John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 are two of the most commonly memorized passages of the Bible. They are short and to the point and summarize in a few words the entire Christian faith:

John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, [9] not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

John 3:16 is commonly known as the Gospel in a nutshell: eternal life comes by believing in Jesus. Without Jesus we perish in our sins.

Ephesians 2:8-9 summarizes Martin Luther’s whole point in the Reformation. It brought him such great comfort to know that his salvation was not his own doing but the gift of God.

It’s always good to memorize Scripture. You never know when you might need God’s precious word for your own personal edification or for sharing the faith with others. When was the last time God gave you an opportunity to witness your faith and you just happened to have your Bible handy? When someone is ready to listen to the Gospel it probably won’t work to say, “Just let me run home and get my Bible. Then we can talk.”

Plus, we should never get the idea that by our persuasiveness or loving actions God is going to convert people. No, the power to convert people comes in the Bible. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, the Apostle Paul says (Romans 1:16), not our persuasiveness.

You may have other verses you prefer to have memorized. That is fine. These two passages I know have appealed to many believers over many years. The key is to have some verses of God’s holy word memorized.

But may I also suggest another passage to memorize: Numbers 21:4: “And the people became impatient on the way.” It comes from one of the most interesting stories in the Bible:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. [5] 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 food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” [6] Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. [7] And 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.” So Moses prayed for the people. [8] And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” [9] So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Why, you may ask, would you memorize anything from this story, especially one about people being impatient with God? Because we, like the people in this story, do become impatient with God along the way.

God was leading the people of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land. They had to take a detour around the land of Edom. The people in the land of Edom were cousins to the Israelites but they did not get along.

Rather than think about how great it was that God had rescued them from slavery and was now bringing them to the Promised Land, they became impatient. And they grumbled. So God sent snakes that bit people and many of them died. So the people repented. God had Moses make a snake and put it on a pole in the midst of the people. Whoever was bitten looked at the snake on the pole and lived.

We, too, get impatient as God leads us in our lives. Even though God has freed us from slavery to sin through the death of Jesus on the cross and is bringing us into the Promised Land of eternal life in heaven through the power of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, we still grumble along the way.

Now that we are at the one-year mark in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic I know most of us are ready to be done with it. In so many other ways we are impatient with God. And when we get impatient we tend to grumble. We deserve to have poisonous snakes all around us.

So in addition to remembering John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9, also remember Numbers 21:4, especially when you find yourself impatient with God.

Of the many stories in the Old Testament there is a good reason why Jesus chose the snake story from Numbers 21 to talk about. In John 3:14 Jesus says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the Son of Man be lifted up that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

What happened to the people of Israel in the desert with the snakes is incredibly similar to what God does with our sins in relation to Jesus on the cross.

When the people repented they asked God to take away the snakes. But God did not take away the snakes. Instead he provided a way so that the snake bites no longer killed them.

In the same way, when we repent we may wish that God would take away all sin. What God does instead is to allow sinning to continue but provides the way so that our sins no longer condemn us. That is because Jesus died for every one of them on the cross thus neutralizing the power of sin.

As the people who were bitten by the snakes looked to the snake on the pole to be saved, we look to Jesus on the cross to be saved from our sins.

Yes it would be better if we did not ever sin. But since that is not even close to happening God instead provides the way so that when we sin we look to the cross of Christ and our sins no longer condemn us.

And it all happens through the power of the word. God’s word said that looking at the snake on the pole that Moses made would overcome the poison of the snake bites and it did. God’s word also says that Jesus’ death on the cross overcomes all of our sins and it does.

So we should not only memorize John 3:16 and Ephesians 2:8-9 for our comfort and edification, we should also memorize Numbers 21:4: “And the people became impatient along the way.” Even though we have been freed from slavery to sin and are on the way to the Promised Land of eternal life in heaven we still get impatient along the way. Having God’s word internalized through memorization will help us deal with all the detours along the way to heaven.

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