“Look at this flower! It’s so pretty!” My 7-year-old daughter jumped off of her bike and ran to the edge of the sidewalk leaving the rest of us behind. She knelt down and reached out her hand to pick the flower and that’s when I spotted it…
A two-foot black snake was not more than a foot away from her in the grass. I opened my mouth to scream at her to back away, but she spotted it at that very second and did what most of us would do. She screamed “SNAKE!” And turned and ran straight towards me, complete terror in her face. She wrapped her arms around me and buried her face in my shirt.
“It’s okay, Baby” I said rather breathlessly as shivers ran their course up and down my spine leaving my gut knotted. We all stood there quietly and watched as the snake (which honestly was probably just as terrified of my seemingly giant daughter) slowly slithered into the bushes and out of sight. I calmly picked up my daughter’s bike and pushed it home as she stayed right by my side, refusing to let go of my arm the rest of the way home.
This week, as I am reading through the life of Jesus to my daughter’s, I was reminded of another snake. The Gospel of John records a conversation Jesus had with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus. Nic came to Jesus late at night to avoid being seen in order to ascertain exactly who Jesus was and what he came to do. Jesus starts talking about being born again and Nic just gets confused “How can a man go back into his mother’s womb?” He’s wondering. Nic and Jesus banter back and forth with Jesus making outrageous statements that Nic can’t get his head wrapped around, but then Jesus ends this discussion with something that was sure to click in Nic’s brain. He starts talking about the story of Moses lifting up the snake on a stick in the wilderness. This story is found in Numbers 21 and Nic, as a religious leader, would have had it memorized at an early age.
Why would Jesus bring this up? You have to skip to the end- to the crucifixion story -to understand what Jesus was saying. He is telling Nic that just as the poison of the snakes in the wilderness brought death to the Israelites, so the poison of sin has brought death to the whole world. Just as the snake was lifted up on a stick in the wilderness and brought healing to those who had been poisoned, so Jesus himself would be lifted up and all who look to him will be healed of the sin that is poisoning their hearts.
Snakes are kind of big deal in our house. All 5 of us girls are pretty terrified of them, and for good reason, as here in Texas we have some of the highest rates of poisonous snake bites. In fact, I walked downstairs one morning to find a small snake had crept through a crack in our back door and was in my kitchen. It was terrifying (that’s the “little guy” in this pic-he was obviously looking for his mommy and got lost). But, what is more terrifying than the poisonous snakes of Texas, is the sin that poisons our hearts. This is what I want my girls to understand.
It is the snake in the first garden that we have to watch out for. The poison he has infected us with is the most dangerous of all, and the only cure is Jesus. The problem is, we often try to find other cures. We often look to our own ability to behave and make good choices. We often place our hope in our own performance, hoping that if we can do well long enough, we’ll eventually rid ourselves of this poison. Sometimes we try to cure ourselves with “things”. Fill in the blank with your particular brand of poison, be it food, drink, shopping, maybe even relationships that you hope will cure what ails you. This is as absurd as trying to cure a poisonous snake bite by drinking more of the same poison. There is no cure other than Jesus! Without him we will die from this poison! If there were another cure, we would have already administered it and be well, wouldn’t we? We don’t have any other antidote for sin. We must trust Jesus’ death on the cross.
This past Sunday, we remembered Christ crucified and raised from death. We remembered through singing and hearing the Word of God preached that we were once dead in our sins, but are now alive in him.
I want my daughter to remember the fear she felt when she saw that snake in hopes that she will remember how to respond to Satan’s temptation. We often do not run from sin because we’ve forgotten that sin brings death. Instead of running from the poison, as my daughter did that day, we move closer to it - maybe even pick it up and play with it for a little while. Then, when sin sinks it’s venomous fangs into our heart, we realize we have been foolish. We should have run like Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife. Adam and Eve should have run, too.
And I want to remember how easily sin can creep through the cracks when we are not paying attention. When we find ourselves suddenly confronted by our own sin, it can be unbelievable. How did this happen? How can we keep this from happening again? How can a man be reborn from his mother’s womb?
Thankfully, God did not leave us in our foolishness. Jesus went on to explain to Nicodemus in what is probably the most well-known verse from Scripture.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16. At the end of John, we see Nicodemus respond to Jesus with saving faith. What is the evidence? He gave his entire life savings for Jesus’ burial (John 19:39). No one still dying from the poison of sin would have done such a generous thing. Some scholars argue that Nicodemus was the first convert to Christianity. He looked upon the Son of Man, lifted up on the cross for the sins of all, and believe.
As you lead your children towards deeper understanding of the gospel of Jesus, remember the death from which you have been saved. Remember the Son of Man lifted up and the hope that can only be found in trusting him. Remember to teach your children to run from snakes (both literally and figuratively) and run to the only Father who can protect and remove the poison from their soul.
But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”…she took of its fruit and ate…. Genesis 3:4-6
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10
For further study and encouragement, read John 3; John 19-20; Romans 5.