Look To Jesus And Live
Heat leads to stress. Last summer our family visited a number of national parks. One of those parks was Petrified Forest National Park. It was a very pretty and amazing park. But what was the problem? It was hot—really, really hot. Heat has a way of making the most pleasant place stressful and horrible. This morning we are in the book of Numbers. And this part of God’s word begins this way: “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;” (Numbers 21:4 NIV11-GKE)
In these words the Israelites are coming up out of Egypt. But when they want to go into the promised land the Edomites tell them, “no, you cannot come into our land.” So the Hebrews have to go down and then go around through the lowest, hottest parts of the desert. That is where we need to start in these words. It’s the stress of not being able to go into the Promised land right away. It’s the heat of the hottest part of the desert. And in that setting what happens? “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!”” (Numbers 21:5 NIV11-GKE)
The heat and stress leads the Hebrews to complaining and despising. And what’s the object of their complaining? Bread. Firstthey say, “there is no bread.”1 Next, they say, “We are disgusted by this horrible bread.”2 It’s hard to find a more hypocritical complaint in the bible, isn’t it. Out of his goodness, God provides them bread. And what is the target of their complaining and despising?: God’s good gifts.
And this, my dear friends in Christ, is a trap we can fall into. God, out of his goodness gives us one good gift after another. And our response is to complain about them and despise them. And it happens in so many ways. I’m working my way through different congregations during Lent. And last night there was a family with the grandma in one pew. And the daughter was in the pew on the other side. And what happened? There was a little girl who spent most of the time running between the two…during the sermon. I thought to myself: “Can’t they get some control of that kid?” And then, as I watched longer I realized that they were trying. It’s not easy to have little, tiny children in church for an hour. And they were trying to teach these children to stay. And I realized that it was so easy to complain. It was so easy to despise the good gift of having children in our churches. For which would you rather have, children that sometimes move around, or no children at all?
And the same is true not just with children, but also with the elderly. It is ever-so-easy to conclude that our elderly are dead-weight. They can’t mow the lawn anymore. They don’t have the energy to serve on Church Council anymore. And some of them are a real drain on our resources when the pastor has to go out to their houses because they cannot come here. But, my dear fellow Christians, A congregation without grey hair is a congregation without maturity and without wisdom. It is so easy to despise the good gifts God has given to us.
And finally, another gift God gives to us is music. I have been to many, many churches over the years and there is no congregation of this size that has had the musical gifts this one has. That is a good gift from God. But it is so very easy to despise it. It is so easy to say, “uccckhh, we have to hear those bells…again. We have to hear that choir….again. We have to sing all the verses of that hymn. My dear friends, look around you. There are many churches out there in our country that have a guy singing for 10 minutes on a stage followed by a 10 minute guitar solo. And they do this to hide the fact that neither the pastor nor the people in the padded seats can sing.
It is a sin to despise the good gifts God has given to us. But what does the Lord do about those sins? “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.” (Numbers 21:6–7 NIV11-GKE)
What did the Lord do about their sin of despising the good gifts the Hebrews were given? He sent burning snakes to bite them.3 In what way were these snakes ‘burning?’ Either their color was burning red, or their venom burned. Probably both. The Lord was not afraid to discipline his people then. And he is not afraid to do the same with us today. He does this by showing us our own hypocrisy. He does this how wicked it is to despise the good gifts he has given to us. But that then drives us to ask the question, why? Why does he hurt us and show us our own sins even with pain and misery? We read: “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.” (Numbers 21:8–9 NIV11-GKE)
The Lord hurt them with burning venom not because he hated them, but because he wanted to show them how evil their despising of his good gifts was and because he wanted to show them how much he loved them. And the same is true today. These sinful Hebrews looked to that snake lifted above the earth and lived. Jesus forgave their sins. And not only did he forgive their sins, he did so continually. As often as they repented and turned to their Lord by turning to that snake, their sins were forgiven and the venom healed.
And the same is true for us, isn’t it? How many times and in how many ways have we complained against and despised God’s good gifts? And yet, as often as we look to Jesus and repent, we live. And the reason we are forgiven is that God loved the world so much that he gave to us the most amazing gift—his very own Son. That son Jesus was the one who was punished in our place. The burning venom those Israelites felt was nothing to the burning hell our Savior endured. And that is his costly and priceless gift to you. And because he paid this price and because you can look to Jesus continually throughout your life you can be sure that your sins are forgiven—yes, even the sins we commit when we despise God’s good gifts.
So look to Jesus. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. But he does even more. He also continually gives us contentment. The Holy Spirit has given to you this great amazing gift of faith in Jesus. And my dear friends, that is not a small gift. That gift gives us the ability to be content enough with God’s good gifts to see these gifts and thank our Triune God for them. But even more, the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to use these gifts.
So, if children are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We teach them. If the elderly are a gift that God gives to us, what do we do? We listen to them and learn from them. And if music is a gift God has given to us, we grow in it and give it to those after us. Every week we print out this big bulletin. And in this bulletin whenever there are parts that are sung, there are notes set above the words. Let me tell you why. When I was a child we had this hymnal called, The Lutheran Hymnal. And when I was a little child I could follow along. I noticed that when the notes went up, people’s voices did. And when there was space between the notes, people took those parts slower. But then what happened? I got older and my voice got lower and I couldn’t sing the notes on the top anymore. But I noticed the notes at the bottom. Those were low enough. It took time, but I was able to sing those notes.
But my dear friends, none of that would have been possible if there weren’t large notes, clearly written on the page. You see, the Holy Spirit doesn’t just give us the gift of seeing what gifts are, he also gives us the joy of using those gifts. And we need to ask ourselves the question, “how are we teaching those around us and after us to appreciate these gifts?” What you see in this bulletin is the result of 14 years of pastoring. Big, large and clear notes aren’t just in the bulletin so that when visitors come who can read music it helps them. It’s also to teach those who cannot sing. And that takes toil. That takes effort. And that drives us back once again to Jesus. That’s why we look to Jesus and live. He is the one who continually forgives our sin. And he is the one who continually gives us contentment. Amen.
1 ”אֵ֥ין לֶ֙חֶם֙“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)
2 ”קָ֔צָה בַּלֶּ֖חֶם הַקְּלֹקֵֽל“ (Numbers 21:5 BHS-T)
3 ”הַשְּׂרָפִ֔ים“ (Numbers 21:6 BHS-T)