Biting Snakes, Startling Life

4 Lent

A Canaanite snake cult gives graphic detail to this tale in the valley of the shadow of death, where there is no water and no food, and where serpents bite. The question is inevitable, a wailing lament. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?” (Num. 21:5). The answer is embedded in the question, for the people who cross the Red Sea die in the Sinai Peninsula and their heirs alone cross the parted Jordan to enter the Land of Promise. Even those who go the way of all flesh on the Exodus route, however, get epiphanies of new life. Looking to the bronze serpent lifted high, a type of the One lifted for the life of the world, they live. They die and they live, and they die and they live. And one day heirs of the promise so live as to escape the cycle of life and death, death being swallowed up by life itself, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Num. 21:4-9Ps. 107:1-3, 17-22
Eph. 2:1-10John 3:14-21

Christians look back to see their own wilderness, a recent past, vivid and still strong. “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once walked [not lived], following the course of this world, following the rulers of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. … [W]e were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Eph. 2:1-3). It is troubling to admit the extent to which we are as yet like everyone else. We may sing Jesus to the high heavens and yet walk just as others walk. In some measure, this should anchor the Christian soul and body to the human soil of humility. We should never say, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11).

While we have more than reason to be humble, we also have reason to glorify God. For God, “who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6). Single verbs express the idea of being co-vivified, co-raised, co-seated, emphasizing that the head of the body and the members of the body are one mystical Christ.

Together with Christ, our life is new, and yet there is no ground for boasting. “This is not our doing,” the translators say, telling the truth of words to follow — “not the result of works” (Eph. 2:8-9). But the first remark may be better rendered as “this is not of you.” Not only what we do, but even what we think or feel, no matter how pious the thought or sentiment, make no claim upon salvation. The mystery of our saving is hidden in the secrecy and security of the one God who is rich in mercy. While not of us, salvation is for us and for a work prepared in the chamber of all benevolence, all good will, and all perfect execution. God gives us a “way of life” (Eph. 2:10). So there are deeds that are done in God (John 3:21).

Lest a prudent humility lead to total despair, we return often to the mercy of God, “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7). Looking up to Jesus, we behold and believe a new life, one in which we are not condemned, but created and called. Created as what the KJV accurately named his workmanship, or, as elsewhere translated, his masterpiece. So beautified, walk!

Look It Up
Read Ephesians 2:1-10.

Think About It
Do your own slow reading.

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