Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Lent 4

Our Hope and Healing in the Lifted Lord.

John 3:14-17

March 15, 2015

Today's readings focus on snakes. Although they are an integral part of God's creation, few people like snakes. Maybe, it's the association with the serpent in Eden. Considering the OT reading, we have reason to fear poisonous snakes. The infestation of these snakes wasn't accidental.

What happened? The problem is that we are impatient by nature. Our impatience gets us into trouble. If only we would stop, think and pray. The Israelites were getting sick and tired of their journey through the wilderness. They began to moan and groan. Not only did they complain to Moses but they complained against the Lord. "There's no food. There's no water. We hate this detestable food." There was no thanks for their daily bread.

What did their impatience, whining and rebellion against the Lord get them? The Lord gave them another surprise. Venomous snakes came upon them. The poison of these snakes was like a fire going through the body. It was a painful, burning sensation. There was no antidote. There was no cure. For those bitten, there was no hope. The snakes grabbed their attention real fast. All of a sudden the things they'd become so impatient about didn't matter so much.

They turned to Moses in repentance. Now, what would the Lord do? He could ignore their prayers. He could leave them to die painfully in the wilderness. They were at His mercy. In His compassion the Lord told Moses to make a representation of the snake in bronze and place it on a pole to be lifted up before the people. If they looked on the snake with faith, they would be cured and live.

When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about faith, He could have used any number of illustrations to make His point. He chose the incident of the fiery serpents in the wilderness. Here He points out to Nicodemus where His hope and faith must focus.

John 3:14-17. 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.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Nothing has changed since the days of Moses. The people of God are just as impatient and rebellious as were those in the wilderness. We whine and complain as much as they. Whining and complaining against the Lord is sin. What are the complaints today? We don't like what God says about who can be married. We don't like what God says about the roles of men and women in the church. We don't like what God says about tithing. We don't like what God says about the priorities of faith. Pick a topic. When God says "no" or sets any restrictions on us, we don't like it.

This brings us to Nicodemus. He was a religious man. The problem was his faith was mis-directed. Nicodemus was a pious Jew, eagerly trying to fulfill the Law. His efforts, while laudable, were coming up short. He knew something was missing but he wasn't sure exactly what it was. He had seen and heard Jesus speak. There was something about what Jesus said and the way He taught that intrigued Nicodemus. While his fellow Pharisees were busy being offended by Jesus, Nicodemus wanted to know more.

Under the cover of darkness, to avoid being seen by his friends, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Basically, Nicodemus told Jesus, "I intrigued by what you have to say, but I don't get it." Jesus tells him in return, "As a teacher of Israel, you of all people should get it." Poor Nicodemus is at a loss to understand what Jesus is talking about.

This is why Jesus brings up the illustration of the snake in the wilderness. Nic was trying hard to obey the Law. What he didn't see is his own rebellion against God. Nicodemus wouldn't put himself in the company of the rebels in the wilderness but Jesus does.

We wouldn't put ourselves in the company of those in the wilderness either, but Jesus does. We don't see our sin and rebellion any more than Nicodemus could see his. A recent survey poll discovered the greater majority of people don't think about heaven. Interesting. Why? Maybe they're so busy living life they don't think about what happens in the afterlife. The poll included church people who admitted they, too, don't think much about what may come next.

Why the nonchalance? The problem is sin but the larger problem is that most people don't concern themselves with their sinfulness. For most people, including Christians, sin isn't a deadly poison but a moral flaw. You don't need an antidote for a flaw. Sin, in reality, is like the poison of the viper. It cruises through your system. It will eventually kill you both body and soul. Many are either unaware of the poison or don't think of it as lethal. Thus, unlike those bitten in the wilderness, they don't seek out the antidote. They are slowly dying and don't realize it.

You have the antidote. Jesus is the antidote to sin. Do you care? Do you whine and complain? Are you one of the many who doesn't care that this blessed antidote is yours? Are you thankful for the gifts God has given you? Do you boldly and joyfully live as God's people who have been marked by Him in baptism? Are you willing to speak out against the evils of the world, even when they are presented as good? What about us collectively? Are we an oasis of hope and life or are we just another pit stop along the way?

Here's the bad news. When judgment comes, it affects everyone. The snakes in the wilderness didn't discern between those who complained the loudest and longest and those who didn't. They bit indiscriminately. They bit the young and old, men and women, the kindly and the nasty alike. All were affected. All needed the antidote. All received it when Moses lifted up the bronze snake. Yet, only those who looked on it with faith were healed.

We're in the same boat. All have sinned. The wages of sin is death. Here's the good news. The antidote for sin is Christ. Just as Moses lifted the snake up in the wilderness, so would Jesus be lifted up on the cross for us. He would die for our sins, in our place, for our rebellion, that we might have hope and healing in His name. He came not to condemn but to restore us to the Father.

Yes, we have hope and healing in Jesus Christ. The Lord has mercy on us. He held out hope and healing to rebellious Israel. He held out hope and healing to Nicodemus. He holds hope and healing out to us. He comes to us in His word and He comes to us today in the sacrament to bring us His hope and healing. For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life so that the world would be saved through Him. Amen.


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