Fourth Sunday in Lent -Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11, 2018  

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:14-21

It was Isaac Newton who said “What goes up must come down.”

I’d like you to consider the reverse, to consider the possibility that what has gone  down must come up.

From John 3:13-14:

No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Humanity. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Humanity be lifted up.

It is the reverse of the earth’s gravitational pull. Jesus descended from heaven; Jesus had to come down from heaven, to earth. And then, only then was Jesus lifted high, lifted up on the cross; then he descended, only to be raised again as the resurrected Christ. For our salvation. Because God so loved the world.


From our Old Testament reading we have the story of the Israelites whining for something better to eat. I can’t blame them. They were eating bug excrement. Research has shown

“Manna is produced by excretions from two closely related species of scale insects…The plant saps on which these insects feed are rich in   carbohydrates but extremely poor in nitrogen content. In order to acquire a minimum amount of nitrogen for their metabolism, they must consume great quantities of sap. The excess passes from them in honeydew excretions which in the dry air of the desert change into drops of sticky solids. These manna pieces later turn a whitish, yellowish or brownish  color… From remote time the resulting sticky and often granular masses have been collected and called manna” (“Manna” in The Interpreter’s   Dictionary of the Bible, volume 3, p. 260).

Simply put, the Israelites were eating bug poop. So they complained and asked for something else to eat.

A seemingly impatient God got testy about their whining and sent poisonous snakes among them. The snakes bit the people and some of them died. The remaining Israelites realized they shouldn’t have spoken out against what God had provided (the manna/bug poop) so they went to Moses, confessed their wrong-doing and begged Moses to ask God to take away the snakes. Moses did. And, as we heard, God told Moses to “make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall live” (Numbers 21:8).

Moses did as God instructed, stuck the bronze serpent on the pole, and lifted the pole high. Whenever one of the poisonous snakes bit someone all they had to do was look up at the bronze serpent to live.


We look to Jesus to find life.


I don’t know, do we get whiney with God? Probably we do. At least some of us do. Some of the time. We don’t have enough of something. We have too much of something else. The point of the story isn’t Israel’s whining, the point is that God always seems to find a way to provide salvation. When we take a long look at God’s relationship with Israel, and then beyond Israel with the world, God always finds a way to provide salvation.

Our salvation comes through Jesus. Because God so loved the world.

One scholar wrote, reflecting on the reading from Numbers, that “The love of God has no boundaries” (“Numbers 20:1 – 21:35 Commentary” in The New Interpreter’s Bible volume 2, p. 167). Even when impatient, weary of our whining, frustrated with our dissatisfactions, God finds a way to save us from ourselves and our sinful behaviors.

And so God sent Jesus down, down from heaven, down from God’s presence, down to the earth, down to his death. We, the people of God killed God’s only son, lifting him high on the cross. He descended again, this time to hell, only to be raised again as the resurrected Christ. For our salvation. Because God so loved the world.

There is one more promises, one more hope. The promise that, when we descend we will rise again. When we die we will be lifted up. We are promised resurrected lives. Thanks be to God, what has gone down must come up.