Blog / Book of the Month / Look and Live / Numbers 21:4–9 & John 3:14-16 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 14th 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Look and Live / Numbers 21:4–9 & John 3:14-16 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 14th 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Look and Live / Numbers 21:4–9 & John 3:14-16 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 14th 2021 / Lent / Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday March 14th 2021: Season of Lent / Numbers 21:4–9 & John 3:14-16 "Look and Live"

Numbers 21:4–9 – The Bronze Serpent

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to 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.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “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 prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

John 3:14–17 – Christ Crucified

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 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.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. How easily are you offended? The World seems obsessed with being offended, with taking offence, and many people find themselves walking on eggshells with every word they speak, or tweet or type just to avoid the backlash and trouble that offence might bring. The sinner (as we looked at last week) takes offence at being made to look at their sin, at being challenged with the Perfect Law of the LORD, while the one with a heart of repentance when made to face their sin desires to be forgiven by God, to make amends, to live their life differently for the good of all. As we Christians walk our way to Good Friday and the remembrance of the crucifixion of Jesus our Lord we’re repeatedly asked to set our eyes on Jesus hung there upon the cross at Calvary who for our sake was made “to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”[1]

In the dark of your house, in the dead of night, you may use your fingers to see your way to the bathroom, and physically blind people use their fingertips to read books. When you open a milk carton near its best before date you may use your nose perhaps even your tongue to see if the milk is expired. If upon arriving home you found the door to your house open unexpectedly your might listen to see if someone was in the house before you entered. The most common and straight forward way to see however, and I think we would all agree on this, is to use our eyes. We also use our mind to see: even as I gave you these examples you might have imagined your house in the dark of night, or the brand of milk you regularly buy, or what the door to your house looks like.  

In last Sunday’s Epistle Reading we heard St. Paul write to the Corinthians that preachers of the Gospel “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,”[2] the image of Jesus nailed to the wooden cross brings out a response in people. Some people, maybe even you, don’t want to hear about Jesus’ crucifixion in preaching because they don’t want to be challenged to see Him there with their mind. For some of us we couldn’t be enticed to watch a movie like Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) because we don’t want the memory of that film in our mind interfering with what we see in our mind when we hear a sermon preached to us in our church. And then for some just looking at a crucifix, that sculpture of Jesus upon the cross will cause uneasiness. Some imagine it to be a stumbling block to sharing the Gospel, for others it is thought of as foolishness because Jesus is now risen from the dead. Yet almost no one objects to seeing the baby Jesus depicted in the manger at Christmas in a similar fashion. So it is that even among Christians offence starts to creep in when we are confronted with Jesus’ death upon the cross.

The sinner in us doesn’t like to look at sin and our flesh and blood doesn’t like to look upon death two things embodied in preaching Christ Crucified and in works of art depicting the crucifixion of Jesus.

At the beginning of Lent we mark our walk toward Good Friday with a stark reminder, “remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” a condensed paraphrase of what God says to Adam in Genesis 3:19 “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” So when Christ Jesus, the new Adam, who did not sin and who has no sin in Him, hangs dead upon the cross because of my own fault, my own most grievous fault, with all my sins and inequities upon Him, I must then face sin and death. In the crucifixion whether we see it with our ears and our mind in preaching or in hymns or in the reading of Scripture, or with our eyes like we might if we looked upon a painting or a movie or a crucifix we are each faced with the results of our sin and the reality of death. Yet there’s one more unsettling thing, we believe teach and confess that: “Jesus is both perfect God and perfect man, composed of a rational soul and human flesh; equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father with respect to His humanity,”[3] so in the crucifixion you are confronted with the fact that you have not only murdered the man Jesus with your sin you have also played your part in murdering God because this Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,”[4] He is simultaneously both God and Man and He hangs dead there because of us. He also hangs there dead because of the sin of Adam, the sin that brought mortality and death to us all.[5] Your sin, my sin, Adam’s sin, all our sin brought His death and we see it there. 

Why look upon such a horrible thing? What good could come from thinking on it, hearing about it, seeing depictions of it? ‘Can’t we just rush past it to Easter Morning and the empty tomb? Dear Lord why should I have to see it!? Isn’t it bad enough that my sins and death itself bite me all day with their poisonous fangs like fiery serpents, their coiling bodies constricted about me squeezing what life I have in me right out of me, and now I must look upon them and all the pain and suffering they cause my dearest Jesus who didn’t even deserve it? Lord have mercy!” Why look upon such a horrible thing?

