31. Snakes alive!
Props: Toy snake in jar covered with grease proof paper and held by a rubber band, and hidden in a carry bag with just the top showing; A4 printed sheets of snake on pole logo and red cross.
I need a helper today – a brave helper. I have a little friend in this jar to show you, and I need someone with a small hand to put their hand in and fetch him out. It’s quite safe – you probably won’t die from its bite! [Snake is gingerly withdrawn from the jar!] Meet Cecil. I want to talk to you today about snakes. You remember, a snake appears very early in the Bible with Adam and Eve in the garden. That encounter didn't give snakes a very good name!
Let me tell you a couple of stories. The first is about Mrs S and me walking a bush track in NSW. When I go walking, I think you have to try to get to your destination, so I set off at a fast pace. But Mrs S has this strange idea that you should enjoy the scenery, and smell the flowers and pick up pebbles along the way. So she dawdles along behind. So this day we were doing our usual walk, when I suddenly heard a cry from behind. I ran back – about three kilometres! – and there was Mrs S, and here was I, and in between us on the track was the largest brown snake curled up in the sun. It had obviously been there for a long time. I still wonder how I never saw it, and shudder to think what would have happened if I had accidentally trodden on it.
A couple of weeks ago, Mrs S and I were having afternoon tea with Mr and Mrs R, when Mrs S saw a snake slither down the bank at the back. There were a couple of lengths of black plastic agricultural pipe along the back of the patio, and the snake had hidden there. Mr R bravely took a broomstick and started pushing on the pipe, and sure enough, after a bit, the snake slid out the end. You should have seen what happened next! There was Mr R dancing around madly like a dervish with his pants on fire battling the snake. It was the most exciting afternoon tea I have ever had!
Now I want to read you a story about snakes from the Bible. [Read Num 21:4 – 9, GNB, slightly abbreviated.] Now wasn’t this strange. Here is the snake: poisonous, dangerous, and generally viewed as ‘a bad thing’, becoming a symbol of health and well being. In fact, some medical associations today still use the snake on the pole as their logo. [Show copy.]
Before Jesus was crucified, he reminded his disciples about Moses and the snake on the pole. He said that after he died on the cross, people would turn to him on the cross for help and healing, just as the Israelites had turned to the snake on the pole. He was right of course, and in at least two ways.
[Hold up picture of red cross.] Where would you see this? Yes, at a hospital or on an ambulance. So you see that the cross which in Jesus’ time was a terrible thing, has now become a symbol of healing and well being. And further, millions and millions of Christians today, when they are in trouble or difficulty, turn to Jesus for comfort and healing and strength. We can do that too. And it all started with the snake!