“Jesus replied, ‘You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”
John 3: 10-15
Despite popular opinion, I believe hopelessness is a sly and quick emotion. It can come like a dark shadow over a long period of grief, or it can slip into the average day—otherwise normal and routine. Take my example from today, for instance. I sit at my desk working through my day-to-day requirements for my remote job and, suddenly, a small sliver of hopelessness creeps into my mind and drapes over my heart. It whispers, “This is it… this work, this box-checking… it is the sum total of your life from here on out.”
I know, in reality, that this is a lie. I know that hopelessness seeks to distract me from the truths I know about God and who I am in relationship to Him—that He sees me and my day-to-day life is of great value to Him. But emotions, and my responses to them, are not always logical. I can be tempted to nurse hopelessness with a long gaze at the scripts it feeds my spirit.
In Numbers 21, Israel nurses their own temptation toward hopelessness with impatience toward the Lord. Despite being fed manna from heaven and provided water from a desert rock, they continue to complain against the Lord regarding their long journey in the wilderness, saying:
“‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?’ they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!'” (Numbers 20:5)
The Lord responds by sending poisonous snakes to bite the people and many die as a result. Then the Lord tells Moses to do something incredibly strange (or, I think it seems incredibly strange). He has Moses make a bronze replica of a snake and attach it to a pole. The Lord says, “All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” (Numbers 20:8) And that is what happens… in the midst of great suffering—brought on by their own sin against the Lord none-the-less—the Israelites only have to look at the symbol of their suffering established by the Lord in order to be healed.
I can imagine there were probably some Israelites that thought the solution was too good to be true. Perhaps out of spite, bitterness, or resentment—or simply out of a weariness of spirit—they refused to look. But what joy they missed out on to know that the Lord who faithfully provided in the wilderness would also provide a simple path to renewed hope, reinforcing once again His Lordship over life and death—over all.
In the Gospel of John when Jesus compares Himself to the serpent on the pole, He is making a powerful statement about what is provided to those who believe that He is Savior. The perfect Messiah was cursed for our sin and hung on a cross lifted up above sinners. When we look upon Him and believe that God provided His Son that we might return to right relationship with our Creator, we have access to a renewed hope in a God who is Lord over life and death and chooses to provide life for otherwise undeserving sinners.
If you are in a season—or maybe just a moment—of hopelessness, be encouraged that a look at our Savior is all it takes to tap into a resurgence of hope for this life and the next.
But how does a person “look” at Jesus?
By reading scripture and asking the simple question, “What does this passage reveal about the character of God or Jesus?” we can be encouraged by the affirmation of a God who is both Judge and Justifier, and a Messiah who is both Humble and Powerful to save.
By making quiet space to pray this simple prayer, “Jesus, show me where you are at work in my life,” and then silently allowing Him to speak into our hearts, we can experience God’s real and present love for us.