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Keep Looking Up
4th Sunday in Lent
March 11, 2018
Lincoln Heights Lutheran Church
Keep Looking Up
Numbers 21:4–9 (NIV84)
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “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!” 6 Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
Dear Friends in Christ,
She comes to visit and doesn’t like food. The first she tries is too hot. The next dish is too cold. But finally she finds something that is just right. She wants to relax after the meal but the first chair is too big and so is the second. She finally finds one that is just right. Then this visitor decides to take a nap. The first bed is too hard, the next one too soft. The final bed is just right. But as Goldilocks sleeps, the owners of the house, the three bears return. She runs away when they find her in the smallest bear’s bed.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a fun children’s story but also reveals something about human nature, sinful human nature. We are a bunch of complainers and whiners. In the story, she complains about eating food she has not prepared, sitting in chairs that were not her own and sleeping in beds in someone else’s house. She was not content until she found just what she wanted in food and chairs and beds. The Israelites seem to have a similar issue. They are not happy with what God has provided for them. They loudly announce their complaints to God and to Moses. God responds. This morning we will look up to see God’s response.
Keep Looking Up to see God’s loving discipline. Keep Looking Up to see God’s divine mercy.
See God’s Loving Discipline
They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “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!”
Last week, we read the account of God giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. That happened just a couple of months after the Lord freed his people from Egypt. God led his people across the wilderness and brought them to the edge of the Promised Land of Canaan. The twelve spies went into the land but only Joshua and Caleb returned with a good report, trusting the Lord to give them the land he promised. The other ten convinced the people that they should return to Egypt rather than try to go into Canaan. For this lack of faith in God, the Lord made the people wander forty years in the wilderness. None of the adults, except Joshua and Caleb, would live to enter the Promised Land.
In the account before us today, most of those adults have died in the wilderness. The forty years is almost complete. Moses’ sister Miriam recently died, as did her brother Aaron, the high priest. The people were nearly ready to enter the Promised Land. They requested safe passage through the land of their cousins, the Edomites on the way. Their cousins refused and now the people had to turn back into the wilderness to take the long way around.
It had been nearly forty years and now this delay is too much for them. Their patience with God is at an end. So they whine and complain. They accuse God and Moses of bringing them into the desert to die. They accuse God and Moses of not loving them, but instead of wishing them harm. Then they list off all the horrible conditions they have had to endure. No food. No water. And the food they have is miserable. They hate it!
Maybe you’ve heard the same thing at your house or from your lips. We don’t have any food. What about an apple? No. Grapes? No. Bread? No. Eggs? No. Milk? No. We don’t have anything to eat that I want! That is usually how it is. It is not that we don’t have any money, we just don’t have as much as we want. The Israelites had bread from heaven six days a week for forty years. God gave them water from a rock. He provided them with clothing and shoes that did not wear out in the wilderness. And he freed them from slavery too. Don’t forget that. But still the people complain and accuse him of not caring about them.
Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.
Many see this as harsh and cruel punishment for a bit of whining. The Lord knew what their complaining was and would lead to. It was rebellion and would lead to the people abandoning the Lord. The rebels would run to other gods, maybe even return to Egypt. The Lord will not allow his people to rebel against him and abandon him. He must discipline them because he loves them. His discipline is death by venomous snakes.
We need to remember what our rebellious complaints against God deserve. We too deserve death and eternal death. Many of the things we complain about are what we pray for in the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer – Give us this day our daily bread. Luther explains what daily bread includes: “food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, land and cattle, money and goods, a godly spouse, godly children, godly workers, godly and faithful leaders, good government, good weather, peace and order, health, a good name, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” How many times have we complained about these very gifts of daily bread God gives us by grace? We too need to look up to the Lord and repent just as the Israelites did when God lovingly disciplined them.
See God’s Divine Mercy
The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.
Instead of turning away from the Lord in rebellion, the sinners looked to the Lord in repentance and the Lord showed them mercy by giving them something else to look up to. The Lord had Moses make a bronze snake for the people to look at when bit by the real snakes. The cure looks like the punishment. Of course, there is no medical reason why looking at a bronze snake on a pole would stop the venom from killing someone. God had not given them examples of this before. God was giving them a cure that would work 100% of the time for those who trusted what the Lord said. Look at the bronze snake and you will live.
Sinful rebels saved from the punishment for sin by looking up in faith at what God has given. Jesus told Nicodemus a millennium and a half later: “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). Keep looking up to Christ lifted up on the cross. 100% of those who look up to Christ crucified are forgiven. 100% of those who look up in faith to Christ on the cross have eternal life.
The bronze snake is a type of Christ, that is, God used the bronze snake to show us what Christ would do for us. Those who looked at the bronze snake were saved from poison. Those who look in faith at Christ are saved from the poison of sin. Those who looked up to the bronze snake were immediately cured. Those who look to Christ in faith are immediately cured of spiritual death.
The only cure for those bitten by venomous snakes was to look at the bronze snake. The only cure for all who have been bitten by the poison of sin and face eternal death is to look up to Christ. God gave those bitten by snakes victory over death by looking at a bronze snake on a pole. God has won victory over death for all people by lifting up Jesus on the cross. At the cross, the devil, that ancient serpent struck Jesus’ heal with the poison of death. There on the cross God gives victory over death to all who trust in Christ.
Those bitten by a snake could look up at the bronze snake and say, “Where, O snake is your sting?” By looking up at the cross of Christ and also into his empty tomb, we can boldly say, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Keep looking up to your crucified and risen Savior.
There will be times when we get stuck looking down. We only see the problems in our life. We only see what is lacking in our daily bread. We only see reasons to complain and whine. When you are stuck looking down, remind yourself to look up and see your Savior. When you notice someone else getting down and complaining about daily bread, help them to look up to Christ. It is really difficult to whine and complain when we are always looking up to Christ crucified. See the divine mercy of our God. He loved the world, gave his Son into death to save the world, to give those who believe in him eternal life. He freed us from sin, saved us from eternal death and crushed the head of the ancient serpent for us. When we daily appreciate what Christ has done, we will daily thank him for the daily bread God provides. He gave us just what we needed for eternal life. What he provides for daily life is just right too. Thanks be to God!