Accursed and Exalted

A sermon preached at Our Saviour Lutheran Church on 18 September 2011. Holy Cross Day (observed).

Numbers 21:4–9
1 Corinthians 1:18–25
John 12:20–33

You can also listen to the sermon.


Picture the scene: deadly snakes all over the place. Grief-stricken mothers cradling their dying children. Panicked Israelites trying to find a hiding place from the venomous reptiles that overran the camp. People of all ages and all stations in life, dead or dying by their thousands. Those who escaped being bitten would inhabit their lives in tents marked by the absence of loved ones who were not so fortunate.

Worst of all, it was such an avoidable disaster. The calamity was a just punishment on a grumbling, unbelieving and ungrateful people who yet again failed to remember the wonders wrought by the right hand of yhwh, their deliverance by the might of His arm as He brought them out of slavery in Egypt. We are told that they became “impatient on the way”. The Lord had promised to lead them to the Promised Land. He had shown the lengths He was prepared to go to in order to fulfil His promises: bringing them out of Egypt, leading them through the Red Sea and drowning the armies of Pharaoh, giving them water to drink where there was none, feeding them where there was no food. He had given them His covenant with all its glorious promises. And now they were on the move again, being led by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

But they became impatient, because they were being taken on a detour round the land of Edom. The way to the Red Sea, in the opposite direction from Canaan. A journey that could be done in a few weeks would take much longer, perhaps several months. A totally unacceptable delay!

Never mind that to go round the land of Edom was to go round enemy territory, a longer and harder, but also much safer route. Never mind the wonders of the past, the provision for today and the promises for the future: the people would have none of it! Manna may have tasted of honey, but even that wasn’t good enough anymore. Better to be a slave in Egypt than free in the wilderness, on a seemingly endless journey.

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