faith indeed is not easy but it is the gift of God and the longer we look the more the eye of the soul is strengthened.
Thus much for the comparison; the 15th verse directs to the application. Here is a general warrant for sinners. The preaching of the Gospel is as if the Lord Jesus called to each of you from his Cross and from his throne and said, Look unto Me and be ye saved. 2 Corinthians 5:20; Isaiah 45:22. [7]
1. Will you not visit him on the Cross, hanging with outstretched arms, groaning and dying under the weight of sin?
2. Will you not view him on his throne possessed of all power and authority?
What is required of you, but only to believe and if you find yourselves unable, to ask for faith with a certainty of receiving it.
The word is general – Whosoever. The word of God has not excluded any, do not exclude yourselves through unbelief.
Rise awakened souls, that are wholly taken up with looking at your wounds and the fiery serpents – this will not cure you; arise and look to Jesus.
The Israelites who had such as easy, effectual remedy, and yet refused to look, deserved to perish. If you reject Jesus, there is no other sacrifice or possibility of escape. O beware of unbelief. How shall we escape if we neglect this great salvation? [8]

Series No. 18

[1] Numbers 21:8,9 And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.
[2] John 12:32,33 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die.
[3] Isaiah 11 And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord… But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth… And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious...
[4] Acts 5:31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
[5] Romans 10:8,9 But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.
[6] Romans 10:12,13 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
[7] 2 Corinthians 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Isaiah 45:22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.
[8] Hebrews 2:3 How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;

Cowper & Newton Museum, 714(2) No. 4

Marylynn Rouse, 28/10/2020