Sunday, March 10th, 2024


Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen. Let us pray. O Lord send forth your word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen. A father and his teenage son went out to spend a Saturday together during the son’s sophomore year of high school. They went to breakfast. The father paid for his son’s meal and his own. Dad got the western omelet with a side of hash browns and his son had cinnamon swirl French toast with a side of sausage patties. Then after breakfast, they caught their morning tee time. When they got to the golf course, the father paid for his green fees and his sons, and for a cart. He also bought them a hot dog and chips and Gatorade at the turn. When the beverage cart came around on hole number six, the dad bought his son a Milky Way and a bottle of water. And when the cart came around again on the back nine, the father once again paid for his son to have yet another Gatorade. After they finished the round of golf, they went out to eat again. This time the son got a burger, and fries, and a Pepsi, the father got a turkey club wrap, lemonade, and of course the bill. And then after lunch they got into the car and drove downtown to go to a baseball game. Dad had bought box seats for himself for his son. After the dad paid for parking, he and his son walked to the stadium. The son saw a T-shirt vendor on the street who was selling a particularly catchy shirt, so the father bought it for him, and once inside the ballpark they made their way to their seats, stopping so the dad could buy them a tray of nachos and a couple of sodas, and throughout the rest of the game, the son got a box of Cracker Jacks, and some lemon ice, which of course the dad bought for him. And then after the game, the father drove home while the son paged through the program that his dad had bought him. The stopped for a milkshake and for gas, which of course the father paid for. And then they got to go home, got to finally go to sleep in the beds bought by the father, in a house paid for by the father, wearing pajamas bought on dad’s dime. But all in all it, was a good day. The next day the father and the son went to church with the rest of the family, as they did every Sunday, again stopped for breakfast on the way home. Later that afternoon, dad was sitting in his chair reading when his son came in and asked him for a new phone. When he asked his father for the money to buy the new phone his dad said no. The son looked at his father complaining, “You are the worst dad ever. You never buy me anything.” before stomping off to his room, slamming the door. Does that sound familiar? Have you ever found yourself having a similar conversation, ever found yourself so distracted by the mindset of “what have you done for me lately?” Never mind that the father probably had to take out a second mortgage to pay for the outing the day before. All the son could think about was the next thing he wanted his dad to buy. Short sightedness. It’s not only a problem for teenagers, it’s the temptation that we all face, and indeed it was the temptation that the children of Israel fell victim to time and time again. That’s what’s going on in this morning’s Old Testament reading in the book of Numbers. Numbers chapter 21. We’re told that the Israelites set out from Mount Horeb by way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And on the way the people became impatient, grumbled and spoke against God and against Moses. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness for there is no food and there is no water and we hate this miserable food. Let’s take just a step back and look at their complaint. First don’t miss the detail that this complaint is recorded for us in the book of Numbers. I’ve probably told you before but I think the title Numbers is one of the most misleading titles for any book in the entire Bible, especially in the Pentateuch, the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. The name of each book tells you what the book is about. Take for example Genesis, which is the original Hebrew word, bereshit, which means in the beginning, it tells you about the origin of things. The book tells us the origin of the world, the origin of sin, the origin of Israel, as God’s people. Exodus tells us about God bringing his people out of Egypt, the exit. Leviticus outlines all the Levitical codes used in the Tabernacle and the temple, and the word Deuteronomy literally means second law, because it tells Moses giving the law to the Israelites a second time before they finally go into the Promised Land. But the title Numbers is this taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Hebrew title is b’mithvar, which literally means in the wilderness. It’s the book that tells you what happened to the Israelites after they left Mount Sinai, but didn’t get into the Promised Land. They sent out the spies, but the spies were too afraid and so Israel did not take possession of the land, as the Lord had promised, they were instead, sentenced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation died off, and the next generation was grown. The context is important. It’s an important part of today’s reading. