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Complaints, Illness & Snakes, March 10, 2024

Numbers 21:4-9, John 3:14-21, Lent 4B

Theme:  Healing


The Old Testament reading this Sunday takes us into the desert south and east of the Dead Sea about 900 years before the time Jesus lived and preached along the coast of the Sea of Galilee.  Some historians think this is where we would find the survivors of Israel’s descendants.  They had successfully escaped slavery and 400 years of captivity in Egypt.  Some say there could have been as many as 100,000 people struggling to survive as nomads under the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron.


Perhaps as long as a year before, this band of nomads had approached the west side of the Dead Sea near a city called Jerico.  They had sent spies to scout out the land on the west side of the Jordan river.  When those spies reported back to the Israelites, they told of a land filled with a powerful and wealthy people. As a result, the people became fearful.  God became angry of their lack of faith and banished them to forty more years of nomadic life.


So, there they were, about a year or so later, wandering the arid lands of the Negeb.  They experienced many hardships – and they complained.  They complained to Moses.  They complained to Aaron.  They complained to God.


In their wandering, they stumbled upon an area infested with poisonous snakes.  Many were bitten and several died.  Of course, the complaints became even louder. 


God told Moses to have Aaron fashion a snake out of copper and display it on a staff.  He was then instructed to have the infected people to look at this sculpture so that they could be healed.


This story is strange but may have survived the centuries because of it’s symbolic  meaning.  Meandering in a wilderness of suffering can be compared to how a person feels when they are sick.  Most illnesses are often associated with severe discomfort and possible outright pain.  Trapped in this syndrome of agony, one’s awareness of the world around them disappears into an inward focus on the pain and suffering.  An individual caught in such a state of mind often loses perspective.  The result is a magnification of that very pain and discomfort.  Joy of any kind disappears into a cloud of inescapable agony.


This state of despair can be compared to a type of wilderness of hopelessness.  As the Israelites suffered, God challenged them to face the cause of their suffering as represented in the copper snake, and to look past it toward their dream of a land of milk and honey where their descendants could live a life free from such suffering.  In doing this, they would be able to see a hope for a better life. The result is a renewal of purpose.  They found renewed strength – a strength which they used to move on toward the promise God gave them.


In our own experiences, we often find ourselves in a quagmire of hopelessness.  Join us this Sunday at First Christian Church in Warrensburg, Missouri where we seek a new hope for the future.  We will gather around a Jesus Christ who, with his healing power, can renew our spirits and give courage to face the hardships life can bring to us.


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