What Jesus on the Pole of the Cross Means FOR YOU!
Fourth Sunday in Lent Trinity Lutheran Church
15 March 2015 Murdock, NE
+ Jesu Juva +
Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa Moses! Good grief. You’re taking us the wrong way! Get out your compass. We need to head north to get to the Promised Land. You’re taking us backwards! South! Around Edom. Back to where we’ve already been 40 years ago: THE ROUTE TO THE RED SEA. Been there! Done that! No thanks!
We’ve had enough of you Moses! 40 years in the wilderness. Meandering here. Meandering there. Following your leading and guiding. Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year you preached: “Trust the Lord! He is God FOR YOU. He graciously saved you from Egyptian bondage and Pharaoh’s tyranny. He will bring you to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Well, Moses, we’re sick of hearing it! We’ve had enough of you and the Lord’s supposed promises of delivering a Promised Land. Trust the Lord? Yeah, right! If we trust the Lord anymore, we’ll all die of heat exhaustion and the vultures will pick out our eyeballs and leave only the bones!
You’re nothing but a religious fraud Moses. You’re just a slick carnival huckster, a snake-oil salesman that poses as a prophet of God. We know what you’re up to! You brought us out of Egypt for one reason and one reason only: to let us die wretchedly in this desert! How wicked you are! An extremist! ISIS would cut off our heads and end the misery quickly. But you Moses! You, torture us indefinitely – for decades — in this God-forsaken wilderness until we die a slow miserable death like starving refugees. Talk about breaking the Fifth Commandment! You’re the epitome of a Fifth Commandment breaker! We’re as good as dead thanks to you Moses! We have nothing! No bread. No water.
All we’ve had for 40 years is that dreadful manna day in and day out that you, no doubt, conjure up with some kind of super secret ritual in the tabernacle. We absolutely hate it! Detest it. Makes us sick to even think about it. The smell makes us want to puke straight in the air. WE’VE HAD ENOUGH MOSES! WE’RE NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! WE’RE GOING TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! We’re going to take charge. We’ve taken a vote. You’re fired Moses! Get lost! Don’t let the tabernacle door flap hit you in the …!
Can you blame the Israelites? You’re on their side, aren’t you? Of course you are. Cheering them on. Nodding your head in agreement. 40 years they’ve wandered in the wilderness under the leadership of this hapless preacher Moses. Endured all kinds of heartaches, disappointments and hardships under his pastoral direction. And for what? The Israelites DESERVE better.
Deserve? Really? Did you just say that? You believe that 40 years of desert travel with pathetic Moses and eating monotonous manna every day EARNS the Israelites something? What about their impatience, grumbling, rebellion mistrust and unbelief? If you and the Israelites are all about merit, tit for tat, quid pro quo, getting what you deserve then, I warn you, that is what Israel and you will get. Check it out.
The Lord “sends” … yes, that’s right, THE LORD SENDS venomous vipers to sink their razor-sharp fangs into the flesh of the WE’VE HAD ENOUGH OF AND DON’T WANT ANYMORE OF THE LORD’S WORD, LEADING AND GIVING THROUGH MOSES SO GIVE US WHAT WE DESERVE ISRAELITES! The poisonous bites burned violently in their bloodstreams and “many Israelites died.”
If you insist on getting what you deserve, well…. Is that what you really want? What you deserve? Then that is what you’ll get: God’s temporal and perhaps even His eternal punishment (if you insist on that too).
The snakes don’t go away. More and more of them. They’re everywhere. No escaping them. No safe place. Except … the Lord.
That’s right! Just the Lord! All the Israelites and all you have is the Lord! He alone is your help and salvation. You and Israel, as we’re deep into this season of Lent and approaching a Holy Week and Easter, are taught to depend only on Him.
That’s when the Lord leads the Israelites do the absolute unthinkable. What we moderns – what we decadent and smug Christians don’t even consider doing –EVER! What’s that? Confess sin. Confess THEIR SIN. Against God! “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you.’” Isn’t that incredible. When was the last time you confessed your sin to the Lord? Really confessed that you’re a sinner? A dead-damned sinner? The Lord repented Israel. They are nothing. The Lord is everything. The Lord would repent you today too! To learn to trust only in Him. To be dependent on Him!
Moses does the unbelievable too. He prays for them. What a pastor! If you find a pastor who prays for you, for your being repented from your sin and faithed in the Lord being God FOR YOU for the forgiveness of your sins, you’d better keep him! Intercessory prayer by the clergy for his congregation is like trying to find the T-Rex or the Brontosaurus. That’s how rare such pastors are these days.
Well, after Moses prays, the Lord instructs him to make a serpent, put it on a pole and add this very important promise: “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses did just that. “Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
Now, I hope you’ve been paying attention! Take note. The rescue from certain and sure horrific death from viper venom did not magically emanate from the coiled piece of metal on the pole. Healing happened when faith trusted the Lord’s Word of promise: “Anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” The promissory Word of the Lord does this great thing. Believe and the Israelites had what God promised. If they did not believe God’s particular promise, they still died. I suppose there were many Israelites that didn’t heed God’s promise because they thought it was all foolishness, nonsense and a waste of time.
Now, let’s fast forward to the time of Jesus. The rescue from death that God gave the Israelites with the divine promise attached to the bronze serpent hanging on the pole was a foretaste, a type, a preview of what He would do for the entire world when His Son Jesus was lifted up on the pole of the cross.
Listen to Jesus Himself. Only He would be so audacious to apply the story from Numbers 21 to Himself and His saving work for sinners. “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!” (John 3:14-15) What a promise! The best divine promise you could ever be given by the Lord. After all, sin’s venom or poison is in you. It will kill you. Everyone dies. Don’t believe me? Go out to the cemetery. No one is excluded. The sting of death is sin — your sin. Therefore, enemy death is all around. Death is a dark bestial power that would separate you from God forever.
But enemy death as a result of the toxic sinful condition inside you does not have the final word. Jesus does! “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!”
This is the divine Son of Man Jesus promise to you victims of the fatal venom of sin. It is His promise to you His sinners who are “dead in their trespasses and sins” and deserve God’s “wrath.” Instead of eternal death Jesus gives you eternal life. Instead of damnation Jesus gives you salvation. All because He was lifted up on the pole of the cross as the one literally “numbered with the transgressors,” (Isaiah 53:12). He took all your sin in His body on the cross. All its poison. And He died with it. Condemned with it. In your place. As the only cure. The antidote.
Listen to Jesus again. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (John 3:16). “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (John 3:18).
I can’t help myself. One more gospel promise zinger. This time from the Epistle. St. Paul declares: “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgression – it is by grace you have been saved,” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
As you believe in Jesus’ divine Son of Man promise SO YOU HAVE. Eternal life! Salvation! As the Epistle says: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” That’s what you have now – by faith. On the Last Day – the day of resurrection – by sight. “In order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus,” (Ephesians 2:6-7).
So, brothers and sisters, as you’ve heard the story of Israel today from Numbers 21 and Jesus’ promises in John 3, truly you and all sinners are saved only by God’s extravagant grace in the crucified Jesus – the Son of God – hanging dead on Good Friday and then raised on the third day. FOR YOU!
In the Name of Jesus.