Sunday, May 29, 2011

Easter 6: A Devotional Commentary

Numbers 21:4-9 They traveled from Mount Hor by the way to the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. 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 bread, and there is no water; and our soul loathes this light bread.” Yahweh sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and many people of Israel died. The people came to Moses, and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against Yahweh, and against you. Pray to Yahweh, that he take away the serpents from us.” Moses prayed for the people. Yahweh said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard: and it shall happen, that everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” Moses made a serpent of brass, and set it on the standard: and it happened, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked to the serpent of brass, he lived.

1 Timothy 2:1-6 I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all; the testimony in its own times;

John 16:23-30 “In that day you will ask me no questions. Most certainly I tell you, whatever you may ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now, you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full. I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. But the time is coming when I will no more speak to you in figures of speech, but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name; and I don’t say to you, that I will pray to the Father for you, for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me, and have believed that I came forth from God. I came out from the Father, and have come into the world. Again, I leave the world, and go to the Father.” His disciples said to him, “Behold, now you speak plainly, and speak no figures of speech. Now we know that you know all things, and don’t need for anyone to question you. By this we believe that you came forth from God.”

"Whatever you may ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you." So why doesn't it work? We tell God what we want and say the magic words "in Jesus name" at the end. Why doesn't He give us what we want? To pray in Jesus name means something more than simply saying "in Jesus name." If you read the prayers in the New Testament you will find that none of them end with "In Jesus name. Amen." But they are all still prayed in the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus we find the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. In the name of Jesus we find our daily bread. In the name of Jesus we find the cross. In the name of Jesus we find suffering. In the name of Jesus we find submission to the will of the Father. "Not my will, but yours be done." "They will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

God's will does not always look good to us. Sometimes it looks utterly evil. Sometimes the works of God and the work of the Devil is difficult to distinguish. We sinfullly respond by grumbling to our neighbor about God. We say that it's not fair and God has no right to treat us in this way. We are not satisfied with the daily bread that God sends us. We loathe it. We grumble just like the Israelites. Perhaps we are too "religious" to admit our grumblings to our neighbor but we still think it. The Psalms are full of lamentations. The difference is that in the Psalms the complaining is directed directly to God and based upon a real belief in God's goodness. We think of ourselves as too "godly" to speak to God in this way but in reality we don't speak to God in this way because we don't really believe God is good. We grumble in our head or to our neighbor because we don't believe that God is really good.

We respond to suffering by trying to hide from God. We might give up prayer entirely or we might simply try to hide those things we are really angry at God about because we do not trust God. If we get really angry at God we might stop going to church. But our prayers and church attendance do not benefit God in any way. God does not need us to feed Him glory. Prayer is there for our benefit and so is church. At church we receive God's good gifts. We receive healing message of the Gospel and we feast on Christ's body and blood. We receive real life. We receive real salvation.

When the Israel grumbled to Moses, God sent them fiery serpents out of love. It did not appear to be loving by any standard. When the people grumbled they were asserting that they were not being treated fairly and so God showed them what it looked like to be treated fairly. He sent them fiery serpents. He sent them death. That is what we and our "good works" deserve. The Israelites saw their own sinfulness and asked Moses to pray to God for mercy. Finally, they saw their great need for God's mercy and they found that God is truly merciful. Despite the utter sinfulness of the Israelites God had mercy on the Israelites. He had Moses place a bronze serpent on a pole and all who looked at the serpent lived.

God is merciful to us. Jesus was crucified for us. He was placed on a pole and became a curse for us. He became sin for us. He conquered death by dying for us. Christ-crucified is the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. If we try to find the hidden God we will not find love and mercy but power and judgment. If we insist that God be "just" we will only be bitten by the snakes of judgment of death. But in Christ-crucified we see that Christ's exaltation is in His crucifixion. We find that Christ became sin for us. Christ died to defeat death for us. Christ-crucified is proof that God loves us in an unbelievable and incomprehensible way.

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