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Num 21,4-9 John 3,14-15 The brazen Serpent

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Date: March 30, 2003             Where: SHMC     

Sermon Title: God Provides a way of Salvation

Text: Number 21:4-9, John 3:14-15

W. L:          Ewald Goetz                 

Major Recent Event: War in Iraq is raging on


I’m terrified of snakes!

          They give me the creeps.

Oh, I know what they say about snakes

snakes are harmless

they only attacks in self-defense.

          But I don’t trust them…

When Karis came home from school one day

          with a picture of her and a snake around her neck

          I had a fit…

You see, when I was a child

my mom and dad would tell us stories

from their childhood

growing up on the farm

with all kinds of animals

cows, horses, chickens, dogs, cats

and snakes.

When my older brother was a toddler he once came home

          holding a dead garder snake in his hand.

          My mother almost fainted.

He must have grabbed it and strangled it

          As a little 2 year old

he was proud of his hunting skills

We’ve often laughed about that story…

Then, one day, my brother became a father of twins.

          As they grew the boys were healthy,

          and like many twins

                   they were up to no good

          Two brains can dream up

more mischief than one.

One day, they were about 2 years old,

          their mother had just given them a bath

after David got dressed he went outside.

          Suddenly, he saw something that fascinated him.

          It was a full grown rattle snake…

                   Her head propped up

                             in a “ready to strike” position

                             and shaking her rattles

                                      to ward of the predator.

          As a curious little 2 year old

                   David was attracted

to the sound of the rattles

                   Like father like son,

                             He wanted to play…

          When he stretched  out his hand to grab her

                   the snake struck him several times

                             and injected her deadly venum

                                      into his body.

You can imagine his mother’s horror

          when she went to check why he was crying

          and she saw this vicious rattle snake

                   next to her son.

My brother is a Medical Doctor

          so he knew what to do immediately.

He gave him all the anti-poison treatment he knew of…

          and then they drove 80 Km to the city hospital.

          There he would get the best available treatment.

For weeks they watched and waited

          as their son hovered between life and death.

His hand, where he had been bitten,

          was so swollen from the poison

                   breaking down the cellular tissue

          that the skin ripped open

and left him with permanent scars.

My nephew survived his close encounter

          with a deadly serpent.

          And he has some nasty scars to prove it.

Have you ever been bitten by the snake?

Struck by the mortal enemy?

I don’t mean literally, like my nephew…

I mean, have you ever felt

the poisonous attack of the devil?

Maybe you thought that you were

          looking at a harmless plaything…

          And zing…

                   you were struck…

Maybe you never even saw it coming…

          and the poisonous strike

left you dazed and confused

The snake is in the camp…

Satan is at work in the world.

From the time of creation

then serpent is a symbol of evil,

the personification of Satan,

the tempter,

the one that leads us away from God,

the one that causes bad things to happen.

We think of evil in two ways:

There is first of all natural evil…

          the bad things that are out of our control…

diseases such as Juvenile Diabetes,

Cancer, Downs Syndrome,

                   natural disasters, such floods, tornadoes,

                   airplane and car crashes.

There is also moral evil…

- what we call human sin -

relationships that go sour,

marriages that break up in separation & divorce,

people can’t reconcile their differences,

parents and children…

too caught up in their pride

to say “I’m sorry”,

lack of forgiveness,

people holding a grudge for years and decades,

people seeking false intimacy…

in premarital or extramarital sex,

in an Internet chat room,

or even pornography,

people destroying their lives

with destructive thoughts and behaviours,

          greed that sucks the joy out of doing good to others.

Do you feel the sting?

Have you been bitten by the snake?

I know I have…

          and I have the scars to prove it…

But, just a minute…

We don’t like to show off our bite marks.

We don’t want others to know that we have been bitten,

          even though sometimes it is pretty obvious.

Some scars are difficult to hide.

Some of us grow a pretty thick layer of skin

          over top of our bite marks,

          and we often pretend that we are “just fine”…

I know… I can be pretty crusty sometimes


The miracle of God’s love for us

          is that healing comes as a result

                   of confessing our need for God.

Regardless of the nature of our wounds…

Matthew Henry’s Commentary suggests that:

God’s people had been slaves in Egypt

for four hundred years.

Now they had escaped from Egypt,

and they were wandering in the dessert

toward the Promised Land.

Moses led them on a detour around Edom,

because the Edomites wouldn’t allow them

to go through their territory.

God had provided them with food and water,

the basic daily needs for their journey.

Heavenly manna (bread from heaven)

and water from the rock.

That was pretty amazing stuff!

And yet, the people began to grumble and complain.

They were discouraged.

They had imagined a relatively easy trip,

straight through the dessert

to the promised land,

without any glitches along the way.

Now they were starting to murmur and complain

against Moses and against God Himself.

Because of their ingratitude

God sent an infestation of fiery snakes

to strike them with fury…

and many Israelites died.

Overcome by God’s wrath,

the people turned back to Moses and to God

begging for mercy.

