16th Sunday After Trinity October 8, 2000
246, 390, 376, 552
And they journeyed from mount Hor by the way of the Red sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. And the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread. And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died. Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD, and against thee; pray unto the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live. And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. Here ends our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have you ever seen that old kind of moveable type that printers used to use with their printing presses? We had an old press at Immanuel College where I went to school, and I was always fascinated with it. In the printing room there were big wooden boxes that held the type —little blocks of lead with a single letter of the alphabet on each. Arrange the letters into wedding invitation or a newspaper article, and you could reproduce the same letters exactly, over and over and over again.
That’s where the word “typical” comes from. Strictly speaking, it means that something or someone is exactly like something else. Quite often this term is abused. People sometimes say “That’s typical of a woman!” or, “He’s a typical Californian” or, “Rev. So-and-so acts like a typical preacher.” In reality, of course, no woman or resident of California or preacher is exactly like any other. It’s very seldom that you run across a person or situation that is truly an exact type.
In our text for today we have two exceptions—one is the problem that the Israelites ran into in the wilderness. The other is God’s cure for that problem. Both are truly typical, and both have important lessons to teach us for our lives. If you’ve been struggling with difficult situations in your life recently, then God’s Word for today can show you both your problem, and the solution to your problem. Join me in considering the theme:
Are you afraid of snakes? I am. We used to live in snake country in South Dakota, and nothing quite gave me the creeps like the sight of a rattler slithering into the grass at the side of a gravel road. That’s one thing that’s scary about today’s text. All of a sudden, the Children of Israel found their camp invaded by a multitude of poisonous snakes. Many had been bitten. Many were already dead, and more were dying all the time. It was a terrifying situation.
You know what’s even scarier, though? The Israelites had brought this problem upon themselves, because of their sinful unbelief. They didn’t trust in God. In fact, they had actually been complaining about how God was treating them. This, after the Lord had delivered them from slavery in Egypt! After He had parted the Red Sea before them, led them through the wilderness, and provided them with a miraculous food to eat, called manna. God had continually blessed them throughout their journey. But as soon as the going got a little tough, they forgot all the Lord’s blessings. Their faith disappeared, and they started to complain. The people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread.
To me that’s scary! I wish I could say that the People of Israel were a special case. Especially stubborn, especially rebellious, especially faithless. Unfortunately, what they did is really pretty typical, isn’t it? The Israelites’ problem is typical of unbelief and its consequences. Is it typical of you at times? Have you ever said, “Why me? Why has God allowed this terrible thing to happen to me?” What is that but unbelief? It’s a sinful denial of the fact that God is in control of your life and is making everything work out for your good, as the Bible promises He will. Have you ever sat fretting and worrying about the future: your health, or your bills, or what bad news tomorrow might bring? My friends, worry about the future is unbelief, pure and simple. Jesus Himself commands us, Mat 6:31-32 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Now, that’s a promise, and God never breaks His promises. That’s why indulging ourselves in constant worry and anxiety really is nothing less than a faithless denial of God’s love and providence.
If we don’t watch out, you can even find yourself complaining about the many blessings God has given you. Think about it for a moment—here we are in America in 1997. Our Lord has given to you and me the highest standard of living that the world has ever known. Look around at your home, your car, your microwave oven, your home computer and your color TV. Just a hundred years ago people didn’t even dream about such luxuries. And yet how often don’t we forget to thank God for these things. In fact, aren’t we often found complaining even about these wonderful blessings from the Lord (our house needs painting, our car isn’t the newest model, we wish we had satellite dish!) Well, it’s typical. The Israelites did the same thing. We yearn for more and more, and we forget the Lord’s injunction, in Hebrews, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Heb 13:5
The Israelites’ sin, and the problems that it brought them, are typical. Unfortunately, it’s also all too typical of the faithlessness and unbelief that we can sometimes see in our own lives! Well, if you were writing the end of this story, how would you make it come out? Perhaps you’d have all the Israelites be bitten by the snakes and die a miserable death. They certainly deserved it. But that’s not what God did. And the LORD said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” God gave them a cure! And in a way that cure is typical, too, isn’t it? It’s typical of God’s grace toward us sinners in Christ.
