Monday Reverb – 11March2024

  • Yesterday was the fourth Sunday of Lent (for those who pay attention to the Christian Worship Calendar), so we are now into the fourth week of Easter Preparation.
  • The theme for this week is God’s provision of salvation.
  • The selected passages are Psalm 107:1-3,17-22; Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21   
    • In our call to worship Psalm, the psalmist recounts how God had saved the people of Israel from their great distress.
    • In the Book of Numbers, the Lord had Moses fashion a bronze serpent on a pole.  When the snake-bitten Israelites looked upon it, they lived.
    • In Ephesians, we find that we have been freely saved by God.
    • And in the John’s gospel, we learn that just as Moses lifted up that bronze serpent, so Jesus was lifted up that we may believe in him and have eternal life.

PART ONE — Listening to Home Office


The Sacred Irony
Greg Williams

A memory scripture from my youth is a familiar verse to many.  In fact, it’s a gold standard for kids memorizing scripture in Sunday Schools and Vacation Bible School.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

This verse is one of the anthem cries of our faith, especially in the evangelical protestant tradition.  We are saved by grace, not by good works or good nature or good attitudes, or whatever plea we make on our own behalf. Salvation is the gift of God.

But look at the next verse:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)

Did Paul just do a 180° here?  He was talking about how salvation is the gift of grace, not works, and then in the next breath, he’s talking about how God has prepared good works for us beforehand to adopt as our lifestyle.  Is this a contradiction?

Not at all.  It is important to know that Paul isn’t talking about “good works” as some way to merit God’s favor or “earn” our way into heaven.  And there is no discussion in this passage of somehow keeping God happy.  The verses before make it clear that our identity in Christ is sealed and delivered.

Paul is talking about life, and by “life” I mean real life, full life, spirit-filled life, which the New Testament writers called “zoe.”  This is eternal life, and it begins today, right now, in Christ.  It also deepens and broadens as we experience Christ by joining him in his work in the world — the “good works” that Paul is talking about.  This is the key.

The best life is knowing Christ and walking with him — participating with him in his good works.  This is the sacred irony of freedom through obedience; experiencing fullness by giving everything back to him.

Jesus saved us, but he doesn’t just wait for us to meet him after death.  He leads us, by the Spirit, to serving and loving and giving and we meet him every day and join him in the daily good works he has prepared for us.



The Cure, The Conundrum, and The Crisis

John 3:14-21 (NRSVUE) 

Perhaps the most quoted scripture in the entire bible is John 3:16.  For many believers, it is the first scripture committed to memory.  This scripture reference is so popular that it can be seen plastered on billboards, painted on signs held up at various sporting events, etched on jewelry, and even tattooed on a person’s skin.

While John 3:16 does provide us with a nice little sound bite for the gospel, it needs to be placed in its proper context which paints a much sharper picture to the overall message that John is trying to convey about Jesus.

As today is the Fourth Sunday of Easter preparation, it is only fitting that we look at a passage that alludes to the reality of Easter.  While John 3:16 fits neatly into the Easter reality, the rest of our passage today will be a test for us.  A test to find out if we are prepared to consider the cure, the conundrum, and the crisis we all must face.

Read John 3:14-21  

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.   

18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”   


At the beginning of chapter 3, we have a conversation that takes place between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus.  Nicodemus is a Pharisee.  Not only that, but he is described as a religious elite.  He is a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.   You could say that Nicodemus was a celebrity among the Jewish people.

At this point, Jesus was already drawing the attention of the religious leaders.  He was not being looked on favorably, and so, Nicodemus approaches Jesus at night, where he would not be seen by his fellow Pharisees.

Earlier in this chapter, John shows that despite Nicodemus’ great spiritual learning and the fact that he is Israel’s teacher, he fails to understand something that Jesus presents to him as fundamental to one’s spiritual life.  Nicodemus is not tracking with Jesus on his need to be born from above; to be made new.

What Nicodemus is hearing presents him with a costly challenge:

  • to lay aside his understanding of how the world works,
  • to acknowledge that the things that were to his credit and gain may in fact be seen as a loss and a detriment to his spiritual well-being.

Jesus then decides to share with Nicodemus an event from the scriptures he knew he would recognize.

