The season of Lent is a journey to the cross, a journey toward death and deliverance. It is a journey of faith as we take up our cross and follow Jesus. The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent focus on God’s deliverance from death through unexpected means—through a bronze snake on a pole, by grace through faith, and through the crucifixion of Jesus. God has saved us so that we can serve both him and our neighbor.

The Hymn of the Day is “God Loved the World So That He Gave” (ELH 403). The first verse is a paraphrase of the “gospel in a nutshell,” John 3:16.

God loved the world so that He gave
His only Son the lost to save
That all who would in Him believe
Should everlasting life receive.

The Old Testament: Numbers 21:4-9
God had saved the Israelites from slavery in Egypt with powerful miracles and destroyed Pharaoh’s army after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea on dry ground. Shouldn’t that have been enough to convince them of their safety under God’s care? Yet in this reading the Israelites complain about being taken out of Egypt—as if God would let them die in the wilderness—and they complain about the food he gave them. They complained until God responded as parents do sometimes, “If you want to complain, I’ll give you something to complain about!”

But, by his grace alone, God provided a cure for the consequences of their sin. God told Moses to make a bronze snake and set it on a pole, and whoever looked at the bronze snake lived. People looked because God’s Word created trust in their hearts, not because looking made any sense. Trust in the heart is called faith, and it overcomes the consequences of sin and brings healing.

The Gospel: John 3:14-21
Jesus refers to that bronze snake on the pole in the Gospel reading as a ‘type’ or picture of the manner of his own death—and it’s results. He will be lifted up on a cross and when his people look at that cross in faith, the consequences of sin are overcome and we live forever.

We should expect that if salvation is free simply through looking up to Jesus who was ‘lifted up’ for our sin, that everyone would be saved. Sadly, that is not the case. The personal love of sin and darkness, together with pride in not wanting it to be exposed, prevents many people from receiving Christ’s light for their salvation. Our aim then is to bring our sin into the light of the Father to permit his salvation through his Son to transform our deeds also into light.

The Epistle lesson: Ephesians 2:4-10
The situation in the wilderness with the fiery snakes is an example of what St. Paul is writing about in the Epistle reading. “Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ.” The Israelites were dead after they’d been bitten by the snakes. But they were made alive again when they looked up to the bronze snake. They were saved by grace, through faith.

Because of faith, God sees us as if we were already living in heaven today. There is nothing else for us to be concerned about than looking to the cross and living like we are already in heaven. That heavenly life is described in God’s law, which Jesus summarized as, “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).