Lent 4, March 18th, 2012
Look, and Live!
Ungrateful. Maybe that's the best way to describe the people of Israel. After all God had done for them. They grumbled. But let's just remember:
He had sent not 1, but 10 miraculous plagues. He brought Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world, to his knees. In all of the plagues, God protected the Israelites. Then he brought them out of Egypt. First they took spoils from the Egyptian people. Then he led them safely across the Red Sea, on dry ground. Oh, and destroyed their enemies who were right behind them. He brought them to his holy mountain, Sinai. He gave them his law, and a system of sacrifice for them to deal with their sins. Oh yes, and he was bringing them to the promised land, where the promised Messiah would be born and live and die for them.
But none of that mattered. Because they didn't like the food.
The food that God provided for them, each and every day without fail. The food that he sent from heaven to sustain them in the wilderness. The food that they didn't work and slave for, but just went out and picked up, free of charge. That food. It wasn't good enough. Waah.
So God sends the snakes. And people get bit, and die. You thought you were suffering before? A not so gentle reminder gives them some perspective. They repent. The confess their sin, in no uncertain terms. We were wrong. We're sorry. Please forgive us.
And no questions asked, God provides. He instructs his servant Moses to make the fiery bronze serpent and put it on the pole, and anyone who is bitten has only to look and live. God's forgiveness is immediate and free and as easy as looking in faith where he promises to give that forgiveness. By grace they were saved, not by works.
Now us. We grumble and complain. We are just as ungrateful. For how much more has he given us. What blessings we enjoy. Physical blessings like no other people in history. Greater wealth and health even though these are relatively tough economic times. God still provides our daily bread. Not manna from heaven, but gifts aplenty. If you counted all yours you probably couldn't finish, but still there's never enough.
And while he gave the Israelites his law on Mt. Sinai, he gives us his holy word in its revealed entirety. What people on earth have ever had such free and easy access to Bibles and preachers and teachers of his word? And yet, it's not enough. We don't get the answers there we want – we don't like the laws he gives – we don't get the promises we desire. We neglect its study. We pompously think we've learned all we need to, or that a sermon a week is roughly enough. Ungrateful for the word, for the most precious of gifts.
After all God has done for us – and we don't have time to rehearse it all – but let's just get to the crux of it. He gives us his own son, sends him in our flesh, lives for us, suffers for us, dies for us. He bears the sins of the world, indeed even becomes sin itself – and receives God's condemnation (a condemnation we all deserve). He suffers the unimaginable anguish of God's wrath, and pays the dearest price.
In light of all this, how can we complain about anything? When things don't go my way, what right do I have to grumble? When I don't get what I want, who am I to gripe? Even if death should come, don't I deserve it, and worse? Did Jesus complain when he hung on the tree for my sins? No, instead he said, “Father forgive them”.
But here is the good news. For as Moses held up the serpent that those bitten by the snake's venom could look and live, we who are bitten by the venom of Satan himself, mingled with the poison of our own sinful grumbling, we have only to look to Christ and his cross to live. It's that simple.
God provides our salvation, and he holds it up for us all to see. He speaks the eternal word of forgiveness through humble servants like Moses, and now pastors. He washes sins away in water and word. He gives and sustains life, by feeding us the true bread from heaven that is Christ's body and gives us his blood as our very lifeblood. Look and live. Even if you are dead in trespasses. See and hear and believe. Trust in the free and full forgiveness that comes to us from Christ, through word and sacrament. Not a pole with a serpent, but bread, wine, water, word. Delivering the goods that Jesus won on the cross, where he was held up for the world. Where he became sin to defeat sin and serpent. Where God so loved the world.
Whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. We hear those familiar words again, and we believe. By his grace. In his name. Look, and live! Amen.