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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

What's With All the Complaining?


Grumbling and Snakes

Rogate – the 6th Sunday of Easter – May 5, 2024

Numbers 21:4-9

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!

 

That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from the book of Numbers in the 21st chapter, with special emphasis on verses eight and nine which read as follows:

 

“ And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.”[1]

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                It is an unfortunate truth that the more one is given, the more one tends to be ungrateful for those things given to him. I am sure you have noticed this particular point in political discourse as of late. It has been a talking point for some time in that area of life. But this is not something that should be discussed as a merely political issue. More still, we do ourselves no favors when we think that such a disposition of human beings is limited to the present moment.

                Case in point: this passage from Numbers chapter twenty-one. This episode takes place in during the period of the Israelites, God’s people as they were called in the Old Testament, wandering in the wilderness. In order to understand why they were doing so, we have to backtrack a bit in the Bible. In the book of Genesis, the twelve sons of Jacob moved their families to Egypt in order to escape a famine in the promised land. Over the next three hundred sixty-two years, the Israelites fell from favor and were gradually put into slavery by the pharaohs of Egypt. Eventually, God sent Moses to deliver them from slavery and in 1446 BC, they left the land of Midian in Egypt to return home to the land promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

                Reading about this period in history can be frustrating for the reader of the Bible. The people of Israel were given many great miracles and gifts from God. They saw the ten plagues.[2] They witnessed the fulfilling of prophecy. They were led out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.[3] They saw the Red Sea part.[4] Pharoah’s army was broken and they were forever freed from slavery to Egypt.[5] They were given bread from heaven[6] and quail that landed right in their laps[7] for food. Their water was supplied from a rock that followed them.[8] They beheld the very cloud of God’s own glory and heard the thunder of His voice as He spoke to Moses.[9] 

                In other words, not only was God giving them everything that they needed during this time in the wilderness, He also make it abundantly clear that they were provided for by God Himself.

                And how did Israel respond to God’s mercy? They complained and grumbled! When God gave them bread, they demanded meat. When God gave them freedom from slavery, the complained about the journey to freedom. Over and over again they met God’s grace, mercy, and generosity with complaining and indifference. And after their continued complaining, God sent to them fiery, that is poisonous, snakes to drive them to repent of their sin.

                But the real scandal is that it seems most of us have not learned this lesson despite both the experience of our present age and the example of our forefathers in the faith. You see, we live in the most prosperous, most powerful, most secure nation that has ever existed on the face of the planet. And yet, our lives are beset with complaining and grumbling. We have untold luxuries, yet our desire for something different leads to us being stingy with what God has blessed us with. We have more time than most humans through history for cultural pursuits, but we spend it staring at reels on Facebook and TikToks that do nothing but make us long for lives we do not have. And so we complain to God that He is unfair.

                But this is not the case! You have been blessed beyond measure! You have your daily bread, and a home and everything needed for this life, even to excess. You have been cared for just as God promised! Even more, you have the forgiveness of sins in the perfect sacrifice of Christ and eternal life and salvation everlasting!

                This morning, three young people will publicly profess their faith in Jesus Christ and confess the truth of His Name. They will, for the first time, receive the very body and blood of that same Lord Jesus for their forgiveness, life, and salvation. They are being marked as those who are ready for full inclusion in the Church of Christ and the fullness of the gifts He provides.

                But there is a sad truth to this day as well. Too often those who have been diligently prepared for these precious things, so precious that they were earned for us in the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus, too often those who have been brought to confirmation leave the church. Too many have stood up here, confessed that they would rather die than be deprived of the saving Word of God preached and taught in faithful Lutheran Churches. And yet, they give it up gladly for sports, work, and simple convenience.

                Make no mistake, God is not mocked. And those who confess falsely will be brought to a reckoning. But here we sit in this hard time where so many, untold numbers even here in our town have abandoned the faith. How many people who consider themselves Christians actually go to church? The excuses are as plentiful as the people who make them.

                But what underlies all this? The same attitude that captured the Israelites in ancient days: the gifts of God are taken as a given, even as if something greater were being held back. We ought not give into this temptation. Grumbling and complaining against God is without cause. We have not only been given all we need for the day to day, but we have been given that which lasts forever, even beyond the end of the world. Would that we all acted like it! The world would not be filled with so much misery and sorrow, instead it would be characterized by charity and compassion, modeled after the Lord’s own to us. More still, the churches of this land would not be empty, dying, and forlorn; people would clamor to get even a mere taste of the Word of eternal life.

                These young people confirmed today are vowing that their life in Christ is to be lived as He would have it. This is really a very simple thing. Christ, our God, became a man to suffer and die so that each of us would have eternal life. He paid the whole bill. He has provided salvation from beginning to end. And we, in response, should simply trust that He has done this and, in so doing, live like the Christian people He has died to make us be. It is not any more complicated than that. But it is hard. Just as the devil, the world, and the sinful heart colluded to make Israel complain in the face of the great and merciful works of God, so too they work on us to tempt us to despise God and ignore His gifts.

                But this does not stop the Lord. His gifts stand. His will remains. And those things He grants endure. He will not back down, He will not give up. His salvation will remain. And, for those who are in Christ Jesus, we have the promise that He will always call His people back to Himself.

                Today, as then, God seeks the repentance of all of us who sin. And just as He ordered Moses to put fiery, that is bronze, snake on a pole so that Israel would look on it and live, so too He gave His Son to be put on a stick, that is the cross, to be the saving reality such that all who gaze on Him in faith might live. God’s punishments are only for a moment and are meant to drive us from sin and death to Christ, who is Life and Salvation. In other words, God has always and will always seek good for His people, even when they complain and grumble, even when it costs Him, even up to the cost of His own life.

                So now we have salvation and life everlasting. Ensured by Christ, our Lord.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] Numbers 21:8-9, English Standard Version

[2] Exodus 7:14 - 12:30

[3] Exodus 13:21-22

[4] Exodus 14:15ff

[5] Exodus 14:28

[6] Exodus 16:4-5

[7] Exodus 16:13

[8] Exodus 17:1-7, 1 Corinthians 10:4

[9] Exodus 19:18

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