Facing Our Fears

Numbers 21:9  So Moses made a serpent and set it on a pole.  And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.

There is a story in the Book of Numbers about the Israelites during the desert experience.  The people were grumbling, complaining, and being downright hateful towards Moses and God.  As a result of their sinful behavior, God sent serpents among the camp and many were bitten and died. (Aren't we glad the Lord doesn't work this way now?)  The people became convicted of their sin and afraid of further consequences so they begged Moses for help.  Moses prayed for his people and asked God how to help them.  God instructs Moses to fashion a bronze serpent, to place it on a pole, and that anyone who looks on this serpent will be saved.

I have a family member who is deathly afraid of snakes.  The mere mention of the word makes her skin crawl and she can't even look at a picture of one or see one on TV.  I can't imagine how terrifying it would have been to have these serpents slithering and striking through the camp all at once and then be told the only way to be saved is to look into the face of the terrifying creature.

What an odd story.  At first, it seems unfair that God would send the snakes in the first place.  All they were doing was complaining about having the same leftovers for dinner each day, right?  Except it was a little more than that - it was their hard hearts and their unwillingness to submit to the authority God placed before them.  We are all a bit like that.  Sometimes we don't pay attention until the unthinkable happens.

After sending the serpents, God then tells Moses to fashion one from bronze and that the people's healing will come when they look at the serpent raised high on the pole.  For all intents and purposes God says, "Look at the very thing that terrifies you, the very thing that poisons you, the very thing you fear the most and you will be healed."  God says, "Face your fears."  Isn't this the key to putting an end to most sin in our lives?  We have to face the very thing that is killing us.  God shows us that we can't rid ourselves of the dangerous thing that seeks to strike and take us out until we look it in the face.  Your serpents may be addiction, abuse, debt, sexual sin, lying or just plain unbelief.  An unwillingness to look at these things in the eye leads to spiritual death and in some cases physical death.

A loved one once hit rock bottom in the area of addiction.  Upon attending his first AA meeting, he returned in amazement at the stories from other addicts.  His biggest take-away from the meeting was, "I can never drink again."  He was sort of amused when he said this because he thought that the AA meeting would be all about how to manage the alcohol and how to drink responsibly.  For the first time in his life, he looked the addiction straight in the face and called it what it really was and earnestly believe and know he could never touch alcohol again.

If you learned about this serpent story in Sunday school or in a Sunday morning sermon, you know that the bronze serpent is a foreshadowing of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Jesus even references this account when a religious man named Nicodemus seeks Him out for the keys to salvation.  Jesus says, "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that anyone who looks upon Him will be saved."  Jesus explains to Nicodemus the concept of rebirth, true salvation, and ultimately the radical love of God that would save anyone who dare look at the cross and own it as their redemption.

Eventually, all of us must face the very thing we fear the most, our mortality.  Even those who already claim Christ as Savior and who are saved must look at the cross to see sin in its purest form.  There's a Christmas song that says "isn't this a strange way to save the world".  We read about the serpents in the desert and we say, "Isn't this strange?"  We contend with the cross, sometimes thinking, "Isn't it strange?"  God had to put the very thing before us that was killing us and make us face it - it's not easy, comfortable, or even doable on our own.  I believe Moses, in some ways, personifies the Holy Spirit as he dwelt among and led God's people.  They didn't always recognize or listen to Him but he always pointed them to their rescue.  In the New Testament and today, the Holy Spirit dwells among us and inside believers - we can either chose to respond to His promptings or ignore Him and face consequences.  The beauty of of the cross is that its redemption is final and everlasting.  Jesus said, "It is finished" as He hung there, taking away the sins of the world.  We only need to return to and face the cross when we wander in the wilderness of our own making.