Lent 4, March 14, 2021

“Look Out! Look Up to Jesus”   Numbers 21:4–9

  • Are you frustrated today? Angry? Fed Up? Impatient? Hopeless? THEN this text is for you and me!! Look OUT & LOOK UP!
  • In the 1970s, there was a British/American rock band called Fleetwood Mac. One of their biggest hits was “Go Your Own Way.” I seriously doubt that they had any biblical concepts even remotely in mind when they recorded it, but that title, “Go Your Own Way,” describes our human condition to a T. 
  • Disappointment – impatient – complaints - self-pity = rebellion.
  • A pastor asked a rabbi, “From where do you derive your hope of forgiveness, since animal sacrifices are no longer performed?” The rabbi replied, “Since the destruction of the temple in AD 70, every Jew must complete good works, especially during the week prior to Yom Kippur.” He continued by saying that we cannot depend on “fables” like manna feeding millions or bronze snakes lifted into the air to heal as reliable history. 
  • As Lutheran Christians, we are thankful for the sure foundation of God’s Word, which never leaves us floundering, but continues to lift high the cross for our salvation. 
  • The once for all sacrifice for sins is in the Lamb lifted high. Our Rabbi and Savior was historically lifted up on Calvary to save dead men and women like you and me!
  • The bronze serpent of our text. God incarnate is lifted up, and all men who look by faith to him are given the antidote of his eternal mercy. The antidote of Word and Sacrament never fails the Church, and Lent reminds us that without his body and blood offered to us, we have no life in ourselves.
  • It’s rather ironic that God’s people are passing through the wilderness area of the Red Sea and Mount Hor when they commit the sins in our text. Both geographic places are sacred:
  • The Red Sea was the place of divine deliverance, where the horse and rider of Egypt were drowned in the deep. 
  • Moses’ brother, Aaron, was buried on Mount Hor. 
  • Ironically, in and around the geographical places of God’s deliverance and God’s gift of divine leadership, the people fall into sin. 

V 4: “to go around Edom.” 

  • The forty years of wandering (Num 14:33–35) are nearly over—passing through Edom would bring Israel to the Promised Land in a matter of days—but yet another detour is the last straw for the people. 
  • This new rebellion will be God’s occasion to deal with many of the generation who have yet to die off before Israel may enter Canaan (14:27–32). 
  • The Israelites no longer believed that God would honor his promise to lead them to safety. 
  • In that frame of mind, they imagine they had been better off in Egypt! Consequently, they whine and complain against both God and his chosen servant, Moses. 
  • Their complaint is that there is no food or water; in reality, they have plenty of both.
  • The gifts of food and sustenance that God had provided kept the Israelites alive for years. Now they decide they are sick of them. 

V 5: qatsah, literally, an abomination that makes one sick to the stomach

  • Collectively, as a people, Israel was calling God’s blessing an abomination. 
  • We know how things are supposed to go, thus if you are on my side things should go really easy for us!
  • The ungrateful “loathing” of the gifts of God continues to this day. So many loathe God’s greatest gifts of his Word and Sacraments and seek other things that are not simply worthless, but can actually hurt, harm, and even destroy them!

V 6: 

  • hannəchashim hassəraphim. (automonopia or Harry Potter)
  • “fiery serpents”; their inflammatory bite filled the victims with burning. 
  • These snakes were characterized by fiery red spots and were very poisonous. 
  • Luther points out that the reddish color of the snakes was revealed on the bitten victims (LW 22:338).
  • The expression “Be careful what you ask for!” might just apply here. 
  • God heard the people’s complaining and showed them what they were really requesting. 
  • Essentially, they asked for death and misery, so he showed them what that meant. 
  • Snakes—that reptile used by Satan to bring death upon mankind in the first place—came among the people and brought with them pain, suffering, and death (“many” died).
  • Can you love/trust a god whose hand is CAUSING your pain with a promise for relief?
  • Abraham & Isaac
  • Isiah & Jeremiah taken into captivity

V 7: 

  • The serpents’ strikes upon the people—and most likely even their slithering presence among them!—helped the Israelites recall quickly how well off they had been prior to the beginning of their complaints. In their misery, nothing, not even their human pride, got in the way of their repentance. 
  • They returned to God’s servant Moses, whom they had previously rejected, and asked him to intercede for them.

