Jesus said, “And 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. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3.14-16) When most Christians hear this promise of our Lord, we are comforted that “all we need to do is believe” and we will be saved. But what does it mean to believe?
Here is the story that Jesus was recalling for the people to remember in their past how the Lord had saved them from sin and from those who had been fighting against them.
“Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD that He take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.” (Numbers 21.7-9)
When we believe in something, it changes the way we act. If the Jews who had been bitten by a serpent did not believe enough to look at the staff of Moses, they would not have lived. If they had chosen to go their own way, and trust in their own logic, they would not have lived. They had to change, based on their belief, in order to be saved.
The same is true for us. Jesus said, “AS Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, SO must the Son of man be lifted up.” Instead of a golden staff, God has given us the Church through which we can be saved from sin and those fighting against us. But just as with the Jews of the Old Testament, if we choose rather to go our own way and trust in our own logic, then we will not be saved even if we say we believe. If our belief does not change the way we live, it will not save us.
For us living in 21st Century America, it has become easy to say we believe in God without ever having to change the way we live, until recently. The society around us has for the most part reinforced our way of life, until recently. More and more recently our society is fighting against the way of life established by God and His Church, and we find ourselves in a similar situation as the Jews of the Old Testament. We are becoming surrounded by serpents who constantly try to bite us. Our only hope for survival is to believe God, that He will save us through His Church, as He saved the Jews through Moses, because in His Church we are blessed to receive Holy Communion and live.