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Mar 26 06

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March 26, 2006

An Idol Out of Something Good

Numbers 21:4-9

Wandering around in the desert, eating the same old food day after day, does in fact get old.  At Christmas one year at relatives, we ate ham for about three days, twice a day.  On the fourth day Debbie and I decided we had to go to town, what we did was to go to Pizza Hut and eat something different.  And we weren’t wandering around in the desert.

This time they not only complained about Moses, they spoke against God.  It wasn’t just ‘this crazy pastor’ anymore.  Now it was God and ‘this crazy pastor.’  Grumbling about Moses was one thing, but to invoke God in the grumbling that isn’t good.

As soon as the snakes starting biting, they suddenly liked their food and God and Moses knew what they were doing.  “Forgive us,” they cried.  So, God instructed Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it on a pole and if they looked at the pole they would live.

So, ends the story of the snake on the pole, we think.  In 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah was reforming Israel, again, to be faithful to God.  In that story of reform we find that the bronze snake is still around.  This time, however, they had turned that symbol of deliverance and turned it into an idol.   They were burning incense to it. They had made an idol out of something good.

That snake on the pole was a powerful symbol of deliverance and a reminder of what God had done.  The only demand was to look at it and live.  It wasn’t the snake that brought life; it was God through their obedience to ‘look’ that brought life.

As I thought about these two stories, I thought about idols that we have made out of something good.  The Bible for instance.  I believe that it is inspired, not dictated, by God.  It is the only book that tells us what God is like and that God has plans for you and me.  Yet, we have made an idol out it at times.  There are those have now have not a trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit but a quadrinity of Father, Son, Holy Spirit and Holy Scripture.  It is God’s book, but it is not God.  I know people that if it isn’t in the Bible it’s not true.  But the Bible isn’t a science book, or a history book; it is a book about how to live with a holy God on God’s terms.  It is about God.

Another thing we sometimes idolize is the cross.  We wear it, adorn our churches with it, and yet, have we embraced it to the extent that we can look at it and not hear its demands on us?  The New Testament uses the cross as an overarching symbol for the entire work of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection.  Because of the cross we have redemption.  It is not the piece of wood that gives us that, it is the work of Jesus on the cross.  Can we look at the cross and not hear Jesus’ command to take up our cross, lay down our lives, and follow him?

It’s not wrong to wear the cross, or to decorate our churches with them, as long as, we don’t forget the immense cost of grace and forgiveness and we hear the call to follow.

Jesus used the snake story in John 3 to remind us that ‘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.”  For God so loved…

The Bible and the cross point beyond themselves to the one who loved and gave that we might live.

Have we so embraced them that fail to hear?

Monday, March 27, 2006The cross is powerful imagery.  It is a graphic reminder of the death of Jesus.  In Colossians 2: 13-15 Paul writes that in the cross God made you alive, forgave your sins, cancelled the charges against you, and triumphed over the powers and authorities.  The death of Jesus on the cross had far reaching effects.  While we use the cross as metaphor for his death, we need to remember that it is his death that accomplished all this for us.  When you see a cross, what do you think of?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006.  Mark 15:21-39.  All of the gospels give us a ‘sanitized’ version of the crucifixion of Jesus.  They almost make it sound painless.  Yet, it was usually a slow death of starvation and asphyxiation.  While the movie The Passion of the Christ may have exaggerated, I think it was necessary for us to be shocked to really understand what Jesus went through.  As we go through the rest of Lent, what does the suffering and death of Christ mean to you?

Wednesday, March 29, 2006.  The early Christians would not understand our use of the cross.  To them it was an instrument of death and torture.  In our day it would be like hanging an electric chair.  Yet, they grasped the significance of it.  It is not jewelry it is God’s means of redemption.  Take a cross, any cross will do, and hold it in your hands and realize that it was God’s judgment on sin: Your sin, the sin of the entire world.   Now pray this hymn:

Jesus, keep me near the cross; there a precious fountain,

Free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain

In the cross, in the cross,

By my glory ever,

Till my raptured soul shall find rest beyond the river.

Thursday, March 30, 2006.  Imagine what emotions Jesus went through that night in the garden when he prayed.  He knew he was to do God’s will and yet, the horror that awaited him.  Read his agony.  Luke 22:39-46.  He recoiled at the thought of death, at the thought of being separated from God even for a moment.  Yet, his consistent submission to God’s will portrays his loving heart.  How will are we to do God’s will?

Friday, March 31, 2006.  With all this emphasis on the cross and the death of Jesus this week, let us not forget that the resurrection is coming.  It is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that completes his work.  His death without resurrection is a travesty of justice.  Read Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:22-36 and note the joy of the resurrection in the sermon.  Does the resurrection give you joy?

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