Monday, March 19, 2012

Sermon on Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21, for the 4th Sunday in Lent, "The Cross for you!"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Most famous Bible verse, John 3:16—back up two verses and Jesus explains His cross in relation to the bronze serpent, Num. 21:4-9. Grumbling against God and Moses > God sends serpents > people repent > God sends a cure. Bronze serpent—likely detestable for them to look at—yet God’s Word attached to it made it their cure. Look to it and live. So why does Jesus match His cross to this story? Look to Him (believe in Him) when He is raised up, and live. Cross is detestable to many. See there our own sin. Romans meant it to be degrading to the crucified, deterrent to the public.
2.      Sin is our poison, burning wounds, consciences. All “snake-bitten.” Poison is fatal—there is only one cure—Christ crucified. Jesus became “snake-bitten” for us. Old-fashioned remedy for snake bite—suck the poison, draw out the poison. But when the “fangs” of the serpent, the devil, struck Jesus and tried to poison the perfect Son of God, He died. He absorbed all the poison of our sin, drew into Himself all the power of the devil’s venom. But out of His wounds flowed the blood that is our healing. If health and healing and medicine are the opposite of poison and death, Jesus’ blood flowed out to us for the healing of the world. Like medicine being spilled out from the cross to purify and forgive the world, so Jesus’ blood neutralized and overcame the poison of sin and death. Echoes back to the first ancient prophecy Gen. 3:15. Bruised heel, crush the head of the serpent.
3.      Medical analogy of antibodies in blood: specialized immune system proteins that fight off foreign and harmful substances. Antibodies give immunity. Jesus’ blood contains the missing “antibody” that fights against sin. We lacked it, yet by faith in Jesus we gain His “immunity.” Sin is taken away when we look to His cross—have faith or believe in Him. His blood is our cure, that pours out of His wounds for us.
4.      From the unlikely match from bronze serpent to cross—Jesus introduces John 3:16. God so loved the world. Isn’t that one universal human need? Everyone wants to be loved? Many suffer from a lack of it (through cruelty, loneliness, bad relationships), but even those who have been loved are still short of the full goodness of God’s love that He made us for.
5.      He so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God’s love is way beyond whatever is lacking in the human love that we have or have not received in this life. More than enough to compensate the cruelty, the injustice, the hatred many have received in this life. God’s love literally covers every sin, when Jesus pays the price for it at the cross. All sin and guilt, ours, our neighbor’s, every human being’s is acknowledged as wrong and justly deserving punishment, and is punished in Jesus’ cross. We’re left with the forgiveness and the mercy of God, in place of what we’ve justly deserved; of what we’ve unjustly received. God’s love flows down, through the cross of Jesus, through His Word—the good news—to all who desire and believe it. God shows His love for us in this—that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Rom. 5:8)
6.      He said: “whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” What does it mean to “perish”? Boxes of fragile items, or containing foods that have an expiration date are often stamped: “Perishable—handle with care”. So also we are perishable; have an expiration date (known only to God). Our lives have a definite end, and our bodies slowly age and become sick as evidence. Not indestructible or invincible. But even beyond death, there is a worse fate for those who do not receive the “antidote”—who do not believe in Jesus, and thus find the cure for their sin. To “perish” is the eternal death of separation from God in hell. But God tells us that our “perishability” does not have to be so. Promised eternal life beyond our “expiration date.” For all who believe in Jesus.  
7.      In God we find the One and only person who cannot break His promises. What He has promised He will surely keep, for it is impossible for God to lie. The amazing thing is that Jesus has freely offered this to whoever would believe in Him. God’s love that we crave and need, the cure of our sin-sickness that is fatal, and the promise of eternal life with Him are all promised us in these words. Open to all! Not just the potential of salvation for you; but everything accomplished, and He’ll deliver it to you by faith! Yours by believing in Him—trusting that He is True; never breaks His promises; sent His Son to be lifted up for you and your salvation. How does this “faith” come? How do you become one of those who believe? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom. 10:17)!
8.      God actually delivers the gift and all that is necessary to receive and possess it right in the words themselves! God’s Word is powerful to create faith in you, to make you alive to Christ and dead to your sins. Strip away the sin, draw out the venom, clothe you with Jesus’ innocence, pour out His blood for your forgiveness and healing. Jesus Christ has won God’s victory for us in His cross, and delivered it to us by faith in His Word.
9.      “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” Sadly, as simple and as free as the cure is, some will reject it, and have no part in it. Sin is a deadly poison, and we have no resistance to it ourselves, and we’re perishable.
10.  But for all who look to Jesus’, who believe in Him, we have His life and His victory. Yet one more way the cross stands as the great sign of Jesus’ victory. In Isaiah 11:10-12, often read around Christmas time, we hear:  “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious. In that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that remains of his people…He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel.” Jesus, is that “signal” for the nations. Signal, standard, or banner. A military flag or standard driven into the ground to show triumph, and claim this land. In the cross of Jesus Christ, God drove His standard into the ground at Calvary, and declared His victory over death, and staked His claim for us.
11.  The hymn Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus describes Christians bearing this banner of the cross, as it leads them from vict’ry unto vict’ry. Spiritual battle, in which Jesus is already the declared victor—but the skirmishes still taking place on the battlefield, and those who abandon the enemy and rally to the cross of Jesus are still received as His followers until His final return, and the battle is concluded. While sometimes soldiers lose their nerve in battle and flee their standard, we are to rally boldly to the standard of Jesus’ cross, and know that under Him we won’t be defeated or ashamed, but all who look to Him will be saved. Cross = signal or standard for the nations, the place for the scattered remnant to gather, the site of His victory. Jesus Christ has won God’s victory for us in His cross, and delivered it to us by faith in His Word. Now rally to the cross, to the standard, the banner of God’s victory. Find in Him your life, your holiness, your God loving and forgiving you. Receive what the Word of Christ even now brings and delivers to you. You who believe in Him shall have eternal life!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What caused God to send the serpents among the Israelites in Numbers 21:4-9? What did the burning pain of the bites move them to do in v. 7? How did God appoint a solution for their suffering? What is puzzling or even unusual about the solution? Why might they not have wanted to look at it?

  1. How does this anticipate or look forward to Jesus’ cross? Why might we (or others) not want to look to the cross for our cure? What do we see there? How is Jesus’ cross similar, and yet different from the bronze serpent in Numbers? John 3:14-15

  1. How does the cross relate to the first prophecy ever given in the Bible, to Adam and Eve, about the defeat of the serpent (the devil)? Gen. 3:15; Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14

  1. Jesus says that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. What does it mean that we are perishable? Psalm 103:15. Is there proof of this? What is God’s simple cure for this “fatal weakness”? To whom does He offer this cure? John 3:16. Is it God’s desire that anyone will go without it? John 3:17. Will some refuse that cure nevertheless? John 3:18

  1. How is the cross of Jesus like a banner or a standard raised in battle as a sign of victory? Isaiah 11:10-12; 49:22. How do we as Christians “rally” to that standard, and of what does it assure us (in terms of the spiritual battle that we are in)?

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