Snakes make some people uncomfortable. So does anger. How do we receive and process God’s anger as people made new by his love?
I sent our faithful AV servant a possible image of a snake earlier this week for the screen. She did not like the idea of a big picture of a snake up there. She thought it might make some people feel squeemish, so squeemish they could not bare it. Some people just can not handle to see a snake, or a mouse, or a spider, the disgust, the fear is so great it overcomes them.
Part of my job is holding people’s hearts, people’s lives up before God as an intercessor. In presence to behold as much as possible the place where people are at in sadness or joy or fear, to carry it with me and offer it up before the throne of heaven. But there is one emotion that when I encounter it in others makes me squeemish in the same way some people are squeemish about snakes: anger.
Anyone else feel that way? That we will seek to do anything possible to avoid or alleviate someone else’s anger? We will squirm, and fidget, run away or change our behaviour to prevent anger.
We meet God’s people in exile in the desert this morning. They have been being fed by manna from God, the bread of heaven. They thirst and God sent them water gushing from a rock. Right before this story the King of Arad tried to attack and kill them all but the Lord protected them. It is at this time that we hear the people of God complain.
They complain because they are impatient. They complain against God. They complain against Moses. They detest the food and the drink that God himself has miraculously provided them. And so in their complaining they separate their purposes from God’s purposes, they separate their story from God’s story, they turn against the God who is delivering them into the promised land.
They offer God complaints. He sends them snakes.
In the temple we see Jesus’s anger. Jesus, eyes a flame turning over tables and cracking a whip, fed up with the injustice in the temple courts. Jesus was angry at that which kept the people of Israel from the place of God’s presence, of his forgiveness and the stubbornness and indifference of the religious class met his dissatisfaction. If we feel squeemish about other people’s anger what about God’s anger?
We are challenged to look inside our hearts to see what Jesus might be fed up with within us and to repent. A real challenge to look God’s anger head on in our own hearts.
And that’s exactly what God commands the people of Israel to do. Moses makes a serpent of bronze and puts it high on a pole.
In response to the snakes that God sends when they turn again to him for help he requires them to look at this image of a snake. God invites them to look head on into his anger. Looking at and beholding an image of the terrible instruments of his judgement they were healed of the poison. Being set free from the destruction his judgment brings they live.
I know last Sunday, meeting Jesus in communion after looking at my own brokenness it felt like a burning within my whole being. When I met God’s anger I was not squeemish in that moment, to my surprise I felt a burning within me, a purification.
After Jesus had purified the temple a Pharisee came to him to unpack what was happening. Jesus told him that to become part of God’s kingdom means to be born again, to be born of the spirit. Nicodemus did not understand. Jesus gets frustrated with Nicodemus, and tells him plainly that he has authority to speak of heavenly things because he, the Son of Man is of heaven.
And it is in this space that Jesus explains that he is like the bronze serpent. The bronze serpent needed to be lifted up on a pole to be seen by the people, as he would be lifted up on the cross. And those who believe in him will have the poison drawn out of them.
Jesus comes not to condemn but to restore, to return us to God’s love not to destroy us.
We our invited to lift up our eyes and look to Jesus upon the cross, for seeing him on the cross makes it possible for us to see him victorious over it. We need to lift up our eyes and see the light.
If we stay in our squeemish was and try to hide from the light, if we love our safety and flee from vulnerability, if we hate the light then we will not see the love that is poured out before us. We are invited to lift our eyes up and see the wrath that seeing it we might be purified, we might receive the love.
God’s anger can indeed destroy us. But the truth is that if we flee from it we will, and if we embrace it, if we run towards it open, honest, willing to be shaped it will blaze within us like a refiners fire, it will be an instrument of true compassion, mercy and love. And true love at that because it brings us into the truth.
So lift up your eyes, behold the serpent on the stick, behold that the cross does not have the final word. Behold it that you might behold the victory in which we might be lifted up with him into the heavenly realms.