Summary: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert so the Son of Man must be lifted up! Sin brings death but by God's grace the sinner recieves life! Message ends with the sharing of the Lord's Supper.
Folks, if we’re honest this morning we’re going to admit that there are many things that God has done throughout history, and continues to do in our day, that we can’t fully wrap our minds around. Book after book has been written about some of these things as people have wrestled to understand them and to make sense of them and often they don’t make a whole lot of progress. There are some things we’re just not going to understand this side of heaven.
And then there are other things that we read in God’s word that are just as difficult to understand at first glance but which God Himself helps us to understand as we take into consideration the whole of God’s word – both the Old and the New Testaments. We’re going to look at one those passages this morning. And we’re going to see how it points the way to something far greater that was yet to come when these events first unfolded.
Turn with me please, to the book of Numbers. Numbers, chapter 21, beginning in verse 4. As you’re turning there, let me set the stage for you. What we’re about to read takes place during the Exodus – that time between when Moses led the people out of slavery in Egypt and time in which they entered into the Promised Land. There were 40 years of wandering in the desert for the people of Israel between those two benchmark events and what we’re about to read takes place during that time. This is what we read beginning in verse 4 …
“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 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!” Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 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. 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.” 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.” (Numbers 21:4–9, NIV84)
A few things we should see in these verses this morning. First, like the Israelites, we are a short-sighted people. If we’re not intentional in giving thanks, we quickly lose sight of God’s many blessings. During 400 years of slavery the Israelites cried out to God for deliverance. The conditions in which they lived there were harsh, the people were oppressed, and their children were dying in captivity. God leads them out from under the thumb of their oppressors, provides them with manna – food from His own hand – and water as they need it. Their clothes do not wear out, He travels with them night and day, and He goes before them and prepares the way. But instead of responding with thankfulness and gratitude and worship, they respond with groaning and complaining and rebellion. And if we’re not careful to consider daily the blessings we have received from the hand of God – whether it be the strength of our own hands, the roof over our heads, the food on our table, the people He has brought into our lives, and so many other things – we will be prone to fall into sin similar to that to which the Israelites gave themselves in those days.
Which leads us to point number two: Sin brings death. There are always consequences to our sin. They might not be immediate, they might not be visible to those around you, but when we turn to sin there is always a consequence in our lives. And in direct judgment of the sin of the Israelites, God sends poisonous snakes. The snakes bite the people and sometime later, whether it was minutes, hours, or a day or two, the people who were bitten, died. Probably a painful and unpleasant death. Our hearts cry out, “Unfair!” “How could a loving God do such a thing?”
We can only ask that question because we see sin as a small thing. We are not offended by sin as God is offended by sin. Therefore when God brings judgment, whether that be the natural consequences of our sin – and by that I mean things that logically flow from the choices we make – for example if I robbed a bank and got caught - I’m going to prison for a number of years – that would be natural consequences where one thing logically follows another. Or, if the judgment is more divine in nature such as the poisonous snakes, we tend to cry, “Foul!” And wonder, “How could God do such a thing to me?” when really we have brought it on ourselves by our own sin. God does not take sin lightly and neither should we.