Numbers 21: and John 3:14-20
March 18, 2012
Grace and peace to you from God, Creator, Redeemer, SustainerIn our gospel lesson this morning Nicodemus confronts Jesus in the middle of the night.
He questions whether Jesus really is from God. Nicodemus a Pharisee understands what Jesus has done and is doing ‘as evidence that points to God, but doesn’t quite get it. So he comes to Jesus under the cloak of darkness that he might understand.
And Jesus explains:
“Just 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.”...
And we wonder why Jesus compares himself to a serpent, a snake, a disgusting reptile?
But we know that throughout the gospels Jesus uses common everyday examples and comparisons to help us understand who he is. We will hear him talk about being the light of the world, living water and the bread of life, but a snake!
But Nicodemus has heard the story about his ancestors in the wilderness that Jesus is referencing and he might just get what Jesus means -- but serpents, snakes? We all just want to say ewwww…..
Just this week, did you guys hear the news report of a man who found a snake in his toilet bowl? The report says; “A four-foot-long California Kingsnake slithered into the commode at Allen Shepard’s apartment and scared him half to death. He turned the light on at 6:30 a.m. and went to open the vanity when he saw something move in the toilet . . . He called the building’s plumber and the battle to get the snake out began. The bathroom battle lasted some 30 minutes. The snake, a non-poisonous variety, was taken off to a sanctuary in Manhattan. . . So how did this reptile end up in the toilet?
The best guess is that it was a pet of one of the tenants of the apartment complex. It escaped and somehow slithered into the complex plumbing system.”
I don’t like snakes; you have probably heard me say that even when snakes appear on the television screen I turn the channel. And you would have certainly heard me screaming, shouting and complaining if a snake showed up in my bathroom
Whining, complaining and griping, that’s what the people of Israel are doing in the 21st chapter of Numbers this morning. Griping, complaining and whining about their journey and God’s provisions.
Professor Oswald Bayer spoke last week about our making a compliant to God and not resigning ourselves to a situation that was untenable. That’s what Jacob did as he wrestled with the unnamed “it” as he crossed the water, in the middle of the night, possibly all alone. What Bayer was talking about was complaining in the midst of sickness and disease, struggling through trials and tribulations daring to make a complaint to God and holding out hope against hope that God will respond.
But that’s not exactly what’s going on here? Yes, the people of Israel were complaining, but it was more of an incessant whining,
You know that kind of complaining -- when we are tired and out of energy, when we don’t get what we want, when things aren’t happening fast enough for us, or we can’t see what is up ahead. Sometimes we can live our lives in a state of complaining?
“Are we there yet?”
“I don’t want that!”
“It doesn’t taste good!”
“Can you hurry up?”
The people of Israel were impatient. They were tired of traveling in the wilderness.
They were ready to get where they were going, because, they had been going there for almost forty years. And they were sick and tired of the food,
They were eating manna for breakfast-- manna for lunch and manna for dinner. Yes they had food but it was manna, always manna.
One commentator writes, “It is not the absence of food that makes them impatient, but rather the kind of food that God has provided does not match their palates.” (John Holbert)
Perhaps the people of Israel had a right to complain at the moment they weren’t really thinking about what God had done for them...After all God had delivered them from slavery, divided the waters so they could pass, brought forth water from rocks and gave them the law to govern their lives. God had even sent them quail and manna to eat. God made sure they didn’t starve and they have the nerve to whine.
God seems to be impatient too...God was tired of these ungrateful people, frustrated with their lack of faith. God told them they would get to the promised land. But they just couldn’t seem to hold up and hold out and they whine.
The bible says:
“They spoke out against God and Moses:
Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this country?
No decent food; no water--we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.”
And this is not the first time they complained. Ten chapter ago they were complaining about not having anything to eat. And God does something that I don’t understand and I can’t explain. God does something that seems to make little sense.
“God sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel die.”
Someone in the crowd realized the mistake they had made and went to Moses to see if they could get God to relent, to call off the snakes. Moses does, but instead of simply removing the snakes, God makes this instrument of pain and fear--this instrument of death the very thing an antidote---that saves them. “God promises a means of healing in the midst of death” (Elizabeth Webb) They look to the snake on the pole and live.
Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Just 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.”...
Yes it is an awful image a serpent on a pole…to me a snake as a symbol of healing is disgusting. But no less disgusting then a man dying on a cross, an innocent being made guilty for the sins of the world.
No matter our complaints whether we find ourselves in an untenable situation --sickness, death, disease, or whether we whine over our tiredness or are bone-weariness, or things just don’t seem to be going our way, Jesus is made our healing in the midst of death -- our forgiveness in the reality of sin -- our love in a loveless world --our deliverer in the wilderness -- our peace when there is no peace -- our comforter, consoler, counselor.
Jesus is lifted up for us, given by God. We look to the one lifted up and live.
Jesus explains to Nicodemus and to us: “Just 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, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”...
The gospel in a nutshell…..