And just 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. (John 3:14-15 NRSVUE)

The story that Jesus refers to is found in Numbers 21:4-9.  The Israelites had grumbled against God in the wilderness.  As a result, deadly snakes came and bit many of the people, and many died.  God then told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent on a pole.  Moses was then to lift it up, and anyone who looked upon it would live.  This was the cure.

Jesus takes this story and draws the connection between it and what will eventually happen to him.  In the same way, when Jesus is lifted up on the cross, whoever looks upon him will live as wellJesus will be the ultimate eternal cure for humanity.

The idea of “lifting up” has more than one meaning here though.

  • There is the obvious meaning of Jesus being lifted up on the cross.
  • But there is also the idea of Jesus being exalted, where Jesus has ascended and has come into his glory.

In the previous verse, verse thirteen, Jesus is alluding to his ascension, so this double meaning makes a lot of sense in this context.

When Jesus says that all who believe in him will have eternal life, he isn’t asking for an assent to a set of facts.  Jesus is speaking about a definitive trust: to place all of our weight upon Christ as our savior.

This trust, then, is not founded on our religious upbringing, our abilities, degrees, positions, or possessions.  This may be the way that the world worked for Nicodemus, and it may be the way the world works for us, but this is not the way of the cross.  Our trust is in the fact that our cure is totally and completely found in Christ and in his finished work on our behalf.

Just as it was for Nicodemus, so for us; there will be much that we either don’t understand or have a hard time giving in to.

Many music teachers as well as language teachers may tell you that in general, it is harder to teach adults these skills than it is to teach children.  There may be several reasons for this.  Let us look at one reason in particular.

  • Children are already in learning mode.  They are in school and as such, they know that there is so much they don’t know.  When they make a mistake, they brush it off and keep going.  With adults it can be a different story.
  • Most adults finished their schooling long ago.  At this point in their lives, they have accomplished certain things and now they want to feel competent.  When learning a new skill, your ego takes a hit as the mistakes seem to keep piling up.

The challenge is to be like a child, to realize that you are starting something brand new, and acknowledge that you are no longer the competent one.  Maybe this is key to understanding Jesus when he said that unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)

The idea is to embrace being made new in Christ.  We have been given a gift to trust that Jesus is everything to us that he said he is.  We get the privilege of being able to trust that he is daily making all things new by his Spirit.

We all have been bitten by the fatal fangs of sin that were filled with death.  But there is life everlasting as we look to Jesus as our one and only cure.  And we trust in him.  Jesus continues his conversation with Nicodemus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned, but those who do not believe are condemned already because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18 NRSVUE)

John continues this section here with the most famous verse in the Bible.  It is the verse that tells us that Jesus is God’s gift to us.  This is God loving us with the fullest expression of himself, to prove to us how much we are loved by the Father.


Verses 17 and 18 provide us with a conundrum.  That is a fancy way of saying “a head scratcher.”  If Jesus was not sent to judge but to save, then why do people refuse to believe?

When a person chooses not to see God for who he is, he judges himself.  If someone refuses the love of God found in Christ, they are condemning themselves. It’s like a person who holds unforgiveness in their hearts towards another person.  In judging others, we create a sickness that eats away at our own souls.

The mission of Jesus was not to judge, but to save us, and part of that salvation plan includes freeing us from the ways that we damage and judge ourselves and others.

And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God. (John 3:19-21 NRSVUE)

The word for “judgment” in verse 19 comes from the Greek word, krisisYes, the same pronunciation as the English word “crisis”.  Jesus is saying that there remains a crisis.  Although the love of God has come to us in the form of Jesus, offering us everlasting life, we are faced with a crisis.

The judgment, or crisis, is that many prefer not to embrace the Light, which is Christ, because they are accustomed to concealing the darkness of their heartsTo those who would follow Christ, illumination is necessary.  And this is what scares many people.

To embrace love, we must be vulnerable to the truth.  That proposition can be frightful and even painful to think about.  We can become so attached to our egos, to being right, to being superior, or, on the flip side, holding up our wounds and victimhood like trophies.  In either case, we have created false identitiesAnd yet, if we step into the light, it risks exposing all we have held onto.  It exposes the lies and delusions that we have believed for so long that have given us meaning, as distorted as those meanings may be.

Verses 20 and 21 set up a contrast between two types of people.

  • In verse 20, Jesus talks about the one who practices evil.
  • In verse 21, he talks about the one who practices … what?  Were you tempted to say “good”?  Verse 21 doesn’t say that; it says the one who practices “the truth.”

