Fourth Sunday in Lent Numbers 21:4-9 March 14, 2021


What A horrible moment. The Israelites who were complaining bitterly about the provision of God and the leadership of Moses are attacked by fiery serpents. Many are dying from the venomous bites. The people realizing what is happening is God’s judgment on them, beg Moses to take the serpents away; but Moses is told by God to make a bronze replica of the serpents and put the symbol on a pole. He then tells the people bitten by a snake to look at the pole and live.

Why are the people of Israel heading south around the land of Edom near the Red Sea instead of heading to the Promised Land?

Let’s go back a few chapters. The children of Israel were on the outer edge of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and money. They sent spies, one of whom was Joshua, to see what they will be encountering. Most of the spies are fearful. The residents are huge, and there are fierce bees. Joshua , who would one day lead them into the Promised Land, was one of the few spies urging them to enter.

The people were fearful, and it took a generation before they matured as a people and entered the Promised Land.

So, it was while wandering almost aimlessly that the people began to grumble about their circumstances. What was once seen as a miracle — being supplied with food and water in a semi desert region — was becoming a problem. They longed for the cucumbers and leaks of Egypt. They had yet to face their fear of entering the Promised Land because they had trouble trusting in God’s provision that had brought them this far. How quickly we forget. God had freed them from the slavery of Egypt and had gotten them on the road to the Promised Land, why would he abandon them to face the problems of that Land alone?

So they began to complain and doubt the provision of God and the leadership of Moses.

God sent his judgment in the form of fiery serpents. The people knew they were in deep trouble and begged Moses to facilitate getting rid of the serpents.

I feel there is a similar situation we are facing as a nation. It is now a year since COVID-19 became a pandemic. The Trump administration fostered the development of three COVID vaccines. The Biden administration is getting vaccine into the arms of people. I am excited my wife Ann and I got our second vaccination a little over two weeks ago. I pray that each of you get the vaccination as soon as you can.

I am amazed at some of the things that are being done that are at least counterproductive and might lead to needless further illness and death. There are people doubting there is a pandemic, and that the vaccine is going to hurt people in the long range. There are states that are encouraging people to return to normal life, and in Utah they had been encouraged to burn their masks before science tells us we can.

This is not a political thing but a rebellion against science, good sense and each other.

Instead of making the serpents go away Moses at the direction of God fashions a bronze serpent and puts it on a pole. “Look at the serpent on the pole and live.”

An alcoholic or a drug addict can tell you. “When you face the demon, realize you are helpless to change and seek God’s help so you are broken free by Almighty God.”

We live in a world of serpents. When the rioters attacked the Capitol Building in Washington, we were reaping the harvest of what happens when you tell lies about the previous election.

In many ways as a people, we are suspicious of each other and such suspicions can lead to even greater tragedies. No matter what you think of the actions of another citizen, they are still a child of God. Pray for them and speak the truth in love. But to do this we each need to face our own serpents.

I believe our nation is beset by a situation described in a folk song of the sixties:

They’re rioting in Africa.

They’re starving in Spain.

There’s hurricanes in Florida;

And Texas needs rain.

The Germans hate the Polish.

The Polish hate the Dutch,

And I don’t like anybody very much.

I don’t know who you don’t like. I am trying to face my attitudes of people I don’t like. But to make a change I need God. I just cannot will myself to change. I need both the forgiveness and power of God as found in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Just as Moses put the symbol of a snake on a pole, Jesus allowed himself to be crucified by the sins of the world. His people had turned against him. His religion insisted he was a heretic who needed to die. The Romans saw him as a rebel who could lead a revolution against a government who got its power by humiliating a people.

So, I ask you to do some soul searching. Who, or what serpents are filling you with venom? Look to the Cross and realize it is the attitudes and rebellions that each of us have that has put him there. Look to the Cross and seek Christ’s help to free you from the powers of sin and death.

Yes, serpents are not only found in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, but they are also found in the hearts of us all. They are God’s judgment against what will eventually kill you.

It is time for Lenten Spiritual Housecleaning so Christ can heal you and give us all the healing of forgiveness and new life on Easter morning. Amen.


Sermon on March 14, 2021, by The Rev. Bernard Hess for Saint Michael Lutheran Church.