And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. John 3:14-15
What an odd analogy- serpent and Son of Man. In these verses Jesus harkens back to the story of Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness, comparing being lifted up on the cross to the lifting up of the serpent in the wilderness. When the Israelites were bitten by serpents in their exile, God told Moses to lift a serpent upon a pole, and when the Israelites were bitten, they were to look up at it, and they would live (Numbers 21:9).
The serpent that bit the Israelites becomes the very thing that lets them live. And Jesus being lifted up on the cross also shows us something that bites us- our mortality, our death. We will die. Like the serpent in the wilderness, Jesus is raised up, and his death on the cross compels us to gaze upon what we are most afraid to look at- our own death.
But what feels like poison, the bitter awareness of our death, is the means that brings healing and life. I don’t know if it’s possible to ‘accept’ death, but recognizing the inevitability of it allows us to see more clearly the sacred nature of life here and now. Jesus’ death on the cross also shows us that he goes first into death, for us in love, and is our brother to the very end, and beyond the end into eternal life with him.
So we can unclench our fists. Something inside us says, ‘It’s okay. I’ll be safe.’ And then our neurosis about death doesn’t have to grip us. And even the most melancholy among us can celebrate the holiness of life that becomes more sublime in the promise of Christ.
And just when we think God has bestowed upon us too many blessings, we read the next verse in John, something about how God so loved the world…