V 8: 

  • ra’ah, “to look, behold, see.” Those looking outside themselves in confidence were healed of their malady. 
  • Rod of Asclepius – medical emblem
  • In today’s Gospel, John recorded Jesus’ own words regarding what would happen to him: “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” (Jn 3:14–15).
  • Paul told us in today’s Epistle how this will be: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so 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).
  • The snake is a typology of Christ.  God has taken an instrument of Satan and made it an instrument of grace through faith!
  • This is quite sacramental:
  • Visible element - pole/serpent
  • Instituted by God's Word - told Moses
  • Forgiveness of sins - Promise, they will live
  • The snake or poison now became their healing. 
  • Christ is the poison of sin on the cross for us and the antidote for our sin at the same time. 
  • The bronze serpent had “the aspect and the form of a serpent,” but was “a bronze serpent without venom” (again, Luther, LW 22:343). 
  • Christ on the cross absorbs the venom of man’s sin, and yet a look in faith to him is a dying people’s antidote.
  • Moses prayed on behalf of those who had rejected not only him but also the one who had declared Moses to be the people’s leader. The merciful Lord heard Moses’ prayer and provided a remedy. 
  • The same merciful Lord would later hear Jesus’ prayer for fallen mankind and make him to be the remedy from certain death in hell!
  • The plan of God to save his wayward people was simple. The people were to look at the serpent raised up on the pole. 
  • As they gazed at the image of the very thing that was killing them—which expressed faith in God’s promise to send them relief—they would be cured from the serpents’ bites.
  • All this, of course, prefigured the work Jesus would do on the cross. When even to this day God’s people who are dying and “dead in [their] trespasses” (Eph 2:5) look up in faith at Christ on the cross, they, too, are healed of their mortal, sin-caused wounds and will live.

V 9: 

  • "My God, My God, why have I forsaken you?"  Is our question looking at Christ on the cross!

V 10: 

  • chanah, “to camp or dwell.” After such a horrible sin, God still provides safe camping for his people. God camped (eskēnōsen, “tented”) among his people in the incarnation (Jn 1:14).
  • Jesus did not sugar-coat the life of discipleship. Yes, hard times will come. But when they do, look in faith to the Son of Man lifted high on the cross. 
  • Apart from him there is only death. But with him there is life. 
  • Just as God provided life to dying Israelites by means of a bronze snake lifted up on a pole, so also by means of Jesus Christ and him crucified, God gives you eternal life, everlasting fellowship with your Maker. 
  • Follow Christ through the wilderness as he leads you to the new and greater Promised Land. 
  • And on your journey, come to the Lord’s Table and receive with thanksgiving his heavenly manna and his life-giving drink.
  • It was not the Lord God’s will to kill all the Israelites in the wilderness. He had made a promise, a covenant with them, one that he would keep, even as his people were unfaithful. 
  • The Lord God hears what his people say in repentance. And to them he provides a remedy for what afflicts them. 
  • What has been set up for you to look at? That is what Jesus tells you: “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” (Jn 3:14–15). 
  • Jesus identifies himself as the ensign of salvation. Those stricken by sin, victims of Satan’s venom, are to look to him who was lifted on a pole, and there they will find forgiveness and redemption.
  • You no longer are destined for death. You no longer have reason to complain or speak out against the Lord God. He has delivered life to you and set you on a path to Paradise. 
  • It is finished! He has borne your guilt. Your guilt is no longer your problem. Look to the cross of Christ and believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son, the one who has reconciled the world to the Father. “Look Out! Look Up to Jesus” In him we live! Rejoice! Amen.