In John 3:14, Jesus told us that He would be lifted up on the Cross in the same way that a serpent was lifted up on a pole by Moses almost a millennium and a half earlier. This image speaks the world over of healing as it has become the basis for the contemporary symbol of the medical profession, being referred to in the original Hippocratic oath. In Numbers 21:4-9, all who looked on this bronze serpent were healed. The story reveals some helpful keys to how Jesus can still HEAL us today.
1. We Hinge on Jesus. Jesus’ coming was the hinge of history, the divide between BC and AD, but his death and resurrection brought an offer that anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This salvation is spiritual, mental and physical, as revealed in the usage of same word for each in Luke 8:12, 36 and 48.
Bronze is a biblical symbol of judgment and the serpent is a symbol of sin. Jesus actually became sin for us so as to take the judgment of God that was ours (2 Corinthians 5:21), but this gift of redemption is only for those who accept His lordship of their lives (Acts 2:21) and therefore live to serve Him.
Many people have been instantly set free when they come to Christ, released from sickness or addiction. For most of us, this doesn’t happen immediately, but the good news is that we can still look to King Jesus the healer when we have relationship with Him. We can know that He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
I’ve prayed for hundreds of people to be healed. Many have been, some quite spectacularly, but every one of these has been because of what God has done, not because of what I have done.
2. We Engage with Jesus. The people Moses led complained as they turned against God instead of to God. We need to open the door to God’s blessing by turning it on its hinge. Our lives swing on the hinge of Christ, but He is also the very door to our healing. He doesn’t impose Himself on us, though; we need to open the door. Many people look to Jesus and don’t receive healing, but many also stay in sickness because they never turn to Jesus in the first place. Also, some never engage in Bible-based faith that actually opens the door to healing. So while there are many people who don’t or won’t believe that Jesus is the door, there are those who do and still find reasons to leave that door firmly shut when it comes to their wellbeing.
The key thought in the original text of this passage is that the people were discouraged. Discouragement stops us from turning to God. Sickness or pain that lingers can see us frustrated and despondent, and this may even be reflected in whether or how we pray. Of course, there needs to be sympathy for the discouraged and empathy for those who don’t receive healing. I don’t ever want to impose a formula or any kind of judgment on people who are not healed, but I also don’t want to stop turning again to the one from whom the healing comes.
3. We Align to Jesus. When the people grumbled against Moses and against God, their sin opened the door to judgment from which they needed to seek healing. Of course, not all sickness is the result of conscious wrongdoing. We already live in an imperfect world plagued by the consequences of original sin in spite of our own choices. However, for some people, negative attitudes can potentially promote sickness. Medical research which showed several years ago that long-term bitterness affects metabolism, immune response and organ function and therefore contributes to physical disease. Aligning to Jesus requires us to embrace what His Word says about our unhealthy emotions, irrespective of what we feel.
You can’t rightly expect a car to run if you put dirt in the fuel tank. In the same way there are people feeding their physical lives with poor nutrition that they have control over and then expecting not to be sick. But people are also feeding their spiritual lives with poisonous emotions of anger, resentment, unforgiveness and anxiety that they can do something about. Accepting a biblically-conditioned view of the identity we have in God releases us from the imprisonments of the mind.
4. We Look to Jesus. We can often be so focused on the need of healing that we forget about the source of healing. The Israelites looked upon the serpent on the pole to be made well. Today, we look to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith. We persist in faith by looking to Jesus and His Word which tells us that it is by virtue of His sacrifice that we can be healed (see Matthew 8:17 which sees fulfilment of Isaiah 53:4-5 in terms of physical healing).
This often needs us to cling to a biblically-based profession of faith that holds to a conviction centred on what the Bible says, irrespective of how we feel (2 Corinthians 5:7, Romans 4:20-21, Hebrews 10:23).
Jesus has been lifted up like the serpent in the wilderness. He hung on a cross for the world to see, and He said that when this happened He would draw all people to Himself (John 12:31-33). Has he been lifted up in your life? Has He drawn near to you and you to Him? The good news is that He didn’t remain on the Cross. Jesus was raised to life and therefore broke the power of sin and sickness over your life if you have responded to Him, but this means anyone looking to Him must also yield before Him if they are to then receive from Him.