The Russian playwright Anton Chekov famously wrote:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
The Author of Scripture knew this well, and He never hung rifles He was not planning to fire…
The Bible begins with the story of creation – God makes a world, which He declares to be good. Into this world He places mankind, consisting of male and female, designed to be in relationship with God, and one another, and given a commission to rule on God’s behalf, cultivating, caring for, and bringing out the best in creation.
Genesis 3 tells us about a primal act of rebellion in which man was tempted by a serpent to reject God’s plan and pursue his own ambition. As a result of this event, known as the fall, the whole of creation became damaged: relationship between man and God was broken, relationships between people were soured, and the relationship between man and creation was warped, as all of the cosmos became infected with the poison of decay.
But at the beginning of the story hangs a loaded rifle – a promise that the serpent will get his come-uppance:
‘The LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3: 13-15)
Fast forward to the time of Moses and the people of God are wandering in the wilderness, having been freed from captivity in Egypt.
‘The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.’ (Numbers 21:5-9)
This is an unusual, but powerful story. God sends punishment upon the people for their rebellion, and when they beg for mercy, God refuses to take away with serpents (which would be a failure of justice) but He provides a way out: a substitute, hung high on a pole, so that if people infected with the poison look to him in faith, they will be healed…
Jesus, talking with Nicodemus, says this about his forthcoming crucifixion:
‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’ (John 3:14-15)
This simple saying ties together a huge number of biblical promises, and demonstrates that Jesus is about to overturn the curse of Genesis 3 and do for the whole world what the bronze serpent did for the people in the wilderness: removing the sting of death and promising new life to all who look upon him in faith.
This Good Friday, as we reflect on the cross, we remember it not as an isolated moment in history, but the climax of the entire story. Jesus’ death is the answer to the deepest problems in the world:
- Jesus is the seed, whose heel the serpent bruises (Gen 3:15)
- Jesus is the substitute, who took on the form of our sin and punishment (2 Cor 5:21)
- Jesus is the exalted one, who we look to in faith, in order to be rescued (John 3:15)
- Jesus is the one who removes the sting of death (1 Cor 15:55)
- Jesus is the promised one, who will crush the serpent’s head (Rom 16:20)
Questions for Reflection
- It is remarkable that a book written over so many thousands of years, by so many authors, could be so coherent, and that promises made early on would all be fulfilled in Jesus. How does this give you confidence about the reliability of the Bible?
- Reflect on the curse in Genesis 3:14-19. In what other ways does Jesus’ death and resurrection overturn that curse, and promise new life?
Why not use the following to help you to pray today:
Thank you Jesus that you are the climax of God’s story and that by looking to you I can receive forgiveness of sins, a renewed relationship with God, and the hope of eternal life. Thank you that you achieved what mankind was not able to, being perfectly obedient to God, even giving up your life on the cross. I am grateful for your sacrifice, and look forward to celebrating your resurrection. Amen.
If you find yourself with some extra time today, why not listen to one of the following talks:
Don’t forget to join us today from 11.00-12.30 for our Good Friday Meeting, where we will worship, share communion and reflect on the significance of the cross.
79 Endell Street
Image: Snake Skin 2 by Tambako the Jaguar, used under CC