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The Serpent in the Wilderness

00:00 / 19:07

10 Mar 2024

Fourth Sunday in Lent

Numbers 21:4-9, Eph. 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

The Bad News: Fiery Serpents

‘From Mount Hor they set out by way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people 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 no water, and we loathe this worthless food.”’ Numbers 21:4-5

-       With everything God had done for them, they still moaned, grumbled and questioned.

-       So like us: forgetfulness of God’s faithfulness and provision. Anger at present challenges and difficulties.

-       Numbers - this is what the ‘fiery serpents’ represent: the consequences of sin, destruction and ultimately death. (Numbers 21:6)

-       Sin alienates us from God and destroys our relationships. From Eve, Adam, Cain onwards, spreading into world.

Deeper Truth: Sin not just what we do but the condition we are in

‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.’ John 3:17-18

-       Christ comes not to condemn but to save. Why? Because he loves us.

-       But, if we refuse this offer, we are ‘condemned already’. Why? The destructive power of sin that lives within us.

The Light is not easy to come to…

-       Perceptiveness of Christ’s comment: ‘the light (Christ) has come into the world, and people loved the darkness more than the light.’ Why? ‘Because their works were evil’ John 3:19.

-       “Light” an obviously positive image? Except that it exposes sin and leaves us vulnerable. We have to face up to what we truly are, and have done. Are you doing that? Are there parts of your life which are in darkness? Be honest.

-       Challenge of being a Christian: Honesty, humility.

-       The Darkness is easy: no challenge to hide and continue in sin.

-       Christianity not a crutch but a great challenge. A challenge to overcome ourselves.

The Good News: The Bronze Serpent

-       Story of the Bronze Serpent: the people repented. “We have sinned because we have spoken against God and against you” (Numbers 21:7).

-       This is the second step to the Christian life: repentance. Sorrow for sin. Contrition. Desire to put sin away and live life with God. Not just private whisper but confession and restitution where appropriate.

-       The Lord provided a bronze serpent set upon a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live (Numbers 21:8).

-       Imagery hard to understand: why a serpent, why upon a pole?

-       Christ’s words help us to understand: ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life’ (John 3:14-15).

-       Bronze serpent was a sign of Christ lifted up on the cross for sin. We must look/believe in Christ. Trust Christ to atone for sin, to heal us, to save us.

-       Why a serpent. Christ became sin (2 Cor. 5:21). A sign of the curse of sin.

Eternal Life: Living in the Truth

-       Eternal life (aionios) – not pie in the sky but a new life, beginning now: holiness, light, free from bondage of sin, living in the real world, foretaste of eternity, knowledge and love of God. This is what is offered. Come to the light.

For God so loved the world…

-       Haven’t mentioned John 3:16. Often misunderstood. Not God loved so much but God loved in this way: in the way that he provided the Bronze Serpent, in the way that he gave his only begotten Son. He has given of his best, the greatest gift, the greatest sacrifice. This is how he loves us. This is the love that we are called to. Receive it.


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