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Worship Series: Because He Knew
Worship Theme: He Promised Salvation through Faith
- Remember Your Love
- Grade 1: God Loves Me Dearly
- CW 387 Drawn to the Cross
- CW 391 God Loved the World So that He Gave
- Behold the Lamb
- CWS 747 There Is a Redeemer
Message: Because He Knew... He Promised Salvation through Faith
Pastor Jon Brohn
Do you get the shivers when you read this story? I do. Can you imagine the fear and despair in the Israelite camp as snakes slither and slide among the people? Parents and children, young and old, married and unmarried, all of them were affected. Everyone was afraid of being bitten and dying from these poisonous bites. Why? All because they were busy looking down, hanging their heads, and complaining about the way God had taken care of them!
How could anyone grumble and complain so much? God had rescued them. He used 10 plagues to soften up Pharaoh and the rest of Egypt so they would let the Israelites go. As they left they asked the Egyptians to give them silver, gold, and clothes. Without hesitation, the Egyptians handed over their possessions! With their backs against the Red Sea and complaints on their lips, the Lord divided the sea and they walked across on dry land. With one grand miracle God made sure Pharaoh would leave his people alone. He saved them!
The Lord also provided for them. When they complained that they didn’t have enough food for the journey, he gave them “manna”—bread from heaven. When they asked for meat, the Lord showered quail on the camp—so many that they didn’t know what to do with them. When they were thirsty, he produced sweet water from a bitter pool at Marah, and later on had Moses bring water from a rock. The Lord visibly reminded them he was with them every day—with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. At Mt. Sinai they heard his voice rumble down the mountain, and saw his glory burning like fire and smoke.
They really had nothing to complain about, but they quickly forgot what the Lord had done. “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 wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”” (Numbers 21:4–5 NIV). Some things never change, do they? We wonder how the Israelites could grumble and complain so easily, yet isn’t that exactly what we do? We look down, hang our heads, and complain that the Lord hasn’t given us what we want.
We hear Israel’s voice coming from our mouths at the table: “What’s for supper, mom? Eeeew, that’s disgusting! I hate this! Can’t we eat something else? I don’t want to eat it!”
We hear Israel’s voice from the back seat: “How much farther is it? I’m hot. I’m hungry. Can I have some more to drink? When are we going to stop to eat? Is there a rest area coming up soon? Mom, he’s touching me...will you please tell him to stop touching me?!?”
We hear it as students enter the classroom: “Do I have to go to school today? I hate school. I don’t understand it. I hate to read. I don’t like math. All I really like is recess and hot lunch, and the food isn’t even all that great!”
We hear it in the workplace: “I am so sick of this job. The boss hates me. I can’t stand my co-workers. I’m always getting the worst jobs dumped on my desk. Why do I have to work so hard? Why can’t I retire and enjoy life?”
We hear it in our marriages: “I can’t believe I’m stuck in this relationship. My spouse doesn’t listen to me. I hate it when he...”
We even hear it as we come to church: “This is so boring today. There isn’t enough happening during worship. It’s the same old thing every week. When are we going to liven things up? Why does every other church have so much more than we do?”
In all of this, who are we really complaining about? It’s not supper, or the trip, or our parents, or our job, our marriage, or our church. We’re directing our complaints against God. The apostle James wrote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV). We have food on the table, a car in the garage, a job, a spouse, and a church in which to worship because our heavenly Father has graciously and lovingly given all that we need. Our response? We look down, grumbling and complaining!
Do you realize what we deserve for our sins? We know what happened to the Israelites. “Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6 NIV). They didn’t have snake bite kits, anti-venom, and emergency rooms to treat their injuries. Many died. The Lord had said it more than once—the penalty for complaining is death. That’s a little more serious than mom telling us we better eat what’s on the table or go hungry. It’s worse than being trapped in a car for the long drive to Uncle Bill’s house. It’s a bigger problem than facing a tough day at work, or a marriage relationship that needs some more work. It is way more hazardous than an hour of sitting in a pew listening to organ music, hymns, and a long sermon. We are guilty of looking down and complaining against the Lord. We have no answer for God’s judgment. We deserve exactly what Israel received. Death.
