Grumbling, Serpents & Your Gaze

There is this strange little story in the Hebrew scriptures. The children of Israel are walking through the desert and they begin to complain about the food. They hate manna. Manna was something God sent everyday. It was given to them directly, miraculously, and was a daily testament to God’s provision. Even though it was their lifeline, overtime they had come to detest it. So they are complaining. Then, into the camp comes these venomous serpents. When the serpents bite someone, the person becomes feverish with an unquenchable thirst and then they would die. When this troublesome situation comes to the people, they cry out to God and to their leader Moses and repent for their grumbling and complaining. God tells Moses to make a bronze serpent, put it on a pole and when someone is bit and becomes sick, all they need to do is LOOK at the bronze serpent and instantly they are healed. You can read about this crazy story in Numbers 21:4-9. 

These snakes are like a physical picture of what happens inside our souls when sin sets in. The people were dying on the inside from all their grumbling, and when the serpents came along they started experiencing externally in sickness and death what they had already been experiencing internally through all their complaining. 

Just like the people were sick, we too suffer from a sickness. What is our sickness that needs healing? In one word it is sin, but often it presents as discontentment. Just like the people in the wilderness, often our sin manifests itself in complaints and grumbling. Here you have the people of God receiving all they need from God via manna everyday, but despite this daily provision and gift, they are grumbling, they are discontent, it isn’t enough. This is what sin does to us. All the way back in the garden of Eden we see human beings in paradise – it is a perfect place – but the serpent comes along and says, “this isn’t enough, God is keeping something from you.” Once the venom of the serpent’s message penetrates a soul, that soul becomes feverish with an unquenchable thirst that cannot be satisfied by anything this world offers. 

In every single one of us is a raging thirst. I only need to look inside myself to see its ongoing impact in me. Each and every time I come face to face with this raging thirst, an invitation is present. The invitation is to repent and look again to the source of my healing and wholeness. Sin makes us feverish with an unquenchable thirst and it eventually leads to death. Sometimes it seems that this raging thirst inside of us progresses faster if you experience great success in life. The more successful you are, the more quickly you become aware of this infinite vacuum inside. 

For example, there is this predictable pattern in our world when it comes to the accumulation of wealth. The progression goes like this: MORE, BETTER, DIFFERENT. When you first start earning money you get a little rush from being able to have MORE things, but then over time you don’t just want MORE stuff, you want BETTER stuff, higher quality stuff. After awhile BETTER is no longer good enough and you want DIFFERENT things — unique things, stuff that is one-of-a-kind, designer, or very rare. We all have this infinite vacuum inside and sometimes super-successful people simply see the vacuum more quickly, because they’ve attempted to fill it with so many pursuits and come to realize that even at the height of having it all, they still find an emptiness inside. Eventually (if it is not dealt with) this thirst will leave you unsatisfied and profoundly empty. We can be surrounded by the best things and still be irritable, still be discontent, still be unthankful. 

Some of Jesus’ most famous words come from John 3 where he is talking to a man named Nicodemus. While most people know John 3:16, what few people realize is that just before this famous passage, Jesus references this weird story from Numbers 21. Jesus says, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” Jesus is basically saying: what that bronze serpent was, I am. I became sin so that you might simply LOOK at me and be instantly healed. Jesus is saying: I took the venom of the snake so that you might have the medicine. I became sin so that you might experience healing from sin.

Just as the people looked upon the bronze serpent and were made whole, so you must look at Christ to be made whole. Wholeness is not found in the next fad diet, financial investment, or latest and greatest podcast. Our healing and our wholeness come from gazing upon the One who knew no sin yet became sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. 

May we turn our gaze upon Christ lifted up today. 

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