Pick Your Poison [Numbers 21:4-9]

This is a sermon originally given on 3.18.12.

How many of us enjoy complainers? You know, people who never seem to be satisfied & nothing is ever right. Whiners. Anyone? Me too. Complainers are annoying. I’m glad I never complain. OK, that’s sarcasm- we all complain. Sometimes complaints are justified & a reasonable response, but most of the time complaining doesn’t help & doesn’t produce the desired results- change. At the root of most complaining are impatience & a lack of gratitude.

 

In today’s passage from Numbers, v.4- “the people grew impatient with the long journey”. Watch the next verse, 5- “and they began to speak against God and Moses. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?” they complained. “There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna!”

 

It wasn’t all that long ago that these people were glad to have manna when they were starving, but these folks had been wandering for close to 40 years & their attitude changed as impatience set in. Trust in God’s provision vanished like sand granules slipping through fingers. What we see in today’s text is a part of a larger “murmuring tradition”, as it’s called. The Israelites complained. A lot. This can be seen in many passages. I wonder how much complaining God hears every day. Here, God hears the Israelites’ complaints & responds a bit harshly, don’t you think? A little whining & God sends poisonous snakes?

 

I have to be honest with you. I have a fear; a paranoia; a phobia; of snakes. As a kid at the zoo, I would avoid the reptile exhibit. Even coming over here today, I was a little antsy walking through the field between DaySpring next door & here. There have been snakes sighted near our church building. All it takes is seeing a picture of a snake or spotting a tiny baby lizard in the grass & I’m outta there! There is something unpredictable, ssssneaky & ssscary, & sssslimy about ssssnakess. People die from snake bites. There is danger.

 

In response to this hardship, this challenge, this life-threatening situation of the snakes, the Israelites turned to Moses, their leader & messenger of God, & to God Himself. What else could they do? V.7- “Then the people came to Moses and cried out, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take away the snakes.” So Moses prayed for the people.” A challenge, the poisonous snakes, led the people to turn to God because they trusted God could do something about their situation.

 

God does something about it. Instead of taking away the snakes, He provides a path of healing, a way for restoration. v.8-9 Then the LORD told him, “Make a replica of a poisonous snake and attach it to a pole. All who are bitten will live if they simply look at it!” So Moses made a snake out of bronze and attached it to a pole. Then anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and be healed!”

 

Perhaps one of the reasons I have a fear of snakes is because they represent evil, temptation, trickery, sin in many traditions & for many people. Sin was already present among the Israelites, God didn’t send sin. He just sent snakes as a punishment. There is danger with snakes. There is danger with sin, but faith in Jesus Christ as Savior changes things. Perhaps this is the point of John 3:14-15- “And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.”

 

It has not been my experience that faith in Jesus Christ takes away temptation per sé, the presence of snakes, in my life, but instead Jesus creates a path to spiritual healing & reconciliation, & forgiveness. As a result of faith in Jesus Christ, we have eternal life. We are free from eternal punishment for sin.

 

“Jesus canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” [Colossians 2:14-15]

 

“But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death, through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:57]

 

Whatever the sin- impatience, complaining, greed, ungratefulness, sin of any sort, let us not allow these snakes, sin, to take over our camp, our life, but instead let us look to the Cross, let us look to Jesus’ perfect example & grow in holiness. If the Israelites looked in the correct place, toward the bronze snake on the pole, they would receive healing, & if we look in the right place, the cross of Jesus Christ, we will receive spiritual healing.

 

“The [bronze] serpent signified Christ, who was in the likeness of sinful flesh, though without sin, as this brazen serpent had the outward shape, but not the inward poison, of the other serpents: the pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lifted up for our salvation: and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.” –John Wesley

 

Some of us today have been impatient on a long life journey, some of us have been in a spiritual wilderness/desert for a long time. The wilderness was not permanent for them & is not permanent for us. Let us not grow impatient, but instead trust in God’s provisions for what we need now & what we will need later. Let us each day consider Isaiah in chapter 40- “God gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless. Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

Amen.

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