Imagine a camping trip with your whole family, all your friends, co-workers, and neighbors. People get hungry and tired after a while, so they settle down to eat. But it turns out whoever was in charge of food didn’t bring enough, and what they did bring is plain old nasty. Soon everyone is complaining, and they start throwing blame around. To make things worse, a bunch of snakes slither out of the woods and start biting people. Suddenly, folks aren’t just grumpy and hungry—they’re afraid for their lives. Now imagine how confused you’d be if the ostensible leader of the expedition told you that all you had to do to be spared was construct a bronze snake and lift it up for all to see, that just looking at it would save you. Now, the snake’s power to save is inexplicably within you.
You may already recognize this story from Scripture. Numbers 21 features the hungry Israelites grumbling in the wilderness and unwilling to trust God. This is the very story Jesus references in John 3 as He explains the nature of God’s plan to save humanity from the fatal poison of sin that courses through our veins. He told them to just look to the Son of Man and believe (John 3:14–15).
The miracle of the incarnation was the necessary first step toward Jesus fully unveiling the essential character of God’s love: that He would suffer and be lifted up for all to see, to die that we might live. Jesus went so far as to call us His friends—even as we were dying from the infection of sin—and He qualified the highest expression of a person’s love as “to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
My life often feels like a dangerous wilderness. I hunger for things I can’t have and pine for the comfort of my familiar habitat, even if that place is unhealthy and spiritually stagnant. I am prone to distrust God’s handling of my circumstances, and in my discomfort and disappointment, I begin to resent even the people I love most. At times, I can barely make eye contact with some of them without being filled with venomous indignation. And yet, Scripture tells me that in order to truly love these people, I’m supposed to give up my life for them?
As usual, God seems to require something impossible. But here’s the thing: it’s not impossible to follow this command. All we’re asked to do is look upon Jesus, lifted up on the cross. And Christ crucified is more than an emblem to be regarded from afar with pious respect. This is the power of perfect love transferred to us for the purpose of transformation—from sickness to health, from death to life.
How, then, are we to love the people around us, even those who fill us with the most apprehension and aggravation? Simple. We learn to turn to Jesus and contemplate His perfect love for us. In doing so, we are reminded that “we love because he first loved us” (1John 4:19).
Written by Alex Florez