Read Numbers 21:4-9.
Anne was a college student who loved the church. She volunteered as often as she could at the church. She, like her mother and grandmother before her, grew up in this local church. During her devotional time one day, she realized that she had gotten caught up in the complaining about the church and others. It was easy, those around her were complaining too.
So, Anne decided that during Lent whenever she complained about something, she had to do something about that which she complained. It worked for a few weeks. But she finally slipped, and joined in complaining about the lack of Vacation Bible School leadership or planning.
She remembered later her Lenten promise that if she complained about something she had to do something about that which she complained. So, the next day she went to the pastor’s office and said that she would like to be the Vacation Bible School director. And she did.
Anne left that experience with a greater sense of her vocation. She later would go to seminary and become a Christian educator. And she kept that Lenten promise beyond that Lent. Whenever she complains about something, she has to do something about that which she complained.
Complaining is nothing new to the Christian. It seems to be second nature. The problem is that complaining can bite us or burn us. In the scripture text from Numbers, that is what is happening. The people of God are complaining. At first they complain about Moses’ leadership, before they turn their complaints towards God. Instead of celebrating their salvation and freedom from slavery, they complained.
God responds by sending poisonous snakes. The snakes bite the people, giving them more to complain about I’m sure. The bites felt like fire. Eventually the people confessed and repented for their complaining. But God does not take away the poisonous snakes. Moses prays to God for the people. Moses receives an answer and follows the instructions:
Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live (Numbers 21:9).
The people’s complaining lead to snake bites. After confessing of their wrong doing, there is no snapping of fingers on God’s part to eliminate the snakes. Repentance requires an action on our end just as well as on God’s end. The word repent means something like “U-turn.” When we repent, we turn around back to God. While sin separates us from God, repentance returns us to God. But we, as the sinner, are the ones who take action and turn around to God.
The bronze serpent lifted high should remind us of the Christ who was lifted high on the cross. While the bronze serpent healed the Hebrews of their snake bites, Christ on the cross heals us our sin. But, just as the Hebrews had to turn and look at the bronze serpent, we have to make that U-turn to set our eyes upon Christ. Why? Because it is through Christ that we are reconciled to God.
Consider how you can use this season of Lent to turn around and look up to the Christ who redeems.