The Power of the Cross: 29th Edition, April 8, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,


Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a short gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging.


Setting Captives Free - Lesson 4: Looking at the Cross of Jesus is the Cure


“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).


One thing we need to establish right up front in this lesson is that God’s way of doing things doesn’t always make sense to us humans. If we’re not careful we will overlook the most powerful event in the history of the world because it doesn’t make sense to us, or because it offends us, or it isn’t what we expected or wanted, or a hundred other reasons. To grow in grace and make progress in our spiritual life, we must accept that God’s ways are not like ours, and God’s thoughts are above ours:


Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.


So with that understanding, in this lesson, we are going to study an illustration that is given in the Bible which will confirm the truth taught in the previous lesson that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2). What we will study today is God’s way for us to find freedom.


Please read the following passage of Scripture and answer the questions below:


Numbers 21:4-9 (NIV-WS) They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.


Question 1. What is the problem that the Israelites are facing as described in this passage?


The Israelites were dealing with poisonous serpents as punishment for their sins of rebellion and discontent. Many were bitten and died and others are approaching death. This is a serious problem.


Question 2. Before God gave Moses the solution, was there anything that the Israelites could have done to be healed of their snakebite?


Obviously, there was nothing that could be done, no man had any cure or could provide any help. They were bitten, the venom was running through their bodies, some of their friends and family had already died, there was nothing that man could do to help them.


You will probably remember a passage from a previous lesson:


Psalms 108:12-13 (NLT) Oh, please help us against our enemies, for all human help is useless. 13 With God’s help we will do mighty things, for he will trample down our foes.


Question 3. When examining Numbers 21:4-9, what solution do you see that God provided to the Israelites?


Question 4. Was there anything in the solution God provided that would even remotely make sense as being a cure for the snake-bitten Israelites?


What a strange solution, right? To put up a pole and then hang a bronze snake on the pole, and call the people to look at it. It seems a little odd.


If human beings were making a program to try to deal with snakebite they would first label us as “Snakebitten!” The label is important so that we begin to see that as our identity. Then they might give us a cute slogan to remember, “once snakebitten, always snakebitten”. Now we begin to think we’ll always be this way, always have this problem.


Then they would begin to strategize about how to win the battle against the venom, or start an educational program to raise venom awareness which includes admonitions  “to make wiser choices than to be bitten by snakes”. The natural self is always focused on doing. But God’s ways are higher than ours.


I think you will agree that God’s solution did indeed work, but can you see how powerful it was? How personal it was? Look at verse 9 once again: “Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.


Now, let’s look to the New Testament to see the relevance of this story to our lives. Please read the following passage of Scripture. How does it bring light and understanding to the passage we have been looking at in Numbers 21?


John 3:14-17 (NIV) Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.


Question 5. According to John 3:14, to whom or what did the snake uplifted on the pole point forward?


In John 3:14, Jesus teaches that the snake uplifted on the pole pointed forward to Himself (using His favorite title for Himself, “the Son of man”). In other words, the story of the snake lifted up on the pole to bring healing and life to the Israelites found its fulfillment in Jesus when He was lifted up on the cross to bring eternal life to the world.


But wait a minute, how can a snake, which represents sin and Satan (compare Genesis 3:1 with Revelation 12:9), point forward to Jesus, the pure, innocent and holy Son of God? Wouldn’t it have been better for God to have used something pure and innocent instead of a snake? Maybe a dove? Or a lamb?


Question 6. Why do you think God chose to use a snake to foreshadow Jesus Christ and His work on the cross? Please share your thoughts here:


There are two important reasons why God chose to uplift a snake on the pole to represent Jesus Christ on the cross:


  1. When Jesus went to the cross He took all our sin on Himself. Further,  2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” So, if you turn and look at the cross what you really see hanging there is your sin. What better picture of sin could there be than a life threatening snake.


2.                 When Jesus went to the cross He defeated and destroyed Satan. Colossians 2:15 says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” As Jesus hung on the cross He made a public spectacle of Satan and all the powers and authorities of evil, defeating them through His death. In the Garden of Eden, Satan took the form of a serpent so it is fitting that God used a serpent on a pole to point forward to Satan’s defeat.


All the sin issues that you and I face are a direct result of Satan’s involvement in this world. When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the consequences were that thorns and weeds infested our world, and interpersonal problems, pain, sweat, sin, sickness and ultimately death, infested all human beings.


But the cross tells us that while Satan brought the problems, Jesus destroyed him on the cross and made a public spectacle of him (Colossians 2:15). The cross is really Satan’s defeat. Hence, the serpent hung on the pole!


