Complaining

The Bronze Serpent-Numbers 21:4-9

Theme: When life is sad…God is good.

Key Verse: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” Psalm 34:18

Introduction:

     Sometimes life is just plain sad. Someone you love dies. A bully is mean to you. You are sick for a long time. A parent moves out.

     Today we’re going to learn that when life is sad…God is good. How can that be?

      God never promises that everything will always be great for us. But He does promise to be near when we’re hurting.

Psalm 34:18- “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.”

     God listened and helped when a really sad thing happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. Listen to what happened to this made-up character of Deborah taken from Numbers 21:4-9.

Bible Story:

     Deborah felt the pressing heat as she opened her eyes. The black, dusty tent was overhead. The ground beneath her was sandy and rocky. She heard noises outside. Mother and Father were already up.

     As she rolled up her sleeping mat, her stomach growled. She tried to ignore it, for she knew what was for breakfast— manna. Manna for breakfast. Manna for lunch. Manna for supper. She was sick and tired of manna.

     She had been eating manna for as long as she could remember. Mother described breakfasts years ago in Egypt— bread and honey and fruit. It sounded wonderful. But out here in the wilderness, all they had for breakfast was manna.

     Mother told her how exciting it was when God first sent the manna. They had been complaining about not having enough to eat, and one morning when they woke up, the ground was covered with the small flakes. God sent the manna every morning now. They were no longer hungry… just bored with it.

     Deborah stepped out of the tent. Women collected the manna for the day and put it in their baskets, but they didn’t look happy. Some frowned. Some cried.

     Deborah’s father had joined a circle of men. Their voices grew louder and louder. Some swore. One said, “I’m not eating that manna again.”

     Another said, “Why did Moses bring us out into the wilderness? We’re just going to die here. There is no bread or water; nothing except that wretched manna.”

     So Deborah wasn’t the only one complaining.

     Some people did not eat anything that morning. By afternoon, they were tired and cranky and still complaining.

     As Deborah sat outside her tent, she heard a blood-curdling scream. What was that?

     People ran toward a tent not far away. Deborah followed.

     So many people crowded around that Deborah could not see what had happened, but soon she heard the words, “Daniel has been bitten by a poisonous snake and is dying.”

     Her hand flew to her mouth. Daniel was her father’s friend. He was always kind to Deborah, although sometimes he was bad-tempered like this morning when he swore at God for bringing them into the wilderness.

     Suddenly Deborah heard more frightened screams. The crowd ran in all directions shouting, “Snakes! Run for your lives!”

     Deborah raced back to her tent and fastened down the flap, scarcely daring to breathe, expecting a snake to crawl under the tent at any minute.

     Later, Mother and Father stumbled in. “Deborah,” Father said, “a terrible thing has happened. God has sent hundreds of poisonous snakes to punish us for complaining against Him. So many people are dying.”

     “Will we die?” Deborah asked.

     He didn’t answer.

     Deborah trembled on her sleeping mat, afraid to move. Suddenly she heard a rustling. What was that? She sat up.

     Almost upon her was the biggest, ugliest snake she had ever seen. She screamed.

     The snake flew at her, sinking its poisonous fangs into her leg. She fell back in pain as the snake slithered out under the tent.

     Her parents rushed to her side.

     “Do something!” Mother screamed at Father.

     Father stood. “It’s our fault. We have sinned. We shouldn’t have complained like we did. I’m going to Moses and ask him to pray that God would take away the snakes.” He left.

     Deborah’s leg hurt so. It swelled until it was twice its normal size. The fang marks glistened bright red. Her stomach felt nauseous. She was so weak. She knew she was dying.

     Suddenly they heard pounding outside the tent. Father whipped open the tent flap. Moses had nailed something onto a pole. A crowd gathered.

     They heard the voice of Moses. “The Lord told me to make a bronze copy of a snake and attach it to this pole. Anyone who has been bitten by a poisonous snake shall live if he simply looks at it.”

     Father dragged Deborah to the door. “Deborah, open your eyes and look at that bronze snake. Please!”

