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Cross atop Mt. Nebo in Jordan

Lent 4 2018
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 11, 2018
Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10, John 3:14-21

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Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com  
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

 

Ezra’s stands knee deep in mud under the hot, Egyptian sun.  He is scooping up buckets of mud from a shallow pit to pass them up to other slaves who mix it with straw to make bricks.  Ezra works from before sunrise until after sunset.  There is not enough food and it is back-breaking work to continually hoist heavy buckets of mud above his head to those making the bricks.  Ezra is hot, tired, hungry, and miserable.  He is covered in mud including mud that has dripped into his eyes but he doesn’t have a clean hand to wipe them.  If Ezra slows down at all or if the overseer is just in a bad mood Ezra gets whipped with a long, thin leather strap cracking on his back drawing blood to mix with the mud.  It is a no good, awful, terrible day for Ezra just like yesterday and the day before that and the day before that.  Seven days a week of slaving in the hot sun covered with mud mixed with blood, sweat and tears.  Life as a slave is a hard, brutal life.  You know exactly what to expect every day.

The Lord God hears the cries of His people in slavery in Egypt and sends Moses to rescue them.  Moses brings the people through the water of the Red Sea into the wilderness; saving them from a life of slavery.  The people are free.  No more mud.  No more bricks.  No more whips.  No more slaving under the hot sun.  The people are free.

The children of Israel are free.  They have passed through the waters on dry ground and then the waters destroyed the Egyptian army.  The people are free, but then the people get bored in their freedom.  Freedom isn’t enough.  Manna from heaven isn’t enough.  There are difficulties in the wilderness.  The people complain.  Numbers 21:5 (ESV) 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.”[1]

God rescued the children of Israel and they reject His rescue.  They prefer the certainty of slavery to the Egyptians to the uncertainty of freedom trusting in God.  The people are bored in their freedom and God relieves their boredom by sending in fiery serpents.

Imagine you’re sitting at home on the couch just bored; nothing to do, flipping mindlessly through the TV channels.  How quickly would that boredom turn to terror if you saw a six foot snake slither out from under the sofa and across the living room floor?  And then another one, and another.  What would the sight of snakes in your house do to your pulse and breathing and blood pressure?

The Israelites have fiery serpents all among them and when someone gets bit the bite is hot and painful and brings certain death.

The people panic and cry out to Moses, Numbers 21:7 (ESV) … “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” …

So Moses prays and God answers his prayer, but God does not take away the serpents.  Instead God has Moses make a serpent out of bronze and put it on a pole and if a serpent bites anyone, he can look at the bronze serpent and live.  The people were cursed by the serpents and now that curse hangs on a pole as a sign and promise from God.

You were snake bit.  You come from a snake bit line of people infected with the fiery, poisonous venom from the serpent in the Garden of Eden. This venom of original sin, coursing through your body brings suffering, and certain, eternal death.  You were snake bit, but God rescued you as He did for little Faith this morning.  God brought you through the waters of Holy Baptism drowning the Old Adam in you.  God brought you through the saving waters of baptism into the wilderness of this life and He feeds you with His Body and Blood in Holy Communion.  He gives you a sign with a promise; the Son of Man lifted up on the cross.  Look to Jesus on the cross and live.  Galatians 3:13 (ESV) 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—[2]  Jesus becomes a curse for you and is hung on a pole as a sign and promise of God.

You have been set free from slavery to sin; slavery to death, slavery to the devil.  You have been given the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are free from the curse of the law.  You are free to live life in love and service to others without fear of the devil and Hell.  You live in freedom.

You live in freedom, but that freedom is lived out in the wilderness of this life on your journey to the Promised Land, and life in the wilderness can be difficult.  Life in the wilderness can be full of hardship and heartache.  There is a great temptation to grow bored with freedom.  As crazy as it is for the Israelites to long for their time as slaves, you can find yourself longing for your time in bondage to sin.

You can get bored with the freedom of the Gospel.  “It’s just baptism.  It’s just Holy Communion.  It’s just God’s word of forgiveness.  It’s just the same thing over and over again.”  You can get to where you want to demand a sign; a miracle, you want to demand something more.  It can get to where the uncertainty of freedom in Christ just isn’t enough and you want to go back to the certainty of slavery to sin.

You have been set free from slavery to sin; slavery to death, slavery to the devil.  You have been given the gift of eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are free from the curse of the law.  You are free to live life in love and service to others without fear of the devil and Hell.  You live in freedom.

Living in the light of Christ in love and service to others can get boring and you just want to go back to the darkness of sin where people love the darkness because it covers their evil deeds.  Coming from a snake bit people you are drawn to the wickedness of the darkness; you are by nature a child of darkness.  But you are no longer of the darkness.  You are a child of light.

You are a child of the light, but there is a danger that the children of light can drift back into the darkness.  They can separate themselves from the Word of God.  No longer do they read God’s Word or hear God’s Word preached.  They separate themselves from the Words of Jesus’ absolution; His forgiveness.  They separate themselves from life giving food and drink of Holy Communion, they separate themselves from the Body of Christ, the Church, and they slowly drift back into darkness and slavery to sin and death.  There is no promise of once saved, always saved.  You can lose faith.  The devil you renounced at your baptism wants to take control of you again.  He wants to bite you with his fiery venom and take you with him to Hell.

So beware!  Wake up!  Stay awake!  Look to the sign of God’s promise!  Look to Jesus Christ lifted up on the cross for you.  Look to Jesus and live.  You are baptized.  You are free in Christ.

You have been rescued from the darkness.  Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,[3]  John 3:16 (ESV) 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.[4]

You have been brought out of slavery to sin and into the freedom of Christ.  Do not return to the hard brutality of slavery to sin.  You have been brought from the darkness into the light.  You have been brought from death to life.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are on your way to the Promised Land of eternal life with Jesus.  Life in this wilderness world is not easy, but the Lord is with you; He feeds you and guides you and sustains you.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Amen.


[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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