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Lifting Up the Son of Man

This morning, we begin with Numbers 21 and the story of the Israelites in the wilderness being bitten by fiery serpents as a punishment for their grumbling against God and Moses. Then we reflect on Christ's words to Nicodemus, that Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up.

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Good Morning. As we reflect on the Passion narrative, let’s revisit our Call to worship from the bulletin cover, and we might as well read it together again while we’re at it.

Leader: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up: 

People:  That whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.

If you didn’t notice where this quote was from, it was John 3:14-15, just before we are told how God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, that those who believe will not die but have everlasting life.

This section is a discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus had snuck out to meet Jesus in the middle of the night, convinced he may just be the Messiah despite the belief of most of the Sanhedrin that he was not. One important idea that you can take from this discussion is to show how we can’t save ourselves, and we need to rely on God and the means of salvation He supplies means. Nicodemus is a great example, because he was a great man.

In John 7, Nicodemus alone is recorded as standing up for Jesus in front of the Sanhedrin. At the Tomb, he brings seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloes, an amount that today would sell for about $200K to anoint the body of our savior. But being the best man is good enough.

Jesus compares the faith we need to have in him to the Israelites who had to believe God’s Promise, and look at the serpent on a pole to live.

That’s not really as easy of an important idea, you might not catch the faith requirement. If a copperhead bit you, and I told you to wait a sec, let me make a snake of bronze and put on a post so you can stare at it, what would you tell me. No, seriously, quick, Do SOMETHING!

So to teach Nicodemus, Jesus compares himself to that bronze serpent, which we read from Numbers 21. This story takes place at the end of 40 years of wilderness wandering. At the Red Sea, they believed in God and Moses, but here, they speak against them both, so God sends fiery serpents to bite the people. It’s a picture John loves for his Gospel.

Last week, we discussed Jesus calling himself the Manna which came down from Heaven, and the people have rejected Him. This week, we see how they also rejected, they “DETESTED” the Manna in the wilderness, because it came from God, and they couldn’t do it themselves!

So, God tells Moses to make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole, so that anyone who is bitten could look up in faith, and live.

What is especially incredible in this short story from Numbers, is how perfectly it encapsulates our lives and the Gospel. While no analogy is perfect, this is probably one of the best ever mini-Gospels. 

The Lord meets their sin of grumbling quickly and with death. Sin leads to death, even when we think it’s not all that bad. Did anyone notice how the Lord didn’t answer the people’s request by giving them what they wanted. In fact, it’s never said anywhere in the book of Numbers if the Lord removes the serpents, the punishment for their sinfulness.

Instead, the Lord provided an antidote to the poison, without removing the snakes, which remain as  reminders of their sinfulness.

Back to Jesus sermon, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, he tells Nicodemus, and us, that He needs to be lifted up; that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  And to emphasize again lifting up isn’t just praising Him, He’s talking about the Crucifixion.  Where Moses fashioned a snake out of bronze, Jesus suffered in his body the effects of our sin, placed upon him.

And yet, there are snakes. Snakes all around us in this world, biting us in the heals, trying to pull us away from Christ, and force us to worry about the world and its desires. Trying to poison us with the venom of sin. We can only walk right if we keep our eyes on the cross.

For just as all those who looked upon the bronze serpent were healed at the sight of the snake from the toxic venom, all those who look on Christ crucified with a true and lively faith are delivered from the wounds of the soul, no matter how numerous or deadly their sins may be.

That’s why we need not only to turn to the Lord initially for the forgiveness of our sins, but turn to him daily to heal us from the sinful surroundings which bite.

We live in a world of sin, and even if we restrain ourselves from that sin, the effects of other people’s sins continue to bite at our heals, just as those fiery serpents in the desert. How much easier it would be if there were no sin around us, and we were able not to sin.

That day will come, but for now, we seem to be constantly bit and constantly need to look to Christ and the cross. Do you think those Israelites put themselves out of eyesight of the bronze serpent?

Our sins put Christ on the cross. We can blame whoever we like, but if we consider ourselves to be Christians, then we acknowledge that Christ hung on that Cross for our sins, and we have no one else to blame for his suffering and pain. If our personal sin put him on the cross, then the next question is, what is our personal relationship with sin today.

Do we hide it from others, but keep it to ourselves.  Do we keep it as a secret friend? Or do we hate it as the Israelites hated the serpents which bit them as they walked through the desert. If that is not how we look at the sin that surrounds us, then we probably need to take some time out to examine ourselves. 

Christ didn’t redeemed us so that we can safely return to sin again: but he has redeemed us that we should forsake the sinful ways of our old life, put our eyes on the cross and to live in righteousness.

And keep our eyes on our crucified Savior.

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