O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Poison and Antidote
"Poison and Antidote"
Based on Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21
Preached on March 18, 2012
Fellow baptized saints, are you afraid of snakes? How do you feel when see a serpent slowly slithering along the ground? Does it make your skin writhe, or do you watch with childlike curiosity? How comfortable would you be in the presence of the most poisonous serpent in the world? When it comes to seeing snakes we have all sorts of different reactions. Some people get all freaked out, others take notice and keep their distance, while still others seem unaffected. But what about their venomous bite? One drop of that poison is the great equalizer. It doesn't matter how comfortable you were before the bite, everyone is affected by the venom in the same way. The venom travels up the bloodstream and into the heart. And once the heart is poisoned it is only a matter of time before the bitten person dies. If someone doesn't give them the antidote in time, the poison will stop their heart.
In our Old Testament lesson this morning, we hear about when the people of God spoke out against Him in the desert. They questioned why God had even bothered to rescue them from slavery in Egypt, because they were surely going to die in the wilderness. They were pushing God's buttons. They were challenging His "Godhood" as though He wasn't 'God' enough for them. He wasn't able to do what they wanted, so they turned their backs on Him.
In response to their bad behaviour, the LORD reminded His people that He was God. And that He was the one who establishes the terms in His household, not His children. He sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died. Fiery serpents - the ones with the deadly venom. Venom that gets into the bloodstream and poisons the heart. If someone doesn't give them the antidote in time, the poison will stop their heart.
But the people realized their foolishness, and cried out to Moses, "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." Moses prayed, and the LORD provided them the antidote. But it was not a shot. It was not a pill. It was a bronze serpent set on a pole - anyone who looked to the antidote that God had given, though bitten, would live. Now, the people of God must have thought that was a little weird. At that time they could not have known that God was foreshadowing the crucifixion of His Son on the cross, but they trusted that God would save them, so they looked to the bronze serpent on the pole and they lived.
Isn't it amazing then, how thousands of years later, Jesus Christ would say of Himself, "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." In these words, Christ reveals that God had a much bigger purpose for sending poisonous snakes among His people. He was trying to teach us all about the big picture, about the spiritual situation that all of mankind is facing. He is trying to show us that these people in the desert aren't the only ones whose hearts are poisoned by the bite of a serpent. In fact, the most poisonous serpent in the world introduced his venom back in the garden, the very first time God's people turned their backs on Him. There, in the Garden of Eden, the ancient serpent got Adam and Eve to challenge the LORD's 'Godhood' and the hearts of mankind have been poisoned by Satan's venom ever since. His evil poison has infected our bloodstream passing from father and mother to their children down through all of time. If someone doesn't give us the antidote in time, the poison will stop our hearts.
This isn't a teaching we like. In fact, I think it makes more people writhe than the sight of a snake. But when we hear St. Paul say in our epistle that we are "by nature children of wrath" and then our Lord confirms it saying, "that whoever does not believe is condemned already" - then we must not fight against our diagnosis, but humbly acknowledge our spiritual situation and cry out for an antidote. We join our voices with the others whose hearts are filled with poison and say, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD. LORD, have mercy on us!"
To this our Lord replies, "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."
Your antidote is here. It is not a shot. It is not a pill. It is your God Himself who hangs from the cross. Who freely gives you the antidote from His holy wounds. For it is the holy blood of God that purifies your poisonous heart. The pure and precious blood of Christ that drives out the poison and make your heart whole again - For what can the poison of the Evil One do to the holy blood of God - nothing - it must be vanquished - it must be destroyed - for God is pure light and in Him there can be no darkness. Look to Christ on the cross and you will live forever. Trust Him with your life, for He has given you His.
Wow, that is good news - but what does all of it mean for my daily life? Why do I continue to be tempted and face hardships? God's people in the desert probably asked the same questions. They prayed that God would take away the serpents, but is that what happened? No, God did not take away the serpents, but gave His people deliverance from their threat. This reality gives us a lot of perspective for our daily struggles. We may pray that God would take away these struggles, but God is not always going to do this. Ultimately God has given us deliverance from all the threats of this present age. We know we have eternal life in the blood of Jesus. But God may be using the same struggles we want Him to remove, to draw us closer to Him. He may be using them to reach out to those who are down and out. Those who suffer from the heat of the serpent's poison. Much like the people of God in the desert, we may think this is a little weird, but God has shown that He is able to use suffering for our good even thousands of years later. One look at the cross and we remember that we can trust Him to use us as He sees fit.
And this is what it means for your daily life. This is what you may say: "My heart is poisoned. It is dark. And I have had terrible desires in my heart, and terrible thoughts in my head. But Christ on the cross is a light that calls me. His blood is the antidote which heals me. And I am no longer ashamed of my evil deeds, for I want it to be seen clearly that God has saved me. He loves me, and He loves you. He forgives us. And all the good you will ever see me do is really God working in me."
God has saved you so that you may walk in His light. He wants you to share all of this with others. Tell them about the poison that has infected you, then tell them that Christ has shed you the antidote. Tell them there is nothing to fear anymore. Not the ancient serpent, not the poison he has infected us with, and not the death that comes from it. For the blood of Jesus saves us from them all. There is only one antidote. Look to Christ on the cross and you will live forever.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr