The Antivenom for Sin

Scripture Focus: Numbers 21.7-9
7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. 
8 The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

Psalm 60.1-5
1 You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; 
you have been angry—now restore us! 
2 You have shaken the land and torn it open; 
mend its fractures, for it is quaking. 
3 You have shown your people desperate times; 
you have given us wine that makes us stagger. 
4 But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner 
to be unfurled against the bow. 
5 Save us and help us with your right hand, 
that those you love may be delivered.

Reflection: The Antivenom for Sin 
By John Tillman

With sin, as with serpents, it isn’t the size that kills you—it is the venom.

Venom is a specific kind of poison. Poison can be transmitted by touch or ingestion, like the poison on the skin of a poisonous frog or in a poisonous plant. Venom is a poison inflicted through a wounding attack, such as a bite or sting. 

Venoms can cause necrosis, killing the tissue it is injected into. Many cause vomiting, hemorrhaging, seizures, heart failure, and other deadly symptoms. Many venoms also cause blindness, paralysis, or disorientation, making victims easier to kill by other means.

Through the serpent in the Garden of Eden, humanity was stung by sin. Its venom necrotizes our spirit, disorients us, blinds us, and makes us easy victims to be toyed with or killed by our adversary, the devil. (1 Peter 5.8)

Contrary to popular belief, venom cannot be sucked out of a wound. In most cases, the surrounding tissue is flooded with venom and it is nearly instantly carried through the bloodstream. Antivenom must be taken. In some cases antivenom must begin to be administered within minutes of being bitten or the victim may not survive. 

We cannot save ourselves from the venom of sin. It inevitably will cause our death and many other harms in our lives. The venom that pained and even killed some of the Israelites was a direct consequence of sin and a realistic representation of how the venom of sin infects our bodies and communities.

When the Israelites looked to the sign of the serpent, they were looking in faith at God’s promise of an antivenom for sin. Every heel struck by a serpent in the Israelite camp was healed not by looking at the serpent but by the bruised heel of the one promised to Eve in the garden. (Genesis 3.15; Isaiah 53.4-5)

Jesus was struck by sin, stung with its venom, and raised up as a sign of God’s provision. Sin wounds us. He is the balm. Sin injects venom that necrotizes our souls. Jesus injects us with the antivenom of his indestructible life.

No matter what we have done, or what sin we are struck by, Jesus is lifted up for us to look to for salvation. (John 3.14-18) There is no sting of sin too grievous for him to heal.

Jesus is the only antivenom for sin and we are commanded to lift him up so that the world can be freed from the sting of sin and death. (1 Corinthians 15.54-57; Isaiah 25.7-8; Hosea 13.14)

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him! — Psalm 34.8
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Numbers 21 (Listen – 5:03)
Psalm 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

Read more about The Cup
Christ’s death and resurrection is the assurance and archetype for our own hope: the greatest evil turned for the greatest good.

Read more about Quotations from the Desert
Christ…locked eyes with the serpent upon whose head his heel would soon step down with infinite crushing weight.

The Thriving Tree

Scripture Focus: Ezekiel 17.22-24
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. 
“ ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ” 

Psalm 60.1-4
1 You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; 
you have been angry—now restore us! 
2 You have shaken the land and torn it open; 
mend its fractures, for it is quaking. 
3 You have shown your people desperate times; 
you have given us wine that makes us stagger. 
4 But for those who fear you, you have raised a banner 
to be unfurled against the bow. 

Reflection: The Thriving Tree
By John Tillman

Biblical authors don’t always explain their visions and parables. Thankfully, Ezekiel explains his visions of trees and eagles.

Nebuchadnezzar, the first eagle, took king Jehoiachin and others into captivity (2 Kings 24.15) and “planted” Zedekiah under Babylonian control. Pharaoh, the second eagle, is who Zedekiah, the “low vine,” entreats for help rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar. “Will it thrive?,” God asks. (Ezekiel 17.9)

Many kings, humbled and seeking God’s face, received miraculous deliverance from their enemies. This was not one of those times. Zedekiah was the opposite of humble.

Refusing to humble himself under the discipline of God, (2 Chronicles 36.12-13) Zedekiah would not accept a reduction in status. He wanted to be a mighty cedar, not a low vine. He wanted the “good old days” back. 

Zedekiah didn’t make his bad decisions alone. A host of religious leaders and yes-men helped. Self-serving false prophets fed Zedekiah’s ego and pride with lies and predictions of great deliverance and salvation.

