March 2018  
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John 3: 14-21    3/11/2018                  “Look, or Don’t Look”

Rev. Jerry W. Krueger                   Boardman UMC

“Ha, ha. Made you look!” That was a familiar phrase in my home as I raised three boys. Somehow they took great delight in enticing, tricking, faking out one of their brothers, and getting them to look at some innocuous sight.  Or at nothing at all. There was a choice, to look, or not.

Today we read in the text from John’s Gospel, of a reference to a snake lifted up by Moses in the wilderness.  And looking, or not looking, is part of the theological equation.  Look, or don’t look. It is up to you.

When we think back to Moses in the wilderness, we need to review what has prompted Moses and the millions of Hebrews to be in the desert in the first place.

  • Do you recall what river baby Moses is found floating in? The Nile
  • Moses is raised in the Egyptian ruler’s household, and the ruler of Egypt is called, Pharaoh.
  • Moses leads the people out of Egypt because they are in bondage as slaves. And they cross the sea that parted? Red Sea.
  • Moses and the Hebrews wander for how many years? 40 years

In the wilderness, the people complain, they whine, they fuss, they accuse Moses of bringing them out to the wilderness to die, and they say, “There is no food and water, and what food we do have, we detest.” They hate the leader, they hate the circumstances of their freedom, and they hate the fact that they are not in slavery, where at least they knew what was expected of them, and what was going to be the trajectory of their lives.   Which is living as slaves, and dying as slaves.

God has had enough of the Hebrew’s wilderness whining, and sends serpents, snakes, to bite the living sin out of them. They are in the wilderness, and after a fit and bout of complaining and whining, it seems suddenly as if everyone is snake bit. Pick up your bag, ankle bite. Gather firewood, snake bit.  Draw water at a well, get snake bit. Go into your tent to lie down, snake bit.

It’s like an ancient behavior modification exercise. Instead of snapping a rubber band when you want to smoke, or putting a dollar in the swear jar when you swear, in this instance you complain, and then get snake bit. So if I stop complaining, maybe I won’t get snake bit. Be grateful!  After they have been snake bit, the Hebrew’s admit, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord, and against you Moses.” Got your attention now do I?” says God.

And Moses, even though he is hammered by his people as to his leadership, prays for relief for them.  What a good leader, praying for those who persecute him. God says to Moses, “make a bronze replica of a snake, put it on a stick, a high pole that the people can see, and when they get snake bit, they can look to the snake symbol, remember me, and they won’t die.”

Hear this people of God. The Lord God almighty did NOT say, “look at the snake symbol and you will be free from snake bites and they won’t hurt and you’ll be on easy street.”  All God said was, “look to me, and you won’t die.”

In our faith lives, we who follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, are gonna’ get snake bit. Some more than others. Sometimes, the viper hits us as we work in a grueling, grinding job. Maybe the adder strikes when relationships are under stress.  Maybe the coiled rattler puts the fangs in us, as we suffer health issues. 

Being a faithful Christian does not guarantee that the serpent won’t strike, that we won’t have suffering or hardship.  But we do understand that if we choose to look to the symbol of our faith, Jesus Christ, we are restored.

In the text, Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee, a leader of the Jews, a respected church leader, who comes to Jesus, under cover of darkness, to inquire of Jesus the Rabbi, about being born again from above.

Knowing that Nicodemus knows the scriptures, Jesus references the teaching in Numbers, of Moses and the Hebrews in the desert, and the story of the bronze serpent. “Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Lifted up and exalted in the Greek language mean the same thing. Lifting up a snake symbol gives life in the OT, but exalting Jesus, looking to Jesus, lifting up Jesus in your life today assures not just life, but eternal life.

Some clarification needed here. We are not speaking of immortality or a future life in heaven here, but we speak in a metaphor for living NOW in the unending presence of God.  Jesus’ offer of his own life through being lifted up on the cross, makes eternal life possible for those who believe. This is the new life Jesus promised Nicodemus. A life lived NOW in the unending presence of God, right now.

Symbols represents something else. Like wedding rings are an outward and visible sign, of an inward and spiritual covenant relationship between a married couples.  An ICTHUS, fish symbol, is not Jesus, but represents our belief in Jesus. We don’t worship the cross. But we look to the cross, and understand that on it Jesus died as atonement, as redemption, as payment, for our sins, as a gift of love for us.

Sacrifice in the OT required giving not out of abundance, but giving a sacrifice that had to cost. If you have many oranges, say 100, giving 2 or 3 away is not being generous, it is giving out of abundance. You don’t even feel it. But if you only have 3 oranges left, and you give one or two, it is sacrificial, it costs, you see, and feel the importance and preciousness of the gift.

In the OT, sacrifice was to cost you a significant portion of your wine, grain, livestock, or assets. The best and first, are designed to be given to God for his glory, and your thankfulness.  In the OT you presented the unblemished bull, or lamb, or dove, so that you were symbolically atoning for your sins. Something of great value that cost you deeply, given to God, on your behalf.

God through his Son, Jesus Christ, offers the ultimate gift of sacrifice. God offers his only Son, the Christ, for each of us, so that our sins will be washed away.  Jesus is the intermediary. He does the work for us, that we cannot do.  His sinless life was enough, his being lifted up, exalted on the cross in the midst of a horrific death, to save me and you, is enough. Christ was sacrificed on your behalf, even on the behalf of those who will choose to never know him, on the behalf of those who will reject him, laugh at him, and say that he means nothing. Jesus Christ was lifted up, exalted for people like that too.

The Hebrew people in the desert wilderness had options.  To look, or not look, at the bronze serpent if they wanted to live.

We too have options every day. We can choose to live civilly in society, or not. We can choose to pay our taxes, or not. We can choose to be kind and compassionate, or not. We can choose to get up and go to work, or church, or the ball game, or the bar, or the club, or not.

Our lives are full of choices, yet there are many who miss the opportunity to look to the cross, to lift up, choose to exalt Jesus Christ in their lives.   And I wonder why they choose to reject Him? Christ tells Nicodemus that people love the darkness, and reject Jesus, because the deeds of their lives were evil.

The light of Jesus Christ has come, and it being offered to you today, again.  Jesus states in chapter 3 of John, “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” They remain hidden because of guilt, or fear, but those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

This is a text that is confrontational. The presence of Jesus as the incarnate Word, confronts the world with the decision to believe, or to NOT believe.  And that dear friends, that decision of choosing Jesus or NOT, is the moment of your own self judgement.

God sent Jesus to save the world, and the world and each person will judge themselves, in their response to Jesus.

In the holy name of Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.