Let us pray: Dear Savior, although all of us have been bitten by the deadly bite of Satan, You have not left us without hope or help. For You survived that bite in our place and now seek to give us the anti-venom of Your forgiveness through faith. May we always look to Your cross when confronted by sin and seek Your healing help. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ULTIMATE SURVIVOR!
TEXT: Numbers 21: 4-9
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
I agree with Indiana Jones. “I hate snakes,” too! I know it is an irrational fear. I know that snakes do a lot of good—such as eating insects in the garden and keeping the mouse population down. In fact, as a kid I got used to snakes (kind of) when we had our large rural garden. But, I still don’t like them. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake in the wild and hope I never do. That being said, I recall two snake stories from my youth. One was the 7 foot long black racer that quickly slid across our garden one day. Black racers get their name from their coal black color and also from the fact that they slither with about 2/3’s of their bodies raised up like a cobra. That particular snake’s head was about 4 feet above the ground that day and the image still gives me the willies. The other snake encounter totally freaked me out when I was about 8 years old. I was playing along the creek that bordered our large garden and suddenly came upon an 8 foot long, 6 or 7 inch thick, snake. I don’t think I’ve ever run faster—in the opposite direction. Later research showed it to be a hog-nose snake, which is harmless, a great mouse catcher, but totally intimidating.
Our fear of snakes, most people have it, stems from Adam and Eve’s encounter with the devil using the form of a serpent in Eden. That snake had a deadly bite—the bite of sin—which still afflicts each of us today. Yes, we’ve all been bitten by it—we call it original sin in the church, and we confessed its deadly presence within our being this morning in the confession of sins with the words: “I’m by nature a poor sinful being.” Satan’s bite has brought death—both physical and spiritual to this world. Even those who reject Christianity still try to outrun his bite—but they are all doomed to failure in the end. For death stalks everyone. Depression and the fear of death afflict everyone. However, our gracious God has given us an antidote. It is faith in Christ. And so today we consider:
THE SURVIVAL OF THE FAITH-FILLED
The people of God, the children of Israel, had been surviving in the Sinai desert for many years after their exodus from Egypt. God had graciously provided for them along the way—leading them with a cloud pillar of fire, giving them victory over countless enemies, providing water when there wasn’t any and giving them food each day in the form of manna and quail to eat. Today I suppose we’d call them a “kept people.” But, like us, this hurt their pride a bit. Like us, they grew impatient with God’s goodness. (People always think they know more than God and have a better idea on how to order their lives than He does, don’t they?) So, they begin to grumble and murmur on the side against both God and His leader, Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” Obviously those were gross distortions of the truth. They had water and food—manna that they didn’t even have to work for! Yes, right here we see that they, too, had been bitten by the venom of ungratefulness; one of Satan’s most useful tools.
God never lets people get away with spitting in His face. And He didn’t permit it here, either. He sent a plague of serpents whose bite was fiery pain to afflict them. Yes, the bite of sin causes people to die. It caused many of them to die. Isn’t it sad that we seek God’s help only when we cannot handle life on our own? Isn’t it sad that we turn to the Lord and grow as people only through tough times?
Well, they knew the reason for this plague—their unfaithfulness. And so they ask Moses to ask God to help them. “Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”—Here Moses was kind of like Christ, asking God to help snake-bitten sinners.
And just as God provided an antidote in Christ to Satan’s bite, so He did here, too, via 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 (copper pits abounded in Sinai) and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
What’s the point of this lesson? It is that faith saves! Faith in God’s promise. Faith in God’s ultimate promise of a Savior Who would be lifted up on the pole of the cross. Jesus makes that very clear in John 3 when He says: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Did you get that?—Eternal life! Not just freedom from the rent collector or the tax man or cancer or depression, but freedom from eternal death and hell. Yes, God has much bigger plans for us than simply our 80 odd years here on planet earth.
There are those who attend church for freedom from physical pain and affliction. They come when life gets tough, view God as the last resort instead of the first, and then when God helps them through the problem they drift away until the devil comes calling again. I call these “crises Christians.” To them God is much like a rabbit’s foot, an idol, that they pay homage to only when the bite of the snake gets too fiery to bear alone. Unfortunately they fail to comprehend that they need constant treatment for their sins in the form of Christ’s forgiveness. It’s kind of like not taking the full prescription of antibiotics and so the illness returns and returns and returns.
This bronze serpent had a name. The Israelites called it: Nehushtan which means: “copper snake.” It was kept around as a memento of their trials for another 700 years and was even placed in the temple court in Jerusalem where people continued the “rabbit’s foot” veneration of it, turning it into an idol and offering incense offerings to it! Then when the reformer king, Hezekiah, took over it was broken apart and melted down. It reminds me a lot of something I saw in the paper this week. That is, the statue of the Virgin Mary from Fatima in Spain is currently in New England. In fact, it can be viewed in upcoming days in both Billerica and Wilmington at Roman Catholic churches. People think praying to it and worshipping it will heal them of the devil’s fiery bite. What tripe. Only Christ can do that! Yes, there is survival, eternal survival only of the faith-filled! Where is Hezekiah when you need him!?
Well, he’s long dead. The brass serpent is long gone. Moses is in heaven. But Christ is here! He’s here with you today in His Word and in His sacrament. He’s here to feed your souls with His anti-venom of forgiveness for all your sins. He’s here to take your spiritual pain away by reminding you that He’s insured a place in heaven for you—at the cost of His life and His blood.
Many preach today that life is all about the survival of the fittest. But God says otherwise. He says that it is really about survival of the faith-filled! So, don’t be afraid or bamboozled by the idol-makers of today. For then as now, only faith in Christ saves! Amen