Redeeming the Serpent



Israel found itself in the wilderness complaining against God for his ways of redeeming them. For the mundane activities he had them take part in (i.e., walking around in circles).

Side note: If you and I were led in the wilderness for 40 years we would be murmuring as well. We get in a tizzy when we have to do anything mundane for more than an hour typically.

So Israel complains and God sends serpents to bite them in judgment (see Numbers 21 for the full account). This act of judgment reminds us of the serpent in the Garden who is ever present with us. He tempts us to murmur and blame others rather than confessing and growing and trusting. These serpents become a vivid reminder of what each of our little speakings of our minds are really saying. That is, when we speak out against a circumstance or a person, we are setting ourselves up as the arbiter of right and wrong. Of truth. We are the ones to whom others ought to ask for permission.

But the act of healing did not come by taking a potion or jumping in a river or screaming out loud, “I’m sorry” followed by self-flagellation. The act of redemption came in the simple form of looking. Looking. Not reaching out. Not even crying out. Merely looking away from the self and to Another. There is no strength required. A mere acknowledgment of something outside of ourselves that needs to redeem.

What is fascinating further about this act of redemption is the object to which Israel was to look. They were to look to…a serpent. The Act of Rebellion against their Maker that started in the Garden is turned on its head. The Serpent is powerless to hold sway the delights of rebellion. He becomes the tool in God’s hands of redemption.

God doesn’t just say, “Stay away from serpents.” He doesn’t rid the earth of what would be deemed evil. Surely, the Adversary is not redeemer. That is not what we see in the text! Rather, we see that those things connected with and that can easily be lumped in with the hopeless, in this case a serpent, God redeems this seemingly hopeless object. He doesn’t merely get rid of the evil, he redeems the evil.

This is scandalous and you might find yourself saying, “Matt, you go too far!”

Do I? I venture to say that you have not entirely grasped who you are. You were an object of wrath. You were children of the Adversary. You delighted in your own desires and your universe orbited around your wants. God, being rich in mercy, took you out of that darkness. He didn’t merely remove you from the filth. He transferred you into the kingdom of his Beloved Son. The One he loved from before the foundation of the world. He not only transferred you into that kingdom. He has given you all the privileges of that kingdom. He has made you a son and daughter!

God is not in the business of just getting rid of his adversaries, but to those who will merely look to the Son who was also lifted up, he will give you the inheritance of his Beloved Son. No more to be destroyed. No more to be reviled and written off as hopeless. He gives you all that he has and all that he is.

Diderot’s “Holiness”

I have been reading some Denis Diderot for fun these past few days. I looked at his Encyclopedia today and found this definition for “holiness”: “the quality of state of a saint or without sin.”

Full disclosure: I have been influenced by Peter Gentry’s work on this. Found here.

In his lecture, Gentry argues that “holy” and its cognates ought to be conceived as “that which is dedicated to someone or something.” I find this immensely helpful because you can even sense Diderot’s difficulty in finding an adequate definition when getting to the issue of those things used in service to God. Although he offers it as a secondary definition, it ought to be a primary definition.

What’s the cash value of saying that “holy” is equivalent to saying “dedicated to”? I think the immediate result is a re-fashioning of what we understand of God when we say that he is “holy.” Surely the concept ought not to only mean “without sin”–though it is by no means any less than this! For example the preeminent text regarding God’s holiness is Isaiah 6, where Isaiah sees YHWH is resplendent glory and the attendant angels cry out unceasingly that YHWH is “holy, holy, holy.”

Surely they are saying more than YHWH is unblemished by sin, though, again, the implication is there when contrasted with Isaiah’s claim to be a man of sinful lips among sinful people.

Given the rest of the book of Isaiah (since this is our ad hoc test case), “dedicated” makes much more sense with how the rest of the book plays out. You have the bloodthirsty Assyrians and Babylonians who are hell bent on exalting their kingdoms by denigrating and enslaving and destroying all those in their way. They fight with reckless abandon for their own glory. YET, this pride will not go without answer from the Most High.

