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The Face of Grace

Pencil sketch by JC Chambers

Part fifteen in a study of God's grace from the book of John.

Why did Jesus die?

Jesus’ crucifixion is the most significant, most talked about event in the history of the world. You’d imagine that such a frequently analyzed, oft discussed event would also be the best understood.

Sadly, the reason for Jesus’ death is frequently misunderstood; and this misunderstanding creates spiritual confusion.

Fortunately, Jesus provided a striking analogy to clarify why He had to die. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” John 3:14-15

In explaining the significance of His crucifixion, Jesus referred to an event that took place when the children of Israel, under Moses’ leadership, were wandering in the wilderness. En route to the Promised Land, the Israelites became bitter and resentful. They “spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’” In response, “the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.” Numbers 21:4-6

Desperate to deal with the snake infestation, “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. 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.’ 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, he lived.” Numbers 21:7-9

Jesus used this story to explain why He would be “lifted up” on a cross. Many teach and believe that Jesus was punished for our sins on the cross, Jesus, however, didn’t view His death as punishment. The snake wasn’t lifted up to absorb punishment. The snake was placed on a pole to provided healing.

Jesus did not go to the cross to receive divine punishment.

In the Old Testament God declared, “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves upon the altar.” Leviticus 17:11 When we see blood we often think of death. God sees life. God did not vent His wrath on the animal that was sacrificed. God gave the blood in order to give life.

The life of the animal was not taken in anger.

The life of the animal was given in love.

The image of a snake on a pole, drawn from this story, was chosen by the medical profession as the symbol for healing. In the same way that the snake was put on a pole to provide physical life, Jesus was lifted up on the cross so that “everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

His death is not to be understood as life taken in anger.

His death is to be understood as life given in love.

Jesus went to the cross not to receive divine punishment, but to provide divine healing.

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