What to Do When Bitten by Fiery Serpents - (Num. 16-36 | Mk. 7-10)
Okay! Hey, Scott LaPierre, good to see you!
Good to see you too! Glad we can talk about the Word together.
Yeah. So Scott, you're the pastor of Woodland Christian Church in Woodland, Washington -- we're 3,000 miles away.
Well, this is really nice. Thanks for joining us.
Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Yeah. So here we are, in the last part of Numbers -- Numbers 16 onto the very end of Numbers. The theme is "Wilderness Wanderings" and you know they're just amazing narratives here: types of Christ, visions of sin, and even Baalam's prophecy -- a man hired to curse Israel. He actually blesses Israel. I love it. I can't wait to get to that. I hope we have time to talk about that.
You know, the hymn we're recommending that everybody sing is "Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah." Pilgrim through this barren land, I am weak but Thou art might. Hold me with a Thy powerful hand. Bread of Heaven, Bread of Heaven. Anyway, it's a great hymn.
But what's this all about? First Corinthians 10 tells us why all these things are written. It says they were written for an example so that we would learn not to be idolators. And so there were different things that the Apostle Paul points out -- not being idolators, not rising up and playing and eating and drinking and sexual immorality and complaining -- he mentions all those things and all those things happened in the book of Numbers that we're trying right here.
And then Paul says, "Take heed -- let him who thinks he stands lest he fall." When we read these things, we have to make sure this is about us. It's not about how dumb they were. It's about who we are. We're just like them. We do have a new covenant and the blessing of the Holy Spirit which is so helpful but things are written for us.
And it's also First Corinthians 10 where Paul identifies the rock as a picture of Christ.
So, Jesus in John 7 -- He talks about the rivers of living water flowing from Him and we get to see it so beautifully prefigured in the Old Testament, in the wilderness, where Jesus is accompanying them and providing for them. Whether just like you sang in that hymn -- the bread or manna that came down from Heaven -- as he provides in that respect. And then the water that flows from the rock and all of this -- just looking forward so beautifully to the way that Christ spiritually provides for us, as our spiritual bread from Heaven and our spiritual living water that we need.
Amen. Well, we're going to talk about Numbers 16 through 36 and Mark 7-10. So, let's go, let's start in 16. It starts with Korah's rebellion and the pride of Korah and the ground opening up and swallowing people. So, what are your thoughts about that?
So, sometimes we kind of categorize sins and when we think of the worst, we think of murder or adultery. But, what you see there is one of the strongest examples of divisiveness and God's view of it.
This man who challenges authority -- Moses' authority -- and some of the strongest verses in the New Testament are reserved for divisive people. You warn him once and then a second time, you have nothing to do with them. And so you know, Korah's kind of that parallel Old Testament account of challenging the authority that God has established. And so, Korah's sin probably didn't look as serious as some people sinned in the Old Testament but God viewed it very seriously.
You know what? Jeff Pollard was in our church just last Sunday and he was preaching on the authority of elders. And he was in Hebrews 13. It was an astonishing sermon. It's on Sermon Audio and his whole manuscript is on there.
He talked about why we have trouble obeying and following elders. It was an amazing sermon. He was interesting -- he would deal with the congregation and then he would peel off and deal with the elders. No one was left untouched. It was really good. I highly recommend it. He gave two sermons -- one in the morning and one in the afternoon in our church.
So, we are a rebellious people. One of the things that the writer of Hebrews says is that if you don't obey your elders that it won't be profitable for you. I don't know of a more dramatic illustration than getting swallowed up in the ground.
I think there's real significance to that because God could have ended their lives any number of ways. And the fact that he executed them is serious but the way that He chose to do it seems to be a strong exclamation point on His displeasure and His anger toward them.
Yeah, that was really an amazing story.
So, what else, what's next in this sequence in these chapters -- what jumps out at you?
So then you start getting these beautiful types of Christ. We've seen that the Manna introduced, we've seen the water from the Rock introduced, and then we know we have the New Testament confirmation of these pictures of Christ. Then we get to see the bronze serpent.
