Look Up and Live!

bronze serpent 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. Numbers 21:4-9

So if you were bitten by a fiery serpent, all you had to do was look at the bronze serpent set on the pole in order to live and not die. We are not told how obedient Israel was in this matter but we can safely assume that some people did just that while others failed to believe it would make any difference… and died anyway. Like I say, we don’t know that for certain but we are given many, many examples of incomplete obedience. Now consider the parales: the fiery serpents represent sin. Because of our sin nature from birth we are all “bitten” by it and will die. All one must do to live is look in faith to the Lamb of God lifted up on the tree at Calvary. Look up and live, it’s as simple as that. And just in case it were possible to miss the symbolism of this Old Testament story, consider these words of Jesus:

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. John 3:14-15

God Will Provide Himself a Lamb

Abraham, IsaacGenesis 22 tells the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. For clarity’s sake perhaps we should say almost sacrificing his son. Abraham was willing, able and just about to offer his son Isaac when he was stopped by the Angel of the Lord.

Abraham believed God and that belief was counted to him as righteousness in Genesis 15:6. Isaac had been born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, so Abraham had no reason to question God’s instructions. Hebrews 11 commends his faithfulness, so great that he believed God could restore Isaac to life. An interesting conversation took place as they hiked up the mountain together. Isaac noted they had wood and fire but asked about a lamb to sacrifice. Abraham said that “God will provide himself a lamb.” When Isaac was spared at the last moment, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns and sacrificed that as an offering of thanksgiving. He named the place Jehovah-jireh or the LORD will provide.

As we prepare to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ it’s hard to miss the parallels. We have in the Genesis account a father that is willing to sacrifice the son that he loves. They walked up the mountain together. And even though Isaac is ultimately spared we see the ram serve as substitute sacrifice. It was guilty of nothing but its blood was poured out. Now consider the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and recall the words of Abraham; God will provide himself with a sacrifice.

The Life is In the Blood

Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. -Deut 12:23

In Deuteronomy 12 Moses reiterates some of the instructions to the Hebrews regarding where and how animals may be prepared and eaten. If they were killing the animal to be prepared as food then the blood was to be poured on the ground. If the animal was being offered on the altar then the flesh could be eaten but the blood was to spilled on the altar. Why? Because the life of an animal is in it’s blood. 

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. -Heb 9:22 

As we approach the Passion week it’s appropriate to think about some of those Old Testament lessons. Everything about the sacrificial system help us understand what Jesus did on the cross and does now seated at the right hand of God. The design of the tabernacle, the office of the High Priest, the altar, the sacrifice and the blood of atonement all speak to the ministry of Jesus. Read Hebrews 9 to tie it all together.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. -Hebrews 9:11-14

 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day

In our culture we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ by leaving toys under trees and candy in socks and his resurrection by seeking colored eggs hid by a bunny rabbit. Just like our celebrations of Christmas and Easter are far removed from those of Christian antiquity, it may be hard to imagine how shamrocks, leprechauns and green beer honor a legitimate Christian saint. Our world may be mixed up but that doesn’t mean the real person didn’t live a life on mission devoted to spreading the Gospel.

For more on the real life of Maewyn Succat (aka St. Patrick) click here. 

Or enjoy this short film from the animated series Veggietales; Fun for the whole family and you might just learn something.

 

Preaching Easter

Jesus, resurrectionEaster is coming up. The last Sunday in March (there are five this year) is Palm Sunday and the first Sunday in April is Easter. The dates are March 29th and April 5th. Those of you that observed Ash Wednesday and/or the season of Lent are aware of these dates already, as well as anyone planning church activities and worship services. And it is those individuals – pastors, preachers, minsters and directors of music, all worship leaders – that I wish to address.

I spent several years in a ministry that included a daily chapel service. Not only did we observe Palm Sunday and Easter but we had the opportunity to celebrate each day of Holy Week. We could talk about the Triumphal Entry on Sunday and focus on the different aspects of Jesus’ final teachings with the Apostles each day that week. We could give a full day to the Last Supper, another to the arrest and false trial, and spend Good Friday detailing the events of the crucifixion. With all of that said and done the focus of Easter Sunday was entirely on celebrating the resurrection. Continue reading