It might seem an odd thing to write about just two days before Christmas, but the story of God plaguing the Israelites with poisonous snakes and then commanding Moses to construct a bronze serpent and attach it to a cross-beamed pole has baffled even the best minds for centuries. Some people have regarded this story as yet another reason for them to reject God and the Bible and consider both to be nonsense. An ever-so-slightly-less-cynical approach that some, who seem to really want both God and the Bible to be true, have taken is to regard the story as a fictional myth with mysterious allegorical meaning. I think this is how Dr. Jordan Peterson recently interpretted it in his discussion with Mr. John Anderson on their Youtube discussion last week. The high profile psychologist Dr. Peterson seems to have been on an interesting spiritual journey of late and he is obviously delving into the Bible and coming up with what appear to be some roadblocks to his complete acceptance of the claims of Christ largely due to these obscure passages in the Bible such as this account in Number 21. “No one has ever been able to explain it to me!” he told Mr. Anderson. I wish he had asked me, because if he had, this is what I would have explained to him.
Within the sixty-six books of Scriptures we have a unified and coherent revelation from God about His identity as the Creator, the Law-giver, the Redeemer, the Saviour, and the Final Judge. Its sixty-six books tell one story – God’s plan of redemption and conquest over and ultimate vanquishing of evil. Within the Scripture is the revelation of how to be reconciled to God by having our sins forgiven through Christ. It is the Scriptures which assure us that we have one mediator between us and God the Father – Jesus the Christ (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15; 12:24) through whom we can directly appeal. It is within the Scriptures that we find the commands of God for how we are to live, conduct our lives, order our affairs, treat others, and prioritise our worship of God. Thus, we are not permitted to just be “hearers” of God’s Word, we are to accept its authority and be compliant with its commands and imperatives (Rom. 2:13; 1 Tim. 4:16; James 1:22-23) – because it is the Word of God.
We live in a fast paced world. We expect things to happen quickly. None of us like to be kept waiting. Even when we order something online we expect it delivered straight away. Some of us having to work two or even three jobs just to be able to pay the bills. We describe ourselves as time-poor. Yet, we all get twenty-four-hours in a day. Sixty-minutes in an hour. And sixty-seconds in a minute. Most of us need to adjust how we see, understand, and treat our time. This will involve, what will be for some, adopting a foreign and largely unaccustomed view of time that involves worship, sabbath, and deepening relationships. From this biblical perspective we will come to see time as a gift from God, not a curse, or source of frustration. Within this gift of time God teaches us how to worship in those times when it is difficult to do so. Rather than thinking this divine gift of time is ours to do with what ever we want, God uses this gift to teach us that we should gift it back to Him beginning with (but not limited to) treating Sunday as a sabbath to come together to recommit our hearts, voices, minds, and presence with God’s people, back to God. God gives us passing time to learn to deepen relationships – especially with our kin, and our friends. Time is meant for relationship building.
One of the greatest lies that the would-be enemy of all our souls attempts to perpetuate is that we are what we are and we can never change. This lie is whispered into the ears of many people’s invisible ears so imperceptibly that they actually think it originated with them. “You were born this way – and you can never change”, “This is who you really are – and you can never change”, “There’s no hope of anything ever changing for better – so you might as well just kill yourself” and so on. But these sly alien voices inside the heads of the vulnerable are lies. People can change. People do change. Some circumstances were always going to be temporary and were always going to change. I know this is true because I am living proof. I am who I am but I am not who I used to be and I am not yet who I will be.
I’ve been praying for Penn Jillette for some time now. It began when I first heard him ridicule the Bible and Christianity. My fascination with Penn (and Teller), and other world-class magicians, has been due to my pursuit to develop my craft of preaching. There are a lot of similarities between preachers and magicians (just as there is also a lot similarities between solo musicians and preachers). I seek to learn from magicians about how to keep an audience’s attention, how to tell a story, and how to make a point by employing the element of surprise. But there are some significant differences between what magicians do and what preachers do though. A magician is deliberately deceptive. A preacher is striving to uphold truth in an honest way.