Wait for Him



Numbers 21, New International Version

When the Canaanite king of Arad, who lived in the Negev, heard that Israel was coming along the road to Atharim, he attacked the Israelites and captured some of them. 2 Then Israel made this vow to the Lord: “If you will deliver these people into our hands, we will totally destroy[a] their cities.” 3 The Lord listened to Israel’s plea and gave the Canaanites over to them. They completely destroyed them and their towns; so the place was named Hormah.[b]

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[c] 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.

10 The Israelites moved on and camped at Oboth.11 Then they set out from Oboth and camped in Iye Abarim, in the wilderness that faces Moab toward the sunrise. 12 From there they moved on and camped in the Zered Valley. 13 They set out from there and camped alongside the Arnon, which is in the wilderness extending into Amorite territory. The Arnon is the border of Moab, between Moab and the Amorites. 14 That is why the Book of the Wars of the Lord says:

“. . . Zahab[d] in Suphah and the ravines,
the Arnon 15 and[e] the slopes of the ravines
that lead to the settlement of Ar
and lie along the border of Moab.”
16 From there they continued on to Beer, the well where the Lord said to Moses, “Gather the people together and I will give them water.”

17 Then Israel sang this song:

“Spring up, O well!
Sing about it,
18 about the well that the princes dug,
that the nobles of the people sank—
the nobles with scepters and staffs.”
Then they went from the wilderness to Mattanah,19 from Mattanah to Nahaliel, from Nahaliel to Bamoth,20 and from Bamoth to the valley in Moab where the top of Pisgah overlooks the wasteland.

21 Israel sent messengers to say to Sihon king of the Amorites:

22 “Let us pass through your country. We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the King’s Highway until we have passed through your territory.”
23 But Sihon would not let Israel pass through his territory. He mustered his entire army and marched out into the wilderness against Israel. When he reached Jahaz, he fought with Israel. 24 Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, but only as far as the Ammonites, because their border was fortified. 25 Israel captured all the cities of the Amorites and occupied them, including Heshbonand all its surrounding settlements. 26 Heshbon was the city of Sihon king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon.

27 That is why the poets say:

“Come to Heshbon and let it be rebuilt;
let Sihon’s city be restored.
28 “Fire went out from Heshbon,
a blaze from the city of Sihon.
It consumed Ar of Moab,
the citizens of Arnon’s heights.
29 Woe to you, Moab!
You are destroyed, people of Chemosh!
He has given up his sons as fugitives
and his daughters as captives
to Sihon king of the Amorites.
30 “But we have overthrown them;
Heshbon’s dominion has been destroyed all the way to Dibon.
We have demolished them as far as Nophah,
which extends to Medeba.”
31 So Israel settled in the land of the Amorites.

32 After Moses had sent spies to Jazer, the Israelites captured its surrounding settlements and drove out the Amorites who were there. 33 Then they turned and went up along the road toward Bashan, and Og king of Bashan and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle at Edrei.

34 The Lord said to Moses, “Do not be afraid of him, for I have delivered him into your hands, along with his whole army and his land. Do to him what you did to Sihon king of the Amorites, who reigned in Heshbon.”

35 So they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land.

All Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Look, have faith!



Numbers 21:4-9 New International Version

The Bronze Snake

4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea,[a] 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.

The Blessing of Our Triune God


Trinity Sunday
Numbers 6:22-27

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of God the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen. In the name of Jesus our Savior, dear fellow redeemed by the blood of Jesus, do you know what a “cliché” is? I’m going to guess that everyone here except maybe the children have heard the word “cliché” but do you know what it means? Cliché is actually a French word that described the sound that a printing plate cast of moveable type made in printing. The plate itself was called a “stereotype” because back in the printing press days instead of rearranging the moveable letters on a plate all the time, certain phrases that were used repeatedly were cast into a single metal plate. But the word cliché describes an expression or idea or phrase that was originally creative or artistic but has been so overused that it has lost its original meaning or effect, even to the point of becoming rather trite or even irritating. A “cliché.” “Time flies, avoid it like the plague, at the end of the day, like a kid in a candy store.”