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” they asked. You might want to respond “Really, don’t you know your own history, don’t you remember slavery in Egypt, don’t you remember bricks with no straw, the miraculous plagues that led to your deliverance?” The text even tells us that they’re traveling right by the Red Sea when they begin grumbling. You can almost picture Moses upon hearing their complaints, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die?” and you see Moses pointing at the Red Sea saying, “Really, the Red Sea is right there. Don’t you remember walking through on dry ground? Don’t you remember the pillar of cloud and fire that protected you, that blocked Pharaoh and his army from chasing you? Don’t you remember the pillar moving out of the way so the army would chase you before they finally were drowned, as the walls of water came crashing down around them? How can you possibly doubt God’s intent for you? How can you possibly accuse God of bringing you out in the wilderness only to kill you? Haven’t you been paying any attention at all?” Then it gets worse before it gets better. “We hate this miserable food,” they say. What miserable food do they hate? It’s the mana, the bread from heaven, that miraculous food that is supplied for them each and every morning without them having to lift a finger to plant or harvest wheat. They don’t have to grind it into flour, they don’t have to bake anything. No, it’s just food, there for the taking, plopped into their laps every morning. Manna and quail sent by God from heaven. How quickly the Israelites forget all that God has done for them and all that God is still doing for them. Their complaints have blinded them to the many ways that our Lord revealed his love to them, and yet the same is true for us, isn’t it? That danger is there for us too. Before we’re too hard on the Israelites for being a bunch of malcontents, shouldn’t we take a good hard look at our own outlook and our own attitudes? Do we live, grateful for all that our Lord does for us and all that our Lord gives to us, or are we complainers like the Israelites before us? What’s going on with those snakes? Why does God send snakes into Israel? I think actually, it’s fairly simple. The snakes are simply sent by God to change their perspective, to give them a different way to look at it. To put it bluntly, who cares about food when you’re dead? The snakes, they burst onto the scene they show the people just how out of order their priorities truly are. Instead of a heart of thankfulness that the Lord had continued to provide for them, the people grumbled and complained, and so the Lord sent snakes into their midst to startle them awake, to shake them out of their comfort, open their eyes to their sin. That’s what our Lord’s Word of law does for us. It comes into our lives to change our perspective, to show us our sin, to leave us dead in our trespasses, without hope for deliverance. The law condemns us and leaves us without excuse. Like the Israelites before us, we are tempted to complain about the injustices we see in our lives, the promotion we didn’t get, the nicer house or car that our neighbor has, the battles that we struggle with in our families. And it’s true that our Lord invites us to take all of our complaints and our concerns to him in prayer. That’s not what the Israelites were doing. They were just grumbling. They weren’t looking for a solution, they were just complaining, and so our Lord puts some snakes among them as a way to say “Snap out of it.” And this law does the same for us. Does the same in our lives. it’s as if he’s saying “Stop complaining about your job or your house or your car.,” your true problem is your sin, your true problem is that you were separated from me. Getting a new job, getting a new house, getting a new car, that’s not going to fix your sin. You need something different. You need something more. You need a Savior and for the Israelites that was a snake on a pole. Anyone who was bitten by a snake, when that person looked to the bronze serpent, that person was healed. Jesus tells us that’s how he works too. This is a picture of our salvation and him. The bronze serpent had the form of the snakes. The snakes that were Israel’s problem and so Jesus takes on the form of our sinful flesh. He becomes an icon of our true problem. Unlike the real serpents, the bronze serpent had no poison. So also, Jesus had no sin of his own. And as the bronze serpent was lifted up on a pole, in the midst of Israel, so Jesus is lifted up on the cross. Just as any Israelite who was stricken with the snake’s venom would be delivered by looking in faith to the bronze serpent, so also our salvation from the poison of sin comes by looking to our Savior’s cross. It’s all right there before us. Sin is our true problem; Jesus is our true solution. The temptation will always be there for us to forget the deliverance our Lord has given us, to sit in front of the baptismal font of our own Red Sea and still look at our Lord and say “What have you done for me lately?” We’ll be tempted to be so focused on our present struggles, that we ignore God’s great acts of deliverance that got us here in the first place. We will be tempted to complain, like the Israelites. But thanks be to God for the work of his Law that puts some such complaining to death in us, that puts our sin to death in us. Thanks be to God for the deliverance that he gives us through our Lord Jesus Christ. He will continue to provide for us throughout the days of our pilgrimage, until he finally leads us across the Jordan River of our own life into the Promised Land of the new creation. May God grant us faithfulness until that day, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.