All throughout scripture, we are encouraged to testify and rejoice for what God has done. We sing plenty of songs about it in church, and listen to others singing out it on radio and TV (some of the time!), but for many people it doesn’t really go any further beyond the weekly ritual of singing hymns or listening to Christian radio or TV. Think about it… when is the last time you actually rejoiced – even sang to God, personally for something He has done specifically for you? Not in a corporate church setting; not with a group… just you and God?

For most people, they can’t even remember that far back, and the question is, why is it so rare? For something that the scripture encourages us to do, why doesn’t it occur more often? Why do Christians spent more time complaining and depressed, instead of singing and rejoicing?

Personally, I believe they are not focused on the right thing. I believe that their vision is skewed and they are looking at themselves and their current circumstances instead of looking at Jesus and seeing the victory that He has already won – I know that I have lived that way for quite a long time, and I recognize the signs and symptoms of it very well. So today I want to share with you an encouraging study on seeing the mercy of Jesus, and how it causes you to overflow with genuine, real rejoicing.

Now at first, this study may seem silly or trivial… I mean, when is the last time you actually heard someone do an entire study on rejoicing?! I doubt many people would think it necessary; but that very fact is precisely why I believe that it is necessary. Because for many of us, rejoicing at all, is not nearly as common as it should be. (and as a note, my use of “should be” doesn’t mean that rejoicing should be a legalistic practice – but rather that I should naturally be a regular occurrence for someone genuinely enjoying the Grace and Mercy of Jesus Christ every day of their life.)

And that right there is the first key point of our study today, because as I said in the opening I believe that if someone isn’t living a joyful and rejoicing life; if that attitude isn’t common to them, it may be because they are focused on the wrong thing.

You see, it is very natural for us to get swept-up in day-to-day activities and occurrences – to live life on a kind of autopilot mode where we instantly react to whatever happens, and the drama of the moment, without ever thinking or considering how God, and the truth of Christ factors into it all. And when we are in that mode, rejoicing is almost impossible, and so are many other factors related to Christ, because we get too busy looking at the poisonous snakes, rather than the bronze serpent on the pole. To see this and understand the reference further, let’s take a look at Numbers 21:5-9:

And the people spoke against God, and against Moses, Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loathes this light bread.

And the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.

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 take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people.

And the LORD said to Moses, Make you a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

Now this is very interesting! Notice first what is recorded in verse 5… that the people spoke against God. This is nothing new, they had been doing this throughout their journey up to this point as well, but there is particular interest is what precisely they say here.

First, they say Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? Now putting aside that this is a direct attack on the character and intent of God, this question (which is more of a statement), shows us what they were really focusing on here…the journey. If you go up one verse and look at verse 4, you will read that “The soul of the people was discouraged, because of the journey”. That is what they were looking at – not the fact that God was with them the entire time, not of the great miracles He performed, or the fact that they were no longer slaves now – but the journey. And looking at this, caused them to become discouraged.

Then they continue with more false statements based on their discouragement. They say: for there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loathes this worthless bread

Now notice how very inaccurate these statements are. First if there was no bread, than there would be no bread for them to be hating and calling worthless to begin with! Second, we know that there was water – in-fact in the previous chapter, they just saw the second miracle of God giving them water from the rock that Moses (improperly) struck after being told to speak to it!

Now why was their thinking so clouded to make these false statements? Again, because they weren’t looking at God and His merciful provision – they were wrapped-up too tightly in themselves and the journey, and their own perception of their circumstances.

In-fact, their vision was so skewed, that they make the amazingly terrible statement at the end of verse 5: our soul loathes this worthless bread!

This statement is so awful, because the bread here that they hated so much and called “worthless” was actually the Manna from heaven that God was miraculously supplying to them! They had totally lost sight of everything God had been providing for them. They were no longer focused on His love and His care, and had totally collapsed in on themselves, spiritually.

In Psalms 78:24-25, the manna from Heaven is described as the food of angels, the champions bread… here they call it worthless.

We see this happen a lot of our lives, when we become near-sighted, and spiritually introverted, we often fail to see all the wonder that God has done and continues to do.

Now in verse 6, we have a very unfortunate English translation, saying that The LORD sent fiery serpents on the people… hopefully we have a better understanding of God’s nature and character than that, and we know that God did not “send” calamity on the children that He loves and has cared for throughout the entire Exodus thus-far. It’s not as if God’s patience suddenly ran-out after all of this. No, not at all. In-fact in Acts 13:18, it is testified that God did not lose His patience with the Israelites in the wilderness!

