Jesus is the snake.
How often do you see that word? And not in a church context but outside the church. Maybe scrawled in red letters on a picket sign next to the unfriendly command to “repent.” Or possibly used by one group to describe the actions of another.
Whatever the case, “sin” is usually used by one person to critique and slander the words and actions of another.
While it’s pretty rare for “sin” to pop up in daily conversation, it’s even more unlikely for someone to describe their own words or actions as “sin.” Doing so would necessitate critiquing one’s self against some external standard. This stands in direct opposition to the adopted norm of our culture. We are each to define our own self and hold strong to that self truth, not speaking against the identity of another.
Are we to avoid critique or embrace it?
As an artist I seek out active critique from other creative minds. I know full-well that it is with the challenges of others that my art will improve. If I simply place all my stick-figure drawings on the family fridge and refuse to look at anyone else’s work, I’ll live my life in a world of two-dimensional apple trees and green hills, while there’s a vast expanse of pointillism, perspective, shading, and abstraction to be known.
Don’t get me wrong, there is creativity expressed in stick-figures, but in critiquing those skills against the centuries of art history and design, one will undoubtedly improve as an artist.
We must seek that critique of an external source.
*This analogy isn’t perfect, but it has helped me put things in perspective.*
At Riverview Church sin is talked about as “any failure to reflect God in nature, attitude, or action.” The journey of a follower of Christ is lived out in comparison and in contrast to the person and work of Jesus. While some may be jaded by all the “rules and regulations” of going to church, acting like you have it together, and avoiding swearing in public, there’s actually so much more to live up to.
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” — 1 Peter 1:14–16 ESV
In high school I was driving with some friends to a party and out of the blue the person in the car with whom I was the least acquainted turned around and ask “you’re holy, right?”
Uhhh. How do you respond to that? Sure I had been raised within the church, but holy? I might say I lived a pretty good life, I was generally helpful, loving, caring, and giving, but perfect, innocent, and righteous are not words I would have used to characterize myself then (or now for that matter). I know she was trying to get at the fact that I believed in the bible, but her question does have some merit.
Jesus calls us to be holy, and are we?
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. — Philippians 4:8–9 ESV
There’s a story in the bible about Moses wandering through the desert with the Israelites. At this point in the narrative they’ve seen miraculous provision over and over again, yet they start to whine about the food God is giving them. (What was happening is that each morning they’d wake up to some bread-like substance covering the ground all around their camp. I like to think of it as honey-flavored corn flakes falling from the sky. How’d you like that for a free breakfast every day for forty years?)
Much like a group of three-year olds, they’re whining about their corn flakes and about not getting their way. God, in His sovereign anger, plagues the camp with poisonous snakes causing many of them to die. These people, having grown up with Jewish tradition, would have known full-well the imagery of the snake representing the birth of sin in the world. (That whole Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit story — I have to wonder if seeing the snakes made them realize their own disobedience towards God and rejection of His plan.)
Along with the poisonous snakes, God also provided a remedy to the problem. He told Moses to set up a bronze snake on a tall pole in the middle of camp. Anyone who would look on the snake would be healed.
WTF God? What’s that all about?
Jesus fulfilled the law.
This is said over and over again in the church, and most of the time it’s heard as His abolishing of the law. All those rules, stories, and practices in the Old Testament are void and null now that Jesus is on the scene. But it’s SO much richer than that.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. — Matthew 5:17–18 ESV
Now keep that in mind and take a look at what John, one of Jesus’ followers and best friends, accounts of Him telling someone who asked for clarification on who Jesus claimed to be. (Check out John 3 for this story.)
As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. — John 3:14 ESV
Think on that imagery for a minute. Jesus likens Himself to the snake, the image of Satan and the birth of all sin, the wriggling, sneaking snake. Yet not just that, but the snake that Moses raised up in the desert. Jesus, who is perfect and holy, equates Himself to the embodiment of sin.
This is what happened on the cross. Every white lie, every racist thought, every hate crime, every rape, murder, cheat, theft, degradation, selfish attitude, and heartless action was absorbed by Jesus. My every thought, attitude, and action that isn’t holy was not just held by Jesus, but fully consumed by His sacrifice. Jesus became the weight of humanity’s total sin in that moment.
The sin that started all of humanity down the sinful track; that is Jesus in that moment on the cross. The sin that I commit without thinking twice; that is Jesus. The sin that you will partake in later today; that is Jesus on the cross.
For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. — Romans 6:10–11 ESV
I am dead to sin and alive in Christ.
Where there was darkness, now there is light. Where there was death, now there is life.
This is why Moses set up the snake on the pole. This is why God plagued the Israelites with poisonous snakes. This is why the Old Testament is not only good history, but necessary to our understanding of Christ’s love.
Jesus didn’t abolish the law, rather He fulfilled it. In His sovereign plan, God let the snakes raid the Israeli camp to point people to Jesus. In His sovereign love, God provided an escape from the ingrained problem of sin in this world. Where we absolutely can’t measure up to God’s standard, He sees us measured through the “snake” on the cross.
Jesus is the snake.