Numbers 21:4-9

Most of you know that on the long weekend in March I drove with my family over to Eyre Peninsula to conduct my Niece’s wedding.  It was a fantastic trip; we camped out in our tent for three nights at a scout camp that I used to frequent as a young fella.  There is something earthy about camping and it’s something you either love or hate.

One of the concerns that we had was the reports from my sister-in-law of the snakes that had been seen in the vicinity in the weeks leading up to the big event.   Terri suggested I wear rubber boots for the service just in case a snake came out of the rocks!  Thankfully none did!

I’ve only had direct encounters with two snakes in my life and I’m not real keen on ever having another one.  I’m quite simply not a fan of snakes.  To be honest, reading about all the snakes out there in the desert amongst God’s people kind of makes my skin crawl.  So why do we fear snakes?

I think we can trace the fear built into us right back to Genesis where the crafty serpent tricked Adam and Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  The result was a curse on the serpent and an enmity between the offspring of the serpent and the woman.  The human will strike the serpent on the head and the serpent will strike the human on the heel. 

It’s the bite of the snake that’s my biggest fear, but there’s also an inbuilt sense of the snake being evil.  The people of God in the wilderness would have had a similar fear; people were being bitten by the serpents and dying.  They’d been whinging about God and he’d sent the serpents, they realised the error of their ways and came to Moses to get him to pray to God to take away the serpents.  Their prayer was answered in a different way though; God told Moses to make a serpent and put it on a pole so that when the people were bitten the person could look at the serpent up on the pole and live.

God didn’t take away the source of their problems, but he gave them an antidote, a way for them to be healed when they were afflicted.

We deal with snake bites a bit differently these days don’t we, I think the currently accepted way of treating them is to firmly wrap the wound with a compression bandage, then continue wrapping along the affected limb, and immobilise it and the patient.  That’s meant to stop the poison from spreading too quickly and allowing a bit more time to get the patient to hospital for treatment, perhaps with the correct antivenin.

I can’t help but link the way sin acts on us and the way we are affected by snake bite and its treatment.  Since the serpent deceived our ancestors the whole human race has been gripped, paralysed by sin.  Our relationships with each other and with God were immediately changed, and are still strained to this day.  We sin daily, over and over again.  Our faith journey is obstructed because we need to treat the symptoms, to avoid death.

If we look to our second reading (Ephesians 2:1-10) we discover that we were in fact dead though our trespasses and sins, and when we follow the way of the world in disobedience that continues.  But God sent the antivenin, his Son, Jesus Christ, to make us alive again. 

When we constantly fall back into sin, it is as if the serpent has bitten us again, paralysis starts to set in, we struggle against it but with out external help, we will surely die.  We need to treat the wound, and have the antivenin administered.

Have you ever noticed that in all of the training material for snake bite first aid that they only show you how to treat limbs?  It makes it a lot easier for training purposes, but one could probably assume that people sometimes get bitten in areas that are a bit more complicated to treat.  What if you were bitten on the side of the face, or on the buttocks, it would be a bit harder to bandage that up wouldn’t it?

Sometimes our sins bite us in a way that makes them hard to treat too.  I think at times we find it hard to find the right antivenin, we mightn’t be sure of the species of the bite.  It could come from within us, it could be caused by external pressures, or even dare I say it through the devil himself.  Left untreated sin will eventually choke us off, like the weeds in the wheat; we eventually suffocate, maybe not physically but definitely spiritually.

When we confess our sins we hear the forgiveness of Christ spoken to us, Christ is like a universal antivenin, his life, death and resurrection have saved us through his grace.  The antivenin was administered on the cross, his sacrifice saved us.

As we heard in the Gospel reading, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, so that whoever believes in him may have eternal life”.  Christ is the antidote for sin.  Just like the serpent that Moses made could save the Israelites from death by snake bite, Jesus came and saved us from death as a result of our sin.

God didn’t wipe out sin, but he gave us a his son to counteract it.  Just like the Israelites who had to turn and look at the serpent up on the pole, we need to turn to Christ, to focus on him rather than ourselves, from him comes healing, forgiveness and life, by his grace you have been saved.