Look and Live
Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Lent based on Nu. 21:4-9, Eph. 2:1-10, and Jn. 3:14-21
Dear people looking to the cross: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fiery serpents with poisonous fangs slithered among the people searching for victims. They bit the people and many died. The Israelites had once again grumbled against God. They complained about what God had done for them. They complained that God had saved them from slavery in Egypt. They complained that God provided them the food of angels (Ps. 78:25). They complained that God’s miraculous provision of manna was “worthless food.” They thought that God was a worthless god. So God sent fiery serpents to bite them. That’s what it took for the people to realize that they had sinned against God. That’s what it took for the people to confess to Moses, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you.”
God instructed Moses to put a serpent on a pole and lift it up for all to see. “Look at the bronze serpent and live,” he told them. Anyone who was bit by a serpent, if he would look at the bronze serpent, then he would live.
Really? That’s it? Look at the serpent lifted up on the pole? That doesn’t seem like enough. How will looking upon a serpent that isn’t even real heal the poison of the real snake which has bitten? How can the poison pulsing through their veins be removed by merely looking at this raised serpent?
Of course it was not the looking that removed the poison. It was not the gazing that healed the bites of the fiery serpents. God’s promise removed the poison. God’s promise healed.
Despite the fact that His people had again sinned against Him, God had mercy on them. He gave them the promise of healing. He gave them the promise that He would remove their poisonous infection. God gave them this promise through the serpent lifted up on a pole.
In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “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, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” For God so loved the world. Not just part of the world. Not just some certain special people; the whole world. God loved the whole world, so that He sent His Son to die for the sins of the whole world. Jesus died for the sins of every single person. Jesus died for every single sin.
Jesus died for all of our impatience, for all of our complaining. Jesus died for our grumbling against God; for our complaints about what God has done for us. Jesus died for our longing to return to the slavery of sin; for our thoughts that God is a worthless god. We have all been bitten by the fiery serpents of sin. We are all infected with the poisonous curse of sin. The poison of sin pulses through our veins. Yet we confess our sins, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord.”
As the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole, so we look to Jesus lifted up on the cross. No one who looks upon Him will perish. All those who have a bad conscience or are tormented by sin and death can look to Jesus for eternal life.
Really? That’s it? Look to a body hung on a cross? That doesn’t seem like enough. How will looking upon a dead body heal the poison of the real sin which has bitten me? How can the poison of sin pulsing through my veins be removed by merely looking at a raised crucifix?
Of course it is not the looking that removes the poison. It is not the gazing that heals the bite of sin. God’s promise removes the poison. God’s promise heals. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Neither the poison of sin nor death will harm us. We will not perish but will live eternally. This promise is for the whole world.
But many love the darkness rather than the light. In our Gospel reading we heard Jesus say, “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” They don’t want their evil deeds exposed, so they don’t come to Jesus, who is the light of the world (Jn. 8:12). They prefer the darkness of their sins.
This is the reason the world hates the true Church of God – because their deeds are evil. The world hates the Word of God shining light on their works of evil.
The world doesn’t hate false churches. Those churches that give approval to the world’s deeds of darkness are praised. The churches that cave to the pressures of society and give their blessing to every imaginable sin are not the true Church. They are not in the light but are in the darkness of sin. They’ve been bitten by the poison of sin but refuse to look at the cross because they won’t admit that their poisoned. They prefer the darkness to the light; the poison of sin to forgiveness.
But we are no better. We also hate the light of God’s Word shining onto our sins and exposing them. We also would rather hide our sins because our deeds are evil. We’ve also been bitten by the poison of sin which courses through our veins. But we have been blessed to have the light of God expose our deeds despite our best efforts to hide them. We have been brought out of darkness into the light despite our love for the darkness. In our Epistle reading we heard, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9)
It is God’s work that we are saved. It has nothing to do with our works. It is a gift of God. We cannot boast about anything. We cannot elevate ourselves above those who are in darkness, for we have been saved from that same darkness of sin as a gift. We have been brought out of darkness to His marvellous light. Now neither the poison of sin nor death will harm us. We will not perish but will live eternally. This is God’s promise to us.
God’s promise is why we look to the cross. Because where has the poison of your sins gone? There to the cross! Where are your sins? There on Jesus. Where is your death? There on the cross! Where is the punishment for your sins? There on the cross! Every single one of your sins is right there!
How can you be sure? Well, Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. Are you in the world? Then your sins are there on the cross, and His forgiveness is for you. It is not your own doing. It is a gift.
And God gives you this gift again today in His Word of promise, and in the body and blood of Jesus. The Lord’s Supper has been called the medicine or immortality because it gives eternal life. The Lord’s Supper is the cure for the bite of sin. The Lord’s Supper is the antidote to the poison of sin pulsing through our veins. Everything accomplished on the cross is given to you at the Lord’s Altar. This is God’s promise. God’s promise removes the poison of sin. God’s promise heals. So look to the cross, and come receive your gift. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.