Israel deserved it, but God’s punishment brought them back to their senses. “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” (Numbers 21:7 NIV). Does Moses’ response surprise us? The people were getting what they deserved. Moses could have said, “No, the Lord will stop this when he’s good and ready.” Moses loved the people he served, and so without hesitation he prayed for them.
The Lord heard and answered! He told them to stop looking down and start looking up. Look up and live! “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, they lived” (Numbers 21:8–9 NIV). The Lord performed another miracle for his fickle people. They didn’t need anti-venom or emergency rooms. They only needed to look at the bronze snake and they would live. How could that work? The bronze snake couldn’t save them. It had no power. Many years later, their descendants worshiped it, calling it Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4). It didn’t answer their prayers. No, it was God’s promise—God’s Word that saved them. They believed God’s promise and he healed them. He didn’t prevent the snakes’ fiery fangs from piercing skin. He did rescue them from death with his promise that they would look up and live.
Satan, the ancient serpent, has tried to strike us where we are the most vulnerable. He pushes us to grumble and complain against the Lord so that we die in hopelessness and despair. The Lord has exactly what we need to survive the serpent’s strikes. He tells us to look up and live—not at a bronze snake, but at his one and only Son. Jesus promised, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3:14–15 NIV).
Look up at Jesus and live! Who do you see hanging on this pole? It’s scary—no, it’s worse than scary. It’s one of our fellow human beings who has been beaten and tortured. He is bleeding, and we know blood equals pain. We see it etched on his face—the anguish, the hurt, the loss. It is vital for us to look at Jesus, to see him hanging on the cross. It was supposed to be me hanging there. It was supposed to be you. We should be the ones suffering from the serpent’s bite. Instead, it’s Jesus. That was always the Lord’s plan. He told the serpent in the Garden of Eden, “You will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). Satan struck Jesus, trying to defeat him, trying to deny him the opportunity to rescue us. We see Jesus hanging on this pole—a man just like us who came to live and die in our place!
Look up at Jesus and live! Remember, he’s not just the Son of Man. He is also the Son of God. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV). God sent his Son, his only Son, to hang on that pole. We can look up at Jesus and live because he is perfect and holy—without a single sin as he walked this earth. His death meant something, because he is the sinless Son of God. He has paid for our sin. He accomplished the Lord’s warning to the serpent: “He will crush your head” (Genesis 3:15 NIV). Jesus has crushed that ancient serpent’s head. He has conquered Death! We can look up at Jesus and live! We can join our voices with the apostle Paul and shout, ““Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55–57 NIV). Look up and live!
Turning out the light at bedtime is very hazardous for me. I can’t see a thing in the dark. So, if I forget to check the front door and make sure it’s locked, Kay reminds me to turn on a light before I go down, because I will walk straight into something and hurt myself. When we stop hanging our heads, staring at the ground, grumbling and complaining about how bad things are, it’s almost as if we have come out of a dark room into the light. It changes the way we look at everything!
Jesus said, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (John 3:21 NIV). We live in the light, so we let others see our thankfulness! Food on the table at suppertime is an incredible gift, whether it’s my favorite, or my least favorite, and I thank God for what’s on my plate. School is an opportunity to grow in my knowledge, and I have all kinds of opportunities to let my faith shine so others can look up and see Jesus. Work is my chance to glorify God and work hard for him, even if the boss never notices and I never get a raise. Marriage is an opportunity to mirror my relationship with Jesus as I live with my spouse. I can love and live sacrificially, always directing my spouse’s eyes to look up and see Jesus. Church? What better place can we be? Every note that is played and sung, every word that is spoken, every response we share is directed to the one who took the snake bite for us. We love Jesus, and when we come to worship him, it is good because we get to see him! He’s here! There is no punishment for our sins. Jesus went to the Father with his innocent suffering and death and paid for all of it! I will live forever because through faith in Jesus I have eternal life! It doesn’t get any better than that, so look up, and live! Amen.