Snatched Away From Ourselves

Text: Numbers 21:4-9 and 1 Timothy 2:1-6

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

We are a culture that is filled with slogans that tell us to put our trust and hope in ourselves.  Indeed, we have a tremendous amount of slogans that seem to point us inward to our own resources and skills.  Take these simple slogans for example: “You can do it!” or “You have what it takes within you to discover your potential!” or “Seek to know the power within you!”  Indeed, these slogans tend to take a person’s eyes and direct them inward, towards the resources, abilities, and power within their own being.  While it may be true that some jobs and projects in life require some good ol’ grit and sweat from within a person, this could not be further from the truth regarding Christianity; that is to say, our standing before God Almighty.    

You see, when we focus too much on the Christian and not enough on the Christ, the emphasis of Christianity can shift from externally looking at Jesus to internally looking at ourselves.  And when we look internally at ourselves, we end up taking our own spiritual temperature, while fixating on our own spiritual abilities and actions.  Tragically, as soon as this internal shift towards ourselves happens, all is lost for we do not see how great we have become in accomplishing so much but rather; we become overtaken by uncertainty, despair, and ultimately eternal death itself.  That is right, looking inward to ourselves; that is to say, our strength, our experiences, our works, and our person, puts the emphasis on the Christian and not the Christ.  As a result, the Christian ends up doing all the heavy lifting and salvation ends up being dependent not upon what Jesus has done, but upon what we should do to obtain and sustain forgiveness, life, and salvation. 

Dear friends, even if we have everything together in our lives and things seem to be going rather well, we must guard the temptation to take our eyes off of Christ and fixate them internally towards our own abilities. Our relationship with God – no matter how good we think we have it – cannot be based on ourselves, because if it is based on ourselves and not our mediator, Jesus Christ, then our salvation is only as good as we are.  And frankly, the scriptures do not paint a pretty picture of our corrupted hearts.  Furthermore, if our relationship with God is based on ourselves, how will we know if we have done enough to bridge that gap between Almighty God and us successfully? 

So, we must confess today that our Christian faith is not based on looking inward towards our internal abilities regarding our standing and relationship before God but rather, we look outward to our mediator, Jesus Christ. 

We see this idea of looking outside of ourselves in our Old Testament Reading quite clearly.  In our Old Testament Reading, we hear about the Israelites who were bitten by snakes in the wilderness, and many of them died.  The poison ran through their veins.  It infected them, poisoned them, and brought death to them.  However, in the midst of Israel’s grumbling, impatience, and poisoned bodies, the Lord told Moses to make a pole with a bronze serpent on it, and whoever would look at it would be healed – the poison would not harm them.  In other words, the Lord did not banish the snakes that were biting the Israelites, but rather He had Moses put a snake on a pole.  Yes, a bronze serpent was nailed to a cross.  It was then lifted up, and all who looked to it were healed and lived. 

Take a moment and think about this. 

The Israelites were not told to disregard the snake venom.  They were not given a bunch of life principles and life pointers to overcome the snake venom.  They were not told that they were overcomers and had the power within to overcome the venom.  But rather, they were directed away from their snake bites towards a bronze serpent on a pole that was lifted high up for them to see.  Indeed, they were directed to look away from their predicament – they were directed to look outside of themselves, towards a bronze statue for healing and hope and restoration.  

Now, it must be stated that the bronze statue did not have any particular healing power, in and of itself.  But rather, it was the Word and Promise of God that God personally and specifically attached to the bronze statue that healed and saved the people.  (Doesn’t this kind of sound like a sacrament?)  You see, God, in no uncertain terms, was re-directing and refocusing the people back onto Him and His life-saving Word and Promise.  Those who trusted what God said and looked upon the bronze serpent were healed; however, those who did not believe – those who looked elsewhere; those who doubted; those who put their trust and focus somewhere other than where God told them to look, died.  Plain and simple.

The same is true for you, too! 

Dear Baptized Saints, when you look inward to yourself, what we see are lives full of sin, poisonous serpents that the devil, the world, and even our own sinful nature send against us. In other words, looking inward at ourselves does not lead to forgiveness, life, and salvation, but leads to sin and everlasting darkness. The unholy trinity of “me, myself, and I” is not the solution to our predicament of sin. 

However, let us thank God this day that we have been delivered from ourselves.  Yes, let us thank God that “the Gospel commands us to look, not at our own good deeds or perfection but at God Himself as He promises, and at Christ Himself, the Mediator.”[1]

Yes, praise God that the Lord has snatched us away from ourselves and placed us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, conscience, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside of us, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive.[2]

You see, our hope lies not within, but our hope is outside of us – on the cross, in the waters of baptism, and in the Lord’s Supper.  Hope is not found in the Christian but is found in and delivered by the Christ.  Christianity is not about you, but it is about Christ who is for you.   

So, dear Baptized Saints, when the devil sinks His teeth into you – look outside of yourselves and behold Christ Jesus, the victor over evil.  When the world sinks its teeth into you – look outside of yourselves and behold the Lamb of God, who was lifted up and sacrificed for you and the sins of the entire world!   When your sinful nature sinks its teeth into you – look outside of yourselves and behold Jesus Christ, your salvation, your life, your hope, and your assurance.  When you reflect upon your relationship with you and Almighty God – look outside of yourselves and behold the one mediator between God and mankind, Christ Jesus, the one who gave Himself as a ransom for all. 

Yes, look outside of yourselves to Christ Jesus, the one who is completely righteous – the one we all benefit from. It is from the outside that He places His Word into our ears.  It is from the outside that His blood is placed upon our tongues and his body placed in our mouths, so that we may know with certainty that we are forgiven. 

Dear friends, our sin only yields more sin – sin upon sin.  But the one outside of us, Jesus Christ is the fountainhead of grace, life, and truth – grace upon grace for sinners like me and like you.  Therefore, let your hearts be comforted this day.  Your Savior is your mediator and comforter – not some severe judge and tyrant.  You are not left to yourselves, but have an unfathomable goodness and mercy of Christ Jesus who intercedes for you and reconciles you to the Father; a Savior that came for you and comes to you this day – from the outside.   

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 26: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 26, p. 387). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[2] Ibid, 387. 

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