And in John 3:16 -- probably the most well-known verse -- it gets all of this attention. But it's also in John 3 where Jesus, right around verse 16, identifies Himself with the bronze serpent. He's going to be sin lifted up. He becomes sin for us. And that is a picture of judgment and that our sin is judged through Christ. And so, I suspect that at the time, these people have no idea the great way that that bronze serpent was going to picture their Messiah that would come. But, it's just one of the most fantastic pictures in the Old Testament.
Yeah. And when we get to the New Testament, we're going to see many healings and of course, the bronze serpent.
You know, there's healing in Jesus Christ and you look at Him, you're healed. It's so beautiful. That picture of the bronze serpent.
I wonder what these fiery serpents look like? Some say they were like mini dinosaurs flying around. I don't know what they were, but whatever it was they were biting people and they were getting sick.
Right. And I wonder if the "fiery" is referring to the way that it felt, the way that they looked -- whatever it was, it was terrible. But, all you needed to do to be saved was to look -- I think of Isaiah 50 or I can't remember the exact verse -- but it says, look to Me all you ends of the earth and be saved.
And that's what the Israelites needed to do. They needed to look up and be saved. It's a beautiful picture of our salvation as we look up to Christ.
The devil, he bites you. He burns you. He makes you sick. And Jesus Christ comes in here, He lays His hand upon you. He heals you.
So then you have this -- we can't camp on this water theme in these wilderness wanderings. But, this refreshing provision of God in the form of water and of course also bread because God continues to feed them throughout this period. I'm glad you brought up the water theme. It's such a refreshing image. And Jesus says -- He basically claims that He is the water of life.
Now, let's talk about Balak. I'm really struck by the Balak and Balaam story and the donkey. You know, we were reading this in our family worship the other day we were just laughing about this donkey. Balaam gets angry. You know, the donkey wanders off and then the donkey crushes his foot against the wall and the donkey lays down. He's hired to curse Israel but God doesn't let him do it.
Yeah -- the donkey gets so much attention. But, if you think about it, it's also very dramatic that Baalam speaks and all he does is just praise God and really some of the greatest prophecies of Christ in the entire Old Testament came from the mouth of this man Baalam -- this ungodly, wicked man.
We get to see where he's condemned in the New Testament and then he ends up being killed. You know, there's these very scathing verses about Baalam in the New Testament. We like to say God was able to use this donkey, but we can also say God was able to use Baalam, this really ungodly man to speak some of the most fantastic prophecies about Christ.
And it was against Baalam's desire. He wanted to make money, he wanted to receive the payment for prophesying and he keeps moving around -- just consider his frustration. I mean, we recognize Balak's frustration but consider Baalam's frustration. He knows he's upsetting Balak. He knows he's not going to get the money he wants and every time he opens his mouth there's just more praise coming out.
It's amazing even if somebody gets hired to slander you and destroy you, guess what? God's in control.
I'm amazed at how Numbers ends. It ends with the daughters of Zelophehad It's really interesting. It ends with daughters receiving an inheritance and not being deprived of land and inheritance in the coming generations.
And it really is a picture of the tenderness of Jesus Christ. Even those who have lost their father or their mother, He takes care of them. But anyway, Numbers ends with the daughters of Zelophehad -- and they get married! I think it was really awesome. God gives them husbands and their inheritance is secured and they can go on. That's that's a picture of the Gospel too.
Well said. We were reading Ruth as a family the other night and were just seeing God's compassion and care for Ruth and even Naomi and in Numbers, that same compassion, but you see it really in an individual case with Ruth and Naomi in the book of Ruth.
Well, let's move on to the Gospel of Mark -- we didn't get to talking about Numbers 30. I really wanted to camp on that but we can't do that. So, let's go on to Mark. We pick up in Mark and of course Mark 7 begins with the traditions -- the harmful traditions of men and moves on.
What what really struck you about Mark Chapter 7?
So the opposition that Jesus started facing -- His ministry divides up so nicely into those three periods of obscurity and then popularity and opposition and he's beginning to face that opposition.