Has our text for this morning become like a “cliché” to you? The words of our text that we use at the end of almost every worship service go back thousands of years. In fact, around 3,500 years. We can’t even imagine how long a time that is. The OT people in the synagogue services used these words, the NT churches used this, and if you’re older you’ve probably heard these words thousands of times. But because they are so familiar to us perhaps we sometimes forget what they really mean or we don’t appreciate them as we should.

The first thing that we notice about these Words is the name Lord. You will also notice that it is in all capital letters. When you see that name – as we saw last week – it’s a special name for God, pronounce “Yahweh” in the Hebrew. And whenever it occurs God wants us to think about what it means. In fact, God gave a sermon on his name when he told Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious  God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin” (Exodus 34:6). He is the LORD, the God of free and faithful grace. And we notice that His name is repeated 3 times. That isn’t a coincidence. One name, repeated three times. This is the blessing of our Holy Triune God. 3 persons, one God. And each phrase highlights the main work of each person of our Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each of whom is the LORD.

The LORD bless you and keep you.” Here is the work of the first person of our Triune God, God the Father. What is it talking about? What does it mean to be “blessed”? What are “blessings”? We talk about that quite a bit, don’t we? “I’m so blessed. I have so many blessings. Count your blessings.” What do you mean when you say that? Blessings are everything that God has given us and done for us. God our Father not only has given us life, but has given us everything that we need for life. God our Father has given me body and soul, eyes, ears, all my parts, my mind, all my abilities, clothing and shoes, food and drink, property and home, everything that I own. Everything that you have, everything that you are is a blessing, a gift from God.

As Americans we can be very individualistic and begin to think that we are who we have made ourselves to be. But the reality is we had very little to do with very little of who we are today. Think about all the things out of your control: you didn’t pick the family you were born into, you didn’t pick the place where you were born, the country you were born in, the time you were born, the physical health you were given, the innate abilities and talents that you have, and a whole bunch of other things. Each of us could have easily been born into a different family, with a different circumstance, in a different country at a different time. Everything that you have and are is a gift, a blessing from God your Father. “The LORD bless you.

But God the Father doesn’t stop there. “The LORD bless you and KEEP you.” What does that mean? The word means “watch over, protect, preserve, take care of.” God our Father is constantly and zealously working day and night preventing problems and dangers from overwhelming us, He’s constantly keeping Satan and his temptations away from us. And even when God our Father allows trials and difficulties He gives us the strength to endure them and promises the outcome of being able to sustain them. And most of all God our Father promises to KEEP us faithful to the Gospel until that day when He finally delivers us from this world of sin and problems to perfection in heaven. “The LORD bless you and keep you.

The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Here is the work of the 2nd person of the Trinity, God the Son. This is astounding. This is not what we deserve. We were born into this world in rebellion against God. Our sins are a filth, stench, they wreak to God. If God should give us what we deserve, his face would never, ever shine upon us, it would never beam on us, he would turn his face away from us in anger, hide his face from us, reject us. But instead of anger and wrath God’s face shines on us. Why? Because He is gracious to us. He covers all our sins with the precious blood of Jesus. He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities, rather, as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our sins from us. As you go about life, your Savior Jesus goes with you, showers you with His forgiveness all the time, promises his gracious presence so that no matter what you face, with him- his love and grace- you have everything you need. Because of Jesus God’s face shines on you. I’ve visited quite a few new moms in the hospital – some of you more than once – and every time, every time the new mom is beaming, her face radiating and shining. Because of the work of God the Son, that’s how God looks at you and me. “The LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.”

The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”  Here is the work of the 3rd person of the Triune God, God the Holy Spirit. He looks at you and gives you peace. It is God the Holy Spirit who gives us real, lasting peace. How so? By giving us faith. It is the work of the Holy Spirit who takes rebels and enemies of God, like you and me, and brings us to faith in Jesus as our Savior and makes us God’s own children. He takes us people blind in the darkness of sin and leads us to see Jesus the Light of the world. He takes people who are dead in their transgressions and sins and brings us to new life. It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the peace that transcends all understanding. The Holy Spirit comforts us and convinces us that through Jesus we have the forgiveness of sins, we have life eternal. So no matter what happens, whether we live or die, we know we are the Lord’s. “The LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

