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When the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who lived in the Negeb, heard that Israel was coming by the way of Atharim, he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive. And Israel vowed a vow to the LORD and said, "If you will indeed give this people into my hand, then I will devote their cities to destruction." And the LORD obeyed the voice of Israel and gave over the Canaanites, and they devoted them and their cities to destruction. So the name of the place was called Hormah.


From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And 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 loathe this worthless food." Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (ESV)















Death's Death

Holy Tuesday

15 April 2014

Augustine strangely attributes death to the one who is death-less, the eternal Son of God, but is unwilling to attribute sin to the One who bore the sin of the world. Perhaps, in this case he may be emphasizing the freedom from death that the death of God's Son brings to us. On the other hand, he may be exhibiting the common desire of theologians to save Christ from suffering anything they might consider degrading. What I mean is that most theologians certainly want to attribute to Christ an immaculate purity. After all, He is God. However, they get carried away when they refuse to lay on His person the sins of the world, as Scripture expressly does, such as in 2Co 5:21, fearing to pollute his perfection with human fault. Yet, this is exactly the contention of the holy gospel that God laid on Him the sins of us all (Is 53:6). He became responsible for them. He bore the penalty of death for them. He dies because He bears the world's sin. Death and sin are related to each other. Sin causes death; both for us, a death which we deserve, and for Him, a death which He did not deserve.


He takes our sins into Himself, even though He did not deserve either to bear our sins or to die on their account. Here is the love of God for poor sinners at the height of His compassion. He who was far separated from sinners became one of them, by embracing wickedness into Himself, a wickedness which He hated, a wickedness which was perpetrated expressly against Him, a wickedness so deep that it would have been unfathomable by us had God not portrayed its depth in the cost borne by Christ. Yet He took it upon Himself to bear this wickedness and to die for it. If He does not embrace that wickedness and bear it, we will remain dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1).


When the Son of God was lifted up on the pole He became the serpent of Numbers. He became death's death by dying. In the ultimate transvaluation of values, Scripture subjects death to death in the death of God's Son. The serpent presumes power over its own kind when it swallows the serpent on the pole, but it is also swallowing itself, that is death. In that way, Christ becomes death's death. He destroys death by being death's death. Through death He brings life. Thus the serpent on the pole becomes the sign of life eternal in Christ. Something truly ugly and repulsive becomes the very sign of the most beautiful gift from God. This is transferred to us in the sacrament of baptism through which we return to the cross where death and life are worked upon us, as we die to sin and rise to newness of life. The great struggle with death and sin and their death become ours because the Lord sets us in the result of His struggle with death. Death's death still remains among us in the font.


Augustine of Hippo


"'And 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' (Jn 3:14-15). We know what happened at that time in the wilderness. Many were dying of serpent bites. The people then confessed their sins, and, through Moses, sought the Lord to take away this poison. Accordingly, Moses, at the Lord's command, lifted up a brazen serpent in the wilderness, and admonished the people that everyone who had been serpent-bitten should look upon the uplifted figure. When they did so they were immediately healed (Num 21:6-9). What does the uplifted serpent mean but the death of Christ? That mode of expressing a sign signifies the result by its cause. Now death came by the serpent, which persuaded man to commit the sin, by which he deserved to die. The Lord, however, transferred to His own flesh not sin, so much as the poison of the serpent, but He did transfer to it death, that without the fault the penalty might occur in the likeness of sinful flesh. Therefore, in the sinful flesh, both the fault might be removed and the penalty.


Since therefore, it came to pass that whoever looked at the raised serpent was both healed of the poison and freed from death, so also now, whoever is conformed to the likeness of the death of Christ by faith in Him and His baptism, is freed both from sin by justification, and from death by resurrection. For this is what He says: 'that whoever believes in him may have eternal life' (Jn 3:15). What necessity then could there be for an infant's being conformed to the death of Christ by baptism, if he were not altogether poisoned by the bite of the serpent?" 


Augustine, On the Merits of Forgiveness and the Baptism of Infants, 1.61



Lord Jesus, send Your Holy Spirit to us that we would not be offended by Your weakness in succumbing to death, but rather help us to see there our death's death. Amen.


For Joyce Backs, that the Lord Jesus would continue to grant her strength and healing


For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that he would be upheld in every good work


For all police and other public safety workers, that they might be kept safe in their labors and that they would serve the public good by restraining evil and capturing evil doers

Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)

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