You Have Another 'Sin' That Devours, Damns, And Kills Your Sin

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

You have been bitten in the leg.  The fangs have punctured your skin.  The venom is now underneath your skin and beginning to flow through your veins.  Fear has grasped you; a shake goes through your bones; your leg begins to swell.  You begin to feel nauseous and you are having difficulty breathing. 

After the initial shock, you shake your head and try to assess the situation.  You now realize that you have just been bitten by a poisonous snake. 

What should you do?  How much longer do you have?  Will you live or will you die? 

In the midst of your despair and racing thoughts, you recall hearing that Moses, yes Moses the leader of Israel and the Lord’s prophet to you as an Israelite, has a solution to the venom overtaking your leg and a way to keep it from running through all your veins. 

Yes, to Moses you shall go! 

As you make your way through the Israeli camp, you see off in the distance what appears to be a serpent, made out of bronze, on a pole.  It is a rather weird sight to see, since you and so many others have just recently been bitten by snakes. 

As you limp closer, you notice that the pole has indeed been lifted up in order that everyone can see it.  But, why the serpent and why is it so visible?  “Is this some sort of sick joke?” you think to yourself. 

You are now within a hundred yards, and you begin to hear some people grumbling in the crowd saying,

“Who put this grotesque image up at the center of the camp?  Do they not know that people have died from snake bites and now this?  How inappropriate!” 

From other people in the crowd, you piece together that God almighty—the God who delivered you and all of Israel out of the land of Egypt—has attached a promise to the bronze serpent.  Indeed, you hear that Moses, as the Lord’s prophet, has stated that God has promised that whoever has been bitten by a snake can look at this sign of death on a pole and be healed. 

The promises of God being attached to physical things, makes sense to you, since this is the way that it is with God’s Word.  His Word does stuff!  Furthermore, knowing that His word is attached to this bronze serpent on a pole basically means that there is nothing special about the bronze or the wooden pole.  But rather, this bronze serpent on the pole is the way that faith and the healing power of God would be delivered to people who were snake bitten, people like you.  
Thus, because of the promise that you just heard, your head slowly moves up and your eyes move away from your snake bitten leg.  You now see with clarity the bronze serpent lifted up on the pole—for you.

Dear friends, there is no doubt about it that today’s Old Testament Lesson is a bit bizarre.  I mean to say, this calling to the snake bitten people of Israel to look away from their bite marks to a sign of death on a pole, as a solution, is rather peculiar and counter-intuitive, is it not?   

With that stated and as previously mentioned, this calling to look at a bronze serpent must have brought about some grumbling among the Israelites.  We can hear them saying:

“What a ridiculous solution to the bites of snakes!  Moses, you must have lost your mind!  How are we to be healed by looking at something such as a bronze serpent when it looks like the very thing that bit us!  We are already freaked out from snakes and can’t even bear to think about them, and you want us to look at another one on a pole? You are cruel Moses!  How can a symbol of death deliver us from death? How can that dead and lifeless object benefit us![1]  Furthermore, why a snake on a pole; why not something a bit more pleasant and appealing to the eyes?”

Do we blame them for their grumbling?  If we are completely honest with ourselves, it is fairly easy to resonate with these grumbling sentiments. 

For example, in our modern day and age, it would be absolutely a ridiculous solution to point a struggling marriage to the divorce courts for help, for we do not give snakes for a snake bite.

What is more, in our modern day and age, it would be an absolutely ludicrous idea to direct a sick person to a funeral home or an undertaker, for we do not give snakes for a snake bite.

As a matter of fact, in our modern day and age, it would be a completely foolish notion to guide a financially struggling person to a casino or loan shark, for we do not give snakes for a snake bite. 

The point that is being made is that in our modern day and age, when a crisis of health, finances, or relationship happens, we are typically not going to look or point others toward undertakers, casinos, or divorce courts, as viable and reasonable solutions and/or encouragements.  No one in their right mind immediately jumps to funerals, bankruptcy, and divorce as plausible, wholesome, and advantageous inspirational solutions.  As previously mentioned, this would be like giving a snake bitten person another snake. 

Giving snakes to snake bitten persons does not make sense and borders on realm of insult!

However, with that said, does this same rationale apply to the church?   In other words, how does the church respond?  What is the church’s response to the issue of sin? 

An immediate response that many of us will have is that the church should respond to things such as sin, with virtue, that is to say, good works.  That logically makes sense, does it not?  Commonsensically, the opposite of sin is virtue and the opposite of evil deeds is good works, so it seems.  But is this necessarily the case?  Shall the church lift up virtue and good works as that which the eyes of sinners shall look upon?  Can virtue deliver people from sin?