     Deborah opened her eyes. She saw the bronze snake on the pole. Instantly, she felt her strength returning. She sat up.

     “Praise God,” Mother said. “He has saved you.”

Application:

     Why did God send the poisonous snakes? (Because the Israelites sinned and complained against God.)

     Listen to what the Bible says in John 3:14-15: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.”

     The bronze snake is a beautiful picture of Jesus who is called the Son of Man in this verse. How so?

1. The people in the wilderness were dying because of their sin. We have sinned too. We have all done naughty things. The Bible tells us in Romans 6:23- “The wages of sin is death.”

     Just as the Israelites deserved to die because of their sin, we deserve to die and be punished for our sin.

2. God provided a way to help.

     The people who were bit by the snakes couldn’t do anything to help themselves.

     We can’t do anything to get rid of our own sin.

     God provided a way for the Israelites to be saved. They only had to look at the bronze snake.

     God provided a way for us to be saved. Just as the bronze snake was lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on a pole, too—the cross. Jesus shed his blood on the cross and took the penalty for our sin.

     John 3:15 says, “… everyone who believes in Him will have eternal life.”

If we believe in Him, we will live forever with Him in heaven.

     Believe what? That Jesus died for your sins and rose again. It is also being sorry for your sins and asking God to forgive you. It is giving your life to Christ.

     Have you ever done that? If not, you can do it today. (Give an invitation.)

Conclusion:

      We’ve imagined what it would have been like when God sent the poisonous snakes. Now let’s imagine we were there the day Jesus died. What would we have seen?

     It is a gruesome sight. A huge crowd watches.

          The hilltop is called the Skull because it is shaped like a skull. On the highest point stand three tall crosses. Nailed to the crosses are men, criminals on each end. In the middle is Jesus.

           Let’s step closer for a better look.

          As we walk through the crowd, we notice the people. Some are just watching for curiosity’s sake, but some are very sad. You can see it in their eyes. Women are weeping.

          As we near the crosses, we see soldiers sitting around, throwing dice, gambling for Jesus’ clothing.

          Now we are real close. The men on the end crosses look mean and rough and cruel, like real criminals. You can tell they are in great pain. They shout out bad words.

          But the man in the center is different. A sign nailed over His cross says, This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. But we know He is more than that. He is the Son of God.

          Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,”

          He must be in great pain, but you’d never know it. His face is peaceful, and He doesn’t cry out. Oh, but He’s lost so much blood. And it’s no wonder. Look at His hands and feet. They have spikes nailed through them. A crown of thorns presses into His head, and the blood runs down His face.

          Men laugh and say, “He saved others but He cannot save Himself. Come down from the cross, and then we will believe in You.”

          But Jesus doesn’t do a thing. He could save Himself, of course, but He knows He has to die for you.

          One of the criminals says, “Are you the Messiah? Prove it. Save yourself and us too.”

          Before Jesus can answer, the other criminal scolds him. “Can’t you even fear God when you’re dying? We deserve to die because of the wicked things we have done, but this man has done nothing wrong at all.” Then he turns to Jesus and says, “Jesus, please remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

          Jesus answers, “I promise that you will be with Me in paradise today.”

          Suddenly everything goes dark, and it is only noon. People scream. It is terrifying.

          At about 3:00, Jesus calls out with a loud voice, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

          Someone runs for a sponge filled with vinegar, puts it on a long pole, and offers Jesus a drink.

          But Jesus cries out and droops. He is dead.

          There is a tremendous earthquake. More screaming.

          A Roman centurion who has been guarding Jesus, says, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

          It was a sad day when Jesus died. But we have learned, when life is sad…God is good. So, how did good come from this?

          Three days after Jesus died, three women went to the tomb to put spices on his body. There they saw an angel who said, “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!”

          Jesus came back to life, and He still lives today in heaven and in my heart. Is he in yours?

          When you are sad about something, know that Jesus is there to help you. Remember Psalm 34:18-“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted.” He will comfort you. He can turn your sadness into joy.

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Beth Livingston

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