To stand at Mt Nebo looking across the Jordan Valley to Jericho is a great experience.
There across the river is the Promised Land that typologically symbolizes the Kingdom of God, the hope of the Christian.
There’s no evidence that Jesus ever stood there, although the site of his baptism is not that far away, so it’s possible.
The bronze serpent sculpture is a recent creation, but an inspired one. It combines the serpent (as from Numbers 21) with the cross. The sculptor has cleverly portrayed in bronze the words of Jesus to Nicodemus.
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 (John 3.14-15)
Nicodemus was religious (a Pharisee), clever (the teacher of Israel), and eminent (a member of the Jerusalem Ruling Council). What is more, he believed that Jesus was a teacher come from God on account of the miracles. He believed about Jesus.
But none of these things gave him eternal life, but only believing in the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, as the Lamb of God who bore the sin of the world.
Under the leadership of Joshua the whole nation entered the Land. It was their national possession, provided they carefully observed all they had been taught by their great prophet Moses.
But Jesus told Nicodemus that under God’s new arrangement each person individually had to be ‘born again’ in order to ‘enter the kingdom of God’. God makes individuals his children, but their children must each be ‘born again’ to belong to God’s family, members of his kingdom. It has been said that God has children, but not grandchildren.
The local Christians (the Franciscans) at Mt Nebo have done a great thing in creating the cross-shaped bronze serpent. It is such a powerful symbol as it stands at the place where the Promised Land lies before you.
They have also installed a plaque with John’s words:
The Law was given through Moses;
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
Jesus, the One ‘lifted up’, was and is the ever-renewing source of ‘grace’ (= mercy) and ‘truth’ (faithfulness) to those who commit to him. The message is clear even to a good, religious and clever man like Nicodemus: look to Jesus and be saved.