Our own goodness can actually be the problemOur goodness has nothing to do with it.  Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We are called simply to come into the light, the truthWe are called to respond to God’s nonjudgment of us.

This is what it means to be convertedWe no longer fear the light.  Instead, we acknowledge all that we are, all that we have done, all that we have known, and place it all before the crucified and risen Christ.  We let his truth, his light, shine upon our entire being.

We have been called to leave behind those things we desperately want to keep hidden in the dark.  Instead, we are to embrace the truth of who Christ is, and all that he has included us in.  We are to walk in the light that has been graciously given to us.

We stand as ones whose judgment under Christ is “not guilty!”  We have been freely pardoned and are freely loved.  We stand now as ones who will live on, not just in this age, but the age to come.  We stand as ones who embrace all the love God has for us.  We stand as ones who look upon the exalted Christ and know him as our light, our truth, and our life.


Small Group Discussion Questions

  • What does it mean to be “born anew”?
  • Why is it so hard for people to give up their darkness?
  • What are some things that need to be brought into the light?
  • How has coming into the Light changed your life?
  • What might you say to encourage a friend that wants to hide from the Light of Christ?


PART TWO … Listening for the Holy Spirit


Numbers 21:4-9

Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.  

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”  So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.   



Psalm 107:1-3,17-22;   

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.  
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, 3 and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.   

17 Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted.   18 Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.   
19 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses.   20 He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.  
21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!  
22 Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare His works with rejoicing.   


From the Enduring Word Commentary …

d. Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole: Jesus referred to this remarkable event in John 3:14-15: And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  Jesus clearly said there is a similarity between what Moses did here and what Jesus did on the cross.

i. The serpent is often used in the Bible to represent evil (Genesis 3:1-5, Revelation 12:9). However, in the Bible bronze is associated with judgment because it is made with fire. In a sense, bronze receives the fire of judgment as it is made.

ii. So, a bronze serpent speaks of evil; but evil having been judged. Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for us on the cross, and our sin was judged in Jesus. A bronze serpent is a picture of evil judged and dealt with.

iii. “Men dying in sin are saved by the dead body of a man suspended on the cross.  Just as physical contact was impossible between those bitten by snakes and the copper snake, so sinners are unable to touch the life-giving body of Christ.  Yet in both situations the sufferers must appropriate God’s healing power themselves: by looking at the copper snake orbelieving in the Son of man’ (John 3:15).” (Wenham)

iv. If the serpent lay horizontally on the vertical pole, this would also be a  visual representation of the cross.   However, many traditions show the serpent being wrapped around the pole. This concept is the source for the ancient figure of healing and medicine – a serpent wrapped around a pole.

v. “The pole resembled the cross upon which Christ was lift up for our salvation; and looking up to it designed our believing in Christ.” (Poole)

e. If a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived: The people were saved not by doing anythingbut by simply looking to the bronze serpent.  They had to trust that something that seemed to be as foolish as looking at a serpent on a pole was enough to save them.  It is likely that some in Israel perished because they thought it was too simple, too foolish to simply look and live.

i. When the new generation of Israel complained and doubted earlier in this chapter, they were not looking to the LORD.  They looked to themselves, to their difficult circumstances, to the challenges ahead – but not to their God.  Here, God put them in a situation where they had to look to Him.

ii. If God had willed it, the healing effect of the serpent might have come through contact – if one rubbed the serpent, they would be healed. It might have come through a priest. It might have come with a ceremony or a ritual. But God chose none of those; all one had to do was look and live.

iii. If any life still remained in the poisoned person, they could look and live.  Some who had been just bitten looked and lived; some who were almost dead looked and lived.  There was no case too difficult so that someone who looked would not live.

iv. The saving power represented by the serpent could not be exhausted. There was no limit to the number of those who could look and live.

v. This idea is later found in Isaiah 45:22Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  We might be willing to do a hundred things to earn our salvation, but God commands us to only trust in Him – to look to Him.

vi. “They that looked upon their sores, and not upon the sign, died for it; as those that looked on the sign, though but with one eye, though with but a squint eye, or but with half an eye, they were healed presently.  So they that fix their eyes upon their sins only, and not upon their Saviour, despair and die; but those that look to Christ, being faithful in weakness, though weak in faith, are sure to be saved.” (Trapp)




Ephesians 2:1-10

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.   

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.   




