Someone once asked me why Baptists don’t observe Lent. I gave them a funny look and said, with a smile of course, “Baptists don’t have anything left to give up.” We laughed. They took it at face value, but I knew deep down that while we had a laugh at that, the observance of Lent is more than giving up a few vices. If we really think about it, sometimes we need to get what might be considered good things out of our lives for a short while to remind us to keep our focus on God. At other times, we need something from the past to remind us of what God has done for us.
What landmarks help you remember your faith? Baptists practice believer’s baptism. This gives us a reminder that we committed our lives to the Lord, however long ago it might be. Every time someone is baptized at our church, I remember my own baptism. I know it wasn’t the baptism that brought me to Christ, it was coming to Christ that brought me to baptism. That picture of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ strengthens my faith each time I see others proclaim their faith in this way. Problems come when baptism becomes the goal, and not Christ. When people tell me that they’re Christians because they’ve been baptized, I worry. This happened with Israel also and Jesus mentions that story while He talked to Nicodemus. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15)
To make a long story short, during the Exodus, God sent serpents to attack rebellious Jews. He provided a way of salvation for Jews who repented by having Moses create a bronze serpent which he held up in the wilderness so that everyone who looked up at the serpent in faith would be healed. It was a great reminder of God’s love and protection. It was so great that the wandering Hebrews kept this bronze snake as a reminder of God’s grace. Then, problems arose. Some of the local religions included snake cults. People changed from recognizing that the power seen through the snake came from God to believing that the bronze snake itself held the power. The Israelites began worshiping this image. When Hezekiah became king of Judah and began cleaning up the Temple and reinvigorating the worship of the people, one of the things he did was destroy this ancient artifact. Even though it had been used by God to bless the people, it’s use was over and the created became worshiped over the Creator.
It’s easy to let relics of the past become the pattern for the future. Too often we, as Christians, think our experience with God is the only way He acts to draw people to Himself or for believers to grow in Him. As Jesus talked with Nicodemus, He reminded him that people can’t control the Spirit. You can’t make the Holy Spirit punch a time clock and you can’t tell the Holy Spirit what He’s supposed to do. Instead, we must look at the relics of our faith, the reminders of how God brought us here, the way He’s led us and ask ourselves, “Does this make me focus on God or does this make me focus on the relic?” Any relics that draw us to worship the created thing instead of the Creator must be smashed, just like the bronze serpent. At the same time, it’s good to remember those relics, sometimes good, sometimes bad, that led us to follow Christ, just as the snake was remembered well enough for John to include it in the story. As long as we remember that any thing, any person, any event that we dealt with in the past was used by God to draw us closer to Him, we can remember it with joy and keep worshiping God. These verses remind us that the next verse is “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Lord, I thank You for all that has happened in the past because it made me who I am in You today.