Look and Live

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Guest Contributor

The reason it feels like just another Sunday morning is because the stakes aren’t high enough.

It wasn’t just another day for the people of Israel in Numbers 21. Imagine: You’re there in the desert and the serpents appear. Three of your family members are bitten immediately. One comes slithering up and bites you on the shin. People are screaming. Fainting. Dying.

Hours pass. Suddenly you see in the distance a mob is forming. Around a pole. “I hear if you look at it you won’t die!”, one girl says to you with a measure of hope. Curious, consumed, determined, desperate — you jog, you run, you join the crowd, you stop, and . . .

. . . you check your iPhone.

No. You don’t do that. You fight through the crowds and you stare a hole through that bronze serpent. And time stands still as you feel with every passing second the healing flow through your veins as you had felt the poison flow before.

Poison in veins. Bronze serpent raised.

Do you imagine anyone was bored that day?

Whose Righteousness?

Most of us reading this won’t have snakes in our churches, but we will have been bitten by the curse this week.

But do we really get it?

Our creed says Jesus is our Savior, but oftentimes our worship says we’re okay.

We aren’t gazing. We aren’t on our knees.

Can you imagine the way those people in Numbers 21 looked toward that pole? It wasn’t a quick glance. They were transfixed. Studying with seriousness this peculiar, exalted cure. Were they concerned with what other people were wearing? With the style in which Moses held the pole?


This is worship — the serious study and celebration of God’s peculiar, exalted cure, the bloody, battered, Savior on the pole. When our worship has grown cold it doesn’t mean we need to change the music up, or that we need new styles — it means we are standing in our own righteousness.

Why So Urgent?

Wait, shouldn’t we balance this “life and death” talk about worship with an understanding of our security in Christ? Shouldn’t there be a more relaxed, peaceful way to think about it since we are forever held in the loving embrace of God?

Two responses.


To be a Christian doesn’t mean that at a certain point in life we throw all our hope on Jesus, and then later we go about our business. It means we become more broken, more desperate. Faith becomes — “looking” becomes — more intense.

This is how you know a man is advancing in holiness. While his sins in reality may be becoming fewer and fewer, to him they are appearing greater and greater. Why?

The more you approach the Light, the more you reproach the dirt.

Which leads to the second response:

Yes, we are safely held in the arms of God. And this doesn’t make our worship less intense, but more. Think: Who is in his loving embrace? We are. The people bitten. The wretches like us.

When we know simultaneously that we are worthy of condemnation but eternally embraced in his love, that is when worship explodes from our hearts.

And therefore, the call of the worship leader is not “stand and sing” — it is “look and live!”

All of us have been bitten by sin. All of us hear the hissing, hypnotizing allure of idolatry and pleasure.

There is one hope. Lift your eyes.

From one who bears the fang-shaped scar, I urge you this weekend to attend corporate worship not merely to sing or merely to listen, but to look — to gaze.

Look and live.

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Matt Papa is a singer-songwriter who lives in Raleigh with his wife, Lauren, and their three daughters.