On October 7, 2023 … Hamas fighters invaded Jerusalem and killed about 1410 people.

Since then, Israeli forces have killed about 30,000 Palestinians.

Some have judged the Israeli action as excessive … others have called it a genocide … but others have justified it.

Among the arguments used to justify the actions of the Israelis are

  • Israel’s “right” to defend itself against Hamas
  • the actions of the USA against Afghanistan after “9/11”
  • the actions of the USA against Japan, after Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor … which culminated in the use of atomic bombs against Hiroshima and Nagasaki
  • last, but not least … the actions of Israelites against Amalekites, as referenced in 1 Samuel 15:3.

For me, the one that concerns me the most is that last one … because it is one that PM Netanyahu invoked prior to launching the Israeli’s response to the Hamas attack … and, more importantly, because 1 Samuel 15:3 is in the Bible (and, therefore, the argument most likely to be used by some some Christians to justify the war against the Palestinians).

Notice what 1 Samuel 15:1-3 says …  Samuel also said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over His people, over Israel. Now therefore, heed the voice of the words of the LordThus says the Lord of hosts: ‘I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he ambushed him on the way when he came up from Egypt.  3 Now go and attack(strike) Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them.  But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’ ”    

  • What do you think about that story? 
  • Do you believe it really happened … as narrated? Do you believe God really said that?   

I have my doubts about that story … because of the image of God that it presents.

A God that would give such a command doesn’t seem Christlike.

There’s a school of thought that … IF a passage presents an image of God that puts God in a bad light, THEN you can choose between accepting the image as presented in passage as is or questioning the limitations of the writer(s) of the passage, given that the passage was not written in real time.

To help explain what I mean, I want to share another passage and a commentary on the passage (in Numbers 21:4-9).

Numbers 21:4-9 … Then they journeyed from Mount Hor by the Way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the soul of the people became very discouraged on the way.  And the people spoke against God and against Moses: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread.”  6 So the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many of the people of Israel died.  

Therefore the people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He take away the serpents from us.”  So Moses prayed for the people.  

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.”  So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.   


What do you think about that story in Numbers 21:4-9?   

Do you believe it really happened?


  • As you think about it, I want to share part of an article I came across …
  • It’s written by Jim Somerville, co-Founder of A Sermon for Every Sunday and Pastor of Richmond’s First Baptist Church … and it’s entitled, Snakes on A Plain?

Feel free to borrow that title for your sermon on Numbers 21:4-9. I’m not using it. But I am preaching that passage this Sunday and it’s a doozy … NOT because I can’t believe that God’s people were plagued by poisonous serpents out there in the wilderness, BUT by the way the author of Numbers so casually suggests it was God who sent them.  

“Then the LORD sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died” (Numbers 21:6).   

Is that true? Is that what happens when you complain about your food? Did the mothers of ancient Israel used to say to their children, “You’d better eat your vegetables or a poisonous snake is going to bite you!”

Here’s what I’m guessing: I’m guessing that something really did happen out there in the wilderness, that the people of Israel were gathering firewood and uncovered a nest of vipers and some of them got bitten and died.  And I’m guessing that the ones who escaped came to Moses, terrified, begging him to do something, please! And I’m guessing that Moses may have employed some of the Egyptian magic he had learned in Pharaoh’s palace, making a serpent out of bronze and putting it up on a pole. And I’m guessing that the next time someone got bitten, and looked at that serpent, and DIDN’T die — that’s the one they talked about. 

This is how it is with stories: they get bigger over time, they take on meaning that wasn’t there in the beginning.  A story about an encounter with poisonous snakes in the wilderness becomes a morality tale about how you shouldn’t complain about what God has provided, but even then, if you confess your sins and repent, God can save you. 

This is when I have to remind myself that the BIBLE was WRITTEN by PEOPLE: people who were inspired by God, certainly, but people who were also limited by human understanding. So … 

      • you have what actually happened (snakebite / appeal to Moses / bronze serpent),
      • and then you have the author’s interpretation (sin/punishment/ repentance/salvation).
      • On top of that you have your own interpretation: What do you make of a story like this one in the 21st century?  

This is where I often suggest that you ask:

NOT did it really happen this way?   
BUT what on earth is God trying to say?   

I’m still working on that question as I prepare for Sunday, but I’m having some ideas, and I hope that I will be able to share something with my congregation that sounds like good news … Even in a story about snakes.  





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