So what did happen then? Well, the key is actually understanding the Hebrew grammar here. The word “sent” in the Hebrew is not the causative tense but the permissive tense. God lifted His hand of protection because the people hated it now; and this is the key to everything!

Remember that Jesus testified about Himself in John 6:51, that He is the true living bread that came down from Heaven – the Manna that God rained down every single day for them was actually a type and shadow of the provision of Jesus; and they said that they now loathed it and considered it as worthless!

So since they were unwilling to receive the provision of God, the fiery serpents were able to come in and start biting.

The word “fiery” in the Hebrew is the word seraph, which means “burning”; burning ones, fiery ones. When the fiery serpent bites, whether it shows itself as a physical symptom, or your emotions become overwhelming, your finances are a mess, whatever it is, when the snake comes in, don’t despair! There is an answer… and it may not be what you expect (it probably isn’t!)

Religion teaches that the appropriate response in such times is contrition, sorrow, regret and remorse. However that is not the response we see prescribed in these verses. We do see something very specific though.

First in verse 7, we see that the people make the same mistake that we often make today… their request when analyzed, really makes no sense. They ask God to “take away the serpents” – and we usually do the exact same thing. We ask God to take away whatever problem currently has our attention, because remember, we aren’t really rejoicing in Christ at the time, we are focused on us and our problems instead.

It makes no sense to ask God to take away the problem if the root cause has not been fixed and the effects are already manifesting.

Think about it… even if God took away the serpents right when they asked Him to, the serpents had already sank their teeth in, and the poison was coursing through their veins at this point. The snakes weren’t the problem!

What should we do then? Tear out our hair? Rend our garments? Fast for days and pray until our knees are bloody?

Nope! None of that! Look at verses 8 and 9:

And the LORD said to Moses, Make you a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looks on it, shall live.

And Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it on a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.”

God’s solution, was not sorrow, not regret, not contrition, not to even focus on the apparent problem at all! But instead, to focus on the solution – the provision of Jesus!

Notice that the fiery serpent on the pole, was made of brass, a symbol of judgment… showing that the thing which had bitten the people, had already been judged!

Jesus said in John 3:14, that He must be lifted up the same way that Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness. When we are faced with situations which steal our focus and hinder us and even threaten us, our response should not be religious grovelling, or riddled with guilt and regrets, and pleas for God to remove the things which we think are problems, but instead to rejoice as we look to the solution! Knowing that the thing which troubles us is already defeated and has already been judged, and it has lost – just as I did with my eye problem some time ago.

In closing, I want you to see the words of David, as he was moved by the Holy Spirit to write the following words in Psalm 66:16-20:

Come and hear, all you that fear God, and I will declare what he has done for my soul.

I cried to him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:

But truly God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God, which has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.”

The irony here that there are some who try to use verse 18 in isolation to prove that God will nt hear the prayer of a sinner.

If that were truly the case, then no-one could be saved because God would never hear the prayers of sinners!

In actuality, these verses highlight the amazing mercy of God.

In verse 16, David says to all that would listen, the declarations of what God has done for his soul (that is his mind and his emotions). You see there has been a change of mind, a change of emotions for David. David himself didn’t do it – David didn’t affect the change; David wasn’t the active agent… but God did it for him.

In verse 17, David says that he cried to God with his mouth… but they weren’t cries of sadness, guilt, condemnation or anything like that. Instead David, cried with rejoicing… God was extolled with David’s tongue (extol is to praise and rejoice and exalt).

Now, I invite you to take a fresh look at verse 18, and look at what David says:

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:”

The word for “regard” in this verse is the Hebrew ra’ah, meaning “to see”. Notice the detail of what this verse is saying: If I see sin in my heart, the LORD will not hear. It does not say if the LORD sees sin in your heart he won’t hear, it says if you see sin in your own heart, then the LORD will not hear.

The question here is, do you still see sin in your heart, or do you see it as a judged and defeated thing on the pole? Are you recognizing that your sin has been laid on Jesus? Or do you still see it as part of you?

If you see it on you, then you are not acknowledging the finished work of Christ personally for you.

If however, you see your sin as being laid on Jesus, then you absolutely have a real and genuine reason to rejoice every single day! And you can say just as David does in verses 19 and 20:

But truly God has heard me; he has attended to the voice of my prayer.

Blessed be God, which has not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.

Be blessed.

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