[Jesus said] 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. (Jn 3:14-15)
Take a quick moment and think about all the problems in your lives; all the problems that plague our society and culture; all the problems that cause suffering throughout the world. It doesn’t take long to start naming things off because there are so many problems. Our lives are consumed with trying to find solutions to these problems. But behind every single one, behind every problem in our lives is our problem of sin, and the only solution for sin is Christ’s cross.
The problems in life are many. There’s physical problems; like hunger and thirst. It’s saddening to think that for some children here in the US, the only meals they get are school lunches. They have no food at home, so FUEL bags filled with a few healthy snacks are sent home with them to keep them somewhat fed on Saturdays and Sundays. And then think about all those children throughout the world who are in the same situation, but who don’t have school lunches to rely on. Homelessness and poverty are seen throughout the globe. Diseases of all kinds plague are bodies, some that know how to deal with and heal, but many we don’t.
And now add to these kinds of physical problems all the social problems. Racism still divides. There’s socio-economic conflict between those who have and those who have not. Political strife is all over the news. Deep seeded animosity and enmity between fellow citizens is lived out. There’s the culture war that’s being fought in boardrooms and college lecture halls and in the classrooms of our children. And then there’s the effects all of this has on us as individuals. We suffer mental illness and depression and anxiety and fear. I could go on, but I don’t have to, because we all can see these problems with our very own eyes.
These problems consume us. They’re all we think about. And we think all of it is new. We think that what we’re going through today in the 21st century is completely different from all of the centuries that came before, but it’s not. The problems we’re facing today are the same sorts of problems people have been dealing with for millennia. For example, Israel faced the hunger and thirst…at least they thought they did.
Throughout their time of wandering in the wilderness after their exodus out of slavery in Egypt, there were times when Israel found itself without food and water. This first happened shortly after they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. They grumbled and complained about it. But the Lord was gracious to them, and He provided them with bread from heaven and water whenever they needed it. God solved their problem.
In the OT reading today, the Israelites were once again low on food, at least that’s what they thought. Even though the Lord had shown that He’d provide for them, they still grumbled and complained. At first, they said they had no food and water, but that wasn’t true. The Lord was still providing them with mana. But that wasn’t good enough for them. They loathed and despised that miraculous food, calling it worthless. So, in response to their sinful ingratitude, the Lord sent venomous serpents among the people that attacked the people, and many died. Now Israel truly had problem on their hand.
Israel thought their hunger and thirst was their problem, but it wasn’t. They had food and water from the Lord. Their true problem was their ingratitude. It was ignoring and despising of the good gifts of God. It was their sinful flesh that was directed by their passions and desires. Their problem wasn’t the lack of anything, it was their sin and the death came from it. And there was nothing they could do about it.
We are problems are too many to count, but the truth is, all those problems are only a symptom of our main problem of sin and death. Everything we suffer today is because of sin. Sometimes it’s a direct result and consequence of our sinful actions, and words, and thoughts. Most of the personal conflict we experience in our lives is a result of these specific sins. But other problems we face are simply the consequence of living in a world that is ruined by sin. But no matter what the problem is, the root cause is sin, and there’s nothing we can do to fix it, even though we try to.
We’ve come up with countless solutions to try to fix all the problems. Laws are passed, social programs are implemented, medicines are developed and therapies practiced, different types of technologies are invented, all with the hope of being the solution we need. But none of it works because none of it fixes sin and death. No law stops sin. No medicine or technology permanently overcomes death. Just as Israel couldn’t get rid of the snakes, we can’t get rid of our sin. We need to be saved.
Suffering from the fiery bites of the serpents, Israel realized their sin. They confessed it before the Lord. They’d spoken against God. And the Lord was once again gracious to them. He solved their problem, not by taking away the snakes, but by giving them a sign of salvation, a sign of their problem overcome. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and place it on a pole; and then He promised that whoever was bitten and looked upon that snake on a pole, they would live. This sign wasn’t just about Israel momentary salvation though. It was a sign that pointed forward to the only solution for sin. It was a sign that pointed to Christ’s cross.
Just before Christ spoke those words we call “the Gospel in a nutshell,” He pointed us back to that snake on a pole. “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” (Jn 3:14-15).
Christ on the cross is the answer to your sin and death. In the wilderness, the snake on the pole was the image of Israel’s sin and death, and when they looked upon it, the Lord saved them. So too, Christ on the cross is the image of your sin and death; more than that, He is your sin and death. God made Him to be sin who knew no sin (2 Cor 5:21). The image of Christ beaten, blooded, and bruised; that is your death. That is what you and I deserve, because like Israel, we have spoken against the Lord: spoken against Him with hateful words said to our neighbors; spoken against Him with deeds that only seek personal satisfaction; spoken against Him with uncharitable thoughts toward others. Because of that, we deserve to suffer the death of the cross.
And yet, because of God’s love for you, He sent His Son to die that death for you, to solve your problem of sin and death, so that you might be forgiven. And with that He gives you the promise that when you look upon your Savior lifted up on the pole of the cross, trusting with faith, believing in His salvation, you will have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). This is the only answer to your problem of sin and death. This is the only answer to all your problems. In the cross of Christ you find the healing you need in the promised eternal healing of the resurrection. In the cross of Christ you find the forgiveness that overcomes your sin and the sins of those who trespass against you. In the cross of Christ you find God’s love that you get to share with others as you help them in their needs. The cross of Christ is the solution.
We see so many problems in life, but the one true problem we have is our sin and death. And the only solution is the cross of Christ. So look to your Savior who was lifted up. Look to your Savior who rose from the grave, defeating death. Look to your Savior, the only begotten Son of God, and believe, and just as God has promised, you will be saved. In Jesus’ name...Amen.