Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9
Text: They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.
8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.
Over the past number of years, the medical field has discovered many things that are helpful, even lifesaving. In the past, polio would cripple many people until Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine to prevent it. Now, few people are stricken with this disease. Replacement of the heart with a man-made pump would have been science fiction not that many years ago. Now, we have people who have lived for some time with an artificial heart. One area of medicine that has grown in the last number of years is the diagnosis of different ailments. By means of sophisticated machinery, doctors can diagnose different diseases. Then, they can devise a treatment plan to combat that disease. This morning we are going to look at something that has infected all people and the cure for it. GOD’S REMEDY FOR SIN: FAITH IN CHRIST. We must first 1. Recognize The Problem. Then we 2. Trust In The cure.
The Israelites had just about been on the border of the land that had been promised to them. They needed only to travel through the land of Edom and, then, they would be there. However, the king of Edom refused to allow them to pass through his land. So, they had to retrace their steps and go around the land of Edom. This set back discouraged the people of Israel. They began to grumble and complain, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Verse 5) They used the same complaint that their ancestors had sued forty years earlier, when God brought them out of Egypt. They showed that they were not satisfied with the way that God was doing things.
They were forgetting all of the blessings that God had showered upon them for that past forty years. They were in a desert. God had provided food and water for them the entire time. In addition, their clothing and their shoes had not worn out. God had protected them from their enemies.
Yet, these people felt that God wasn’t doing enough. So, they began to complain against God. This is a very serious sin. They were breaking the First Commandment by not trusting in God more than anything else. They were showing a lack of faith.
So, in a very graphic way, God showed the Israelites that they were sinning. “Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.” (Verse 6) The Lord punished the people by sending poisonous snakes into the Israelites’ camp. Many people died from their bites. These snakes served two purposes. On the one hand, they served as a punishment for those who had complained against God. On the other hand, they serve to wake the people up. They needed to have their sin pointed out, so that they would recognize that they were sinning. They needed to see what they were doing. God provided them a way to do so.
We can see ourselves in the actions of the Israelites. How often haven’t we acted just like them? God provides everything that we need for life. He gives us food to eat, clothing to wear, a house to live in, etc. To be honest about it, God gives us more than what we need. We are truly blessed. Yet, we complain about what have. We get tired of the same thing having the same thing again and again. We look and see what other people have that we don’t have. We think that life would be so much better, if only God would give us this or that. In addition, when we face setbacks in our lives, we complain about the way that God has set out for us. Like the Israelites in our text, we complain when God has us take a round about route to get where we want to go. We complain that God hasn’t made it easier for us. What we need to recognize is that, when we do these things, we are breaking the First Commandment, by not trusting in God above all things. The one thing that we think we can really trust in is ourselves. We claim that we know what is best for us, rather than God.
God has given us his law so that, in a very clear way, we can see exactly what he demands of us. When we compare our lives, we see how far short we have fallen from that standard. God also sent death into the world, so that we might see the chaos that sin has created. God created people to live forever. However, as we are reminded in Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is the ultimate reminder that there is sin in the world. The mirror of the law and death are there to help us see our disease. The disease that has infected all of humanity is sin. We are, by nature, sinners, who wanted nothing to do with God, We continue to commit sins every day and are not able to earn our way into heaven. We need to have our sinfulness diagnosed.
Once the illness has been diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe some medicine or a treatment plan to cure the disease. If the doctor were to prescribe one of these options, the patient must carry through with the plan. If he does not do this, all of the medicine or treatments in the world will do him absolutely no good. Only when the medicine is taken or the treatment is administered will they do any good. The patient must trust in the cure that the doctor has prescribed, if they want to be cured.
The Israelites, after they recognized their sin, came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” (Verse 7) They recognized the problem and came to God for the solution. The Lord told Moses to do something which might appear to be very strange. “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” (Verse 8) Moses was to make a snake that looked like those that were biting the people and place it on a high pole. If any one was bitten by one of the venomous snakes, they merely needed to look at the bronze snake on the pole, and they would live. Moses did as the Lord to him. The people who were bitten and looked at the snake on the pole lived.
This “looking” was more than just a glance at some metal object on a pole. It wasn’t merely looking at the bronze snake that saved the person’s life. It was a look that involved faith. It was a faith that took God at his word. It was a faith that said, ‘Since God told me to do this so that I might live, I will trust God and do what he told me to do.’ The bronze snake didn’t save. It was God who saved them. Those who believed God’s promises were saved.
It is possible that there were those who did not believe the words of God. They may have thought to themselves, ‘it is sheer nonsense to believe that if I look at that bronze snake, I will live.’ Because they would have refused to trust in the cure that God offered them, they would have died. Even though the cure was right there in front of them, they refused to trust that it would cure them. They died. However, those who trusted in the cure were healed.
We, too, have been offered a cure for our sins, which lead to eternal death. We look to another figure that was raised on a pole. Jesus points this out to us in John 3:14&15, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Just as the Israelites were saved from the poison of the snakes when they looked in faith toward the bronze snake, when we look in faith at Christ on the cross, we are saved from the spiritual poison of sin. When we look at Christ in faith, we can see that he has taken care of all of our sins on the cross. We can only receive the benefits of what Jesus has done for us by faith. Then, our sins are forgiven, because we look to and trust in Jesus as our cure for sin.
Just as there may have been those who refused to believe that looking at the bronze snake to cure them from the bites of the venomous snakes, there will be those who refuse to believe that Jesus can save them from their sins. They can’t understand how believing in Jesus can take care of all of their sins. They reason that their sins aren’t all that deadly. They believe that Jesus did most of the work of saving them, but they must add in what they have done, to be cured. Because they do not recognize the seriousness of their sins or do not trust in the cure that God has provided, they will be lost forever. Though the cure was offered, it was refused and did them no good.
May our God keep us from such thoughts! May we recognize, first of all, who we are. We are sinners who are in desperate need of forgiveness. Then, may God help us to trust in the cure that he has provided. What is foolishness to the rest of the world is the sweetest news for the Christian. Jesus Christ died to pay for all of our sins.
A person who is sick must recognize that they are sick. If they don’t recognize and admit that they are sick, they will not go for help. Once they realize that they are sick, they must take the prescribed cure so that they can be healed. May God help us to always remember his remedy for our sins. It is faith in Christ. May God keep our eyes focused in faith to Christ on the cross as the remedy for our sins. Having been healed, may God help us to love healthy Christian lives to his glory. We live this life here on the earth as we look forward to eternal life in heaven. Amen.
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