This week, we will look at two passages of Scripture. The first comes from the book of Numbers where we find the people of Israel in the Sinai wilderness. God has been more than steadfast and loving. God has reached out with a mighty hand and brought them out of slavery in the land of Egypt. Furthermore, God has provided them with their daily bread—manna from heaven. Yet despite ample evidence of God’s presence and love, the “Back to Egypt” committee was formed and they began to complain!
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. 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." Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 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. 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." 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. Numbers 21:4-9
• Why would anyone wish to return to Egypt after God has delivered them?
Lost in the wilderness surrounded by snakes, the children of Israel asked Moses to request that God take the snakes away. God’s response to their request is to have Moses craft a snake on a pole and instructs them to look at the snake if they were bitten.
• Since God sent the snakes in the first place, why would God save them from the consequence of the snakebite?
• Moreover, if God was going to deliver them from the snakes, why not just get rid of the snakes?
• Whom does God heal? Who is not healed? And who makes that choice?
Fast forward now 1200 years to the time of Jesus and a very familiar (perhaps too familiar) story about the night Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus. Nicodemus wants to stay on safe literal ground but Jesus attempts to pull him into a much deeper and much more complicated discussion. Jesus wants to shed light on the discussion, but good ‘ole Nick prefers to stay in the dark. And after a discussion of birth and new birth, Jesus acknowledges that Nick just doesn’t get it. Then Jesus says:
14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But 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.” John 3:14-21
Here we find one of the most famous verses in the Bible. A verse immortalized on signs at football games, bumper stickers and t-shirts. But what does it actually mean in context of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus?
• How is Jesus’ death on the cross like the Moses lifting the serpent in the wilderness?
• What does it mean to believe?
• Whom does God love? Who is condemned? And who makes that choice?
• And just what does Jesus mean by eternal life? Life after death? A better life now? Or something more?