We're so used to it that we don't think that much about it. But, the reality is you would expect the religious leaders to be the most supportive, the most encouraging, the most favorable to this but they're the ones who lead this charge of opposition against Him as He threatens their fame and popularity.
And really, so much of what came out of Jesus mouth was an indictment against them because people would hear Christ and then they could contrast what He was saying and teaching with what the religious leaders are saying and so they began to develop this deep hatred for Him. And so you start to see that where He attacks all of their man-made religion. He attacks it all head on.
And at this point in Mark, the heat is really rising towards Jesus. When we get to Chapter 8, we have the feeding of the 4000 and we had these amazing words. "I have compassion on them." The seven loaves, He breaks them and a few small fish and they multiply.
Here again we have one of these fulfillments of the types of the Old Testament of bread and feeding. What's interesting about these miracles is this is nothing for Jesus to do this. It's nothing for Him to multiply loaves. He made the universe. He made the stars. The miracles are are really actually very mediocre compared to what He could do. They're types, they're signs. They're not really meant to make it say, "He turned water into wine." That's not the point. The point is that He is the Bread of Life -- that's the point.
I think that's fantastic because after Jesus fed the 5000 then these large groups are following Him and they just want to see another miracle. They just want to be fed and Jesus actually told them you missed the sign.
Now they saw it physically but they didn't see it spiritually -- the spiritual significance. They missed when Jesus was actually trying to reveal or teach through the miracle itself which is why miracles are called signs because they're pointing to something, they're meant to reveal something spiritually.
But these people are only seeing it physically. And so, if Jesus raises someone from the dead, if He heals us sight if He heals deafness, He's trying to show physically what He can do spiritually. Healing our spiritual blindness, giving us spiritual ears to hear, and when He raises someone from the dead. Physically, it's a picture of what He can do with us spiritually but so many people miss that.
And just like you're saying, even people today -- very charismatic churches or charismatic movements -- they're just wanting to see what Jesus did physically and think that's the true and greater reality of it but really, we need to look past that to the spiritual truth that He wants to communicate.
And you see that all through this part, really all through Mark. This moment where there's a blind man in Bethesda. And He spits on his eyes.
And then He makes him look up. It's really the most ridiculous thing -- to spit on the man's eyes.
Or to make some muds, make some dirt, and put mud on someone's eyes? What do you think?
I think I heard somebody say that Jesus' spit is more powerful than any medicine any man has ever made.
Okay, that's a good lesson.
I don't think that's the lesson of the miracle because the miracle isn't even the point. The miracle is that He opens up -- He does what's harder than healing a man's eyes. I mean, you can do certain things to heal people's eyes today but you can't open their eyes to see the Kingdom of Heaven. That's the greater miracle.
A hard, dead heart is harder to change than some physical thing. So I think that that's part of the message there but also, Jesus opens his eyes. I remember when the Lord was really beginning to work in my life when I was in my teens and I realized that I had been saved. And I remember thinking, the sky is bluer, the ocean is more beautiful, the grass is greener, the trees are more amazing -- everything in nature became more amazing to me. My eyes were opened. I saw everything with different eyes. And that's what Jesus does.
One other thing that really stood out to me in these chapters was Jesus, because He's facing this opposition, He knows it's going to lead to his crucifixion it's all heading for the cross. He knows the rejection that's coming so He starts preparing the disciples for it and He's talking to them about His death. He's talking about is His betrayal and rejection and right about that time, the disciples start talking about who's greatest.
And so the contrast between Jesus' humility, Jesus' sacrifice, and Jesus' selflessness. And then you know, the pride and self-righteousness of the disciples surfacing. You just can't miss this tremendous contrast and you see it in the Gospels -- it's not just Mark. It's also in the other synoptics where you're seeing what Jesus is talking about and what the disciples are arguing about. And I think like you said we need to see ourselves there too. We can't just look down on the disciples and think that we were so much different. We can't think that we don't make the same mistake and be self-righteous and prideful ourselves.
