Numbers 21:4-9 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
4 From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. 5 The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” 6 Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 8 And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” 9 So 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.
John 3:14-21 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”
Sermon: The Depth of God’s Love
Anyone who has looked at someone and told them intentionally,”I love you” knows that those words are weighty. They come with a cost, if we mean it. Sometimes we say them without considering their full implications. But this is not the case with God. When we read in scripture that God loves us, or when the preacher tells you that God loves you, these are not empty words, because God’s love for us comes with a very high cost.
In his conversation with Nicodemus in our gospel passage, Jesus pointed to an OT incidence recorded in Numbers 21:4-9, which foreshadowed the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross on Good Friday.
In our OT text, the Isrealites are complaining and murmuring against Moses about the harsh wilderness conditions. Remember this is not the first complaint. At Marah (Exodus 15:22-25), they complained about the taste of the water, and the Lord made the water taste sweet; then they complained about the lack of food (Exodus 16:2-3); and again, the Lord provided manna; then they complained about water (Exodus 17:3). At God’s instruction, Moses struck the rock, water gushed out and they drank; then they complained about meat (Numbers 11:4-6), and God gave them quails (birds). There is this pattern of complaint, Moses intercedes, and God provides or remedy the situation.
But now in numbers 21, they are complaining about everything, and even regretted leaving Egypt. This time they did not just speak against Moses, they spoke against God. “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” They complained! “There is no food; no water, and we detest this miserable food.”
Every additional step we take in life that advances us brings with it its own challenges. We often say, “good things don’t come easy.”
Moreover, in our relationship with God, faith is an indispensable virtue. The Bible says, “without faith, it is impossible to please God”, Hebrews 11:6. God wants us to trust him despite what mountain that may stand before us today.
All the Israelites had to do was to look back and see God’s hands in their journey. Sometimes all you need to do is to look back on your life and see how far God has brought you, instead of complaining about everything before you today.
So, this time, God got angry with the Israelites for their faithlessness and rebellion and punished them. God sent poisonous Snakes that bit them, and many died.
Then the people pleaded with Moses, saying, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the snakes.”
When Moses did, God instructed him to fix a snake and put it on a pole. A victim only had to look up at the snake on the pole to be cured and live. That bronze snake on the pole became a means of God’s grace to heal and restore god’s people from the penalty of their sin. God’s grace is free but it always requires a response from us.
In comparison Jesus says in our gospel text, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so (he) the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have everlasting life” (John 3:14-15). Like the bronze snake on the pole, Jesus Christ provides the perfect remedy for the sins of broken humanity through the cross that he takes upon himself on Good Friday. But unlike the snake that provided healing and recovery just for that moment, Jesus provides forgiveness and eternal life.” This verse proclaims that God’s extravagant love for us is a self giving act. This is the depth to which God went just for you and me. The first thing we see here is that:
The Depth of God’s Love Reveals its Costliness
It cost God his only son as was read in the 16th verse of our text. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only son.” And it cost Jesus his life.
Jesus says, greater love has no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). It is this love that led the hymn writer to wonder: “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul. What wondrous love is this, that cause the Lord of Life to lay aside his crown for my soul.”
Sometimes non-Christians and even so Christians asks the question, Why did it have to cost the life of Jesus Christ? Why couldn’t the almighty God just pronounce forgiveness of sin?
Here it is. God does not violate His own law. there is no contradiction in Him. The scripture says: The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). and there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). That is why each year, the Old Testament priests had to slaughter animals to preform the sacrifice on behalf of the community. But in Jesus Christ, Paul says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves, but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
Jesus’ death satisfies the demand of the law of sin. He will take our place on Good Friday.
Secondly- The Depth of God’s love reveals how little we deserve it:
We know someone’s love for us by how little we deserve it. If we have treated someone well all the time and done all that is expected of us, it will not prove much when he loves us, but if he loves us when we have offended him, shunned him, and disdained him, that will prove a great love for us. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing the depth of his love for us. Therefore Romans 5:8 says: But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” He loves us inspite of; not because of.
Finally- The Depth of God’s love shows our true worth and Value:
In our youth group two weeks ago, we discussed the topic: In God we are valued.
There we learned that we don’t find our true value and worth in external things, like: our looks, our abilities, skills, background, athletic ability, relationship, or what others may say about us. We find it in God, as revealed in Genesis 1:27 (We are created in the image and likeness of God), but our text also reveals our value and worth. That God’s only Son would die for me and you? That it took the life of Jesus on the cross for our sake? Think about it!
Among several things, Peter says we are God’s special possession. This means that nothing external can diminish our values and worth. not even being handicapped, or aged, or ill, or as society makes us to feel sometimes. Our value and worth are not found in any labels of society. But in the price paid by Christ.
As we celebrate Lent and move closer to the cross, let’s remember that it’s all because of you and me. Let’s embrace, or continue to embrace the Light that Christ brings to the world and reflect that light.
As we experience God’s love, may we become channels of that love to the world around us.