The Power of the Cross: 41st Edition, July 22, 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 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. 

This week’s teaching is the fourth lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. 

We have made each lesson contain 7 questions, so the study is done answering 1 question per day.

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).

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, the cross of Jesus Christ, because it doesn’t make sense to us, or because it offends us, or it isn’t what we expected or wanted. 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.

The Israelites were dealing with venomous 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.

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 1. When examining Numbers 21:4-9, what solution do you see that God provided to the 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” or to “just say no” to snakebite. The natural self is always focused on doing. But God’s ways our 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 2. 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?

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 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.

  1. 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, hung him out for all the world to see and made a public spectacle of him (Colossians 2:15). The cross is really Satan’s defeat. Hence, the serpent hung on the pole.

Question 3. Please compare Genesis 3:15 and Colossians 2:15. How do they each show that the cross of Jesus was the defeat of Satan?

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 4. 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 and believe. Anyone can look. You don’t have to have a seminary degree to look. Even a child can look.

Take a moment  and look at Jesus hanging 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. “Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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 God has taken all your sin off of you and put it on Jesus? Do you see He has made Jesus to be guilty of your sin to set you free from its penalty and therefore set you free from its power? Do you see He has punished Jesus in your place so as to bring you peace (see Isaiah 53:5)?

Do you remember that 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 5. What do 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Romans 6:6 say happened to all believers through the gospel?

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 and poison had gone, the new life had come. They lost their “snakebitten” label and all things became new for them.

After God describes a list of sinful behaviors that can trap people, in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, he says, “such were some of you, but you were washed…” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). They were sexually immoral, but they aren’t now. They were thieves, drunkards and liars, but they aren’t now. No longer snakebitten, filled with venom, perishing under the wrath of God. No longer trapped. No longer in bondage. They were, but they are not now! How did this happen? They were washed clean at the cross and set free by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:11).

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? Yes, 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 at first.

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 might 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) turn/look to the uplifted pole, which showed that they believed the message.

Question 6. 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).

“A small company in the early days of gold mining in South Africa sank shaft after shaft in different locations, finding only a small amount of gold in each shaft. Ultimately, the prospectors discovered that all they needed to have done was to go deeper in the first shaft for, as they did so, they found gold in abundance. Roy  Hession writes that he has found this to be true in the spiritual life also. "I testify that although I have tried all sorts of different shafts, hoping for greater results in my life, Christ has now become the end of all my searching. Revival for me has meant coming back to the place where I first began, and I intend to stay there. Tell me not of any other way. I need to go deeper at His cross  - much deeper." (2,000 plus Bible Illustrations).

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).

Lesson 4 Testimony: Iris

Iris shares: "Depression makes sure it is felt, seen, heard, smelled, tasted. Depression doesn't stay an acquaintance. It fights to make its presence known. It is felt in blows to the head, and cuts to the wrists. Seen in everyday tasks left undone. Heard in loud cries, and sad music. Smelled in dirty clothes and burnt suicidal letters. And tasted in binge foods, and pills.

Depression is not passive. Depression is assertive, forceful, pushy. It whispers into your ear. It is convincing. It manipulates you into ignoring your best friends. It holds your hand down the street while you cross with your eyes closed. It shows you the way to an abandoned building and while you're there hands you a piece of broken glass to relieve your pain. It tells you to hang up on the suicide hotline to prevent them from judging you.

Depression pretends to be your friend. It tells you to stay in bed and rest. But it says the same thing every morning. It tells you to turn your phone off after you send a suicidal text message. It tells you to hide in closets, cars, and public restrooms while everyone else is having fun at a party because it isn't safe out there. It tells you to walk out of class and church service. It tells you to treat yourself, but says the same thing when you have $10 left for the week.

In 2017, I cut and harmed myself again. Wrote suicidal letters. Went to two different counselors. Took antidepressants. Had terrible eating habits:not eating or always eating. Depression took over most of my year. It made me lonely, angry, joyless. Filled me with fear, doubt, and insecurity. Prevented attachment and built walls.

Depression was and is stubborn, strong, and clingy, but it wasn't and isn't indestructible.

During my first week as a college student, I decided to make Jesus Lord of my life. But depression has been a part of my life since I was a kid. So when I felt feelings of despair I would beat myself up for not understanding Paul's command to "be joyful always".

When was God going to return to me the joy of my salvation? Why was my soul downcast? If Jesus came to bring me joy, and asked me to remain in him to make my joy complete, why wasn't I joyful? Maybe I wasn't really a disciple? But I was holding on to his teachings. Even if I couldn't muster the strength to read I would listen to the Bible. I would pray all day long. I was opening up, I was even getting professional help. Why was I so miserable?

I notice it now. But I didn't then. I was so self-focused. All of the above questions revolve around me. As if my happiness and my joy were what this world is about. And obviously it wasn't, it isn't, and it will never be about me.

God places us in the times and places we need to be so that we will seek him. And he placed me in a church that is devoted to God. That is devoted to one another. And I am so grateful for that. When I step back and take my eyes off of myself I see everything God was doing and keeps doing to heal me.

I recall how one of the ladies at church came up to me and said she had noticed that I hadn’t been myself lately and she knew something that could help me. We didn’t get to talk then, but couple weeks later she showed me Isaiah 61 and explained how a course at Setting Captives Free had really helped her with her purity when she was in college.

I thought it would not help because it was just a website. What could I possibly learn that I already don't know? Be still? Encourage others? Pray more? Read more? Know Satan's lies? I thought I was doing everything already, but I decided to give it a try.

I signed up for the course and asked to have a mentor, and the first time I read her feedback and how she was praying for me, I bawled. God put more people to fight with me. People that understand and have overcome!! New hope!!

I quickly realized that the course was all about going back to the cross where Jesus defeated sin, insecurity, loneliness, shame, guilt, depression and all evil. Where he disarmed Satan. Where he switched his fine garments with my filthy clothes. Where he took my place so that I would no longer have to be a prisoner captive of her sin, depression, and anxiety.

Many of the scriptures I read I had already read before. ...I had looked at the cross before. I already knew that story. But that was the point. I was looking at it like an old movie that I had watched millions of times. I thought the cross had nothing new to offer. But, oh, I was so wrong.

The cross is the center of Christianity. Without the cross there would be no hope. The whole Bible revolves around Jesus and the cross. It was the ultimate sacrifice. It was the answer to everything including depression.

There were many days where the lessons were too much for me because it meant that I had to look at the cross. I didn't want to look at the pain I put Jesus through! I was surprised every time I had doubts or questions and when I would finally decide to do the next lesson God's word would calm my anxious heart.

I learned to look at everything through the eyes of Jesus and the cross.

This journey was hard. But I had to surrender daily. And I learned that I will always have to do that. To wake up and look at the snake that was conquered and killed. Now on a pole. Defeated. To look at my defeated sin. To look at Jesus becoming my sin so that I could be made righteous. Jesus took it all. He became my sin. And so now my sin is gone. He rose and  now he lives in me.

The cross taught me that it is never about me. That when I take my eyes off of the cross, off of Jesus and what he already finished, it gets depressing. If I look at the snake that bites I cannot be healed. But if I run to the pole and look up, it heals me. It is ugly. It is painful. It is healing. It is hope. The cross is where I get a new life free of depression. One where the focus is HIM. Where there is joy in what he has accomplished. Where sin no longer rules. Where there is freedom, where there is Jesus."

Question 7. What are your thoughts on the above testimony?


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free