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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | SEPTEMBER 2022 EDITION
Redemptive Riddle: Snake On A Pole
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Published July 2022
By Roland Clarke


The Brazen Serpent (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

Introduction Scripture communicates God's message using thought provoking figures of speech, parables, proverbs and even riddles. (Psalm 49:4; Ecclesiastes 3:11; 7:1-2; Proverbs 1:5; John 25:16-30; Matthew 13:10-13, 34-35) Indeed, the gospel is described as a mystery that we need to explain clearly to unbelievers. (Colossians 4:2-6)

First Corinthians chapters 1-3 presents a paradoxical puzzle: the world's wisdom is foolishness to God and God's wisdom is foolishness to man. Human wisdom cannot comprehend how the long-awaited Messiah, God's deliverer, was crucified on the cross as a criminal! It makes no sense to Gentiles and is offensive to Jews. “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Indeed, according to Hebrews 2:15 Christ's death on the cross was the key to break “the power of the devil, who had the power of death. … (and) set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.”

In Psalm 49 the psalmist posed a riddle about eternal life. The impetus behind this riddle is the universal human fear of death and the riddle is resolved by understanding God as redeemer. These verses, like the Corinthians passage, interweave the contrasting themes of wisdom and foolishness.

I listen carefully to many proverbs and solve riddles with inspiration from a harp.

Why should I fear when trouble comes, when enemies surround me? They trust in their wealth and boast of great riches. Yet they cannot redeem themselves from death by paying a ransom to God. Redemption does not come so easily, for no one can ever pay enough to live forever and never see the grave.

Those who are wise must finally die, just like the foolish and senseless, leaving all their wealth behind. The grave is their eternal home, where they will stay forever. They may name their estates after themselves, but their fame will not last. They will die, just like animals. This is the fate of fools, though they are remembered as being wise. Interlude … But as for me, God will redeem my life. He will snatch me from the power of the grave. (Psalm 49:4-20)


Interestingly, Jesus also posed a riddle with eternal life as its reward!

And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”


Although these verses don't exactly mention the word 'cross', it is strongly implied by the phrase 'lifted up'. “As Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” A careful comparison with John 12:23-33 (where the same words “lifted up” occur) clearly shows that Jesus was referring to his impending death on the cross.

A curious cure

It is no secret that the emblem of a snake wrapped around a pole has curative connotations as it appears on ambulances world-wide and is featured on the flag of the World Health Organization. Yet for thousands of years serpents have evoked fear or hatred. Why? I started asking some puzzling questions, “Considering the ancient serpent was cursed by God in the garden of Eden why was Moses instructed to lift up a bronze snake on a pole signifying a remedy for fatal snake bites?” “Perhaps Moses could have lifted something less sinister, such as an image of an innocent lamb?” (echoing the rescue motif of a Passover Lamb as well as the lamb as prophesied by Abraham)

In a recent article, Look snake!, I explained how an unusual traffic delay put me beside an ambulance for almost two minutes. As I stared at the Asclepius emblem on the emergency vehicle it kick-started a series of thought-provoking questions. The article also explained the backstory behind why Jesus compared himself to the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness: https://tinyurl.com/45exbshd

Several weeks after that strange experience, I had another puzzling encounter with Asclepius. I was forced to a stand-still in traffic next to an ambulance at a red light – not once but three times! (all within 1500 meters) “Was God trying to get my attention again?”

During the weeks prior to this memorable moment, I had invested many hours delving into the theme, Serpent to Savior, and published two pieces about it – an 8 page article and a 2 page article. Not only so, I was sharing glimpses of these insights with a number of unbelieving friends (especially Muslims). The topic of a snake on a pole is somewhat strange, yet I was encouraged to see how often it sparked seasoned-with-salt conversations pointing people to Jesus. (Colossians 4:2-6)

What was God trying to tell me through this weird triple encounter? I believe he was saying, “Don't lose heart, keep pressing on. Everyone needs to hear these vital truths, including John 3:16, the most well-known verse of the Bible, declaring God's love for the whole world.” As such, this message is NOT JUST for 'marginalized' Yezidis and Muslims; it is for the whole world!

Just last week I had another experience confirming this. A certain man saw me knocking on an apartment door. He saw that I wasn't having any success rousing the tenant, and he knew that the occupant has hearing difficulties, so he offered to help by knocking very loudly. During our brief encounter I noticed this friendly guy had an Asclepius tattooed on his shoulder which prompted me to make a friendly remark. This, in turn, led me to offer him a riddle about Asclepius. (see appendix)

In conclusion, let me encourage you to pluck up courage and venture outside your comfort zone, like I'm doing. Why not try to share the gospel by offering neighbors and friends an interesting riddle (brain teaser)?

All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.
Appendix

It is no secret that the emblem of a snake wrapped around a pole has medical connotations as it appears on ambulances world-wide and is featured on the flag of the World Health Organization. Yet for thousands of years serpents have evoked fear or hatred. Why? I started asking some puzzling questions, “Considering the ancient serpent was cursed by God in the garden of Eden why was Moses instructed to lift up a bronze snake on a pole signifying a remedy for fatal snake bites?” “Perhaps Moses could have lifted something less sinister, such as an image of an innocent lamb?” (echoing the rescue motif of the Passover Lamb which the Hebrews were familiar with) I've discovered some amazing things while considering these thought provoking questions. Here's an interesting article you might like to check out titled, Look Snake! It explains the backstory behind why Jesus compared himself to the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Other articles by Roland Clarke that can help to explain the mystery (or riddle) of the gospel include:
• Click HERE for “Serpent to Savior” available here: https://www.answering-islam.org/authors/clarke/serpent_to_savior.html
• Click HERE for “Life's Great Riddle: A Heart for Eternity

It is no secret that the emblem of a snake wrapped around a pole has medical connotations as it appears on ambulances world-wide and is featured on the flag of the World Health Organization. Yet for thousands of years serpents have evoked fear or hatred. Why? I started asking some puzzling questions, “Considering the ancient serpent was cursed by God in the garden of Eden why was Moses instructed to lift up a bronze snake on a pole signifying a remedy for fatal snake bites?” “Perhaps Moses could have lifted something less sinister, such as an image of an innocent lamb?” (echoing the rescue motif of the Passover Lamb which the Hebrews were familiar with) I've discovered some amazing things while considering these thought-provoking questions. Here's an interesting article you might like to check out titled, Look Snake! It explains the backstory behind why Jesus compared himself to the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness: https://tinyurl.com/45exbshd