Yeah. So many of our problems come from, "We just want to be so great but when somebody doesn't think we are we are all discouraged."
But Jesus, He's not like that at all. He tells people over and over again, "Don't tell anybody, don't spread this around." He's diminishing in many ways. He's not self promoting. He is doing what His father wants Him to do. That's what he's doing.
So, let's let's talk about Chapter 9 in the Mount of Transfiguration. We were really laughing about this when I was reading it with some of my grandchildren just recently. Peter says, "Let's make three Tabernacles." Why did he say that? Well, he didn't know what to say.
I think I've heard people criticize Peter that he was almost like wanting to build an altar for Moses and Elijah and almost making it seem like he was an idolater. He saw Christ's glory and he thought -- he saw this as the fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles. He thought that the Kingdom had come from heaven to earth. He understood the Feast of Tabernacles. That the millennium is going to be the fulfillment of that and he thinks, "Wow, the Millennial Kingdom has begun. I'm seeing the glorified Christ and Moses and Elijah with Him. The kingdom has come from Heaven to Earth. Let's set up some tabernacles and dwell here."
It's funny because it is easy to be surprised by some of the things Peter said, but can you imagine seeing the transfigured Christ? I think we would easily think that the kingdom was being established at that moment on the earth.
Yeah, I think Peter was reading his Bible as he was connecting what he was seeing.
So they come down the mountain. And then there's this confusion going on -- the disciples are arguing with the religious leaders and there's this boy who's demonized. The demons are throwing him into the fire. The disciples cannot cast out the demon.
And so, Jesus does and then they go to Him and they say, "Why couldn't we cast it out?"
He says, "This kind doesn't come out but by prayer and fasting."
Here's what I think what's happening. Jesus wasn't saying, "Oh you should have fasted."
There was no time to fast. It was their lifestyle of prayer and fasting that made them spiritually weak in the moment. And I think He's saying that it's that life of prayerful humiliation before the Lord that makes you ready for the kind of crisis because that was a time of crisis.
The boy was being thrown down. He was like a dead man. The little boy. And it was just horrible. And there the disciples are -- they were powerless. And I think when Jesus is saying is, "Make your heart ready every day. Pray without ceasing and fast. Be ready for whatever might come."
I think that's really good. I hadn't thought of that before. We were familiar with that criticism that Christ had or shared with them. But yeah the truth is for us it's not going to be some demon-possessed boy.
But, there are going to be those situations that we encounter. We need to be spiritually prepared for them and whether it's some trial or whether it's some evangelistic opportunity or some service opportunity, we need to be spiritually strong and ready for it.
And so yeah, if we haven't been in the Word and we haven't been praying and we haven't been involved in fellowship, then yeah we're going to be very much like the disciples, unprepared for whatever task the Lord has for us at that moment.
Yeah. Well hey, we've run out of time. It was a remarkable section. What a beautiful testimony of how the Gospel and the goodness of Jesus Christ to open blind eyes and to heal those who are being thrown into the fire. Once you've been bitten and poisoned by the fiery serpents -- there is Jesus.
What a blessing. Okay, have a great afternoon!
All right, you too! God bless you, brother, thanks a lot!
Scott LaPierre is the senior pastor/teaching elder of Woodland Christian Church, in southwest Washington, and the author of Marriage God’s Way. He and his wife, Katie, grew up together in northern California, and they have been blessed with six children (and hopefully more) that they homeschool. Scott invests most of his energy in his home and church families. He enjoys teaching God’s Word and speaking at events, and his free time is usually committed to writing. You can learn more at ScottLaPierre.org.
Scott T. Brown is the President of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches and pastor at Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Scott graduated from California State University in Fullerton with a degree in History and received a Master of Divinity degree from Talbot School of Theology. He gives his time to expository preaching and local pastoral ministry, as well as conferences on Biblical doctrine and church and family reformation. He and his wife Deborah have four grown children. Scott helps people think through the two greatest evangelistic and discipleship institutions God has provided — the church and the family.