Salvation Made Simple
Text: Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
Complexity. For some reason we, as human beings, like to make things complex. I know, most of us would quickly deny that and say, “No way! I like things simple and easy.” “I don’t do difficult.” Yet, how often do we take something that should be simple, and make it difficult?
Consider, getting dressed in the morning. That should be a pretty easy thing to do, right? You would think so. Clothes are clothes right? Noooooo. We can’t just select clothes for the day and be happy with the selection. We have to start over-thinking the situation. Does the color of my socks match the t-shirt I’m wearing? Do I have the right shoes? Can I wear these colors together? Did I wear this outfit yesterday, two days ago, the last time people saw me? What will they think if I’m wearing the same thing they saw me in last time? And it goes on…getting dressed. Sadly, not as easy as we would think.
What about breakfast? How can we make breakfast complex? Just grab some cereal. Wait, do I want cereal? I had that yesterday. Maybe a different kind. Nope. Maybe eggs. Do I want bacon to go with those? Toast? Do I have time for all this? What do I want? Next thing you know we’ve started overthinking and something that should be easy has become complex.
Then, there are some things that were easy, that we have intentionally, or so it would seem, made complex. Remember when you could call a business and someone from that business would answer the phone? Those were the days. Most of the time now, what happens? “Hello, please press 1 for English,” then Spanish is spoken, assuming telling me what to do in Spanish, then, “please listen carefully as our menu options have changed. If you want…press 2, press 3, press 4…” It used to be you could preempt all of that and press “0” and get the operator. Last time I did that I heard, “that is an invalid entry. Please select from the following menu…” Anyone else experience this? Does it ever help your attitude? It usually makes it worse, so about the time you get a real person, you’ve already lost your mind and you’re ready to do battle.
Why do we do this to ourselves? We say we like things simple, but rarely do we choose the simple path. This is true when it comes to our salvation. This is true when it comes to having a relationship with God. Something that should be relatively easy, relatively simple, we make so complex. Many times over the years I have heard people say they are trying so hard to have a relationship with God. They tell about all the things they are doing and all the activities they’re involved with, and they hope it will be enough to make God happy. “I’m trying to be a good person. I hope I’ll make it. I want God to love me. I hope I haven’t messed up too much.” We speak and act as though we have to earn God’s favor. We speak and act as though we have to attain a certain level of holiness before we can be accepted by God. Certainly I must do some good things before God will even let me come into His presence and speak with Him. After all, if I go into the church building, it may fall on me because I’m not good enough to be there.
Is salvation really that difficult and complex? These three scripture passages that Phil read for us this morning seem to point to an answer of “no.” If “no”, then what does salvation require? Again, these scriptures point out what is required.
First, is the recognition of our condition in our natural state. What is that condition? We are grumblers and complainers against God, and we love darkness rather than light. Look at the Hebrew people as they are wandering in the desert as told about from our passage in Numbers. They were not wandering because they were lost. They were wandering, in great part, because they were not willing to enter the land of promise when God initially wanted them to go. The people had lacked the faith necessary to claim what God had given them so, one whole generation had to die out before God would again give them opportunity to go and posses the land. In the meantime, God was still taking care of them and providing for them. He was giving them manna to eat every day. Yet, even though God was caring for them, they began to complain. “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread” (Num. 21:5b). “God, you’re not giving us our way, right away! We’d rather be back in Egypt instead of going to this new place. And as to this food you’re giving us, yuck!” If this were written today God might respond, “Would you like some cheese with that whine?”
Then we read that God allowed poisonous snakes to come along and bite the people, so many of them died. They died in their trespasses and sins. Just as Paul wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. He reminded them that, before what God did for them in Christ, they too were dead in trespasses and sins. They were walking in the ways of the world that are in direct opposition to God. They were walking in disobedience. This is a word for us too. In our natural state, in our sinful condition, we are complainers against God. Even though God does good things for us and gives us blessings we do not deserve, we take them for granted, and act as though we deserve these things.
This grumbling and complaining got the Hebrews in trouble, and they soon became painfully aware of the consequences of their sin. This happens to us as well. At some point we become aware, and this is because of God’s grace, we become aware that we are on a path that is leading us to where we really do not want to go. We become aware that we have gotten way too mouthy with God and way too comfortable living in the messiness of sin.
Due to the people experiencing the consequences of their sin, they were moved to repentance. This is the second thing required for us to receive salvation. We need to repent of our sin.
Listen to what the Israelites did. Numbers 21:7,
“Therefore, the people came to Moses, and said, ‘We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord that He may take away the serpents from us.’” “We have sinned!” This has to be one of the most difficult things for us to do. Who in the world wants to acknowledge, “I am a sinner in need of repentance.” “Sin” is a word that many people want to cancel. Why? “Because it makes me feel bad about myself.” To that I say, we should feel bad about ourselves. We should be distraught that we have been disobedient against God and hurtful to one another. The whole season of Lent is a time to remember our sin, our need to repent, and our Savior. God did not leave us to wallow in our sinfulness. God has called us to repent, to acknowledge our sin and turn away from it and turn to Him. And, God has prepared a way for a new relationship with Him.
What did God command Moses to do when he prayed for the people? God commanded him to make a bronze image of the serpent, the snake, and put it on a pole, and lift it up where it could easily be seen by the people. The people were then told, if any of them was bitten by a serpent, if they looked to the bronze serpent that had been lifted up, they would live. What was required of the person who looked to the bronze serpent for healing? Faith. The person who had been bitten, who looked to the bronze serpent, would need to have faith they would be healed and live. Faith. Faith would be the third and final requirement for salvation.
In the gospel of John, the passage that was read, picks up in the middle of a conversation Jesus is having with Nicodemus. Nicodemus came to Jesus at nighttime, almost on an “undercover” mission. He didn’t want to be easily recognized. The gist of the conversation centered around being “born again”, or, born of the Spirit.” Essentially, having a relationship with God. Nicodemus was wanting to understand, was having a relationship with God difficult? As Jesus interacts with Nicodemus he brings up a passage of scripture that Nicodemus would be very familiar with. That passage is the one from Numbers.
Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”(Jn. 3:14-15).
Through these words Jesus illustrated the simplicity of God’s plan of salvation by faith in Christ. As the Israelites were saved from death simply by looking at the bronze image of the serpent, so anyone may be saved by looking in faith to Christ. Just like the serpent was lifted up, so Jesus would be lifted up on the cross. And, in order to live, all we have to do is look to Jesus, because salvation is available to all who accept God’s plan.
God’s plan is not difficult. Sometimes we try and make it difficult because, it just seems too easy. There has to be more to it than believing Jesus will forgive all our sins just by having faith in Him. Yet, what does He tell us, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God loves us so much that He made it easy for us to begin a new relationship with Him. All we have to do is believe in Jesus Christ and our sins will be forgiven and we will have eternal life.
Paul says it this way, Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9), “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loves us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ(by grace you have been saved)…For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
We were dead in our trespasses and sins, grumblers and complainers against God, lovers of the dark, not wanting our sins to be exposed. Yet, in the midst of all of that, out of God’s love and mercy towards us, he sent Jesus into the world to do what? Bring sinners to repentance. To bring salvation and new life if only we believe and have faith in Him.
Salvation is not difficult or complex. These three passages remind us that God has made salvation simple. We recognize our sinful nature, we repent, and we look to Jesus, and have faith that through Him our sins are forgiven, and we have new life. New life, not because of anything we did or will do. But, new life because of God’s grace given to us through our faith in Christ. Faith in Jesus. Salvation made simple. Amen.