March 26 2006  Lent 4

The Antidote for All   (Message origin by Rev. Kenton Puls)

Numbers 21:4-9

4They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “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!”

6Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7The 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.

8The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9So 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, he lived.


            It’s rather ironic that God’s people are passing through the wilderness area of the Red Sea and Mount Hor when they commit the sins in the desert.  Both geographic places are sacred, just the opposite of the abominable behavior they displayed.  The Red Sea was the place of divine deliverance, where the horse and rider of Egypt were drowned in the deep. 


Moses’ brother, Aaron, was buried on Mount Hor.  God used Aaron’s abilities to support and encourage his brother in sacred decision-making.  Ironically, in and around the geographical places of God’s deliverance and God’s gift of divine leadership, the people fall into sin.  They “loathe” what the Almighty God provides them.  The Israelites call the manna and quail God provides abominable.  The quail and manna were sickening to their stomachs!


            This disregard for holy food was not just an insult; it was downright rebellion against God and against Moses.  This abominable thanklessness was thumbing their noses at God’s goodness and His mercy.  And their rebellion was a complete disregard for Moses’ authority.


            We as God’s people can disregard the holy matters of God too.  We can disregard the holy matters of worship, Word and sacrament.  When we do, we make God, in a metaphorical sense, sick to his stomach.  When we ignore the blessings of prayer before meals, when we regard worship as mechanical, or minimize Baptism or the Lord’s Supper and God’s blessings through these gifts, we too thumb our nose at God’s goodness and mercy. 


            God addresses the abominations of humanity with His Law and His Judgment.  God purged them again and again to that their lineage would last – the lineage that would ultimately bear the seed of the woman, who would crush the most powerful serpent of all.  The Lord, once regarded as an abomination by His own people, would still conquer their most vicious enemies – sin, death, and the devil.


            Snakes are rather abnormal creatures.  They’re among the few creatures that have no legs and crawl on their bellies.  Some theologians surmise that the original snake before the fall in the Garden was beautiful and even walked upright; they also surmise that communication between man and animal was quite normal.


            What men call normal is often abnormal to God.  In that desert, some of the worst of these belly dwellers bit the people and their venom brought the death of many.  This is an abnormal event from our vantage point as humans.  “This can’t be happening,” we might say. 


But events happen every day that don’t seem normal from our vantage point.  A plane flying into a building is not normal, it’s abnormal.  People making vows to each other and then divorcing is abnormal, although at times it seems quite normal.   People facing execution for converting to Christianity should not be a normal event.  Men exchanging vows with men and women with women is not normal, but abnormal.  A child comes into the world but his life is quickly terminated in abortion.  This, too, is abnormal.  This last week, your thoughts, words and actions did not travel in the holy space of God’s will.  We went astray.  We are abnormal because of sin.


            There’s only one antidote.  Look to the Savior and live! 


In the movie, Young Frankenstein, Master Frankenstein tells his assistant, Igor, to find a brain at the laboratory.  By mistake, Igor reads the label “abnormal” as “Abby Normal.”  The monster receives an abnormal brain.  Humanity’s history is “Abby Normal,” or abnormal, as we are distorted by all of the effects of our rebellion and unbelief against the only true God.


            As the people cried for mercy, God was not deaf to their cry.  He provides a means of healing and also a type of our Lord’s salvation.  Still today, paramedics wear a very obvious symbol on their uniforms.  This symbol is that of a snake on a pole.  This is really an abnormal symbol apart from the Biblical explanation. 


In fact, it’s really a completely opposite sign; snakes don’t normally symbolize healing, which the medics set out to do for the ailing.  The snake bitten people looking to the bronze serpent, a replica on a stick, were spared.  Who wouldn’t have looked in such a desperate situation?


            But even graver are the circumstances of people needing forgiveness from God.  People are not simply headed for the grave, but for eternal punishment in hell.  All the more serious is this look to the Savior hanging on Calvary’s cross.  Since Eden’s fall, humanity was in desperate need of a look.  It was God’s look from heaven that made it all possible.  He saw the poison of sin rampant in the world.  He looked and loved so much that He gave His dearest treasure.  As antidote is drawn from venom, so our Savior drenches Himself in the world’s sin to take all blame. 


As we look in faith to what He did so graciously, we are not disappointed.  He took our abominations and our abnormalities, and He forgave us freely and fully.  The cupbearer of ancient days tasted all food and drink before it was given to the king.  Our Lord drank the dregs of our many sins, and we are spared hell and granted heaven.


            Now we, as medics to the world, offer the antidote to the world.  Our offerings, our prayers, our service, and our worship all work to be medicine and antidotes for sinners everywhere.  We all need this antidote daily and richly. It’s forgiveness in Holy Baptism, where we are buried in water and Word with our Savior and raised again.  It’s forgiveness in Holy Communion, when His body and blood are ingested for our salvation.  It’s forgiveness when we hear “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” for ourselves, and to share. 


            We have that antidote in the One Lifted up before our eyes!  And to think that the best is yet to come in heaven’s high home, where the threat of illness, death, or destruction is no more.  Those who look to Him will truly live … here and hereafter!  Amen.