How can God bless us and keep us, make his face shine on us and be gracious, lift his face on us and give us peace? As sinners we deserve the worst possible from God, we deserve his abandonment, we deserve his anger, we don’t deserve his protection, blessing or peace. We deserve just the opposite. How is it that God then can bless us like this? It’s because someone else lost all of this so we wouldn’t have to. Why can we trust God’s protection for us? Because Jesus lost God’s protection. He was delivered into the hands of sinners. Why can we trust God to be gracious to us when we deserve His judgment? Because God wasn’t gracious to Jesus, God gave to Jesus the punishment that we deserved. Why does God give us peace? Because Jesus lost His peace for us. Jesus cried out on the cross in absolute agony, and agony none of us could fathom, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” He lost His peace so we could have God’s peace forever. He was cursed so we may be blessed, blessed forever.

Because of Jesus you have a God who blesses you and keeps you, who makes His face shine upon you and be gracious to you, who looks on you and gives you peace. How’s that going to affect your week? Two people board an airplane. One sits down puts his seat back, reads a little bit, calmly puts his seat back and falls asleep. The other person sits next to him, shaking, nervous, anxious, scared, grips the arm rests, sweating bullets the whole flight. There’s turbulence, maybe a rougher landing. But both arrive at their destination safely. What’s the difference? When you ride in an airplane you have no control, if the plane goes down, you’re going with it. You can either relax and trust the plane and the pilot or be full of fear and fright and anxiousness. Well, that’s kind of how it is with life, isn’t it? God’s flying the plane. As a believer in Jesus you’re riding on that plane. The difference is how are you going to ride? Are you going to be full of fear and fright, nervous and anxious? Or are you going to relax, be still and trust in God?

You’re going to hear this blessing of the Triune God once again at the end of the service. Don’t let it be a cliché. Take it to heart. Your Triune God goes with you with His blessing, His protection, His grace, His forgiveness and His peace this week and always. Believe it, treasure it, relax in it. Amen.

Who do you imitate?

