21:4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 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 detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live. -NRSV
In Garden of Eden, God created all the living creatures, including the talking snake, and at the end of that days work, proclaims that God’s handwork was indeed, good, including the snake.
But through disobedience, Adam and Eve suffer the consequences (kicked out of the Garden) and at the same time experience God’s grace (Clothed, Guard, and Work-study program, and not death)
The story and faith journey continues with great similarity today. Moses had freed the Hebrews from being slaves in Egypt and now in the wilderness the people missed the dependability of their slavery.
They grumbled. They became disappointed and discouraged. They questioned and doubted God’s plan and Moses’ leadership. So out comes the snake and families of snakes to bite the grumblers. Today we have a visitor from Dausset Trails, that Gordon will introduce us to today:
Are there any grumblers here today? Any complaints? Any dissatisfied folks? Come up and meet Gordon’s friend.
I have seen a corn snake as thick as my arm. I have seen a copper head in our back yard at the parsonage. I have been thrown into a rattle snake pit (empty at the time) by second cousins because I was the youngest. I have handled snakes and earned my reptile merit badge. I have attended a worship service where rattle snakes were handled up front; I sat at the door at the back.) But I have not yet been bitten.
But there are other things that have bitten me.. and I’m guess you’ve been bitten by them too. Greed, Jealousy, Fear, Shame, Guilt, Pride, Desire and the greener grass over Lewis Grizzard’s septic tank. We go back to the snake and back to sin, and find ourselves grumbling, doubting and questioning God’s plans just like God’s people in the wilderness.
People were dying from the snake bites then and we are dying from our sins and separation as well. The wandering complainers asked Moses to speak to God and get rid of the snakes.
God didn’t get rid of the snakes but gave a sign and means of grace for those who happen to be bitten. Moses makes a bronze pole and places a snake upon it and lifted it up as a point of healing and renewal.
Today our physicians use this same simple as a sign of healing in the oath they take to heal and do no harm. Moses lifted up his rod, (walking stick-staff-scepter) over the rock where God was to bring the Israelites water.
Remember how Jesus lifted up the child’s lunch of bread and fish, gave thanks to God and broke the meal into enough food to feed the thousands with 12 baskets of left-overs. And recall how Jesus lifted up the bread and cup at the last supper and how he said that he, himself would be lifted up, for our behalf.
Most churches have some steeple, tower or cross on the top of their building to point out eyes up to God. It would be idol worship to worship the building, tower or cross. (Note: Some years later the prophet Hezekiah did destroy the bronze snake-pole because the people had again forgotten God and were worshiping the sign.) But signs do a good serve if they point beyond themselves toward God.
God directed Moses to make a sign for the people. This sign was a lifted up staff, God’s protection and it was a sign of what had lead to death, the grumbling brought about death, suffering and fear. Together, the bronze snake-pole was to be a reminder of what not to do and where to place our trust in the face of sin and danger.
What if we put your sins or mine on a pole and carried them in front of us? We might rather carry a snake.
But we don’t have to because Christ has carried the cross for us already. We trust God’s continuing work of grace through Jesus Christ as our saving Grace and true hope.
Lift high the Cross of Christ. Stand up, raise your arms to your sides, stretch them out and be for the world the cross and the body of Christ with us, even in the face of danger, death and doubt.