Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
The Minnesota State Fair is, of course, known for offering an ever-increasing variety of foods served on a stick. This year one of the new items was camel on a stick. (I wonder; when you order do they ask, "One hump or two?") Anyway, did you know that there's a story in the bible about a snake on a stick? Not as a deep-fried treat, however!
The account of the snake on a stick was recorded during the Israelites' 40-year stint in the wilderness. As you may recall, they had been freed from their cruel slavery in Egypt when God, through Moses, displayed His mighty power over the Egyptians through a series of plagues, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea and drowning of Pharaoh's army. The children of Israel were then joyfully on their way to the Promised Land, with a stop at Mt. Sinai to meet their God face-to-face and receive His words for them, summarized in the Ten Commandments. While in the wilderness, the Israelites were well cared for: God provided daily manna, a crispy, sweet substance which could be ground up and served in a variety of ways Ð maybe even on a stick!
It shouldn't have taken 40 years to cross that wilderness, however. (It's not true that it took that long because Moses, a man, refused to stop and ask for directions!) They were sentenced by God to spend that long wandering in the desert because they had refused to believe that their God could safely bring them into the Promised Land of Canaan. They were sure they were going to die at the hands of the people already living in Canaan. So God said, "Fine. Then you don't get to go in. But your children will, 40 years from now."
The snake on a stick incident occurred during that 40-year sentence, on a day when a bunch of whining and complaining broke out among the Israelites Ð a common occurrence, by the way. Among other complaints, they grumbled, "... we detest this miserable food!" Keep in mind, this food they detested Ð a daily gift from their God Ð was the only thing keeping them from starvation. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! In response, God sent a bunch of venomous snakes among the Israelites. Many people were bitten; many died. The people then came to Moses and confessed: "We sinned when we spoke against the Lord ... pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us." Moses did so, and God instructed him: "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live."
Now, this would merely be a strange, sad story of long ago except for this: centuries later, Jesus referred to this event in John, chapter 3: "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
The venom of sin, you see, courses through our veins, too. We, too, are rebellious, faithless, ungrateful whiners and complainers. And sin's venom is always fatal. But Jesus, embodying our sin, was lifted up on a pole of His own, so that snake-bit folks could look to Him in faith Ð and live. That's the message of Christianity. And it's for everyone. And it's truly wonderful.
Camel on a stick? Interesting. Snake on a stick? Compelling. Jesus on a cross? Life-changing!