Monday, May 06, 2013

Sermon – Easter 6 – Numbers 21:4-9

May 5th, 2013
St. John's and Trinity Lutheran Church, Suring, WI
"Look to the Cross"

What was the sin of the Israelites? They were ungrateful for God's blessings. And when suffering began, even a relatively mild suffering, the started to complain. They even complained ABOUT the blessings God had bestowed. Look what he had done:

He gave them Moses, a deliverer – someone raised in the royal courts of Pharaoh and uniquely qualified to stand before the most powerful man in the world as a spokesman.

He sent plagues to the Egyptians – not one, but ten! And each one more terrible than the last, until finally Pharaoh relented and let the people go. Oh, and by the way, through all these plagues on their enemies, the Lord kept the Israelites free from any of it. He even passed over their homes when the blood of the firstborn would be shed.

And when Pharaoh finally did let the people go, they didn't just go, the Egyptians sent them packing with gold and treasures and provisions. They weren't just freed from slavery, it was like winning a glorious battle, and they didn't even shed a drop of blood.

He brought them through the Red Sea in miraculous fashion. He brought them to his Holy Mountain and gave them the law. He designed an entire system of sacrifice by which their sins could be dealt with (and which pointed to the deeper reality of a once and for all sacrifice yet to come).

And if that wasn't enough, he made their clothing and shoes to not wear out, and he fed them each day with the miraculous bread from heaven – manna.

For all this they were ungrateful, they murmured, grumbled, complained.

Dear friends in Christ, have you had this experience – when life throws something your way, some challenge, some trouble, some problem to complain about.... and just when you wonder why the Lord is letting it happen, it gets ten times worse?

“Oh Lord, I don't think I can handle this. It's too big for me, it's too much.” And it seems as if he says, “Oh yeah? Watch this!”

But how quickly do we, like the Israelites, forget all his benefits? How little it takes to make us blame God for our troubles, rather than look in the mirror. How often we would grumble, murmur, and complain about even the good things he gives us which we totally don't deserve.

And just as the Israelites had the audacity to complain about being freed from slavery and even about the food that he provided them (like he owed them anything at all!), don't we often do the same about even the greatest gifts he gives us? I've got better things to do than study the Bible. Oh, church was too long today. The sermon was boring. The pastor is a so-and-so. But here God feeds you, cares for you, proclaims your salvation in Christ. And yet how quick to forget, neglect, and despise even these gifts.

God sent serpents, venomous snakes into the Israelite camp. But this was a call to repentance. Turn from your grumbling, wicked ways, you thankless Israelites. You think you had it bad before!

God would call us all to repentance as well. Pray that he sends pastors instead of snakes to call for repentance. Pray that by his grace, you can see the troubles of this world, the misfortunes and disasters, the suffering and pain with the eyes of faith. That these things would lead you again and again to repent. That these things would remind you again and again of the one who truly suffered, who suffered all, even for you.

The Lord is merciful. He gave the Israelites a means of his grace. Moses made the bronze serpent on the pole, and all who looked to it lived. Forgiveness. Peace with God.

Jesus said, “And 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.”
So Jesus, our bronze serpent, who crushed the head of the ancient serpent the devil, takes the venom of our sins, and dies the death we deserve. Jesus, the great physician of body and soul, renews in us a right spirit, and promises us a resurrection like his.
So look to him, and look to his cross.
If you think the world is wicked, look to the cross.
If you fear for your soul, under the weight of your sins, look to the cross.
If you suffer physically, if your heart despairs, if grief and loss are known to you, look to the cross.

Are you ashamed of what you've done? Look to the cross.
Do you try to do better, but always fail? Look to the cross.
Do your desires betray you; does your heart yearn for evil; do you feel at war with your flesh?
Look to the cross.
Does death frighten you, or what lay beyond? Look to the cross.

Look upon the cross of Jesus Christ. And there see your salvation. See the world's salvation. See the death of death itself. See the Father's anger set aside. See the warfare between God and man turn to peace. See the Christ, who takes all your fear, guilt, shame, despair, suffering, betrayal, wickedness, lust and sin – all that is bad, wicked and evil. And see ultimate good in his ultimate suffering.

Look to the cross, this day. And see Christ. For all, and for you.

And look today to the meal that Christ provides you. Like manna, miraculous food from heaven, though simple and earthly to the senses. Like manna, food in the wilderness of this life, food that sustains us for the journey. Like manna, we may wonder, "what is it?" - but we have only to confess it is what he says it is, and a mystery at that.

But unlike manna, here, the true Bread of Heaven, the body of Christ himself, and his life-blood shed to give you new life. Here, now, today. So look, and see, and hear his words, and take and eat and drink and live.

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