Reading Ramblings – March 14, 2021

Date: Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 14, 2021

Texts: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-9; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

Context: The solution to our sinful condition must come from God alone. We are not capable of adequate repentance or changes in our lives to merit God’s love and favor in and of ourselves. As much as we dislike our situation we are powerless to change it. Therefore we must depend always and only on God’s Word of grace to us rather than looking to ourselves for justification, for evidence we are worthy. There is no worthiness in ourselves, but we are made worthy to the glory of God when we receive the gift of the Son of God’s blood on our behalf.

Numbers 21:4-9 – Another passage of God’s people complaining about God’s lack of provision for them. It might be somewhat unremarkable, but part of the remarkableness of this passage is not simply the matter of poisonous snakes and God’s rescue of his ungrateful children, but the passage immediately before it. The chapter opens with some of God’s people being taken captive by a hostile kingdom. They ask God to allow them to free their friends and family and God grants this. We see a more appropriate relationship between the people of God and their God, relying on him for deliverance and remaining faithful to their promises to him. They understand it is God providing for them and are grateful for it – the complete opposite of our reading for today. It helps make what might otherwise seem a rather harsh response from God a bit more understandable. How short our memories are! How quickly we are to perceive a lack of care on God’s part, and in other moments to be completely trusting! Yet God’s people eventually return to trust, albeit after a somewhat painful experience!

Psalm 107:1-9 – The psalmist calls God’s people immediately to an affirmation of God’s goodness and his enduring, steadfast love (v.1). We are reminded of how He has saved us and gathered us together (vs.2-3). But that doesn’t mean we never deal with difficult things. Israel’s wilderness wanderings are remembered in vs.4-5. There were definitely times when, by their eyes and measures, God had no idea what He was doing and seemed to be leading them to their death. God’s people are called not just to remember the difficulty though, but how God provided for them, ultimately establishing them in a city rather than leading them endlessly through a wilderness (v.7). God is to be praised for this specific example of his goodness and steadfast love, one of several examples the psalmist will allude to. The psalmist will end (v.43) as he begins, calling the faithful to recall not simply their difficulties – we’re naturally inclined to do that! – but also God’s steadfast love.

Ephesians 2:1-10 – Reliance on ourselves is no such thing. Any time we are not reliant on God we can be assured we are relying on Satan. We would still be relying on Satan were it not for the grace of God brought to us by God the Holy Spirit, who presents to us God the Son on the cross for us. Our life stems from Christ’s death. This offering was made before we were even aware of it – before we were even born, frankly. God’s solution to our sinful slavery to Satan stands objectively in history and need not be questioned. Nor need anything more be added to it. Like the Israelites in the Old Testament reading, we only have the choice of whether to trust God’s Word. Do we believe He can and will save us from our sin, or will we die in our stubborn rejection? Our salvation is not our doing – not even our faith is our doing. We either trust God’s Word or we don’t. If we do, then the love of God in Jesus Christ is what saves us, as it becomes subjective – to and for us. And if we don’t trust God, it doesn’t change the reality of what He has done for us, but rather shows how we refused. But we should never doubt that God desires we trust him, and trust that his love towards us is real and true and good and that regardless of who we have been in the past, He is ready to work with us and through us to further his plans and his glory.

John 3:14-21 – Jesus allows Nicodemus to engage him in discussion but Nicodemus’ apparent confusion is no deterrent to Jesus disclosing who He is and why He has come. What God did on a smalll scale for his people in the wilderness – saving them from serpent venom – He will do on the large scale through Jesus, lifting his Son up on the cross that any and all who look to him in hope might live. Jesus is provided as the cure to our sinfulness. His presence in that respect is one of salvation, not judgment. The judgment is already in place. Sin is already at work in our bodies. He does not introduce anything new into the equation in terms of our condition. We are no worse off with Jesus here. Rather, He provides the alternative to the natural ramifications of the sin in us, just as the bronze serpent in the wilderness offered an alternative to the natural ramifications of deadly venom in the bloodstream. The judgment of God has already been rendered on a sinful creation, and that judgment is guilty. There is no one who does not fall under this judgment both in terms of being brought sinful into the world and in their own sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. The poison is already working in us. Will we trust the promises of God the Father in Jesus the Christ that faith and trust in his death and resurrection will remove the poison and save our lives?

Every person who encounters must answer this fundamental question – who is Jesus of Nazareth? He leaves three options to choose from, as C.S. Lewis once observed. He might be a lunatic, a crazed man with delusions of grandeur. He might be an evil man, knowing he is lying outright and that his lies will likely lead to his own death as well as the deaths of those around him. Those could both be options, unlike the popular alternative, that Jesus was a good teacher who was misunderstood. Good teachers don’t claim to come from God to deliver people from their sins! He’s either a liar, a lunatic, or the third option – Lord. Maybe He is exactly who He claims to be, and does exactly what He asserts He does for us.

This is the question each person must answer about Jesus. And a liar or a lunatic can’t save us from our brokenness. Only a Lord can do that.

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