Look to Live

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.      Numbers 21:8-9 [4-9]

The scene is out of one of the Indiana Jones movies.  Jones and the girl are making their way through a passageway that is filled with snakes – snakes on the floor, on the walls, snakes hanging from the ceiling. There certainly isn’t much more than that kind of a scene to make most of us become very anxious.  Most people don’t like snakes and even in common speech, snakes are not used in a very good light: It is no complement to call someone a “snake in the grass.”  Even Satan came to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake.  No, snakes are just not mankind’s most favorite creature.

That’s why it is with a bit of surprise that a snake would take such a place of honor in the lessons today.  But on the other hand, perhaps it is most fitting, since the lessons are filled with the good news of grace, God’s undeserved kindness – the news that God does the opposite of what we would expect.

The Old Testament story is surprisingly small for the amount of importance applied to it – but even that really isn’t so unusual in the Bible.  I find so very often that in a seemingly innocuous only one or two verses can have a truth that knocks you back on your heels.  Here, In total there is an event that takes only six verses, certainly not as many verses as so many of the other rebellions of the Israelites.  Yet in a very simple picture is one of the most significant expressions of God’s mercy, representing in beautiful detail what the cross of Jesus would be all about.

If you are familiar with the Israelites in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt, then it comes as no surprise to find them rebelling yet again.  It seems hard to comprehend how a people who have just gone through a marvelous display of God’s unchallenged power – think of the miraculous ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, the Manna for food that just appeared in the wilderness, the providing of water and all the rest in how God brought Israel out of Egypt – It seems astonishing that they would so quickly, so deeply and so easily rebel against and denounce God.

Yet it speaks a word of caution toward us.  Could we be so quick to rebel against and denounce God if He had performed such mighty works for us?  We would think that it should be unlikely.  However, consider for the moment the word, “profanity” – it comes from the word “profane” and in old English, “pro” meant “before, or in front of”, while “fane” was one of the words used for “church” – so “profanity” is what people do right in front of the church – outside the place where Jesus comes into the midst of His People from the throne of heaven, in His Word, in His Body and Blood – where Jesus comes to US in such a personal and concrete way.

Look at the wonders that God does here in the church: here is the message of God’s greatest miracle of Love and forgiveness, of mercy and life.  Look at what God has done to lift you out of darkness into His marvelous light, look at how He has made you a very child of Himself and has poured into your life the Holy Spirit, Who makes His home within you.  See how He has poured upon you all the treasures and blessings that fill page after page in His Word.

And yet “profanity” is what we do right in front of the church!  Despite all the wonder and life that God gives us weekly and daily, all it takes is to not find a pencil when we need one – or anything else that just doesn’t go right – and how quick we are to curse and denounce – a family member, a friends, the world around us, and even God Himself.  And that can happen right outside the church doors – in fact, right INSIDE the church doors.

On top of that, profanity doesn’t just mean your language, but rather any way that rebellion and resistance to God is expressed, whether by action or attitude or even by carelessness. Truly, the warning of the rebellion of Israel in the wilderness is not a remote thing from us.

Although we find ourselves uncomfortably close to the Israelites, we can understand how the Lord would move out in judgment against this People.  After all that He so wonderfully and powerfully had showed them in His genuine concern for them – what He was giving them daily for protection, for food, and for leadership – they really had no basis to be so disdainful of His allowing a momentary inconvenience.

We can understand that God would react so strongly against this rebellion – in fact I sometimes wonder why God didn’t react even more strongly.  So the fiery serpents come – fiery possibly either because of their color or because of a venom that caused a burning sensation – who knows! –  and Israel received a taste of how serious was their irresponsible challenge of God and His care for them.

Suddenly the people realized just how big was the trouble they had gotten themselves into, so they turned to the very ones they accused of incompetence – both to Moses and to God.  God’s solution was that Moses make a bronze serpent and place it on a pole.  Now comes a most amazing picture of mercy and grace as would be found in Jesus, and we can see why Jesus would use this as the picture of His own death and its purpose.
If you think you may have ED don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor, because treatment is available. canadian viagra no prescription frankkrauseautomotive.com Big Bro Studios. with its years of experience has understood that an important mix of shapes, lines, shading sort and surface is insufficient for the accomplishment of brand personality. Natural Pills- Natural men organ is a mix of the jelly. So, always maintain the body weight to avoid these unwanted effects and more.
To be saved from the bite of the snake, all one needed to do was simply look at the bronze serpent.  That’s all.  There was nothing that one could do to free himself from the venom of the snake, except to merely look at the serpent on the pole.  The man underneath the serpent would look up and see all the artwork that Moses may have put into it, the details and all the rest.  But what of the man on the fringe of the camp?  Perhaps all he could see was the sunlight glinting off the bronze – but it was all he needed, and he would be saved like all the rest.

