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SYNOPSIS OF THE SERMON
The cross is the logo and trademark of the Christian faith. Contrary to conceptions that it is too morbid or shameful of a symbol, Paul speaks in this passage about boasting in the cross. It is not Christ’s example or teaching that Paul boasts in, but the cross, which is the central thing in the Gospels. It is also the central feature in Paul’s letters, the New Testament, and the Church. The cross is an unexpected and undesirable means of liberation and salvation, and it offends every religion and people group. The cross has power to transform us; if we make it central to our lives, it will never fail us like other things in which we find our identity.
GETTING THE CONVERSATION STARTED
These questions can be used as ice-breakers in the beginning OR interwoven between the questions below to draw the group into the discussion.
1. As you think about your life, of what accomplishments are you the most proud?
2. Do you think of the events of your life more fondly in hindsight, or as you live them out in the present?
3. When you talk about your faith, on what portions do you focus? Is it difficult to discuss the relevance and necessity of the cross? If so, why do you think that is?
4. When you think of God’s justice, do you tend to think of God responding to your sins, or responding to the sins of others?
INTERACTING WITH THE SERMON
1. In 5 minutes or less. Briefly give a synopsis of this week’s sermon. What insight, principle, or observation from this weekend’s message did you find to be most helpful, eye-opening, or troubling? Briefly explain.
2. Read Numbers 21:4-9:
“4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”
6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people.8 The LORD said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”
• What strikes you as odd about the nature of the complaints in verse 5? Knowing what you know of Israel’s story, had they not also complained about being slaves in Egypt? What does it mean that they complained that there was “no bread” when they go on to state that they “detest this miserable food?” How does a sense of entitlement blind us to what God has already provided? Discuss this reality in your own lives.
• Why does God send the venomous snakes (v. 6)? What was God showing the Israelites? Do you think that God was showing them what life would be like without His blessing and protection? What does it say about God’s character that He was also quick to provide a cure (v. 8)?
• What were the Israelites focused on when things went wrong (v.5)? What were they focused on that persuaded God to provide a cure (v.7)?
• Did God provide a cure, or did He take the snakes away? Why? What do you suppose would have happened if the Israelites instead had focused on killing the snakes instead of their sinful actions? In your own lives do you focus on the condition of your heart, or do you focus more on what you want God to take away that is unpleasant? Briefly discuss.
• What do the venomous snakes represent? What does the snake on the pole represent – who else was put up on a pole to bring a cure to our sinful nature? What was the outcome of being bitten here (v.6)? What does that say about the effects of sin?
• What did the Israelites have to do to be healed? Something of their own strength or effort, or merely to look upon a cure? If we’ve all been “bitten” by sin, where must our focus be? On our sin? Or on the cure that was raised up? What does it look like for us to stop focusing on sin and to have the discipline to look at the cross? Don’t settle for easy answers here; discuss concrete actions.
3. “The desert” is a popular metaphor for spiritual dryness, feelings of abandonment, and isolation throughout Christian history. It also often literally represents these qualities in stories throughout the Bible. Ask your group if any among them feels like they are in a “desert” time of life right now, whether it is through joblessness, isolation, illness, strained relationships, etc. Gather around them to pray as a whole group or a few large groups. Invite the Holy Spirit to give the gifts of His favor and presence, as well as encouraging the individuals to focus on the cross that offers permanent victory and healing.