The Old Testament tells a very strange story about Moses. Moses had led the people of Israel out of their most terrible slavery in Egypt. There lives had been a burden under a terrible tyrant - they longed for escape. So, God, who loved them, delivered them from slavery with MIGHTY MIRACLES - how grateful they were for their freedom............... for a while. But soon you could hear them saying, "Is this what life`s going to be like from now on - this wilderness? We were better off in Egypt."

Now I don`t think we ought to condemn them, because they were only being human - all of us are like that at times. When life`s going smoothly, and we`re not facing problems, it`s easy to believe in God, and to be full of thanks and praise to Him, but, when the hard times come, well, we`ve got to blame someone, and lots of people blame God. "What kind of a God is it that allows a thing like this to happen to ME?". It happens so often that it`s GOT to be human nature!

And that`s what Moses was wrestling with......... it was getting him down........ and it was getting worse as the days went by: carping, criticism, complaining, the tongues were wagging against his leadership, and God`s. St. James put his finger on it much later when he said: "How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire...... and the tongue is a fire". If you`ve ever suffered at the hands of the gossips, you`1l know what he means.

So Moses took it to the Lord, and God decided to discipline His children, using similar tools to the ones they had been using. Their deadly gossip, grumbling, and complaining was spreading like fire through their ranks? Right, he would send a plague of deadly, fiery serpents to punish them! And He did!

Doesn`t seem very loving does it? Not the act of a loving God, but the children had put their hands in the fire, and they had to see the consequences, before He could heal them.

Then,we`re told, the people repented - they repented and cried for mercy. And God, who is always willing to deliver us from the stupidities we bring upon ourselves, told Moses to make an image of a serpent...... and to hold it up in the middle of the Camp. Then He commanded the people to look at the Serpent - and anyone who looked was healed. It`s a very Jewish story, this story of the serpent.

The Jews looked on God as a God of Law, who imposed His laws upon His people and punished them if they broke them.

They saw Him as a JUDGE who visits JUSTICE UPON A CRIMINAL.................... A DEMANDING God - to get into His Presence you had to pay an entrance fee.

It was hard for any Jew to think of God like this, not as a judge exacting a penalty, or a task-master waiting to pounce on the slightest mistake, but as a Father who longed for His erring children come home to Him. Indeed if God HAD spoken to them in terms like this, they wouldn`t have been able to take it in, their mind-set not ready for it, so He sent the fiery serpents to speak to them in terms they could understand.

Much later the time was right. And that`s when Jesus came along. Even then it wasn`t easy. It cost Jesus His life to communicate this fact about God. It was the death of Jesus which opened the minds of those who saw it to the possibility that God, instead of venting His anger upon His People....... and pouring out fire of destruction upon them....... WAS ACTUALLY THERE TO HEAL THEM!

On the day that John, the beloved Disciple stood at the foot of the Cross, and looked at Jesus dying there, his mind went back to that story of the wilderness.........

He saw that, just as the fire of man`s anger had been poured out on Moses and God, so now it was pouring out on Jesus. He saw too that this fire, which had started with gossip, and grumbling, and complaining before it burst out in the destruction of anger, all this was not just destroying Jesus, it was destroying His accusers too. He looked at the way in which it had been the good people, the righteous people who brought Jesus to the Cross. And he saw that he and his friends were guilty too - that those who had loved Him had finally denied Him, betrayed Him, and abandoned Jesus in His hour of need. "We, all of us, are destroyed by this fire that burns within us - a poison which spreads through our system, and kills our spirit and destroys our joy"! We need to be saved from it - we need to be saved from what we do to ourselves. It is Jesus who is killed - but it is WE who are destroyed."

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