The balm of chapter 40 is applied to the wounds of God’s people.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that her warfare[a] is ended,
    that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
    double for all her sins. (vv.1-2)

How is this comfort to be administered?

By the proclamation of one crying out in the desert to prepare the way of YHWH. The comfort is only possible because of the Lord’s commitment to his word (v.8).  The comfort is only realized when he shpeherds his people with grace (v.11). The comfort is made palpable when the one who holds all kingdoms in the hollow of his hand–to squeeze or to release (vv.12-17). All this comfort is made true when YHWH exercises his prerogative to flex his arm of salvation. Why does he do this? Because he fully committed to showing his right to do all that he pleases in heaven and on earth.

This provides the solace and justification for our confidence in the midst of darkness. Because YHWH is dedicated to his fame and his renown throughout Creation and has bound displaying this holiness through redeeming his people, we can confidently weep and humbly shout.

Of course I would be remiss if I did not draw the fullness of this holiness to the person and work of Jesus. This is relayed in the wilderness prophet, John, as he cried for all of us to make our hearts clean through repentance. The One most holy, most dedicated to the glory of YHWH would step forward to fulfill all righteousness. His holiness would redound through the splinters of the cross and in the echoes of the empty tomb. This holy and wholly dedicated Christ would free us from our captivation and captivity to other kingdoms. Because of his holiness and unfettered commitment to the vindication of God’s righteousness on behalf of his people, Jesus reigns victorious in resplendent glory in holiness.

This is the cash value. Don’t underestimate a definition.

Eleven Appearances of Jesus

In an effort to make our faith secure, Jesus appeared to his disciples on eleven distinct occasions. Here they are:

1. Mary Magdalene alone (Mk 16; Jn 20.14)

2. The woman returning from the tomb (Mt 28.9-10)

3. Simon Peter alone (Lk 24.34)

4. Two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk 24.13-35)

5. Apostles at Jerusalem, without Thomas (Jn 20.19)

6. Apostles at Jerusalem, a second time, with Thomas present (Jn 20.26-29)

7. Sea of Tiberias, seven disciples fishing (Jn 21.1)

8. To the Eleven, on mountain in Galilee (Mt. 28.16)

9. To 500+ disciples (1Cor 15.6)

10. To James alone (1Cor 15.7)

11. To the Apostles on Mt. Olivet at his Ascension (Lk 24.51; Acts 1.6-11)

This is mere speculation and devotional in nature, but I thought I would share it. As you may know twelve symbolizes perfection or completion. Could it be that Christ reveals himself through his Word to you and to me as the Twelfth appearance. Blessed are those who have not seen with eyes of flesh, yet see with the eyes of faith. After all, isn’t this what Luke is attempting to do in his gospel and sequel (Acts)? Isn’t he attempting to give an account to most excellent Theophilus (“Lover of God”)? By giving such an account, he wants to make our faith certain that not only these things happened, but they cause ripple effects into our own space and time.

Christ truly is walking amongst us through the power and illuminating power of his Spirit.

Things Concerning Jesus in the OT

I am preaching on reading Scripture devotionally this coming Sunday. I am using the Road to Emmaus as the backdrop to the message (Luke 24.13-35). I am playing with the thesis right now, but it is something like “God reveals himself so that we will be changed.”

In study, I came across this pithy quotation from J. C. Ryle’s sermon on the same text:

In what way did our Lord show “things concerning himself,” in every part of the Old Testament field? The answer . . . is short and simple.

Christ was the substance of every Old Testament sacrifice, ordained in the law of Moses. Christ was the true Deliverer and King, of whom all the judges and deliverers in Jewish history were types. Christ was the coming Prophet greater than Moses, whose glorious advent filled the pages of prophets. Christ was the true seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent’s head–the true seed in whom all nations were to be blessed–the true Shiloh to whom the people were to be gathered, the true scape-goat–the true bronze serpent–the true Lamb to which every daily offering pointed–the true High Priest of whom every descendant of Aaron was a figure. These things, or something like them, we need not doubt, were some of the things which our Lord expounded in the way to Emmaus.

Of course, I am probably going to use this in the sermon. It hits me every time I read it!