Home > Easter > The Sign of the Crucified Son. Rogate 2014/ 157th Anniversary of the Congregation.

The Sign of the Crucified Son. Rogate 2014/ 157th Anniversary of the Congregation.

brazen-serpent-julius-schnorr-von-carolsfeld-1851-60Rogate/ 157th Anniversary of the Congregation

St. Peter Lutheran Church, Joliet, Illinois

Numbers 21:4-9

May 25, 2014

“The Sign of the Crucified Son”


Iesu Iuva!


People commonly believe

That God chooses good people to be His people.




God chooses people while they are still objects of His wrath.


He saves people whom He has just struck down in His wrath.


He chooses people who are on death’s door because of their sins.


When we have been struck by His wrath and are dying,

                He lifts up before us

                                The sign of His crucified Son.


This sign means that all His wrath is taken away from us.


We can see this fact in the Old Testament reading this morning.


The story from the Old Testament is not just the story of the rebellious Israelites.  It’s our story too.




This is the story of the Israelites: They’re angry with God.


They’re so angry with Him they reject Him.  They cast Him away.


They’re angry with Him because they don’t believe His promises.  They’re angry because God isn’t giving them what they expect from a god—wealth, prestige, power.


“The Lord and Moses brought us out here to kill us,” they say.  “Look, there’s no food and no water, and we’re sick of this worthless bread.”


“We hate you, God,” they’re saying.  “You never loved us.  You were always waiting to destroy us.”


So God struck them in His wrath.  He sent fiery serpents into their midst, who bit them, and many died.


You ask, How is this our story?


Because we get angry at God too.  We know we’re not supposed to, so we don’t always grumble and rebel.  But we don’t always like living on bread from heaven that sustains us we know not how.  Our bread from heaven is God’s Word that says we are forgiven and that we have eternal life.  But oftentimes we want something besides that—some food or water we can see and have stored up and not have to depend on God to sustain us from moment to moment.


On May 24th, 1857, the founding members of St. Peter signed a constitution and this congregation came into being.


As of yesterday St. Peter Ev. Lutheran Church has been in existence for 157 years, making it the oldest Lutheran congregation in and around Joliet.


What should be our response to this anniversary?  Thanksgiving!


But like the Israelites we find ourselves afflicted.  Our numbers are small and we seem to be wandering in circles in the wilderness as members fall away.  We can’t see from where our help will come.


Just like the Israelites, many of us are angry with God.


But why?  Isn’t the Lord still with us?  Hasn’t He promised to be?  Doesn’t He still call us His people in Baptism?  Has His promise of eternal life through His Son changed?


These are all things to give thanks for even if we lose everything else—like the most Lutheran of hymns says:

The Word they still shall let remain

                Nor any thanks have for it.

                He’s by our side upon the plain

                With His good gifts and Spirit.

                And take they our life

                Goods, fame, child, and wife

                Though these all be gone

                They yet have nothing won.

The Kingdom ours remaineth.


But the thanksgiving so often is buried underneath fretting and fear about the future, drowned by a bitter stream of blame.


A person might think that we believe that God has led us to where we are now—to kill us.  That we believe in a God who doesn’t love us, who has abandoned us, or who was always waiting for the opportunity to condemn us.


This unbelief is the same unbelief that led the Israelites to hate God and slander Him.  This same unbelief provoked the Lord to send fiery serpents into the midst of them.


Repent!  Stop speaking against the Lord as though He was a God who meant you evil and not good.


God has not abandoned you.  He does not change, so you are not consumed or cast away.  He didn’t bring you into the wilderness to destroy you.


Instead, like the Israelites, He strikes us that He may raise us up.  He holds before our eyes the sign of His crucified Son; He does this even when He has struck us in His wrath and we are about to die.


The Lord saves those who are on death’s door, who are under His wrath.


For 157 years He has chosen St. Peter to receive His grace, even though we are snakes by nature, just like the Israelites—people who only are capable of disbelieving, disobeying, cursing God, provoking His wrath.


But God did not destroy us.  He showed us grace.  He lifted up before us the sign of His crucified Son in His Word so that we might gaze on Him and the poison of sin would not kill us.  He showed us His Son lifted up on the cross for us as if He were the snake, made sin for us and nailed to the cross.


The Lord doesn’t choose good people for His people.  He chose the Israelites, and the Israelites rejected Him.  So the Lord struck them in His wrath.  And when they were on death’s door from the fiery serpents and they called for the Lord’s help, He chose them again.  He had Moses hold up before them the snake on the sign post.


When we have been struck by His wrath and are on death’s door, He holds before us the sign of His crucified Son who bore His wrath.  When He holds up Jesus Christ crucified before us, He chooses us.  “See, I’ve chosen you,” He is saying, “I chose you by heaping your sin and my wrath on My only begotten Son.  In His being cast away I have chosen you.  I made Him sin for you so that the serpent Satan cannot harm you, cannot condemn you for your sins.”


God does this not for the good but for sinners.  Only the sinners who His hand has struck and laid low can see the sign of His crucified Son.  But those who are on death’s door and seem past redemption, He saves by holding up Christ crucified.


The Israelites were dying from poison when Moses held the snake high—but when they looked on the snake lifted up, they were saved.


The thief was already pinned to the accursed cross with nails.  God had cursed him.  And he had cursed God, reviling Jesus with the other thief.  Just like the Israelites.  Just like us!  If not with our lips then with our hearts.


How could things be worse for a man at the end of His life?


But the Lord held before him the sign of His crucified Son.  That sign meant that all of God’s wrath was taken away from Him.  And the accursed thief was absolved by Jesus and entered paradise the same day.


My beloved brothers and sisters, the Lord is doing the same thing in our midst.  But better.  No one told the thief, “Jesus is dying for you.”  But in the Gospel God tells us that Jesus’ death is for us and we are free from His wrath.  In the Gospel it is all wrapped up and presented to us who are dying under God’s wrath.  Jesus has taken away all sin and wrath from you, and even though the serpents slither and bite us we will not die.


In  the Gospel God holds up the sign of His crucified Son before us.  The serpents that are biting us are near.  We feel their bites inside our hearts—temptations to envy, to lust, to anger and bitterness.  And we feel the sting of condemnation too.  The poison is inside our hearts, easy to feel, unless our consciences are numbed by sin.


But the sign of God’s crucified Son is outside of us—in the Word.  It isn’t something we’ve done or can experience before we believe it.  It is simply held up in front of your heart through preaching.  It says, “The poison you feel burning in your heart has all been healed when God’s Son was struck in His wrath, when God made Him sin for you, the one who knew no sin.”


Look at Jesus crucified.  See how He was made a curse?  He was dying a death cursed by God and hated by men.  It was the kind of death that if it happened to someone close to you you cover it up.


But Jesus doesn’t want His shameful, accursed death covered up.  He wants it proclaimed in public until the end of the world that He was made sin and God’s wrath fell on Him.  Just as Moses lifted up the bronze serpent on the sign post, so Jesus wants His cursed death lifted up so that we may see God’s wrath falling on Him and say, “Now, even though I feel God’s wrath on me, I know it cannot be God’s wrath, because that was placed on Jesus.”


For 157 years in just this way the Lord has been in our midst, lifted up, so that everyone bitten by the ancient serpent may look on Him and live.  The Lord has been curing those on death’s door for 157 years at St. Peter.  Whether He does so for 157 more years or just seven, let us give thanks to Him.  It is good news for us out here in the wilderness.


The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen


Soli Deo Gloria

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