Kruiz edited
Devouring the Serpent
Monday in Lent 2
13 March 2017
"What's the big deal about faith? It is so easy to do! Anybody can claim to be a believer. Anybody can choose Jesus." Or so says human reason. Reason then goes on to laud and honor good works while it denigrates faith, "The important thing is doing good to one's neighbor. The more difficult thing is not faith but works, and faith is worthless without good works coming along. In fact, the goal of the gospel is good works." But reason understands neither faith nor good works.
Faith is a divine work in us. It is impossible if it depends on our choice. If we have a clear view of the object of the Christian faith, faith doesn't look so easy. Faith directs us to gaze upon and grasp the crucified Christ, the serpent hung up on the pole of Calvary (Jn 3:14). Reason revolts at the disgusting scene of the man splayed upon the cross. It mocks the idea that this One, who is dying, can rescue from death. Those who stood below the cross ridiculed the man hanging there because He could not save Himself (Mk 15:31-32), when, in fact, He would not save Himself that He might save even those who reviled Him. Reason cannot fathom a God who would hang His Son out to undergo such a storm of ridicule and scorn. No one could choose to believe such a God by human reason. Reason just rebels.
The true faith irretrievably commits itself to the beaten and bloodied man who, refusing to be rescued, rescues sinners. Faith looks upon the offense of the cross and takes it to be the true defense against the wrath of God for sin. Faith grasps the cross with all its filth, blood, splinters, sweat, agony, weakness, and horror; and calls it the mystery through which God brings salvation. Every time I go to the local zoo with my family, a zoo curator inevitably brings a large snake out of the display for children to pet. After gathering a crowd of excited kids, the curator dutifully intones the liturgy of the snakes, "See, he isn't slimy at all. He feels good, doesn't he?" I am sorry, but I can never get excited about finding out that snakes are not slimy to the touch. I have no desire to touch this thing. I don't want anything to do with it. In Texas, we only pet snakes when they are used for boots. There is a reason why they have been cursed to slither on the ground forever; so that I don't have to touch them.
Christ on the cross cultivates that same revulsion in human reason. God hangs Him up there in all his revolting weakness and calls us to reach, not merely to pet Him, but to fully embrace Him in His blood, water, filth and all. Faith does not merely gaze sedately at this One, it entwines Spirit-enlivened limbs around this One smearing itself with the blood of the Son of God. Who chooses such a thing? No one. God the Holy Spirit alone, sets us like little birds in the nest awaiting the mother bird's return with mouths gaping to have the worm put down their starving gullets. He kindles the starving hunger in us so that the worm on the cross is fed to faith and faith devours the Serpent. That's the big deal about faith.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Christ declares that He is the true serpent, typified by that serpent in the wilderness, and that this serpent must be viewed with spiritual sight, namely, with faith (Jn 3:14-15). At that time the Israelites had to believe in the Word from heaven. Their faith did not pertain to the serpent but to Him who spoke. But here we are not only concerned with the words; we are also told: 'Whoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life' (Jn 3:16). That bronze serpent was an image of Christ. Here we are made aware of the terms and the purpose of our relationship to Christ. We are told that we must not merely hear Christ but that we must also believe in this serpent, Christ, who bestows eternal life on all those who believe in Him.
"This is a great and miraculous work. It is not accepted by the world or our reason, but it is scorned and derided by them. In fact, it does seem ridiculous that merely looking at a serpent should cure. Reason would have been prone to say: 'You will never be able to stare those serpents away. Rather take a pair of tongs or other tools and use force to drive the serpents away. What a great idea! To look at the serpent! Even a cow could stare at the serpent, but how could that help her?' Looking or gazing at an object seems so silly. It is an easy task to perform. And yet those who obeyed the Word and believed the promise were cured. Just looking at the serpent was easy. But believing that this simple and superficial opening of the eyes and looking at the pole and the bronze serpent should have healing power against the snakes' venom this was difficult. In itself there is nothing easier than to raise your eyes to someone; and without a doubt there were many Jews who mocked Moses and said: 'Well, if the serpents cannot be driven away with knife and awl, with water and sword, how can it ever be accomplished by this inane looking at the serpent?'
"This is the attitude of our schismatic spirits and sects today who despise and minimize baptism and holy communion. They say: 'What can the water, the wine, and the bread achieve?' But it is characteristic of our God to perform great things through insignificant, humble, and odd means. Faith, I suppose, also seems insignificant. 'Faith? After all, what does faith amount to? Faith does not suffice. You must also perform good works, don a monastic cowl, fast, pray, and give alms.' All this has such a semblance of piety that they are led to believe: 'Oh, faith is such a simple and plain thing; you must also do good works!' But just try it, and you will find out how easy it is to believe! Before long the devil will appear on the scene and whisper into your ear: 'See here, do you suppose that it is possible to be saved in such an easy way?' Thus, the Jews also suggested to Moses: 'You must take a pair of tongs and jerk the serpent away or immerse yourself in water for cooling. What good could it do you to look at the serpent?' But our God is so mighty that He can guide and govern the whole world with a straw or save and deliver from sin, death, the devil, and hell with a drop of water. It does, we concede, sound trivial that all who believe in Him shall have eternal life; but God works in such a powerful and mysterious way. Pay heed to the Word, and ignore the clamor of those who shout that we must also perform good works for our salvation." 

Martin Luther, Sermons on John's Gospel, 3.14-15
Psalm 22:24-31

For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him. The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, even the one who could not keep himself alive. Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.
Lord Christ, You are the snake lifted up on the pole. Slay my human reason, that I might take Your slaying into myself by faith, and embracing You completely be covered by Your blood, that I might live forever in You. Amen.
For Kirstyn Harvey, that the Lord Jesus would grant her peace and strength as she prepares to undergo another surgery
For Archbishop Christian Ekong of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, that God the Lord would keep him steadfast in His Word
For Pastor Charles Wokoma, who is laboring in the vineyard of the Nigerian seminary, Jonathan Ekong Memorial Lutheran Seminary, that the Lord would grant him success
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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