So, according to Jesus, here is what the story in Numbers 21:4-9 teaches:


You and I have been bitten by a serpent. It’s the serpent of sin. The venom is running all through our bodies, indeed, our entire system. It is negatively affecting our own thoughts, causing problems in our relationships, putting us into bondage and captivity. This “snake-bite” will prove to be fatal. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).


But God provided a solution. Two thousand years ago God put up a cross-like pole, and on that pole, He hung a Savior. God took all our sins and iniquities, all the venom that runs through you and me, and He took it off of us and put it all on Jesus.


Isaiah 53:6 (NIV-WS) “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


Question 7. According to Numbers 21:8, the Israelites had to do something in order to be healed. What was it?


Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Numbers 21:8). Remember our previous lesson? “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-3).


God has provided the remedy that will save you, heal you, sanctify you and set you free. It’s a simple solution, just look at the cross of Jesus. Anyone can look. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to look. Even a child can look.


Take a moment  and see Jesus hanging there on the cross. God has loaded Him up with your sin and my sin: all drunkenness and drug problems taken off of us and placed on Jesus, all sexual impurity removed from us and put on Jesus, all overeating and laziness taken from us and put on Jesus, all deception and greed, relational problems, lusting and an entire world of selfishness all dumped right on Jesus.


And in Jesus’ taking all our sins and dying under their great weight, He has purchased eternal life and eternal joy for all who believe (Psalm 16:11). He gives His Holy Spirit to all who believe and the Spirit of God begins to work miraculously in our lives, changing our hearts, setting us free from sin and making us strong where we were once weak.


Just look! Do you see He has taken your sin off of you? Do you see He has set you free from the penalty of sin? Do you see He has taken your guilt and therefore set you free from sin’s power?


Remember when the Israelites looked at the uplifted serpent on the pole, they were healed of snakebite? Remember how the venom was gone and they had a new lease on life? Keep that in mind as you look at these two verses:


Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new

has come! (2 Cor 5:17 NIV)


For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might

be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin… (Rom 6:6 NIV)


Question 8. What do 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 6:6 say happened to all believers through the gospel?


Friend, when the Israelites looked at the uplifted pole they were not going to be in perpetual recovery for the rest of their lives; no, they were saved, healed, cured, and made new. The old venom had gone, the new life had come. They lost their “snakebitten” label and all things became new for them.


The cross is God’s solution to our sin problem. Does it seem too simple? I mean, how can a snake uplifted on a pole cure people of snake-bite, and how can a man hanging on a criminal’s cross save me from sin, set me free from bondage, change my heart and turn my weakness into strength?


It’s important to understand that God’s remedy for our problems, the gospel of Jesus Christ, can appear illogical to us. And oftentimes people turn away from the only solution that provides a miraculous cure because they cannot understand it, or it seems to be lacking, or it appears to them as foolishness.


1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.


When the Israelites had been bitten by snakes and heard of God’s remedy maybe some of them laughed and mocked the solution. “Get real, a snake on a pole? That doesn’t cure snakebite! That’s foolishness!” And so they would have scoffed and died.


Others understood their dire condition, they believed the message of good news that God had provided a cure, no matter if it made sense to them or not, and they turned, looked, and lived! They were healed and given new life. One minute they were dying, the next they were cured and given life. It’s as if they were born-again.


1 Corinthians 1:18 shows that there are always two responses to the message of the cross: one group sees it as foolishness, the other group experiences the supernatural power of it. One group passes it off as being too basic, foolish to the modern mind that has been “enlightened” through years of study and discovery, the other group rejoices that finally, something has worked powerfully in them to change their heart and life. “The gospel of grace that comes to us because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done in our place does not land on people in a neutral way. It is either received with joy or rejected with contempt. The gospel is the aroma of life to some and the aroma of death to others (2 Cor. 2:15–16). There is no middle ground” (Gospel Transformation Notes on John 7:14-24).


As we go through this study together, it would be helpful to keep in mind these two responses and ask ourselves, “which am I?”


Remember the words of our God with which we began this lesson:


Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV) “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,  so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.


As we close out this lesson, we remember that the snake-bitten Israelites had to 1) hear the message, the good news that God had provided a solution, 2) believe the message, and 3) turn/look to the uplifted pole.


Question 9. Where are you right now in the above process? Please share thoroughly here:


Someone might ask, “but isn’t this story merely about salvation? We are saved when we look at Jesus and accept His sacrifice in our place as payment for our sin and receive Him as our Lord. But I’ve been saved many years, what does this story have to do with me?”


Sanctification (being set apart from sin) is a daily salvation; not from the penalty of sin but from its power. We learn to live the Christian life just like we began, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6). We will discuss this more in upcoming lessons.


What we are going to do in the next lesson is to look at God’s remedy for us, and see how it sets us free. All the while, we are learning to “fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:1-3).




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Mike Cleveland

Volunteer for Setting Captives Free