18th Sunday after Pentecost
Numbers 12:1-15

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was perfectly humble for you and me, dear friends in Christ,
Who do you imitate? Someone once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” A few weeks ago my wife couldn’t get her key for our van into the ignition. At first I thought it was because one of our kids jammed something in there. But then we figured out what happened. Our son David who’s not quite 2 years old, had found my wife’s van key in her purse, managed to climb into our minivan and stick the key into the ignition and pretend to drive. He didn’t get the key all the way into the ignition and somehow bent it, that’s why we couldn’t put it in the ignition. How did my 2 year old know all of that? How did he know where the key was, what the key was for, how to get into our van, find the driver’s seat and put the key into the ignition? He imitates his parents. If we’re going to grill something for supper, my wife will give our children the option of hot dogs or hamburgers. My daughter Jenna’s response is usually, “What’s dad going to have? I’ll have whatever dad has.” My son Lucas has watched me attempt to fix things, now, if he finds a screw driver lying around, there will be disassembled toys, flashlights, or play cameras. My daughter Megan is excited to learn how to play the piano, why? Partly because she sees mom playing it. In many ways, children imitate their parents. Who do you imitate?
Finally, as Christians, we would expect that each one of us imitates Christ, right? We would expect that we would imitate Him in His loving care for everyone in need. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His patience, in His gentleness, in His love for every single soul. We would expect that we would imitate Him in His humble attitude considering others more than Himself. We all imitate someone. Who do you imitate?
In all reality, each of us must confess that our lives fall incredibly short of imitating Christ. And there’s a reason for that. Each of us has a sinful nature that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us lives in a world loaded with sinfulness that wants our lives to imitate it, each of us is subject to Satan’s temptations who wants our lives to imitate him. And that’s been going on since our first parents Adam and Eve. In our gospel we saw how the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, in our text we see Miriam – Moses’ big sister – trying to humiliate Moses in order to get a piece of power, we also see Aaron – Moses’ older brother – going right along with it.
So, the Israelites are on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. They’ve been to Mt. Sinai where they saw the Lord descend on the mountain with fire, thunder, smoke, a loud trumpet blast. They heard all the commands of God. They’ve set out from Mt. Sinai and right away the people complained about their hardships, then they complained about not having any meat, “If only we had meat to eat! …We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” And Moses interceded with the Lord and the Lord graciously gave them more quail to eat than they knew what to do with. Well, right after that, Miriam and Aaron, we notice that Miriam is listed first which probably means that she was the instigator, began to speak against Moses, his leadership, and the fact that he married a Cushite wife. Having a Cushite wife was simply a pre-text to their real complaint. What was their real problem? They were full of pride and wanted more power and prestige. They were jealous and envious of Moses and his position of God-given leadership. Miriam herself was a prophetess and had led the women in singing praises to God after God delivered them through the Red Sea. Aaron was the high priest who was to lead the sacrifices and worship life of the Israelites. But God hadn’t appointed them to lead the people. Moses was God’s servant.
Notice that this was a subtle attack not just against Moses, but against God. Moses was God’s appointed servant. Isn’t that what’s at the root of bitterness, envy, and jealousy? Isn’t it finally an affront to God? God, I’m not pleased with the way you have set things up. God, I deserve more than this person or that person. God, I’m smarter and more talented that that person, I deserve his or her job. God, I deserve more power, more money, more respect than that person.
Or, there’s the other side of the coin, how do we react when we’re unfairly criticized? Our sinful nature wants us to go on the attack, to fight back, get even, to think wicked and hateful thoughts, to plot revenge, or… fall into self-pity, “poor me, everyone’s against me, my life is so miserable.”
Moses doesn’t even defend himself here. We’re told that Moses was “a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth.” Moses didn’t want to fight back. But doesn’t he have a spine? Why won’t he stick up for himself? Humbleness doesn’t mean being timid or weak, rather, it’s a positive quality that desires not to hurt anyone. Moses didn’t want to do to Miriam and Aaron what they were doing to him. What is it that lies at the heart of our desire to often treat someone the way they treated us? To get even when we’re unfairly treated? Isn’t it a fear? Isn’t it finally a fear that people will believe a lie about us, that our reputation will be damaged, that nobody will defend us? How could Moses be so humble? Wasn’t it due to his trust in God? He trusted in God to defend him. It was the Lord who intervened and stood up for His servant Moses. We’re told that the Lord heard. He heard it all.
The Lord communicated to His people through Moses. If this rebellion persisted, it would have spread, not just tarnishing Moses’ reputation and subverting his leadership, but it would have turned people away from listening to God’s Word. And if that happened, if people no longer listened to God’s Word, their souls would be lost forever. So God in grace intervened. He appeared in a pillar of cloud, defended Moses’ position and Moses’ honor, and made clear why they should listen to His servant Moses.
And the result? Miriam was struck with leprosy. Why just Miriam? Perhaps it’s because she was likely the instigator of this rebellion. Or perhaps it’s because God knew how this was going to turn out and how He was going to show His forgiveness for her. However, if Aaron had become a leper – even if God healed him – he no longer could serve as High Priest. But how does Moses react? “See! See what you get? It serves you right! You’re getting just what you deserve for so rudely rejecting the Lord’s prophet!!” But what do we see? He loved his sister – even though she had wronged him. He pleaded for his sister – even though she was in the wrong. Moses didn’t speak up to defend himself, but he didn’t hesitate to speak up for his sister. Think about that! Could we pray to God to bless the person who hurt us? Pray for the person who ruined our reputation? Intercede for the person who treated us like dirt?
But what do we see in Moses? Isn’t it a love that reflects his Savior God? A love that steps in on behalf of others? A love that intercedes for those who oppose and contradict him? A love that rests on God’s mercy and grace? A mercy and grace that healed Miriam and allowed her back into camp after 7 days of public disgrace for a public rebellion.
Have we ever failed to demonstrate a love that imitates Jesus? Do we always have a concern for the eternal souls of people? Or are we more interested in getting ahead, getting more power for ourselves, insisting that our way is the best way – even better than God’s way? We all have. That means we’re all guilty of rebellion against God and we all deserve much worse than Miriam’s leprosy, we deserve God’s anger against us forever in hell.
So where’s the solution? See it in the God who forgave Miriam and healed her – He’s the same God of grace who forgives us and restores us – even for rebels like you and me. See it in the Savior who was never prideful, envious, or jealous of anyone. See it in your Savior who offered His perfectly humble life to God for our life of sin. See it in the Savior who loved you so much to shed his blood to wipe away the guilt of every loveless sin you and I have ever committed. See it in the Savior who continues to love you day after day – even when our lives have been so unflattering to Him. See it in a Savior who remains in control always and guides things to bring you to the special home He’s preparing for you in heaven.
See that love and imitate in your own life. Imitate it by loving your children even when they’re hard to deal with. Imitate it by loving your spouse even when their loveless nature shows itself. Imitate it with your parents even when they don’t seem to understand. Show a love that imitates Christ to your friends and neighbors, your classmates and coworkers. Show a love that loves the unlovable. Loves enemies. Loves those who contradict you. Love others as who they really are: souls for whom Jesus died.
Imitation is often a form of admiration. When we imitate the love of Christ in our lives, ultimately we’re praising and admiring Him. When we imitate Christ, we’re glorifying and praising our Savior who so loved us. So, who do you imitate? Amen.

