Being Exposed

Being Exposed

Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the text for this morning
comes from the gospel reading.

You can’t read or hear read those five verses from the book
of Numbers and not wonder in your mind that people prayed that God would
deliver them and send the snakes away, and it was within God’s power to shoo
those snakes away, but instead, of all the bizarre things, He would take the
very thing of judgment, which was those serpents because they were God’s
judgment upon the people’s impatience, grumbling, and complaining against God
and against Moses that He would use the very symbol of His judgment to be the
very symbol and icon of their salvation, both health-wise and, of course, the
forgiveness of their sins. How unusually bizarre to take a symbol of judgment
and to use it as the symbol of salvation. That’s exactly what Christ our Lord
did. This is like the serpent on the pole. It is God’s judgment against us, but
it is not borne by us. It was borne by Christ, the Son of God, and so important
is it that Christ would make mention just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the
wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that all who look to Him
believing would have eternal life.

The thing of judgment. The people experienced God’s judgment
in order to pull them into repentance. You and I have experienced that in our
lives, have we not? When God allows things to come together in such a manner,
whether it’s our fault or whether it’s been done against us, whether we can be
blamed or blame the other, God allows those things to get us on our knees, that
we might repent of our own sin and see again God’s judgment for such sin and be
healed again from such judgment of such sin. But it is a frightening thing to
have our lives and our sin exposed. In the professional world, very few have
the backbone to admit mistakes for that is a sign of weakness. To say that they
didn’t understand this correctly, to say that they misunderstood this, to say
that they were wrong, oh, tsk, tsk. One does not do that. That is to admit
one’s inabilities and when one shows a sign of weakness, others pounce upon it
with great fervor.

You’ve seen it in marriages, and you’ve seen it in your
families, and you’ve seen it in your workplace. And isn’t it crazy that we, of
all people, thinking that we’ve got this whole justification by grace through
faith correctly, actually wish to use Lent as a time to self-flagellate ourselves
in order to show God we’re really repentant. “Lord, see what I’m doing for you?
I am so sorry for my sin.” Pray that that’s all that is done by you, because
leaving yourself into God’s hands, He has and will continue to bring you
humility by exposing you and all you are about, and it is a very, very naked

This was written to me by a young man, a student. He’s
college aged. “How I despise this nakedness before God, this inability to cover
any part of my wretchedness, this humiliating writhing of my soul before the
holy gaze of my Creator. I am emptied of myself. My pride and the value of my
person have been completely and utterly burned to the ground. I am nothing
without Christ. How can I cry out to God? It’s He who has crushed me. It is He
who has smitten me. The feeling of hypocrisy burns through my veins for even
calling upon Him for my much-needed forgiveness. But that is what He has
commanded me to do. That is what He has promised to hear from me, a broken man
who speaks broken promises of change.”

God willing, that is the kind of repentance that those
serpents brought to the people of Israel. God willing, that is the kind of
repentance that God brings to you and me that we may flee to the judgment
before us and be saved. But alas, you’ve seen it more than I have, haven’t you,
where repentance lasts but a moment. Pride seeps back in and “It’s not my
fault” becomes the mantra. In the people of Israel’s case, there were more
issues and situations that they came across where they grumbled against God
again. Just as the people who gathered around to hear these words spoken by
Christ to Nicodemus when Nicodemus came at night to visit him, these apostles,
their repentance would come and go, just like yours and mine.

Listen again to this young man’s ability to put it so
clearly. “I am damned and I will always remain a damned sinner. God leaves me
in this self-seeking so that my flesh may be kept in fear of Him and in
humility so that I may keep running to His grace, always in fear of my own sinning,
that is, always praying that He would not impute my sin to me and that my sin
may never dominate me. But I’ve been baptized. My brokenness has been claimed
by the Father in Jesus Christ. He has taken all of my good intentions and all
of my best-laid plans and received them, broken and dead as His own, and gives
me by His own deigning His garment of holiness. My salvation starts from my
being sinful and knowing it. How frustrating it is in this life that God ____ (gap
in audio recording) ____ escapes being a sinner, for that is what I am. Yet, in
these most fragile moments of my person when I can feel, truly feel my sin
pressing hard upon my heart, burdened with overwhelming guilt, there, there’s
my loving Father, the most gracious and merciful. There’s where He’s the most
gracious and merciful to me. He didn’t come to save the righteous but the
sinners. He didn’t come to heal the healthy but the dying. God would have me on
His terms as a sinner and only as a sinner. And this means that I cannot escape
who I am except through Christ.”

That’s exactly what Paul was saying. While we were yet
sinners, while we were dead in our trespasses, he said God made us alive. It
wasn’t our repentance. It wasn’t our flagellation of self. It wasn’t our
telling the world, “Woe is me. Look what I’ve done. Look what’s been done to
me.” It was God crushing us so that He could raise us up. It was God breaking
us that He may bind us together. That’s the terms of Christ speaking, “God so
loved the world,” that gospel in a nutshell that you and I have known from knee
high to a grasshopper. But the context of “God so loves the world” starts with
the grumbling and impenitent Israelites continues with the apostles and
Nicodemus who heard these words first spoken by Christ and continues on with
the church of which you and I are a part today.

What an icon indeed. A symbol of God’s judgment upon a
sinful people and a sinful world, but wherein is found life for such sinners.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting.