18 May Look Up to God then Look Out to Others
By Peter Nguyen (PhD); AsiaCMS Regional Hub Manager, South East Asia
Where do we turn to amidst this Covid-19 pandemic suffering or any other circumstances as followers of Christ today? Is our hope in Christ? A famous hymn written by Edward Mote, “On Christ the Solid Rock” reminds us that our hope is, and should be, built on Jesus.
In Numbers 21:4-9, a bronze serpent is mentioned as a symbol of healing for the Israelites. Just before they crossed the Jordan River, the Israelites were once again discouraged; they spoke against the LORD and Moses and questioned Him for taking them out of Egypt to die. Throughout the journey, the people never stopped murmuring for fear of dying in the wilderness. They kept remembering their days in Egypt when they had fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 11:5).
The LORD then sent fiery serpents that bit them, causing many of them to die. We do not know how many people died but enough that they had to beg Moses to pray for them to the LORD because of they spoke against the LORD and Moses. The LORD then told Moses to make a bronze serpent and set it up on a pole so that those who were bitten by the fiery serpents could look up at the bronze serpent and live.
It is possible that while waiting for the bronze serpent to be made and set up on a pole, more people were bitten to death. But, as soon as the bronze serpent was set on the pole, people were healed from the bites and wounds. It became a symbol of healing for the Israelites. Since then, the symbol became an object of worship to the Israelites on the high places, where the people burned incense to it (Nehushtan) until King Hezekiah ordered this bronze serpent to be broken down (II Kings 18: 4).
We do not need to look at the symbol of the bronze serpent on the pole to be saved, because we can look upon Jesus himself, who is our hope and Saviour. In John 3: 14,15, Jesus said, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” I do not know if this CoVid-19 pandemic is a test of our faith in God but reflecting on the journey of the Israelites in the desert for 40 years, it seems that our journey on earth may face similar challenges and hardship.
During those situations, does our help come from the LORD (Psalm 121)? The God-Who-Sees (El Roi) will not leave us; he is still with us on this journey. The one powerful God who showed compassion and was slow to anger – to the Israelites that He rescued them from death is the same God who “loves the world that He sent his only-begotten Son, Jesus, so that we may believe in him and have eternal life” (John 3: 16).
Jesus is the Redeemer of our souls in times of need. Those who believe in Christ may have abundant and eternal life (John 10:10). Therefore, we can be confident with peace in our hearts because our hope is in Christ, our Lord and Saviour. We should share that hope in Christ with others who are hopeless and have nowhere to turn to. This can be demonstrated through practical love for our neighbours, instead of alienation and isolation. Christians have been sacrificially showing their love to others throughout the history of humanity. For instance, during the terrible Antonine plague in the 2nd century, which killed about a quarter of the mighty Roman empire, the Church was able to spread out everywhere because the members treated each other and the people around them, with kindness and impressively in the harsh circumstances of that time.
During these uncertain times of a global pandemic, the thoughts of Martin Luther, which he wrote during The Black Death plague, can be an encouragement: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance, inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbour needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
 Luther’s Works Volume 43 pg. 132 the letter “Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague” written to Rev. Dr John Hess, https://www.immanuelsc.org/daily-devotions/2020/3/14/martin-luther-and-the-black-death, accessed on 17/04/2020.