Rejoice in Your Redeemer’s Rebuke and Remedy!

4th Sunday of Lent
Numbers 21:4-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to your from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who was lifted up on a cross for you and me, dear friends in Christ, How often do you take the “scenic route”? All we could see were red tail lights for miles and miles. We were headed back from the Cities, we got a late start in the evening, and Interstate 94 was backed up for miles. Creeping along at 5 miles an hour. Ever been there? I think I’m generally a patient guy, but when I’m driving 5 miles an hour for 25 minutes, facing a 4 hour drive ahead of me, and with a car full of small children, I can get quite impatient. Ever been there? Finally it gets to the point where I’m ready to take the next exit and I don’t care if I have to drive miles out of the way taking the scenic route, I just want to be moving.  Or, it’s happened that I’ve picked a route I want to go on and the traffic turns out to be terrible and then come to find out that there’s a way out of the way detour that makes the trip twice as long as it could have been if I had taken a different route. Or, it’s happened that my GPS has decided to route me on a way that it thinks is the shortest but doesn’t take into account all the small towns and traffic lights and slow speed limits along the way. Ever been there before? How often do you end up taking the “scenic route”? In our face-paced, time-crunched, and high gas priced world, not many people go for joy rides just to take the long scenic route.

It wasn’t much different about 3,500 years ago either. You and I think tacking on an additional hour to our trip is bad, try tacking on an additional 40 years! And consider that the most direct route from Egypt to the land of Canaan is about the same distance as you would drive between Bemidji and the Twin Cities, give or take a few miles! Think about that, instead of it taking you 4.5 hours to get to the Cities, it’s going to take you 40 years! And why? The Lord had graciously delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt- remember the 10 plagues, ending with the Passover when the blood of the lamb painted on the door posts saved the Israelites, then remember how they had wondrously been led right to the edge of the Red Sea and had Pharaoh and his army breathing down their necks and then God miraculously parted the Red sea so that this entire nation of some 2.5 million people could go through on dry land, then remember how God had appeared to them on Mt. Sinai when He gave them the Ten Commandments with fire, smoke, a loud trumpet blast, and then how God led them with a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud during the day, and how God led them right up to the Promised Land, but then when they spied on the land, saw that the land was great and wonderful, but the people were big and strong, they said, “We’re like grasshoppers to them, there’s no way we can take the Promised Land.” Forgetting that God is with them, so God made them wander around the wilderness for 40 years until that unbelieving generation- all those 20 years old or older – died. Talk about a scenic route!

Well, now we’re nearing the end of that 40 year scenic route, 40 years of wandering, 40 years of ups and downs, 40 years of God graciously and miraculously providing manna for the people to eat every day, 40 years and yet we’re told that their shoes and their clothes did not wear out, 40 years of God taking care of all their needs, and now they’re ready to march up to the Promised Land and so Moses asks the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, if they could pass through their territory- that’s all they wanted to do, they won’t touch any of their property, won’t use their water, nothing. And Edom’s response? “No, you may not. If you so as much as try, we’re going to attack and kill you.” Moses sends another message, “Just let us go through on the main road, if we inadvertently drink any water, we’ll pay for it.” And Edom’s response, “No means no! You will not pass through our land.”

