Mercy in Judgement
Vs. 14, 15. And 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.
The people of Israel, the chosen ones became impatient with God during their wilderness experience and complained against God and Moses. They were impatient for better things, a better life, impatient for the promised-land. Their impatience produced grumbling, complaints and hostility towards God and Moses their leader.
In essence, impatience is the symptom of not trusting God to fulfil his promises to us. As a result, we try to make our own plans, go our own way, and forget about God and others on the way. Many times our own way leads us to devastation and suffering in our life and others about us. Perhaps the worst form of impatience is betraying another person, even causing them to loose their life so that we get our own way.
For the people of Israel going their own way without God meant that, at one time they came across an area full of poisonous snakes. Yes! God did send the snakes but nonetheless, they were a consequence of going their own way. The snakes bit them and many people died. It is interesting to note that God did not remove the snakes at any time. The people had to continue to endure the snakes about them as a consequence of their own sin. In a sense, they were living in judgement.
As Christians, we are like the people of Israel, the chosen ones, and we are like everyone else too. We too become impatient. We too forget God’s goodness and to rely on him to provide our daily needs. There are many examples of how we are living in judgement, living a life of impatience.
I want you to picture an airport scene, a scene that you may have seen at times on a movie or in the news. In this scene two people Bill and Ben are late in catching the same flight to a national flower show. Bill is driving well over the speed limit and sneaking across intersections with the red traffic lights facing him. He is risking his life and the lives of others about him because that is the only way he knows, his way. Meanwhile Ben stopped to help at a serious road accident and because of that he knows that he has little chance in catching that flight with Bill. Ben is more philosophical about it all and thinks that it was meant to be. Better to help at this road accident than to bypass it and go on. There will be another plane tomorrow. Bill did catch his plane, but it crashed soon after take-off because the pilot was too impatient to make all his pre-flight checks. Sometimes on the news we can hear the confession of a passenger who had missed a doomed flight say, “I was meant to be on that flight.” No doubt that person is thankful that they weren’t.”
In many ways we are a people living in judgement. Wherever we look there are the scars of our impatience, the consequences of wanting our own way and not trusting God to provide. Unwittingly we are encouraged to be impatient. We are bombarded daily with sermons by promoters on the radio, TV, the multi-media of how we can have a better life now. You can have a new car now, a new house now, a holiday now, and pay later. Their influence is corrupting us into believing that we can have everything now, and so we behave like that too. We desire instant service wherever we go. Even in church, we want growth now, success now, the power of the Holy Spirit now, and never mind the 25 year programme. Their influence is providing a substitute way, another way instead of God and we are falling for it.
Even though God felt betrayed he continued to love Israel and desired them to be free from the bite and death that the snakes brought. Out of his love for them he sent Moses to raise a pole with a bronze serpent on it and whoever was bitten and looked upon the raised serpent would live. In the middle of judgement there is mercy.
The very thing that caused death to Israel in the wilderness was also to give them continued life. How odd to look upon the very thing for life that also gave death. As the people of Israel looked upon the raised servant on the pole, no, much more than that, gazed upon, focussed, studied the bronze serpent it would change their life. The bronze serpent on the pole would remind the people of the scars of judgement, the scars of impatience, and the scars of not trusting God. As the people gazed upon the bronze serpent they were moved to repentance and renewed life. Renewed life does not come without repentance. God in his continued love for us was willing to exchange our scars of judgement, our guilt, our shame, and our pain for life. The bitten people of Israel were not only physically healed but also their whole spirit was renewed. They continued a joyful life with God. In the middle of judgement there is mercy.
St. John reminds us of this Old Testament text to relate it with the purpose of raising Jesus on the cross. God’s purpose is to give us life through the death of Jesus on the cross. He is doing this to show his continued love for us. God’s purpose is not just for Israel, but for the whole world, for everyone, for you and me.
Jesus, Son of man was betrayed, suffered, crucified, and put to death on the cross. Who did it? We did it. As we look upon the cross, no, much more than that, as we gaze upon it, focus, and study the crucified Jesus on the cross we are reminded of what we have done. Through our impatience we have betrayed God, and everyone else. We have not trusted God or anyone else. We have caused suffering to God and all humankind. On the cross is all our sin towards God and to all people. That is why the Son of man has been raised on a pole, to remind us of our sin, to draw us to repentance, and above all else to give us renewed life. Jesus has taken upon himself the sin of the world in exchange for life.
Do not be afraid to gaze upon it, to focus, to study the cross, the death of Jesus, because this is the way to a renewed life. As we do so, there we can also see the love that God has for us all. Behind it all is God’s love and his desire to bring us, you and me to renewed and eternal life, despite our past and our sin. With this renewed life we will be able to show greater patience and trust in God, and life would be better for everyone.