In our Old Testament reading we see the Children of Israel plagued by literal fiery serpents in the wilderness and we hear about God’s command to Moses to “make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole,” that the people may look upon it and live. Jesus in the Gospel points back to that day making the connection that He Himself would be like the bronze serpent crafted by Moses at God’s command in the wilderness lifted up on that pole before the eyes of the people. So it is that when we look upon Christ crucified on the one hand we see the very thing that causes us guilt and pain and suffering in this life, we see our sin and we see death, we see the cruelty and injustice of the World, we see the very fingerprints of Satan the Devil who Jesus says was, “a murderer from the beginning;”[6] While on the other hand in the crucifixion the Christian is invited to see their salvation and the salvation of the whole World because Jesus Himself in our Gospel Reading makes His Cross and Passion, His crucifixion the context, the background, the very location of what He teaches us in the famous John 3:16 passage, “For God loved the world in this way, He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Jesus was ultimately, finally, completely given for the salvation of the World there upon the cross in His crucifixion. So it is that St. Paul in his letter to the Christians of Galatia says, “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”[7] Yes, “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,”[8] and so we see our dear Jesus’ arms outstretched nailed to those wooden beams in our place, we see His feet there nailed for our breaking of the Perfect Law of the LORD and we know that “He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.”[9] Having our faith and hope and trust in this truth invites us to see the crucifixion with new eyes. 

Our dear teacher doctor Luther while preaching on the Gospel of John comments that, “The custom of holding a crucifix before a dying person has kept many in the Christian faith and has enabled them to die with a confident faith in the crucified Christ.”[10] By His prophet Moses God told the obstinate and impatient Israelites that “everyone who is bitten [by the fiery serpents], when he sees [the bronze serpent set upon the pole], shall live.” Later through His prophet Isaiah God said to His people “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.”[11] And Jesus teaches, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day.”[12] And St. John later in his Gospel records how the events of the crucifixion unfolded in order to fulfill what was prophesied by God’s prophet Zechariah that, “they will look on Him whom they have pierced,”[13] that the very sight of Jesus crucified would cause those who looked upon Him to “mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn [child who has died].”[14]

There is a strong temptation to turn away from such grief and guilt and sadness, such pain and sorrow. During that first Holy Week some Greeks came to Jesus’ disciple Philip and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And [what was Jesus’ answer to them? Jesus said,] “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”[15] These Greeks did not know what they were asking to see. Jesus knew His glory would be in His Passion and Cross not in the things the World finds glorious. Jesus’ face was set like a flint[16] as He made His way to the time and place of His crucifixion and all the way He was looking your sin and death in the face but He was not going to be put off from His task, He was not going to turn away from what was before Him. As Jesus said in the Gospel of Luke, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”[17] We look away, Jesus does not. He sees the work of saving you through to the end. This is the gift He gives to you because “when we were dead in our trespasses, [the love of God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, … [remember dear ones] for by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[18]   

We cannot count our looking to Jesus as a work of faith that merits salvation or contributes to our being saved in any way; having the eyes to see and the ears to hear this salvation rightly is a precious gift. Grow continually in your faith and as Christians remember the advice given to us all in the Book of Hebrews, “[look] to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”[19]  The cross of Christ and Him crucified is a humbling remedy for your sin. It calls us to admit that We're hopelessly lost sinners. It calls you into the light of Christ, into the very nature of His true love and glory: be not offended by it, rather be comforted by it because in it you can see how Jesus laid down His life for you.[20] “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!”[21] Look and live, yes with the eyes and ears, and with a mind of faith believe and look[22] upon Christ Crucified and live. Amen.    

Let us pray:

Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21
[2] 1 Corinthians 1:23
[3] Athanasian Creed 30-31, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, Pg 320.
[4] Colossians 1:15
[5] Romans 5:12–14
[6] John 8:44
[7] Galatians 3:1
[8] Galatians 3:13
[9] Isaiah 53:5
[10] Luther’s Works AE volume 22: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John Chapters 1-4, Concordia Publishing House 1957, pg 147.
[11] Isaiah 45:22
[12] John 6:40
[13] John 19:37
[14] Zechariah 12:10
[15] John 12:21–23
[16] Isaiah 50:7
[17] Luke 9:62
[18] Ephesians 2:5–6, 8–9
[19] Hebrews 12:2
[20] John 15:13
[21] Psalm 107:1
[22] Mark 12:30

All Photos unless otherwises noted are from Main photo Hand with CrucifixBraille; Milk in Glass; Baby Jesus in Crèche (Photo by Pr. Ted Giese); Ash Wednesday; Crown of Thorns and Pews in Church (From; Serpent; Crucifixs (From; Christ Crucified Sculpture; Man in Church Door