So, what does that mean? That means that now the Israelites have to travel hundreds of miles in the opposite direction, south east, instead of north west. They had to take the scenic route through some barren, dry, intensely hot, and rough land full of sandstorms on foot in order to go around Edom! I guess our detours aren’t quite that bad! And what do the people do? They grumble and complain: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” In other words, “Why didn’t you just leave us alone in our slavery in Egypt? Why did you rescue us to die?” It’s mind-boggling isn’t it? God had been faithful to them for the past 40 years wandering in the desert and now they are going to die in the desert? Really? They detest this miserable food? God had been miraculously providing this manna for them for everyday for forty years preserving their lives! And then to add insult to injury they call it “miserable” food. Literally, the word is “worthless, good for nothing” and it’s the same root of the word to curse, so they were actually cursing the food God gave them! We look at this and wonder: How could they be so thankless? How could they be so short-sighted? The Promised Land was a couple weeks away!

Well, how could they be so thankless, so shortsighted?  Hmm.  What about us?  How easily we, too, become shortsighted!  We see the difficulty in front of us at the moment rather than the amazing eternity which God has prepared for us!  We set our eyes not on things above, but on things below. We see the current challenge and become stressed and bothered and sometimes even angry, somehow managing to forget the incredible faithfulness which God has shown to us over and over and over again in our past.  If we are going to point an accusing finger at these Israelites, then we are pointing one just as accusingly at ourselves.  How much of our lives do we fill with griping and complaining? We’re just as guilty, just as worthy of God’s judgement.

And in the midst of their complaining, the LORD gave them something to complain about. He sent venomous snakes. If you remember the KJV here it called them “fiery snakes,” literally the Hebrew says, “burning snakes,” either because of how they looked or because of their deadly, burning bite. People who have been over to this area actually report about these terrible, deadly snakes over there. And many of the Israelites died.

But notice who sent these snakes. It’s the LORD. All capital letters. That’s a special name for the Lord used in the Bible. It indicates that God is the God of free and faithful love, yes He is a God faithful to His justice, but also faithful to his love, He is the God of salvation. So, really, in sending these snakes it wasn’t in judgment, it was an act stemming from His love and His desire to save them. It was an act of love not just in getting them to their earthly promised land, but to their heavenly home. He allowed them to feel the consequences of their sin so they’d see their sinfulness and their need for forgiveness.  You see, those who don’t feel the results of their sin aren’t likely ready to admit their sin and their need for a Savior. Again, a common theme in Scripture: Hurts, pain, suffering alert us to a problem and drive us to look for a solution and a Savior.  In love God rebuked them.

And, it works! The people come to Moses and say, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take…the snake (sg) away from us.” Hmm…”the snake” that’s what the original says; they didn’t say “snakes.” What does that remind us of? Doesn’t that take us back to where it all began? All our trouble, all our pain, all our sin began in the Garden of Eden where our first parents listened to the devil in the form of a snake and brought sin into our world. So, ultimately, the Israelites don’t need relief just from these poisonous snakes, they need it from The Snake, the devil.

And God provided the solution. But it’s not at all what they might have expected. God didn’t take the snakes away. Instead God has Moses make a bronze snake put it up on a pole and anyone who looked at that snake on the pole wouldn’t die, but would live. Can you imagine how the Israelites must have reacted to this? We’re supposed to do what? Why are you putting that ugly, disgusting thing on a pole? Can you imagine the first person who was bit? The intense pain but then when looking at the pole the incredible relief that must have flooded over you? I’m guessing this is something they would have talked about again and again! God took a symbol of death and turned it into the source of deliverance and life.  But finally why did it work? It worked because of the words and promises of God.

