Sunday, March 22, 2009

“The Pole of Salvation” (Numbers 21:8-9)

S-1109 3/12/09 4SIL/3B Hymns: (O) #2; (S) #297; L.S. #462; 145; 245; (C) #21 SOD

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Theme: “The Pole of Salvation” (Numbers 21:8-9)

Question: “Have you ever Gawked at any thing?”


Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen! Indeed! Alleluia! The text for the Fourth Sunday in Lent is from the Old Testament reading: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make to yourself a fiery [serpent] and place it on a poll and it shall come to pass whoever looks at it [the pole] becomes alive.’ Moses made a bronze serpent, and placed it on the pole. And it came to pass whoever was bitten by the snake and gazed/focused/stared upon the bronze snake became alive” {my own translation Num. 21:8-9}.

(The next two paragraphs can be dangerous to share. But my people know me well enough to accept this from my heart. Speaking the truth in love).

Saints in Christ, it is really hard to be a pastor at times. The people I serve are never satisfied. They grumble, groan and complain. Here are some of the statements that have been shared with me. “Pastor, your sermons are to long. Your sermons are to short. You pastor don’t know how to talk with people. You don’t know how to teach Bible study. You don’t visit me. You don’t care. You visit non-members in the hospital, but don’t visit your own people. You are boring. You are mean. You don’t care.” This is to name but a few. PAUSE.

Not to be outdone, you should know that your pastor complain, gripes and grumbles as well. My people are slow to show kindness. They don’t care about worship. They are interested in fishing, hunting, and boating more than in being in God’s house. They don’t give enough money to the Lord’s house. Many don’t come to Bible studies. We can’t get enough people to serve on committees. We have many non-caring Christians in this congregation. This is to name but a few. PAUSE.

You see all of us whether pastor or people, find ourselves complaining and grumbling from time to time against each other and against our loving and caring God. We are all sinners. We follow the footsteps of our first parents. We are never satisfied with what we have. When we have something special, we complain and when that special something is taken away from us, we complain. We have not learned to live as the Apostle Paul said in Philippians, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (4:11).

It seems that we almost always find a reason or something to complain about. But don’t think you are alone. In the text before us today, we meet the people of Israel on the move again traveling. Along the road, they begin to grumble, gripe and complain against Yahweh and Moses saying, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food” (5-6).

With this complained, God had had enough. Understand God is not thin-skinned here. This is just MORE of the on-going griping that God’s ungrateful children have been heaping on Him. But enough is enough. And to quote Popeye the Sailor Man, enough is enough and enough is too much! Even for God. In His righteous anger He sent snakes-deadly snakes to destroy the grumblers and groaners. God wanted to get rid of the virus of unbelief and complaining that has infected the Israelite’s camp by destroying all of those who didn’t accept His gracious gift of food. As the snakes came upon the scene, many of the people ran for cover. These people were so puffed up, but because of sin, their voice became muffed and their lives snuffed. The snakes were lethal, their venom was fatal and the outcome was total. And there in the desert many people laid dead on the hot sand. The righteous anger of God brought about deadly disaster in the lives of those who grumbled, groaned and griped—death.

When the living ones though dead saw what was happening to the others, came quickly to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that He take away the serpents from us” (7). And Moses, the man of God, did intercede on their behalf. God in mercy heard their confession and provided a solution for the pollution by absolution for them. He commanded Moses saying, “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Make to yourself a fiery [serpent] and place it on a poll and it shall come to pass whoever looks at it [the pole] becomes alive.’ Moses made a bronze serpent, and placed it on the pole. And it came to pass whoever was bitten by the snake and gazed/focused/stared upon the bronze snake became alive.”

Moses obeyed the Words of Yahweh. He made the bronze snake and placed it on a pole and everyone who gazed, focused his eyes on that pole, became alive again. There in the desert, where death and demise were present, there was a Pole of Salvation. Anyone who looked to that Pole found salvation and restoration again. That Pole became the breath of God. That Pole became the solution to the pollution of sin. Anyone who stared at it found in it life and safety.

We the new Israel are like the people of old. Our grumbling and complaining brings about our demise and death also. But when we in true humility come and confess our sins and say, “We have sinned against the Lord” God hears this heart-felt confession and He gives us another Pole to look at—The Pole of salvation. This Pole is not made out of a bronze snake, but out of flesh and blood. When we in faith gaze upon the man extended upon the Pole of the cross we see Him lifted high. We see Him suspended between heaven and hell to give us a new lease on life. John the Baptist invited us saying, “LOOK, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” When we see Him, we live!

The sermon hymn for today captures this thought beautifully. “God loved the world so that He gave His only Son the lost to save That all who would in Him believe Should everlasting life receive…If thou be sick, if death draw near This truth thy troubled heart can cheer: Christ Jesus saves my soul from death; That is the firmest ground of faith.” (1, 5). And the author to the Hebrews adds these encouraging words for us. “Oh come, let us fix our eyes on Jesus...” “LOOK, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He doesn’t say just look see Jesus. He doesn’t say take a slight look, but fix, gaze, focus and stare at Jesus. PAUSE.

Look at the Pole of Salvation again. See Him on the cross extended. See Him carrying the sins of the world on His shoulders. See the solution to the Pollution is absolution. See Him taking the righteous anger of God against sin. See His hands cuffed, His mouth muffed and His life snuffed on the Pole of death. Keep your eyes on Him. Don’t take them away from Him. There, gaze now, now focus and see the Pole of Salvation upon which the Lord of life gave His life for you. See Him as the people of Israel looked at the bronze snake and live.

Take a look at your Scripture insert. Look at verse 8. “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” But that is not strong enough language. The sentence “Shall live” sounds to be a future promise. However, it is richer than that. This is a resurrection language. This is a baptism language. The person who gazes upon the Pole BECOMES ALIVE NOW. Not in the future, BUT, today.

Beloved in the Lord, today the Pole of Salvation is in our midst. The cross of Christ is here. Through the cross our hands become un-cuffed, our voices un-muffed, and our lives un-snuffed. In reality we become living, breathing and speaking of the goodness and mercy of God. Today, take another look at the Pole of Salvation and see the Lord of heaven offering the rich banquet of food—food that is not detestable but delicious; food that is not deadly but daintily; food that is not loathsome but luscious.

Thank God that He has provided us with the Pole of Salvation. Thank God for the snake on the stake. Thank God that He gives us the solution to the pollution by absolution. Thank God that He forgives our sins. Thank God that He gave us Son. Thank God now and always because YOU LIVE. Amen.

Now the peace…

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