Monday, April 7, 2014

Look and Live

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way.  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 detest this miserable food.”  Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died.  The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.  And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.”  So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. Numbers 21:4 - 9 (NRSVA)

And just 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, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.  “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:14 - 21 (NRSVA)
I’m reasonably certain there are some people in this world who just adore snakes like “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin did; just nobody near this pulpit! 
This morning’s Old Testament text has the stage set with zillions of vipers biting and killing Israelites.  There’s no great surprise that the killer’s name is rebellion!  God’s people rebelled, and it got them snakes! 
If we go back in Israel’s history we find they had been enslaved by the Egyptians for over 400 years.  Moses, God’s deliverer led the people out of that bondage, but their disobedience in failing to follow God’s leadership into the Promised Land caused them to wander about in the wilderness for 40 years. 
The incident before us is one of many recorded in Scripture of how unbelieving God’s people can act.  In their discouragement
·     they grumbled about God’s man, Moses
·     they grumbled about God’s plan for them
·     they even grumbled about the free food, manna
“Moses, God…..have you all brought us out here just to die?”  This grumbling was rebellion – a statement of disbelief that God could actually take care of them.  Imagine the audacity of that;
·     They had walked out of Egypt years before without so much as a squeal out of the Egyptian bosses, and God buried the Egyptian army in the Red Sea just for punctuation. 
·     Their clothing and shoes didn’t wear out for forty years of wilderness wandering.
·     Their food was consistently provided, just lying on the ground every morning….no hunting, fishing or farming…just pick it up and chew!
How could they be so unbelieving that God could or would take care of them?  He had been doing that in the most open and measurable way for four decades right in the middle of a barren wasteland.
Rebellion doesn’t make sense, and it is nothing new; Adam and Eve started the whole process.  Eve saw the fruit that they’d been warned wasn’t for them.  It went something like this:  she wanted it; she took it, and he went right along!  And rebellion has been man’s condition ever since.  The Bible calls this rebellion against God “sin” and the condition is more than epidemic; it is endemic – everyone is a carrier as well as a victim!
all have sinned Romans 3:23b (NRSVA)

Why Rebellion?

Why do men rebel against God?  It is a basic belief we all have inside, deep-down that there are things, powers, and places to which we feel entitled, but we don’t have.  We want what we want; this is the root cause of rebellion against God.
In so many ways the story of Israel, God’s chosen family, parallels all of mankind.  In fact their story is given to us in the Old Testament as the example, so that we can learn how to have a right relationship with God.
The account of the brazen serpent upon a pole, and the rebellion that made it necessary was held up by Jesus in our Gospel reading as the very picture of what the cross would mean to us spiritually.  We have a rebellion inside of us that can only be healed by what Jesus did on the cross.
There are some immutable principles contained in this story of rebellion and redemption.  I want to share four:
Rebellion Against God Causes Suffering
Principles apply no matter the circumstances.  Up is always up, no matter which way you’re facing.  The principle of suffering whenever we rebel against God’s way is immutable; it cannot change.  All sin causes the sinner to suffer in some fashion; it also tends to cause the sinner’s family and friends to suffer.  Those who rebel against God suffer!
Husbands and wives who give-in to infidelity, or make a shambles of their marriage always suffer; so do the children and extended family.  Ministers who murder their integrity also suffer and cause their congregations to suffer. 
Just as the Israelites understood about the painful bite and deadly poison of vipers, so we understand that rebellion causes suffering.
A second principle is:
Ending Rebellion Means Choosing
God provided a means of healing for the snake bites.  Moses placed a brazen serpent on a pole and set it up in the camp.  Whenever someone was bitten, he simply had to look to the pole in obedience in order to be spared death.
In the same way, Jesus said His “lifting up” on the cross would be the place of spiritual healing for anyone who would look to him.
A third principle:
Ending Rebellion Against God Only Comes by Surrender
The Israelites were encouraged to “look and live”.  It is a form of surrender that required doing things God’s way.  Simply put, there are three parts to surrendering to God’s way…but they’re all so connected it is something of a seamless movement towards God:
a.  You face your sin.  Looking at the serpent on the pole was the last thing a snake-bitten person wanted to do.  It is the same for us; it’s hard to admit to our sin. 
But a person who wants the burden of sin lifted must be willing to confess, to “look” in order to live.  Face your sin!
b.  You forsake your sin.  We call it repentance; it is a matter of turning away from something, and turning towards something else.  In the case of the Israelites, they had to forsake their grumbling and turn to the serpent on the pole.  With anyone who would be forgiven, repentance is a matter of turning from the sin that says, “I don’t need God” in order to turn towards Him. 
c.   You embrace the Savior.  Jesus Christ is the Savior.  When you turn away from your sin, you find yourself facing the cross, and in so doing you are placing your faith in the Savior to be YOUR Savior!
We turn and “look” to the cross; the “live” part is up to God…and He is always true to His promise to forgive sin!
A final principle:
The Snakes Hang Around
Just as the snakes were still biting Israelites and they had the recourse of looking to the serpent on the pole – so we must realize that the sin that bit us is not going to retreat. 
We live in the light of the knowledge that our adversary will continue to provide temptation.  It is very seldom, even in the wake of perfect forgiveness, that the consequences of sin and rebellion disappear.  But the promise from God is that the power of sin will be diminished for the believer who places his daily trust in Christ and is filled with the Holy Spirit.
This is the point at which I sense many Christians live less than an overcoming life in Christ.  We have “looked” to the cross and found forgiveness for our sins, and we live!  But we treat that forgiveness as if it is an event, and not a lifetime process of living into the meaning of that forgiveness.
John Fischer, in his book On a Hill Too Far Away, tells of a church in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.  There is a one-of-a- kind cross in that church.  It’s not that the cross is overly unique.  What’s really strange is where the Cross is positioned in the sanctuary.  This cross isn’t behind or above the altar.  The cross in this church is bolted down into the concrete floor - right in the middle of the aisle.  It’s between the pews and the altar.  It’s an obstruction.  The pastor’s words have to pass through it.  The congregation’s eyes always have it somewhere in view.[1]
This is “look and live” – when a person or a congregation always has the cross in view. 
·        When I look at my family I see them through the cross lens. 
·        When I look at my job I see it as an extension of an opportunity to serve the Lord of the cross. 
·        When I breathe my next breath I sense the cross lifting me to inhale, and I hear laughter from above as Jesus tells the Father – “Look!  He’s living!”

[1] Of Snakes and Crosses by Eloy Gonzalez on

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