Unfortunately, in our modern day and age, when a person acknowledges their infection of sin, the immediate temptation by many in the church is to lift up good works, ten-step programs, righteous endeavors, virtue, good works, and the like, as a solution or response to sin.  Let’s direct people to doing the opposite of sin, and things will be alright!  However, the answer to sin bitten persons is not to look to virtue, but rather it is to look to sin.  More specifically, to look to sin that has been lifted up not on a pole but upon a cross.    

Now, did you just hear that?  Essentially, what was just said is that the Lord’s church should give a snake bitten person a snake on a bronze pole; she should present sinners with sin that is lifted up on a cross. 

I wouldn’t blame you if you were a bit confused at this point in the sermon.  It certainly does sound odd to direct a sinner to look at sin lifted up on a cross! 

Permit me to explain.   

God did not give the Israelites a fun and pleasant looking sign to deliver them health and rescue them from poison.  He could’ve given them a cool drink of water or a pole with some pleasant flowers, but He didn’t.  He did not do this because the bronze serpent that was lifted up actually signifies, shadows, and points to the Savior that was lifted up on the cross.   Yes, the serpent on a pole actually signifies Jesus Christ, who put on flesh, hung on a cross, was made to be sin for us, and died on the cross like a poisonous evil and a harmful worm.  “Yes, [Jesus] resembles the serpent. . . . He was so despised, condemned, and rejected by the world that He was finally sentenced to a humiliating death and hanged as a [scoundrel] among murderers. . . . And the inscription over His head on the cross also stamped Him as a rioter who had rebelled against secular and ecclesiastical government.  He was not regarded as a godly person [by the religious elite,] but as a venomous worm unworthy of having the sun shine onto Him, as a menace to the entire world.”[2]  Furthermore, Scripture tells us very clearly that Jesus—who knew no sin—becomes practically inseparable from sin.  He was made to be sin, as He bore the sin of the world upon Himself as if it was His own.  He becomes so exclusively associated with sin on the cross that it loses its sense for anyone else. 

Thus, how does the church respond to sin?  Even though you and I will be tempted to offset the venom of sin by covering ourselves with virtue and may want to enlist the church to help us.  We must keep in mind that the harsh reality is that allegorically we have been bitten by sin; we have the poison of sin in our nature, in our blood stream, and there is absolutely nothing; I mean nothing that you and I can do about it.  If we ignore it, pretending everything is fine, we die.  If we attempt to cover it with virtue, we are still infected and we die.

Consequently, Christ’s bride, the church, does not point to good works or virtue and she does not point you to yourself, but she points to sin on the cross, the God-man Jesus Christ who bore your sins as if they were His own.  The church points to the God-man dead on the cross for you and for your salvation.  This is the way of the Gospel—for you.  Yes, Christ’s church looks to the one lifted up, the one who was made to be sin—for the world; she looks to bloody stained cross of death where Jesus was lifted high; she points to and confesses the dead Savior on the cross as the answer to sin, death, and the devil. 

Practically speaking, what this means is that “Whenever you feel remorse in your conscience on account of sin, look at the bronze serpent, Christ on the cross. Against your sin, which accuses and devours, you will find there another sin. But this other sin, namely, that which is in the flesh of Christ, takes away the sin of the world. It is [all powerful] and it damns and devours your sin. [Because] your sin accuses and damns you, it is itself damned by sin, that is, by Christ the crucified, ‘who for our sake was made to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God’. Thus in your flesh you find a death that afflicts and kills; but you also have a contrary death, which is the death of your death and which crucifies and devours your death. All these things happen, not through the Law or works but through Christ the crucified, on whose shoulders lie all the evils of the human race—the Law, sin, death, the devil, and hell—all of which die in Him, because by His death He kills them”[3]—all for you.

Dear friends, “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.”[4]  Yes, He was lifted upon on the cross—for you.  He is lifted up before you in His Word, the Word that comes out from the pulpit and from the Lectern.  He is lifted up before you and presented to you in the Bread and the Wine, so that you can taste and see that the Lord is good and so that you can be lifted up to receive a foretaste of the Feast to come and to catch a glimpse of the heavenly places. 

Indeed, Christ was lifted up on the Cross, He was lifted up from the grave unto everlasting life,  He is lifted up in the Word and in the Bread and in the Wine, all so that you may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness. 

O hear the good news blessed Saints, Jesus was and is lifted up for you.  The sin stricken savior lifted up for your sin, for your salvation, for your hope, and for your everlasting life!

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Paraphrase of  Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Volume 22, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1957), 388-339.

[2] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works: Volume 22, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan 341.

[3] Modified quote (for syntax) from Martin Luther.  Luther, Martin.  (1999). Vol. 26Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.) (159–160). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[4] James T. Batchelor, “Fourth Sunday in Lent” (15 March 2015) (14 March 2015).

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