This look at the serpent, however, was not merely a glance.  The Hebrew suggests that this was to concentrate on God’s solution alone.  That wasn’t so easy!  Think of all the distractions of the snakes crawling about the camp, the cries of anger and fear and cursing all around the person.  H. Armin Moellering described the situation this way:

 [All around] the snakes are crawling, probably hissing, possibly dripping venom.  But you are not to look at those wriggling, lashing vipers.  Don’t look around and try to spot a path of escape.  Just stay there surrounded by the snakes.  But don’t look at them.  Look away, look to the One on the pole. [Concordia Journal, Jan 1991, pg 74]

Surrounded by death on all sides, can you imagine what it meant to focus solely upon God’s solution?  Yet that’s exactly what Jesus is saying in John 3 [:14-21] – He is saying something that often people don’t want to hear:  Despite how much you may be surrounded by death, despite how much you want to “fix” things yourself, if you do not focus on Jesus alone – if you do not focus on God’s solution alone – you will not merely NOT make it into heaven, but will fall under the condemnation of God’s wrath.

Imagine someone, bitten by a snake, who refused to do this very simple thing God demanded, instead He tried to come up with all sorts of ways how God should rather have done it.  Meanwhile he kept moving closer and closer to death.  Imagine friends, relatives pleading with him to just simply do what God commands, to trust God’s solution alone.  God provided him with a solution for life and yet he refused because he didn’t like having to submit to God’s way: it was too simple, it wasn’t fair to those who have died already, it was all too one sided, it was too soon (he wasn’t bad off enough yet), it didn’t seem possible that God could really give life in spite of the obvious march of death.

How many people today, bitten by the snake of the Garden of Eden, slowly dying of the venom of rebellion and sin, – how often people try to tell God these very same things, trying to tell God that if He were really loving, or just, or whatever, then He should do it this or that way.  Yet this is from people who are dying – dying when there is a very simple and wonderful solution so close at hand.

WE are dying.  We too get caught up in playing such games, distracted by the death and sin and rebellion all around us.  We too need these times of focusing solely on God’s solution that was lifted high for our sakes.

What is interesting is that the Epistle [Ephesians 2:4-10] suggests that there is a double meaning to Jesus being lifted up.  On one hand is the very important and obvious meaning when Jesus was lifted high on the cross, there to pay in full the penalty of death that we deserved.  There is God’s perfect solution to the enormous need that each of us has, there is the almost unbelievable Love that God would commit Himself to on our behalf.

But there is another time when Jesus was lifted up – when He ascended to sit on the Father’s right hand in heaven.  What is startling is that St Paul declares, as an accomplished fact, that at the same time God was raising US up to be seated with Him in the heavenly realms – all this so that He might continue to show us “the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

This grace and mercy of God is not a one time event that happened once long ago on a cross, nor more recently just in our Baptism, nor even just in our lifetime.  No, God is enthusiastically setting up heaven so that He might be able to show this kind of Love toward us forever.  And then, He turns around and gives us a foretaste, an aroma of what awaits us as Jesus gives us everything He has, everything He is, as He gives His very Self, touching our lips, touching our hearts with His very own Body and Blood here on the altar.

What that does is reflect back and increase how very special is the mercy and grace God gave on the cross, and even to the grace and mercy God wants to fill our lives with right now.  This is no spur of the moment or occasional expression of God’s Love toward us, but rather it is part of a determined plan of God that that is going to reach its crescendo at that time when, without the constraints of our world, God in heaven will most vividly and powerfully have us experience His steadfast Love, goodness, and incomparable riches of His grace non-stop throughout eternity.

But as always, as it was necessary for the Israelite bitten by the snake, our eye must be focused firmly on the solution God has provided.  So come in worship: see the cross – Jesus lifted up for us –, see the wonderful medicine found in Holy Communion against the deadly bite of sin, see the power of forgiveness which brings us back to life, see how the commitment of God’s Word applies to your every day, and during this Lent see again at God’s grand drama of His overwhelming mercy and Love toward you as we draw closer to Good Friday and Easter.

Leave a Reply