Summary: Lent 4: We are all snake bit. Need proof? See what happens in the darkness... Listen to the griping and complaining... Listen to the poisonous words that come from us. But God has provided a solution to save the snake bit... His name is Jesus.
As a boy, I learned to hunt small game. Dad would take me out to a friend’s ranch. We’d follow cow paths through the brush and cactus looking for rabbit or hare. I remember one time we were out there walking along a cow path. All of a sudden we heard a loud dry rattle. You guessed it – a rattlesnake. Dad grabbed me by the shoulder. We backed up slowly and then left that brushy trail. Dad, having grown up in a rural environment, had great respect for rattlesnakes.
Serpents can kill. It’s been that way from the beginning. The story of humanity’s first encounter with snakes is familiar. Satan turned serpent came to deceive and to kill. It was the introduction of misery and death to the world. Ever since then there has been enmity – hatred – between the serpent’s offspring and humanity.
Some millennia later, the effect of the serpent’s sting is perfectly clear. After miraculous rescue from slavery; after miraculous provision – manna; water from the Rock; God’s people again show their preference for slithering snakes rather than their Savior. They complained bitterly against their Savior. They criticized their leader, Moses. God chose to send fiery serpents to discipline the complaining Israelites. The painful bite of those serpents brought more than agony and death. It brought a reminder of the hell that was introduced to the world when the serpent deceived mother Eve.
Another two millennia later, the effect of the serpent’s bite is still perfectly clear. Nicodemus didn’t understand Jesus. I mean – who really does? He came to see Jesus at night. He came because approaching Jesus in the daylight frightened him. He came at night because under the cover of darkness – we think that we can’t be seen. Darkness is the perfect cover - isn’t it? There’s no way that Jesus’ words escaped Nicodemus – who came to see Jesus in the darkness: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (v19-20)
Serpents are hard to see at night. For us urban dwellers – snakes are not an everyday threat. Or so we imagine. Darkness helps us to hide our bad stuff. True! But we wander in darkness more than we imagine. Sometimes we can’t even tell that we are in darkness because we’ve become used to it.
And the serpent’s bite still continues to haunt humanity. You’ve heard it said that gossip is sin? Think again about the wandering Israelites. They were complaining against God. They were griping about the One who saved them from forced labor and slavery. They were complaining against the One who fed them with manna and quail. They were practicing the trade of the serpent. Their words were deadly - like the venom of the serpent. And they thought that it was OK. Everybody was doing it – so it must be OK. God wouldn’t notice – would He?
Wrong! - They couldn’t hide their words from the One. None of us can. We can never hide from God. He sees right through us. He hears even when we speak in secret. He understands even the words that are unspoken.
Recognizing light and darkness is rather easy in the physical world. Especially if you have the gift of sight. But the interesting thing is that we can adapt to the darkness. I was stationed aboard the USNS Chauvenet. My main workspace was operations control. This was a brightly lit computer and navigations nerve center. It was just off the main bridge.
When I was standing a mid-watch, I’d walk to the ship’s bridge. Now the bridge is completely darkened at night. Moving from the brightly lit operations control space to the darkened bridge, caused blindness. I could see nothing because of the darkness! – Not even my hand in front of my eyes. But little by little, things began to come into focus. First the dimly lit, red instrumentation. Then I could make out the figures of the people standing watch on the bridge. Then faces. Finally, the little fishing boats on the water became clear. It is absolutely amazing. Night vision can seem normal.
The point – we can get used to the darkness. We can get used to griping about God. We can get used to speaking evil or gossiping about a brother or sister. We can get used to denying Jesus. We can get used to – metaphorically speaking - coming to Him at night so we won’t be seen so people won’t know. The real danger for us begins when we can see in the darkness. The serpent does his best work there. Yes – the bite of the serpent is still working it’s evil.