March 11, 2018

A Message from God's Word

Lent 4

First Lesson:  Numbers 21:4-9

Second Lesson:  Ephesians 2:4-10

Gospel Lesson:  John 3:14-18

Sermon Text:  Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-18

A country song from about 20 years ago has this line in it: “You say it best when you say nothing at all.”  That only makes sense if you know the words before that line. “The smile on your face lets me know that you need me. There’s a truth in your eyes saying you’ll never leave me. The touch of your hand is to catch me whenever I fall.” And then the line – “you say it best when you say nothing at all.” In a lot of ways, that can summarize the love between a couple. At times, no words need to be spoken because the care, affection, and love shows in so many ways. In fact, if you are married, think about a time you were dancing with your spouse at a wedding or sitting together watching the kids play. Sometimes words get in the way. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all.

Great. What does that have to do with us? You already heard the 3 Scripture lessons for today. Wouldn’t you agree that if there was a Mount Rushmore of Bible passages/verse/sections, these 3 would be on there? Our Old Testament lesson is the account of the bronze serpent. It is a clear picture of Jesus. Those in need look to what was lifted up on a cross and were saved. In our 2nd lesson, Paul tells us we are saved by grace through faith in Christ. And in our Gospel lesson there is what might be the most famous verse in the Bible – John 3:16.  “For God so loved the world…”

This being the case I toyed with doing a devotion on each one, since all are so powerful and so clearly point us to God’s grace. I started, but my first devotion was 1500 words long and I wasn’t even halfway done with it. Then I decided to pick one and go to town. But even then, there is so much you can say about each section, I felt we’d only be scratching the surface. I had no idea what to do, but then that song from before got in my head. The song is by Allison Kraus, and when it popped into my head, I remembered that being the first song Lori and I danced to as husband and wife. And I remember that during that dance, there was little to no talking. The details are kind of hazy - it was 18 ½ years ago – but the way I remember it, we looked into each other’s eyes and rested our heads on each other’s shoulders (with a little kissing for good measure – your welcome for the visual, kids). The feelings, the love was so obvious, words would’ve just gotten in the way.

Then I realized the same thing could be true about our lessons for today. Again, they so clearly speak of God’s grace, love, forgiveness, and mercy, that not many words need to be spoken. Certainly there is nothing I/we can say to make them more beautiful, comforting, amazing, or whatever. So, though you just heard them, I want to read them again with very minimal comments. And the point is simple. I want you to hear directly from your Lord and realize what his clear, glorious Word says to you and means for you.

Our Old Testament lesson – Numbers 21:4-9.  They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!’”  The people were complaining, and those complaints went directly to God. How does he respond?

”Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died.” In love for them, God wanted them to see the danger of their sin. It worked. “The people came to Moses and said, ‘We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.’ So Moses prayed for the people.”  Having been chastised, the people knew to call on God. How does he respond now?

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.” Isn’t that how God works in our lives – exposing the sin for our good and then providing the answer? And in that answer, in Jesus, don’t we find healing for the broken heart, release from the guilt, a removal of shame? Don’t we also find peace of conscience, joy in forgiveness, and hope for the future? Yes, we do. Thank God we do.

Our 2nd lesson - Ephesians 2:4-10. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” We were spiritual roadkill, dead and gone, but purely because of his love, God saved us. It not because of what we do. It is because of what Christ has done for us. “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Like we just said, all this is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Can we, must we, do we have to earn this gift, this grace? No, then it would no longer be grace. But because of grace, we know we are loved. We know we are forgiven. We know that heaven is our home. As the hymn says, we once were lost but now are found. We were blind, but now we see. We see the grace, the love, the mercy of our Savior and all the blessings we have because of it.

And our Gospel lesson – John 3:14-18.  “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Like we said early, that snake was a picture of Jesus. As people looked to it and lived, so as people look to Jesus they live spiritually.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” How can you top that? Anything I say would be like adding brushstrokes to one of Rembrandt’s paintings or make a few additions to Michaelangelo’s David. God’s love, shown to us through Jesus, and because of it, we are not condemned but saved. There is no way to pretty that up. And, thank God, there is no need to. It is as beautiful as it can be and will ever be all on its own.

I hope you don’t think was a cop out sermon because it is Lent and a majority of this sermon was rereading the lessons we already heard. Instead, I hope it makes it even more clear in your mind that when God speaks in his Word, he speaks to you. When he speaks in his Word, he speaks to the biggest problems you face – temptation, doubt, shame, guilt, forgiveness, hope, and confidence. And when he speaks in his Word, he provides real, true answers, which give us real, true peace and hope as we move forward every day in our lives of faith. How? He keeps us focused on the one who was lifted up for us. He keeps us focused on the fact our relationship with him is built on his love and grace. And he keeps us focused on the victory, the blessings, and the joys that are ours. For instead of being condemned, in Christ we always stand as members of God’s family.

So Allison Kraus was right. Sometimes we say it best when we say nothing at all (or at least very little.) For when we quiet down and listen, we realize that when God speaks in his Word, he says it all. Never fail to praise our Lord of love for that. Amen.