Go to any big sporting event and you’re almost certain to see a sign that reads, “JOHN 3:16”:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
This verse is extremely popular, and for good reason. It is one of the core verses that explains salvation. However, this verse does not explain everything by itself. The surrounding verses explain a lot about John 3:16. Let’s take a look.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
Wait a minute – what does that mean, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert…” When did Moses lift up a serpent in the desert, and what does that have to do with anything about God giving his only Son for our salvation? Let’s take a look: we can find the answer in the book of Numbers, the fourth book of the Bible, in chapter 21:
Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. The people spoke against God and 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 miserable food.” The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert…” Imagine being one of the Israelites about to die, but just before closing your eyes for the last time, you look at the serpent and the pain begins to fade away and the healing begins to take place. How grateful you must be! What a miracle! The Lord has healed you through this man Moses!
“…so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” One of the effects of sin is spiritual death. Sin sentences us to Hell, because Heaven is for the “poor in spirit” and “pure of heart” (See Matthew 5). Yet we need to remember, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” How can we gain eternal life?
LOOK TO THE CROSS AND SEE THE SON OF MAN LIFTED UP!
The serpent saved the people of Israel from physical death, and Jesus saves his disciples from spiritual death. There’s no question why Jesus was crucified on a hill: people could see him from far away – nothing could hinder their vision of the cross. People couldn’t help but see the Son of God dying so that they might live forever in Heaven. Have you lost hope for yourself and feel as though your life has no meaning? Look to the cross! Do you struggle with this great sin or that? Look to the cross! Do you wonder whether God even loves you? Look to the cross!
But wait, there’s still more to understand!
You see, back in the time of Moses, the people of Israel numbered well over a million people, which means they covered a huge amount of territory. Surely, not everyone could have known to look at the serpent in the desert. Those who were healed had to go out to the edges of their territory and point people in the direction of the serpent. They had to tell people about the Lord’s gift of healing, so that all of the Israelites could be healed!
Today, there are millions of people who do not know the great love of God. Those who have been healed – or better said, those being healed – have to go out into the world and tell people all about John 3:16. Holding up a sign at a big game is a great start, but that can’t be the entire mission. We must go out and ask people whether they know about God’s immense love for each and every person. We must go out and invite people to begin a real relationship with Jesus Christ. We must go out and point people in the direction of the Cross of Jesus Christ!
One who has been healed wants others to be healed, especially if the dying are brothers and sisters. How will you point others to the Cross?