Up And Live
s we prepare for Easter, our Lenten Lesson deals with the very core of the believing life and how we attain and sustain it. This is the Christian world's favorite and most precious text. First, we hear the story of how God offered salvation and healing to the Hebrew people as they were discouraged during their escape from slavery in Egypt. Many of them wanted to go back to the life of bondage where they had better food and housing. Also, they must have missed the sinful degradation that they had become used to. As a result of their rebellion, God sent poisonous snakes to make them deathly sick. His purpose was to encourage them to remember their special favor as His chosen people while they were dealing with dying in the desert. Some did die, yet the majority seemed to come to their senses and repented of their sins, They repented of speaking against Moses, their divinely appointed leader, and against God. "And the LORD said to Moses, 'Make a poisonous (bronze) serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look up and live."
The amazing part of the story, to me, is that some stubborn individuals refused to look up. They went to their graves because of their stiff necks. They wanted bread and butter, meat and fruit, but God only offered the same mundane manna from heaven, day after day. So, they would rather die of their snake bite than to look up to God's emblem.
The New Testament corollary is found in words from The Apostle John, "And 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." Just as we saw the Messiah in the re-enactment of the Passover Seder last Sunday night, so the pole lifted up in the desert becomes the Cross upon which Christ died as the means of salvation. In both instances persons experienced salvation by looking up. In both instances we have a choice to look up and live, or to remain poisoned by our sin. Still today, some refuse to look up; and thus, remain separated from God's love. But we have decided to look up and live. As a result, we have been given a new live boldly built on believing and being.
Believing is a Divine capacity that God breathed into us when he gave us a living soul. This capability of believing enables us to put our trust in God's scheme of salvation. To believe in God's master plan is to rely on its veracity, to depend on its truth, to have confidence in its credibility, to reckon that reason has given a deep level of confidence that God has indeed entered into our heart. We have been given a supernatural experience of knowing for sure that the feelings and thoughts that we have about spiritual things are as real as earth, wind, sky and rain. We have built our lives on believing.
Think about it for a moment. Weren't the times in our life when faith was as its peak that we felt the closest to completeness? Those moments of the Spirit's nearness were times when we knew that we were walking on holy ground? Also, weren't the greatest people that we have known those who had the most profound assurance of faith, and did they not pattern that life of believing for us?
Do you recall when you first memorized John 3: 16? Was it in Vacation Bible School, in Sunday School, or at Church Camp? Do you need to recapture the childlike trust that you had in its reliability then? Or, have you wandered far away from God and now you can't remember the way back home? Sometimes we need something to jog our memory.
Our troops in the desert sand have grown closer to God. Worship attendance has dramatically increased. There is a new interest in prayer.
Did you see the internet photo that I posted down the hall, of a baptism in the desert? It is entitled, "Saving Them in the Sand." They dug a hole, lined it with plastic sheeting, somehow found enough water to fill it, and there the chaplains are in the photo immersing a young soldier to the amazement of all the troops standing round. Of course, if they had been "sprinklers" one canteen would have been enough to douse them all. It is still true that, "There are no atheists in foxholes." Don't we need a foxhole too? Let's hear how John capsulated the Good News, one more time:
Throughout the Christian centuries these wonderful words have been used to reach into many human hearts. It has probably touched most of us at some time. Do you recall when it did? Is the experience still real? Sometimes folks get away from those times that helped to form their faith.
As our spiritual ancestors had to continue their trek out of the desert place toward the Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey, so we continue to march forward developing an ever increasing life of faith. All of life is either a living growing thing, or it dries up and dies. Methodism's method has been to create ongoing experiences through which believers could grow in their faith. John Wesley invented the Sunday School some 300 years ago. He developed small sharing groups that met in homes where converts could pray, study and share their spiritual journeys. Campmeetings were established all across America. Revivals were held in local churches to revive spiritual lives. In recent years we have been a part of Lay Witness Missions, The Emmaus Walk and DISCIPLE Bible Study. It seems plain that we people of the religion of the heart strangely warmed know that we must continue on the journey; which we do. We grow in grace as we triumph over the adversity of life. We know that nothing is impossible!
I visited with a friend yesterday who is recuperating from a massive cancer surgery. He has lost thirty pounds and looks gaunt. He faces liver surgery in a few months. Yet, he still smiles when he says, "I am going to win this battle by faith; on earth or in heaven!"
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor