The Fourth Sunday in Lent; Year B (3/15/2015)

Lessons:Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 Ephesians 2:1-10 St. John 3:14-21

Prayer of the Day: Holy God, rich in mercy, by the humiliation of your Son you lifted up this fallen world and rescued us from the hopelessness of death. Lead us into your light, that all our deeds may reflect your love, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

3:14 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.”

St. John 3:14-21New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

For God so Loved the World

“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.” This is, arguably, one of the most ubiquitous texts in the New Testament. Google “John 3:16” and you get 73,900,000 results in 0.18 seconds (including dozens of images of former Bronco quarterback Tim Tebow). Turn on ESPN and you are bound to see it behind the catcher, or just off the putting green, or (in some instances; see image to the right) even on the field of play. Luther refers to it dozens of times in his writings and his teachings. He encouraged people to think of it as “The Gospel in Miniature.”

The lectionary pairs this text with Numbers 21:4-9. The people of Israel are on their journey from slavery to freedom, and once again become impatient and rebellious. They speak against the leadership of Moses. They complain about the food God sent to sustain them (which they once understood as a blessing). They begin to lose hope in the God who has promised them a land of their own. As a result, God decides to punish them, and sends poisonous snakes as a prophetic vehicle. The people confess, and God responds with grace. A means for salvation is provided; not a means of escaping the consequence of their sin, but an invitation to new life. God instructs Moses to mount the image of a poisonous serpent on a pole, and “…whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Numbers 21:8) The pattern of Exodus (and much of the Hebrew Bible, for that matter) is established: (1) God calls people to faithfulness. (2) People go in directions other than the one they are called to go. (3) Pain results. (4) God graces them, restores them, and (once again) calls them to faithfulness.

Through our baptism into Christ, we are invited into the same relationship with God. We are called to live as disciples of Jesus — as citizens of the kingdom of God — as the embodied presence of God in this world. Yet, sinful and imperfect, we are never able to live up to God’s expectations for us. So we, like the people of ancient Israel, are (1) called to faithfulness, (2) find ourselves rebelling against God’s call, (3) experience the pain of our brokenness and (4) through the promise of our faith receive forgiveness, new life and a renewed call to faithfulness. As we look up towards this sign of death — our crucified Lord — we too will live.

In a competitive and uncompromising world, this is a radically different way to order our lives. But it is what we proclaim: that in Christ, we come to know the grace of God. A grace so profound, that our sin has already been forgiven. That our spirit has already been restored. That we have already been invited to a new beginning. Thanks be to God for this gift in Christ!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What did ancient Israel’s grumbling reveal about their faith in God?
  2. How was God’s instruction that Moses erect a bronze serpent in the midst of the people a gesture of grace for them?
  3. What do the bronze serpent and Christ, lifted up on a cross, have in common?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I experienced forgiveness from God?
  2. How has God moved me from my sin, through forgiveness, to renewed faithfulness?
  3. How might I proclaim my belief in this gift from God?