Summary: Lent 4 B. Salvation in Christ comes to us from the outside, but looking to Him and trusting His promise, Christ works healing and salvation inside of us.
Lent 4 (B)
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight,
O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Back home we have a restaurant. Actually, it’s a building that tries to be a restaurant. It’s started out as a fish place, then it was a different fish place. Then it closed. It came back serving Mexican fare. Then a diner. Then a different diner. It would be closed for various months at a time between these new itinerations. Now it’s a pizza joint. We’ll see how long that lasts.
The place was what we called “snake bit.” No matter what was tried, or who tried, new owners, different food, it always died.
The children of Israel were snake-bit. They had been delivered by God, and come out of Egypt, the land of slavery and bondage. They were journeying on their way to the Promised Land. But they grew weary. They started grumbling and complaining. They lost faith in God’s promise of the new land. They stopped trusting Him. God sent fiery snakes. These poisonous snakes bit the people, and many died. But God had mercy on them. He told Moses to fashion a snake from bronze and raise it high up on a pole. Anyone who looked at the snake would be healed, and they were.
Now, many years later, Jesus is teaching and says, "Even as Moses lifted the bronze snake in the wilderness, so too, the Son of Man must be lifted up." Jesus compares Himself to a snake, to the bronze snake. Whatever could this mean?
Remember Adam and Eve in the Garden. And the serpent came to them, and asked, “Did God really say not to eat of the fruit of the tree?” Eve replied, “He said do not eat it or touch it, for you will surely die.” The serpent said, “You will not die.” So Adam and Eve eat the fruit. And in that bite of fruit, they were snake bit. They were snake bit not only by the serpent, they were snake bit by the words of their own mouths.
Poison came out of the mouth of the fiery snakes when they bit the children of Israel and it entered into their flesh. The fiery snakes had mouths full of poison venom. The serpent had a mouth full of poison lies. When Adam and Eve ate of the fruit, the poisonous lies of sin from the mouth of the serpent entered into their flesh. Sin entered into them. The serpent had dominion over them.
Just as the children of Israel were snake-bit, we, the children of Adam, are snake-bit. The children of Israel had crossed the Red Sea, and had been delivered from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. We have come through the waters of Baptism, and have been delivered from bondage to the adversary.
They were journeying on the way to the Promised Land, but grew weary. We are journeying to the New Creation, and full reign of God. But we grow weary.
The people grumbled and complained. They talked about the food and drink they had back in Egypt. They actually talked about how wonderful that life was, completely ignoring the slavery, work, and bondage. That is, their mouths became full of poison. They were snake-bit, not only by the snakes. They were snake bit by their own mouths. Just as Adam and Eve were.
What was the source of this complaining by the Israelites? First, it was the poison of sin in their flesh. The same poison of sin we carry in our flesh as children of Adam. Second, it was the result of their doubt, their doubt in the promises of God. We, too, sometimes doubt the promises of God. Can it be true? If God is true, why am I in this desert? If God is true, then why is my life not as wonderful as all these heathen people? We are snake-bit by our own mouths.
So what was the cure for this snake bite? One might think that since the snakes were brought onto the Israelites because of their grumbling and complaining, and more importantly, their doubt of the promises of God, that the cure would have been for Moses to say, stop your complaining, and stop your doubting. But no. That is not it. Instead, God has Moses to make a bronze snake, and that whoever looks at the snake will live.
And now we have the answer to why Jesus compared Himself to the snake. If the Israelites had been healed by stopping complaining, and stopping doubting, then their salvation would be by their doing. But that's not what happened. All they did was to trust God’s promise and look at the snake. God did it all.