It doesn’t take too much conjecture to imagine what Zedekiah might have felt and thought. “I’m a descendant of David! God promised to have one of David’s descendants rule forever on this throne. It just can’t be God’s will for me,…I mean…us, to be humiliated like this!” 

Don’t we often look at scripture and our experiences in the same way? “This can’t be what God wants for me! I won’t stand for this kind of treatment! I deserve better! God will vindicate me in this fight!”

Zedekiah’s selfish desires for salvation and a return to power would not be answered because God had already set in motion his long-term plan to save and empower his people. Part of God’s plan to save them was to purify their hearts through exile and suffering. Part of God’s plan to save them was to enact a second Exodus, calling the faithful of his people back from captivity once again.

But God’s ultimate plan was in the tree, the king, only he could plant. (Ezekiel 17.22-25, Jeremiah 23.5-6)

Zedekiah, the king planted by Nebuchadnezzar would fail. Even Nebuchadnezzar would fail in spectacular fashion. Jesus, the king planted by God upon Zion, is the tree that will thrive, bringing all the birds to his shade.

Our path to salvation and restoration follows the steps of the suffering, crucified servant, Jesus. It is only in the shade of Christ’s thriving tree, his cross, that we will thrive.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes, when he comes to judge the earth. — 1 Chronicles 16.33
– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Ezekiel 17  (Listen – 4:26)
Psalm 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

Read more about Praise in the Midst of Trouble :: A Guided Prayer
Our land, our people, our churches, our politics are fractured, God.
We stagger, shaken, fearful, and unsteady.

Read more about Naked Humility, Unexpected Salvation
Isaiah also shows us the power of accepting suffering as a discipline, while at the same time setting our hope on the future.

Artful Prayers

Psalm 57.1, 4
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
   for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
   until the disaster has passed.

I am in the midst of lions;
   I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
men whose teeth are spears and arrows,
   whose tongues are sharp swords.

Reflection: Artful Prayers
By John Tillman

All scripture is “useful for training in righteousness,” but what scripture is—what mode and form of writing it takes—affects how we engage with it.

Lists of legalities in Leviticus may leave us dry. Genealogical records may excite us only when scandalous details grab our attention. Histories of heroes and villains may be thrilling and inspiring, but can often lead us astray if we are foolish enough to think we are always intended to religiously copy the actions and choices of historical figures. The fully flawed and un-idealized humans recorded in scripture show us more of their sins than their virtues. When rightly read, the lives of even heroes like David are perhaps more cautionary than they are aspirational.

One of the reasons that the psalms are so engaging to any reader of God’s Word is that they are works of art and carry with them the inherent timelessness that great artworks possess. In the psalms, we see with the eyes of those viewing a play, hearing a song, gazing into a painting.  We are here to enter the lived emotion of the artists who bared their souls to God in prayers that were always intended to be performed.

The psalms are not merely a private diary of rants and ravings to God, they are intended for an audience of humans. Some are written “to the director of music,” to be performed chorally. Some are “maskils,” instructive, pedagogical poetry that is intended to teach a lesson. Some are “songs of ascents,” to be sung as one climbed the Temple mount to worship. Psalms are intended for us to see them, hear them, perform them, and to participate emotionally with them. Psalms are intimate in the same way a play performed in a 1200 seat theatre is intimate.

In the psalms, we aren’t going to be told what to do in the office today when someone insults us. But we can see the inner emotional reality of someone whose friends were betrayed to death and who is now hiding in a cave. We won’t get three practical points about how to tell someone about Jesus, but we will get to see the world’s wonder through the eyes of an artist painting a descriptive thank you to a loving creator.

All art is not scripture. But all art preaches. Many times art preaches more effectively than a sermon.

May we live artfully in the power of the Holy Spirit, creating with our lives a prayer that may be seen, heard, felt, and may cause those viewing it to join tearfully in our sufferings, and joyfully in our celebrations.

Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 19 (Listen – 3:39)
Psalm 56-57 (Listen – 3:11)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 20 (Listen – 4:15) Psalm 58-59 (Listen – 3:32)
Numbers 21 (Listen – 5:03) Psalm 60-61 (Listen – 2:27)

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Read more about How to Grow in Prayer
Mastering the art of prayer, like anything else, takes time. The time we give it will be a true measure of its importance to us.

Read more about Prayer, Our Tent of Meeting
For us, prayer is our tent of meeting, where the deepest thirsts of our souls may be satisfied.