Third Sunday in Lent – March 10, 2024
The Common Thread
Reduced to our most common trait—loathing the good we have been given by impatiently grumbling for something better—we deserve to die of the snake bite of sin. This is the seed of our sin: the lust for something we imagine better than the good that God has provided. But God is rich in mercy, providing redemption from our troubles. And so, he saves us through faith, as he did in the days of the exodus. By faith in God’s means of deliverance, that bronze serpent, the people were healed. We are still delivered through faith in God’s word of promise, not a fiery snake on a pole, but Christ on the cross. This is God’s gift to the world he loves. Everyone who believes in his Word, will not perish but will instead have something infinitely better: eternal life.
First Reading – Numbers 21:4-9
You do not have to be traveling through the wilderness to experience snake bite. The law bites us every time we disobey and backbite God. God still sends his stings against our consciences. This is the law’s job, and the devil quotes it, too. That snake loves to use the law against us, accusing us of our sins. In the desert, God had Moses make a bronze serpent (or some think a seraph, a majestic six-winged being) so that the people might look up and be relieved of their bites and live.
Psalm – Psalm 107:1-9
No matter what condition of life we find ourselves in, God redeems us. If we are lost in the wilderness, because God is there with us and cares about us, we may cry out to the Lord and be delivered from distress. No matter how winding the wandering of life may seem, God is leading us by the straighter way — the way to himself.
Second Reading – Ephesians 2:1-10
The apostle reminds the church that they had been dead spirits because they moved with the age in their sins and trespasses. They were not concerned with God; even if they were religious, they could not effect any change in their deadness. It may not have been for lack of endeavor, but there was simply nothing they could do to change their deadness. Where no amount of religion or industry could “raise their spirits,” God, in his great grace, made them alive again in Christ. He gave salvation as a free gift, since no one could bring it about by will or work.
Gospel – John 3:14-21
In the same way that Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, God has lifted up his own Son. He is elevated far above angelic beings such as the seraphim (Heb 1:4). We may confidently look up to him even in the depths of our sin. When we look above our condition and believe in the Son of man, the devil cannot triumph against us. We will not die in the wilderness of sin but instead have eternal life.
“When the devil accuses us and says: ‘You are a sinner; therefore you are damned,’ then we can answer him and say: ‘Because you say that I am a sinner, therefore I shall be righteous and be saved.’ ‘No,’ says the devil, ‘you will be damned.’ ‘No,’ I say, ‘for I take refuge in Christ, who has given Himself for my sins. Therefore, Satan, you will not prevail against me as you try to frighten me by showing me the magnitude of my sins and to plunge me into anguish, loss of faith, despair, hatred, contempt of God, and blasphemy’” (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, p. 36).