Numbers 21:4-9
John 3:14-21
“Will You?”
Lent 4 March 15, 2015
We are 4 weeks into our season of Lent, 4 weeks into our journey with Christ and His disciples as they journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will die on the cross for our sins. As we journey with Jesus and the disciples during this Lenten season, we see the commitment Jesus made to His mission to die for our sins, and it is our prayer that we will also get a new vision for being the people God calls us to be, people who are more committed to Him and to His work in our lives and in the world.
Both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today are calling us to turn to God and to Christ, and to turn and give our lives to God. Our Old Testament lesson from Numbers 21 leads us to reflect upon how we respond to such a gracious and loving God who loves, blesses and saves us. Our Gospel lesson from John 3:14-21 contains John 3:16, one of the most beloved passages in Scripture, and gives us a clearer picture of the love of God, even as it forces us to focus more clearly on our decision of whether we are going to accept God’s gracious invitation for salvation or not.
Listen to God’s Word
Ann Weems is a Presbyterian minister and a poet who writes the following poem about the season of Lent:
        When Lent comes,
         You have to stand out in the open — vulnerable.
         You either are or you aren’t.
         You either believe or you don’t.
         You either will or you won’t.
         When Lent comes,
         We find ourselves in a courtyard
          Where we must answer
         Whether we know Him or not.
Weems. Kneeling In Jerusalem. p.17
Are you a follower of Christ or not?
Do you believe in God’s gracious love for you or not?
Will you give your life to Christ or not?
When you find yourself in a position where you have to say if you know and follow Christ or not, what do you say?
Tough questions. Questions you might rather not have to answer. Questions that call for commitment and many times you might rather not have to commit. You might want it both ways. You might want to be able to enjoy what the world tempts you with — success, job, doing what pleases you, helping others if it is convenient or if you will be benefited by it somehow — coming to church if you don’t have something better to do — these are the things the world says should be important to you. And you might want so much to follow these things.
But then again there are also the things God calls you to do — to give of yourself, to love God and others more than anything else, putting the will of God first in your life, letting God lead and direct your life, supporting the worship, work, and fellowship of the church, and you know that these things are good and in your heart and mind you might have to admit that you want to follow these, also.
Can’t you have it both ways? No, you have to decide.
You either are or you aren’t.
You either believe or you don’t.
You either will or you won’t.
You have to choose. You have to commit. And it’s not easy.
It was not easy for the Israelites. They had been freed from slavery in Egypt by their gracious, loving, life-giving God who through Moses had worked miracles and mighty deeds that made clear God’s will for the freedom of God’s people. But they still wanted to go back to Egypt. They were not sure the ways of God, the way of freedom and new life, were what they really wanted. Egypt was so comfortable. The food was so good. So what if they were slaves, at least they got a decent meal. Why couldn’t they have the comforts of Egypt and the freedom of the new life in God? They argued with God and Moses. They accused God and Moses of not knowing what was best for them. They rebelled. And — many died.
The poison of sin came into the camp of those who God had freed, and many died. Serpents worked out God’s judgment on those who chose the ways of the world over the ways of God, and many died. They could not commit to God, they thought the price was too great and many died.
Then they remembered. They remembered God’s love and grace. They remembered the new life and freedom God offered, and they repented. And God responded again in love and grace. The serpent on the pole was the antidote to the poison of sin. All who looked to the serpent on the pole and not at the world would be healed. But they had to commit. Either they would turn to the serpent on the pole or they wouldn’t. They had to decide if they would follow God or if they wouldn’t.
You either are or you aren’t.
You either believe or you don’t.
You either will or you won’t.
You have to choose. You have to commit.
Jesus understood that. When Jesus told Nicodemus: “For God so loved the
world that He sent His only Son ..” He was telling about the gracious love of our gracious and loving God. God offers life. New life that is abundant and meaningful. New life where meaning is found in giving of ourselves for God and others. New life where the things of the world become secondary to the things of God. New life where joy and meaning are found in the community of the church — God’s people — dedicated to serving God and others. New life where there is true freedom because the things of the world no longer matter. New life where true meaning is not found in success, in your job, or in “doing your own thing” but in giving of yourself, loving God and others more than anything else, putting the will of God above your will, letting God guide — lead — and direct your life and free you from the poison of sin.
So the question for Lent is: Will you turn to Christ?
Will you turn to Christ, who heals you from the poison of sin?
Will you commit your life to Christ and let Christ lead, guide, direct, forgive, and save you?
God loves the world so much that He sent Christ to save it. Will you turn to Christ?
Will you let Christ save you?
Will you commit yourself to Christ?
Will you decide to follow Christ and not whatever the world is calling upon you to follow?
Will you decide to follow Christ and not your own will?
Will you turn to Christ and not rebel against Christ?
Will you give Christ your life?
Will you make the things of Christ — the things of God — the most important things in your life?
Will you make your personal study of the Bible, your personal prayer life, and our corporate study of God’s word in Sunday School and Bible Study important for your life?
Will you make our corporate worship of God important to you?
Will you make our times of service to the community and our times of fellowship important for your life?
Will you quit turning away from Christ and begin turning to Christ?
If you will turn to Christ you will discover the new life God intends for you. If you will not turn to Christ but remain living in the ways of the world you will only discover sin, death and hell.
Will you turn to Christ?
Friday night Sally and I attended the CUOC Volunteer Appreciation banquet and got to meet and hear the story of Jason Brown. Jason was born and raised jn Henderson, NC and played football for the University of North Carolina. He played football so well in college that after college he entered the NFL Draft and was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens. He played center for the Raveatns – and after a few years was picked by the St Louis Rams. He did so well with St. Louis that he was considered the best center football and earned a $320 mission contract. After a few years he was offed a $350 million contract, but also felt God’s call to do something else with his life. He walked away from the Rams contract and contract offers from the San Diego Chargers and Carolina Panthers and bought a 11,000 acre farm in Louisburg, NC. He planted a sweet potato crop and gave away all the potatoes he raised to charities that feed the hungry. Last year he donated 46,000 pounds of sweet potatoes to help feed the hungry.
Like the Israelites in the desert who had to turn away from the temptations of Egypt and turn to God, Jason turned away from what the world would call success to follow God. You can read about his story and how you can help him at his web site – Wisdom For Life.
Lent is indeed a time for reflection upon your response to the love of God, to God’s love you can see so clearly in Christ on the cross and experience so clearly in the forgiveness of your sins. Lent is a time to turn back to Christ.
A snake on a pole. A savior on a cross. A football player tuned farmer. All of these show us God’s love and God’s call to follow.
Will you turn to Christ? You have to decide. You have to commit.
You either are or you aren’t.
You either believe or you don’t.
You either will or you won’t. Amen