Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Look at the Cross and Live - March 11, 2018 - Fourth Sunday in Lent - Text: Numbers 21:4-9
Paul got it right when he said, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). At first we might think that Paul had our same Bible readings and was preaching on the texts that we have before us today when he said those words. Our Old Testament text reminds us that sin earns death for us and the Gospel lesson, which is Jesus explanation of the Old Testament Lesson, reminds us that Jesus has earned eternal life for us by giving His life for ours on the cross. The background of our text is that the children of Israel had been delivered from slavery in Egypt and it would appear that their question now is, “what have you done for me lately, God?” Our text begins at verse four, “4From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way” (v.4). I guess this is the spot where we can relate to the children of Israel. How often do we find ourselves growing impatient with our Lord as we go through life. How often do we find ourselves saying, “yes, God has been with me and blessed me to this point in my life; yes, Jesus did die on the cross for my sins; yes, I know that heaven is mine, but what have you done for me lately, God?”
The impatience of the children of Israel leads to their complaint. We read verse five, “5And the people spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food’” (v.5). Things are not what they want them to be so they reminisce about the “good old days” in Egypt. They ask the question, “Why have you brought us here, to die?” It was not that long ago that they were complaining about how bad it was in Egypt and wondering why God would not deliver them from their slavery in Egypt. How quickly their hearts have changed.
Really, they are no different than we are today. Their impatience brought on an exaggeration of the circumstances in much the same way as our impatience brings similar exaggerations of our own circumstances today. They said, we have no food, but then they clarify that and said, we detest this miserable food. They had food. The Lord provided them daily with manna from heaven. They had food, they had enough food and they had food that was good for them. God provides according to His promise to give us all that we need.
They cried, we have no water. They had forgotten that the Lord was continually providing them with all that they needed, food to eat and water to drink. It is like a child standing in front of a full refrigerator with the door wide open and saying, “I can’t find anything to eat.” Or like a child with a closet full of games, a computer loaded with games, video games, personal video games, a back yard full of toys and saying, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”
Their complaint leads to their punishment and their plea for help. We read verses six and seven, “6Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7And 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” (v.6-7). Paul is right, the wages of sin is death. The children of Israel complained against Moses, the Lord’s chosen leader and actually then their complaint was not just against Moses, but their complaint was against the Lord Himself. Their sinful complaint earned for them the wages of poisonous snakes which bit the people and killed them. Here we are reminded that although, by faith in Jesus we will never have to suffer the eternal punishment for our sins, there may be times when we will have to suffer some temporal punishment, that is we may have to suffer the earthly consequences for our sins. And what is more, we may even have to suffer the temporal punishment, the consequences, not just for our own sin, but for the sins of society in general. It is like the child who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. He is suffering, not from His own sin, but for the sin of society.
Suffering the consequences for their sin, the children of Israel immediately turn and beg for forgiveness. It is amazing how quickly the consequences of our actions can make us change our tune. They come to Moses and ask that He go to the Lord and pray for them, that He be their mediator. Really, there is nothing like being punished to make you realize that you are doing wrong.
So Moses prayed for the people. Can we find a more righteous man than Moses? He was spoken against and yet he still intercedes for the people to ask for their forgiveness. Most of us would want to tell the people, “too bad.” Most of us would rejoice that the people were getting what we believed they had coming to them. Not Moses. Moses was a righteous man, even if the people did not recognize this fact.
We said Paul got it right. John got it right too. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8,9). The people confessed and God sent a cure. The cure God sent is what we call a type of Christ. We read verses eight and nine, “8And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ 9So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (v. 8-9).
The first thing we notice is that the snake killed. This reminds us that we are born in sin and literally, left to ourselves we would kill ourselves. We are born spiritually blind, spiritually dead and enemies of God. By ourselves we are left in sin and cannot be saved.
Next we notice that God did not remove the snakes from the people. God does not remove sin and temptation from our world. Instead, God sent a Savior. God told Moses to put up an image of the snake which reminds us that Christ came as one of us, yet He came without sin.
Next, we see the image on the pole. Moses was to put a bronze image of the snake on the pole so that when anyone was bit, if they looked at the pole and believed, they would not die. Likewise, Jesus Christ died on the cross and when we look to the cross and believe, we will not die an eternal spiritual death.
Finally, notice the importance of faith in each situation. Faith is to acknowledge sin and be given forgiveness. Faith is a gift from God. Faith is that thing which God gives to us to use to grasp all the other gifts and blessings that He has to give to us.
This scenario that we see in the lives of the children of Israel is the same scenario that we see in our own lives on a daily basis. We daily sin much and are in need of forgiveness. Last week we our text was the Ten Commandments. As we worked our way through the Ten Commandments we were reminded, not if we sin, but how often we daily sin. We daily become impatient and speak against others, against those in authority over us, against our pastor, and against God. We sin in thought, word and deed. Sin begins in our eye, in our thought, in our mind, as we envy, covet, lust and think evil of others. Sin finds its way to our lips as we speak evil of others, as we fail to put the best explanation on everything, as we speak hurtful and hateful words and as we fail to encourage and build each other up as brothers and sisters in Christ. And sin is acted out as we hurt and harm others through actually inflicting bodily harm or by not helping in any way we might be able to help.
Daily we sin much and are in need of forgiveness and just as daily we seek forgiveness. We hear God’s Word of Law which reminds us that the wages of sin is death, physical death and eternal spiritual death. We hear God’s Word which reminds us that we are guilty and are in need of forgiveness. In our Epistle lesson for this morning Paul reminds us that we are dead in the trespasses and sin in which we once walked. He reminds us that we are children of disobedience.
Thanks be to God that we also hear God’s Word of Gospel which reminds us that our Lord is ready and waiting to forgive us ours sins and even more, He is continually working through the power of the Holy Spirit to move in us to repent and be given forgiveness. Again, Paul reminds us, “4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7). In our Gospel lesson Jesus reminds us, “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 3:16).
Daily we look to the cross. Our cross is one of the main focal points in our church. The cross is where we point people. Look at it. It is here to remind us that Jesus took our place on the cross. It is here to remind us that Jesus gave His life for ours on the cross. It is here to remind us that Jesus shed His blood for ours on the cross. The cross reminds us that the price for sin is death, is blood and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness and no salvation. Today our cross reminds us of the cross with the bronze serpent in the desert and how as the children of Israel looked to the cross and believed, they did not die. So, too, with us, as we look to the cross and believe, we too will never die. Because Jesus lived perfectly for us in our place as one of us. Because Jesus took our sins upon Himself. Because Jesus shed His blood. Because Jesus paid the price for our sins, we have forgiveness and with forgiveness we have life and salvation.
I would like to leave you with Jesus words from the Gospel lesson as He talks about our text. Jesus says, “14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been carried out in God” (John 3:14-18). To God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.