They repent of their ingratitude and complaining,

they confess their total dependence on God,

and God provides for them a way of salvation.

Moses is instructed to craft a brazen serpent,

- that is a serpent made out of bronze -

and to raise it on a high pole

          in the middle of the settlement,

so that it may be seen from any place in the camp.

Then, if anyone was bitten by a snake

they only needed to look

upon the bronze snake on the pole

and their faith would save them.

God provided a way of salvation for all who believe.

The question is not if… but when…

When we are struck by the fiery bite of the serpent,

when we fall into temptation,

when we have disagrements in our families,

when we fail God and go our own ways,

we do not need to be condemned for ever. God provides a way of salvation.

All we have to do is to recognize our need for God,

          to look at Jesus on the cross,

                   and to claim his healing blood

                             for our salvation.

Unfortunately we often seek to deal with it ourselves.

We use up all our energies

to hide the fact that we have been zinged

by the fiery snake.

We devise clever disguises

and cover up our bitemarks

to make them invisible to others.

But inside of us the poison spreads.

Our consience gets dull

and we don’t feel anymore

the attacks of the mortal enemy.

Our heart grows cold towards others

who may be in the same camp.

We lash out in our poisoned,

hardened condition

and hurt others around us.

The Good News is that we don’t need to do that

because God provides for us a way of salvation.

He doesn’t remove evil from our midst.

But he gives us a way to deal with it.

The harsh reality is that

          as long as we are on our human journey

                   snake bites will happen.

Evil will always be with us.

The fiery snake will always strike at us.

Temptation is guaranteed.

That is a consequence of sin

                             that was determined already

                                      in the Garden Eden.

When God drove Adam and Eve

          out of the Garden after they had sinned,

          God said to the serpent that had tempted them:

                   “I will set enmity between you

                             and the human race.

                   You will strike them on the heel

                             and they will crush your head.”

Snake bites happen.

          The question is,

                   What do we do with them? 

The snake is in our camp…

          And ready to strike at every opportunity…

Sin happens…

          Pride, disobedience, rebelion against God

Evil happens…

          Hurricanes, drownings, murder, war…

Satan will strike where and when he can…

He seeks to poison our heart against God.

What do we do when we get bitten?

In John 3:14-15 the Evangelist says,

          “Even as Moses lifted up the serpent

                   in the wilderness

          even so the Son of Man

must be lifted up

          so that whoever believes in him

                   should not perish

          but have everlasting life.”

The amazing thing is that

when we get struck

by the poisonous fangs of the snake

God doesn’t says to us

“I told you so.”

God is saddened

by the wrong choices we make…

and by the evil that befalls us .

God feels the strike of the snake with us.

And in Jesus Christ, the healer,

lifted up on the cross,

he provides for us a way of salvation.

My nephew is alive and well today.

He’s growing up strong and healthy.

But he has some visible signs

of his close encounter

with a mortal enemy.

The scars on his hand are

a visible reminder of the day

when he stared death in the face.

But, by God’s grace he’s alive.

You and I also have the scars

to prove our close encounters with sin and death. Some of our scars

will remain with us for the rest of our lives.

Others will heal.

          And by God’s grace

they will makes us better people.

But we have a choice to make.

We can allow our experiences

to turn us into hardened individuals.

We can become poisoned with bitterness and anger…

          all pent up inside us…

                   ready to break us apart.

Or we can look to the Man of Galilee

who is lifted up on the cross

for our salvation.

I invite you to take a long hard look at yourself.

Where have you experienced

the vicious bite of the fiery serpent?

How are you really doing?

How is your marriage doing?

Your relationship with your loved ones

and friends?

                   your parents?

your children?

How do you handle your temptations…

          To cheat in school or at work?

          To waste your time on questionable activities?

                   To engage in things that dishonor God?

What about the other type of evil?

How do you handle situations

                   that are beyond your control?

                   The loss of someone you love?

the rejection of your friends,

your work place

and even your church?

How do you deal with your grief?

When the numbing shock subsides

and reality sets in?

          What do you do with the anger,

                   the resentment against man and God,

the anxiety and fear of the future?

Do you see yourself in the camp?

          I know I am…

Have you been struck by the fiery snake?

          I know I have…

And I also know that there is only one way to be saved…

namely, to look at the Cross

          and to see Jesus there in faith.

The One, pure, holy Son of God…

The only One who did not deserve

          the punishment…

The One who took         the sting

of sin and death upon himself,

          who felt the guilt of our sin…

          who felt the pain of our grief…

Christ alone can heal all our pain.

When we look to Him in faith,

                   raised up on the pole on Calvary

                             we will live.

God extends his invitation to you and me.

          Look to the cross…

          the instrument of evil itself…

Look that evil in the eye…

look at the pain in your relationships…

look at your unforgiving heart…

look at the grief that is turning you

away from God.

Confess your need for God…

and let Christ’s death on the cross

be the healing of your mind,

body, soul and spirit.

          Look at him in faith…

                   An live!

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