Jesus connected this incident of the snake on the pole with Him on the cross. As we look at Jesus on that cross, it’s ugly, it reminds us of our sin and guilt our problem that sent Jesus to that cross, but in that cross there is healing, not physical, but spiritual, not temporary, but eternal. And for the Israelites it didn’t depend on the size or strength of their stare, but it depended on the words and promises of God which worked in them a trust to look with faith at God’s remedy for their problem. The same is true for you and I with Jesus. It doesn’t depend on the size or strength of our faith, rather, it has everything to do with the words and promises of God. And what is God’s promise concerning the cross of Jesus? God’s promise is that on Jesus’ cross God forgave your sins, my sins, the sins of the world! On the cross God opened the doors of heaven for you forever! Infected with our sin from the snake we look in faith to God’s remedy found in Jesus on a cross and we’re saved, eternally saved!

The Israelites had seen God’s faithfulness for 40 years and were on the verge of the Promised Land, but they were still struggling. We, too, struggle. God’s faithfulness surrounds us every day, God’s grace and mercy surround us every day, but so often we become so short-sighted, focusing on the problems, fill ourselves with complaining, dissatisfied with our lives, and yes, whether knowingly or not blame God for our troubles and our problems. But thank God for His discipline, His rebuke, for without it we would soon feel we didn’t need God and be lost without Him. But thank the Lord even more for His remedy for every complaint and His healing for every sin. The eternal healing we need found in one place: the cross of Christ where whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. Amen.

Road Trip: Route 3:16

VBS Sermonettes 2013

Note – This year’s VBS theme was “Road Trip.”  These sermonettes are based on 3 of the accounts that were studied during the week.

Sermonette #1 – Numbers 21:4-9

As every parent knows there are 4 words that you can expect to hear again and again and again, if you go on a long road trip with small children, they are: Are we there yet?  Since living in Bemidji my family and I have made a number of trips back and forth from Wisconsin to see our families.  It’s about a 10 hour trip to get there.  It is a given that at some point along the way we will hear those words: Are we there yet?  Sometimes we’ll hear them after only an hour and know that the trip is going to be a very, very long trip J!

Well, if there’s anyone in the history of the world who could be asking the question: “Are we there yet?”  It would be the OT Israelites.  God had powerfully led them out of the land of Egypt through a series of 10 plagues, parted the Red Sea for them to go through, led them all the way to the border of the Promised Land.  They were right there, then they sent in 12 spies to search out the land, they all came back with the report that the land was great –flowing with milk and honey – but only 2 of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, said that they could take it.  10 spies said, “The people are too strong!”  And unfortunately the people, in general, believed the 10 unbelieving spies.  At this point God’s patience ran out and He declared that the people would have to wander for 40 years until the unbelieving generation had died off.

Can you believe that?  They were right there!  Their journey was just about over!  But their unbelief caused their journey to be elongated by 40 years!

Well, 40 years passed and now God led them to about the place they had been, but this time He directs them east to pass through the nation of Edom.  They ask for permission to go through their land, but permission is denied.  That meant they now had to travel hundreds of miles to the south, the opposite direction of where they were going, then travel east, then travel back north all in order to go around Edom.  And, mind you, this is all on foot and through some very rough and harsh desert.  “Are we there yet?”  Nope!  And we’re going in the opposite direction than we need to go!

And knowing that might help us understand their complaint, but it doesn’t make it right or ok.  They complained about their “miserable food” but really their complaint was addressed directly to God, it was an attack on God.

And when you or I complain in our life, that’s in essence exactly what we are doing too.  We are attacking God, attacking His goodness, attacking His providing care for us, attacking his plan for us, attacking his love.

So, complaining is actually a spiritual problem.  And since the Israelites were complaining that meant they had a spiritual problem and God had to address it and the way he addressed it was by sending poisonous snakes among them.  And God’s plan worked!  The people came to Moses in repentance and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you.  Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.”

But God had a better idea.  Instead of simply taking the snakes away, God had Moses make a snake, put it up on a pole, and anyone who is bitten can look at the snake on the pole and live.  “What?!”  Sounds crazy!  But it worked.

The same is true of God’s plan of salvation.  When Jesus, God’s Son, was hung on a cross, every sin of every single human who has ever lived was hung on him.  When we look to Jesus on that cross it reminds of our sins, similarly when the Israelites looked at the snake on the pole it reminded them of their problem, their sin.  So you might not think it would work, but it did!

