Kruiz edited
Antidote to Death
Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs
7 March 2017
When our Lord Jesus speaks of His death by crucifixion He draws on a type of His suffering and our salvation from the Old Testament (Nu 21). In Moses' account, Israel complained bitterly against the salvation of God in the Exodus, expecting magic carpet conveyance out of the wilderness wanderings complete with meal service. God sent poisonous snakes among them and when a repentant people asked for a way out of their suffering the Lord sent them not a conventional antidote but another serpent. The serpent of salvation for the suffering people was set upon a bronze pole in the desert. It is counter-intuitive that God had sent them a sign of their suffering as their relief from suffering. The Mosaic account from Numbers 21 is not a quirky Old Testament fable or an antiquarian oddity to show the primitive state of medical care in the second millennium B.C., "Got a snake bite? Use the Moses serpent. You'll feel better the moment you look at it." No, there is more to it than ancient medical quackery.
Ironically, modern medicine has discovered that many venomous snake bite antidotes can be manufactured from snake venom itself. The very cause of death can be used to bring life in those who are injected with the antidote quickly enough. This is ironic because the same thing could be said of the serpent on the pole. The very thing which was causing death among the people of Israel was set up to give them healing. Counter-intuition reigns supreme in this salvation. Who would desire to seek out and look upon the sign of their death and suffering for healing from death and suffering? The God who led his people out of Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground could save this way. Indeed, He did. The antidote to death was the sign of death. Anti-venom is the antidote to venom.
This is brought before the people of God today on the lips of Jesus our Lord teaching His church. He portrays Himself upon the bronze pole as a fulfillment of the serpent's promise to Israel, that we might look upon Him and live. He is the sign of death upon the Roman stake thrust among the rocks of Skull Hill. Into the wilderness He bears the stake upon which He will be mounted so that we might look upon Him and live. What an ugly picture into which He paints Himself! What could be more counter-intuitive? If we look upon the defeated man upon the cross we will see our victory. If we peer at the dead One, we will see our one life. If we lift our eyes to His flayed skin we will see our healing. If we lock our eyes upon His nail-pricked blood we will see the cup filled with mercy. If we gaze into the eyes whose light is extinguished we shall see the Light. Behold the antidote to your death. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (Jn 3:14).

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"These sublime words of our text are the greatest article of our Christian teaching. When the world hears these words, only a few accept them and engrave them on their hearts. The world grows hostile to this article and finds it intolerable. Of course, the [Islamic] Turk also thinks highly of Christ and concedes that He was a great prophet, that He was born of the Virgin Mary, and that His mother was not conceived in original sin. However, he does not confess that Christ is his God and Lord but places his Mohammed above Christ or at least alongside Him. And the Turk is, at the same time, reputed to be very pious. He leads an abstemious life, and he devises his own way to heaven.
"The devil attacks this article in thousands of ways in order to destroy it. But he will still have to let bride and Groom remain together; and this happens by faith alone. Faith is the engagement ring which betroths us to Christ. By faith we take hold of Christ, saying to Him: 'You alone ascended above.' As He said earlier: 'No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven' (Jn 3:13).
"This article of faith, that Christ is our Lord, is what makes us Christians. It is the jewel, the gem, and the golden chain around the neck of the bride, who believes that Christ is true God from eternity, that He descended from heaven and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and that He, and no other, ascended again into heaven. Thus He was declared the Son of God (Rm 1:4), and He sits at the right hand of His heavenly Father. This is most certainly true, all appearances to the contrary notwithstanding. For if Christ were not seated at the right hand of His Father, this article of faith would never have come down to us; nor would it have been possible for this article to maintain itself against the constant opposition of so many kings and tyrants in the world." 

Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 3.14
Numbers 21:4-9

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.
O Lord, help us to look upon Your death with the eyes of faith, that we might see in Your humiliation and suffering the antidote to our sin and the poison of death that courses through our veins. Lead me through the Lenten season always holding the serpent of Your suffering before my eyes. Amen.
For the students at Concordia Seminary, that the Lord's Gospel might form them in the shape of the cross for service in His Church
For Brenda Blackwell, that she might be strengthened in her body
For Louellen Schoen, that the Lord Jesus would grant her the gift of healing
For the pastors, faculty, and staff of Memorial Lutheran Church and School that they might be strengthened in their calling to serve Christ in His Church
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias  Isenheim Altarpiece (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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