Lent 4 :: Snakes Galore!

"And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…"

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And I, when I am lifted up… 

First off, let’s look at that strange passage in Numbers regarding the bronze serpent… 

Explain the grumbling… Against Moses and God

You think this is bad? I’ll show you bad… Snakes

Isn’t it true that when we are not happy with something, it always gets a bit worse before it gets better?

Story of my dog dying, my house getting broken into, losing my job all in two weeks’ time

The people repent and ask Moses to intercede

Bronze snake “all who look upon it may live”

Story of Nicodemus.

Coming at night

Dialogue about being born again/from above

After Nicodemus shows his continuing confusion, Jesus says, ““Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just 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.”

Ah, so maybe now, using this familiar story from the time of the Exodus wanderings, Nicodemus will finally understand!

It was then that Jesus continues:

“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.”

But, unlike most evangelists of the past few decades, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on:

“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. Those 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. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But 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.”

Note Jesus’ oblique reference to the darkness that people love… Hint, Hint, Nic. You don’t find me in the darkness, but in the light.

Jeff Kranz of Preaching Peace dot ORG has written:

“Today’s text was made popular in the twentieth century through the work of the American evangelist Billy Graham. We grew up hearing that God loved us and had a wonderful plan for our life. We also learned that we screwed up and God needed to punish us and that Jesus stepped in and took our beating. We were told if we believed in Jesus, God would be merciful to us and not slam us with some kind of nasty eschatological sentence. All others would go to hell.”

[Quick rehearsal of belief and judgement.]

God does not condemn. Remember, “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Any condemnation is due to our refusal to accept the One who loves us: We judge ourselves by our failure to accept the love that has been offered to us freely. The love of Jesus, who, from that high and lifted up place on the cross, granted forgiveness to us who put him there.

In many parts of the Christian family, today is referred to as “Refreshment Sunday.” It’s a day which stands towards the middle of the season of Lent, and traditionally, a certain amount of relaxation of Lent was allowed. Its pre-Reformation Latin title is Laetare Sunday, which comes from the opening words of the introit at the Eucharist: Laetare Jerusalem (O be joyful, Jerusalem) – a call to lift up our eyes and look beyond the present situation to what lies ahead – and specifically to God’s promise to save the people.

[There’s also a link with food – and maybe therefore with the custom of relaxing the Lenten fast!]

So today, go ahead and relax your Lenten discipline a bit more than usual. But, foremost and always, know that God so loved the world—YOU!—that God’s Son was sent not to condemn, but to save. Not to chastise, but to encourage. Not to judge, but to love!

Thanks be to God!


Link to RCL Lectionary for the Fourth Sunday in Lent


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