I’d like you to notice a few things about the way God rescued the Israelites’ from their dilemma. In the first place, the cure was simple. He didn’t give them some difficult task to perform. There was no elaborate ceremony they had to follow. He simply said, “Look and live!” The only thing required was simple faith in God’s promise that, by coming and looking at that brass snake, they would be saved.
Also, the cure God gave them was the only cure. There were probably people who thought they knew better; people who scoffed at the idea that simply looking at this brazen image could save them. Some people no doubt said to themselves, “This is nonsense! I’m going back to my tent to try my own medicine.” Those people died. There was one way, and one way only, to escape the poison that infected them.
Notice, too, that the cure God gave them was instant and complete. Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived. No waiting period, no gradual recovery. When they looked, they lived. The victims were made completely whole and healthy right away.
How typical of God! You know, that’s the same way He saves us sinners today. In fact, Jesus himself said that the bronze snake was a “type”—an exact replica—of the way He would redeem us from our sins on the cross. Look at your bulletin cover for this morning. It was in John 3:14 that our Lord said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The deadly poison of sin flows in the veins of every human being, you and me included. But God has given us a sure-fire cure for sin, in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. When He was lifted up on that cross on Good Friday, He endured the full curse of God for all the sins you and I have committed. “For God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Cor 5:21.
Now we have the cure for sin right within our grasp! It’s a simple cure, for God simply says, “Look and live!” Look to the cross of Christ. Believe that He died for you, and you shall live eternally in heaven! What could be more simple than that? God doesn’t require any special good works on your part; no elaborate ceremonies. He just says, “Look to the cross and live.” All that’s required is a childlike trust in that promise. For even a little child can say, “Yes, my sins are forgiven. Yes, I’m going to live in heaven with Jesus, because He died for me.”
Be warned, however. The bronze serpent is typical of the cross in another way. Like that serpent, the cross of Christ is the only way to be saved from the poison of sin. God has provided no other way of salvation. So whatever you do, don’t rely on “home remedies.” Don’t place even the smallest amount of trust in your own merits or worthiness, for to do so would mean certain death!
No other cure is possible, and thankfully, no other cure is necessary. The cross of Christ cures us from sin instantly and completely. Do you remember the jailer at Philippi? In desperate fear for his soul, he asked, “What must I do to be saved?” Well, God didn’t make him wait, and he didn’t offer him some kind of partial forgiveness. He said, through the Apostle Paul, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Acts 16:31. When you bring your sins, in repentance, to the cross of Christ, God forgives you completely, and he forgives you right now.
Without a doubt, sin is the worst problem any of us has got. How can we fail to praise the God who, in His great love for us, has given us such a simple and effective cure? How can we fail to make the cross of Christ the very center of our lives, returning to it again and again for the blessed peace and forgiveness we crave? Further, now that you and I have this cure—this antidote for the snakebite of sin—how can we keep it to ourselves? We can’t, and we shouldn’t. For heaven’s sake, let’s share the sweet medicine of the Gospel with as many people as we can. There’s nothing else you can give to a friend, a co-worker or a relative that could possibly be as valuable to them as the Good News that forgiveness can be found in the cross of Christ! So “Go YE, therefore, and make disciples of all nations!”
You know, even “types” wear out. The old printing types were made of lead, a soft metal, so after many uses they would eventually deteriorate. The bronze serpent was a “type” that wore out, too. It eventually outlived its usefulness. Later, in the time of Hezekiah, the Israelites even stooped to the sin of worshiping it as an idol. But the cross of Christ will never wear out. It will accompany us with its healing power all down life’s road. And when we reach the end of the road, it is this “type”—the cross on which our Savior died—that will usher us into the realms of glory. That’s why we sing with the hymnist,
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes,
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks,
and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!”
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.