Just like those people when they were bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake and lived, so you an I, who are infested with the horrible poison of sin, when we look in faith at Jesus as our Savior, we live, we live eternally, we live under God’s blessing, we live knowing God takes care of us always, we live free from a life of complaining!  What wondrous love of our Savior God!

Sermonette #2 – Mark 5:21-43

We sometimes refer to our lives being kind of like a journey or a walk along a path.  We “journey” through our lives, we make decisions that lead us down different paths, we go down roads that bring times of happiness or sadness, times of pain and challenges.  Some people have a short journey through life, others a long journey through life.  But in the end unless Jesus returns soon each one of us faces the same end of our earthly journey: death.  And for many people death is a scary, scary thing.  Why do you suppose?  Well, people like to have control of our their, but death?  Who knows how it will happen, when it will happen, and many in our world don’t know what will happen after death.  Some people fear death because they know the terrible things they’ve done in life and know exactly what they ought to get after death.

Then there’s Jesus.  He comes to settle our fears.  How does Jesus view death?  To him it’s a simple, plain, non-terrifying, everyday, peaceful thing.  To him death is nothing but a sleep.  But how?  How can Jesus deal with something so terrible as something comforting and peaceful?

Jesus can come, stare death right in the face and say, “Talitha Koum.”  And death must obey, it must give up its customer, it must release its slimy grip.  The girl and death obeyed.  Immediately she got up and started walking around!  But Jesus didn’t just have the power over the death of other people’s death, did he?  He, Himself, died, his body was placed in a grave.  But death, the final enemy, couldn’t win, couldn’t subdue him.  Death itself had to submit to His will – Easter morning He burst from the tomb with all power and all glory!

Someday, if Jesus doesn’t return soon, your earthly life’s journey will come to an end, your road trip will be about over.  But even when death is staring you in the face remember what Jesus has done to death: He’s transformed it into something sweet, peaceful, and restful.  And even though God might not raise you back to physical life after you die, he will raise you to eternal life!  Thank the Lord for such a Savior who has power over your entire life’s journey, beginning, middle, and end!   Amen

Sermonette #3 – Luke 24:50-53, Acts 1:6-11

So, if you’re going on a long trip, what do you need?  Well, you need supplies for the trip, safety for the trip, and you also need to know where you’re going.  And if you’ve never been to the place where you’re going, it would sure be nice to have someone who’s been there before to go with you, right?

Well, at the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry he took his disciples up on the mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem and he ascended before their eyes.  Jesus earthly journey had ended, but the disciples journey was just beginning.

So, Jesus gave them something for their journey.  What did he give them?  He gave them the picture of Him ascending into heaven.  Just picture it.  First, He lifted His hands up to bless them and what did they see on the hands?  The nail marks reminding them of how he went to the cross and paid for their sins in full!  And notice that He never put His hands down, they remained up in blessing.  Then He powerfully ascended into the sky, Jesus, whom they follow is Almighty, all-powerful God!  Then a cloud hid him from their sight, no he didn’t leave them, they just couldn’t see him anymore.  And someday He would come back and take them to be with Him forever.  So what did the disciples have for their journey?  The Almighty God to go with them, the very God who had forgiven all of their sins, who’s hands were up blessing them and who would come back to take them to heaven forever!

Sometimes our journey through life can seem long, can seem burdensome, can be tiring, can be frustrating, can be painful, can be exhausting, and can leave us feeling discouraged, lost, confused, and defeated.

But you know what?  You have all of the same blessings as the apostles for your earthly journey.  The Almighty God is with you (watch as Jesus ascends into the sky).  Jesus loves you dearly and has forgiven you (look at the nail marks in his hands).  Jesus will work all things out for your good and blessing (look at his hands still up in blessing).  Jesus remains with you (see the cloud hide him).  And Jesus has already been to the place where we want to finally arrive – heaven.  And he knows the way perfectly.

So, “Are we there yet?”  No, not yet.  But someday we will be.  And as we journey through life, we journey with confidence, because Jesus is with us, the same Jesus who was lifted up on the cross for us, the same Jesus who had power to raise people from the dead, and the same Jesus who ascended in victory.  No, we’re not there yet.  But with Jesus at our side, we WILL arrive there, in heaven, when the time is just right!  Amen.