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Numbers 21: Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.
Have you ever been snake bit? I am very happy to report that I am not in that number. Two groups of people have great snake stories: missionaries and plumbers. Missionaries have them because of their journeys and plumbers have them because they crawl under houses in places where snakes like to live. I seriously doubt that either group says that encountering snakes is a highlight of their profession. In this Scripture passage the people anger God by being irritable in spite of his many blessings on them. In his anger, he sends poisonous snakes that bite people: a death sentence. Now, there are all kinds of concerns here about our Heavenly Father doing this, and, while I think it’s worthy of consideration, something bigger comes to mind. You see, spiritually speaking I have been snake bit. The result is that I’ve been poisoned by sin and the result of that poison is death. The remedy for the ancient Israelites is the bronze snake on a pole. When they look up they find healing — wholeness. My hope is found when I look to another “pole” — that is, the cross of Jesus. In him I find, not death, but life.
Take Away: Look up to the cross – and live!
There is a fountain…
Zechariah 13: A fountain will be opened…for washing away their sins.
God’s prophet describes a wonderful day of hope when the last battle has been fought and the last foothold of sin has been purged from the people the Lord claims as his own. Zechariah envisions a cleansing fountain where people can come to have their sins washed away, their lives made clean. It was in 1772 that William Cowper penned a poem based on Zechariah’s words. Cowper had not enjoyed an easy life. He suffered severe depression and had at one time attempted suicide. Even after coming to Christ he struggled with depression. At the same time, he wrote the words to many songs of faith. His hymn based on the passage before us today is his best known. Cowper realizes that the fountain Zechariah describes flows, not with cleansing water, but with the blood of Christ. The fountain that makes “soiled lives clean” was opened at Calvary and the blood spilled there continues to wash away sins to this day. “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins. And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
Take Away: Thank the Lord for that cleansing fountain.
The battle of the ages
Isaiah 59: So he did it himself, took on the work of Salvation.
The Lord God looks out to the horizon and sees the ugly advance of sin. Before him is a sea of lies and hate and evil and death. He looks to his right and left and sees no one who can raise the standard of righteousness. He comes to a decision. He, himself, puts on armor for battle: Salvation, Judgment, and Passion. There’s no one else who can take on the rising tide of evil; all others are tainted and overrun by this enemy. He, alone, will go into the battle with Righteousness as his strength. Two millennia ago that battle took place, not in the heart of God’s prophet but at a place called Calvary. There, God, the Son, does what no one else can do. On that old rugged cross the battle for righteousness is fought and won. With the fate of humanity in the balance this hero enters the conflict and defeats the enemy once and for all.
Take Away: Jesus fought and won the battle for humanity on the old rugged cross.
God’s plan all along
Isaiah 53: Still, it’s what God had in mind all along.
The accuracy of Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant must have amazed the writers of the gospels. They wrote of something they had seen with their own eyes, yet their words mirror that which Isaiah saw only by faith hundreds of years earlier. However, Isaiah doesn’t only tell us of the sufferings of the Messiah. He tells us why it happened. God planned it. What happens at Calvary isn’t something that’s “done to Jesus.” Instead, it’s something that Jesus “does for us.” The Lord knew that we’d never just “get over” sin. He knew that the broken relationship between us and him was broken beyond that which could be repaired by some minor patch up job. There was only one hope of redemption and that hope was that the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, would carry our sins even to the grave. It’s what God had in mind all along.
Take Away: There was only one way to salvation and Jesus, through the cross, provided that way for all.
Isaiah 41: I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.
In my life I’ve heard a lot about commitment and, well, I’ve preached plenty of sermons on that topic too. I believe in being committed to things. Jesus told us that to be his followers we must take up our crosses daily. One doesn’t have to be a theologian to label that as a call to radical commitment. Today, I see that this “commitment business” is a two way street. Before I ever consider committing to God he’s already committed to me. He tells his people, “I’ve picked you. I haven’t dropped you” and, “don’t panic. I’m with you.” Human beings commit to things easily and then back out without a great deal of regret. That is, we join bowling leagues, or agree to take on some project without a lot of thought. Then, when circumstances change, we say, “Sorry, but I just don’t have the time to do it.” Sad to say, that attitude extends beyond bowling leagues to marriage and other “biggies.” God’s commitments are the opposite of that. He carefully counts the cost, and, once he commits to something he’s willing to go all the way in that commitment, even to Calvary. And, this “committing God” has made a commitment to me. He claims me as his own and promises to never forsake me. That’s a commitment I can take to the bank.
Take Away: When the Lord commits to something he never turns back from that commitment.