Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Seeing Jesus in the American Medical Association

KIM UPDATE: Seeing an endocrinologist about Kim's fainting spells on Wednesday and going in for our big PET scan on Thursday to finally see if the cancer is gone or not. If it is - two more cycles to make sure they get everything. If it's not - who knows? More rounds of chemo or perhaps a bone marrow transplant? Thanks for your prayers and support!
So at the start of 2012 (7 days before the cancer hit) Kim and I made a New Year's resolution to read through the Bible in a year. We've tried this before and often end up failing around this time of the year - where we typically hit Leviticus & Numbers. (What can I say? These are difficult books!). However, this year we decided to read through the Bible in chronological order (first time ever) and because of this we ended up reading through the book of Job in late January as opposed to in the month of June. What perfect timing for us as we spent a good chunk of January in the ICU!

That said, it's amazing how much JESUS you can find in the "Books of Moses" (Pentateuch - which was written 1,400 years before Jesus arrives). Let me give you one example. Have you ever wondered why the symbol for the American Medical Association (A.M.A.) is a "snake on a pole"?

My dad is a surgeon and so I remember as a kid seeing this symbol in our house and being enamored by it. (what boys aren't enamored by snakes?) It wasn't until I read a little story in the book of Numbers a few years ago that it dawned on me what the symbol really meant.

There is a little story in Numbers 21 that is so short (only 6 verses) if you blink you might miss it. While the Israelites were roaming in the desert for 40 years (after they refused to take the Promised Land by faith despite their miraculous redemption from Egypt) the people began to grow impatient and spoke against God and Moses in their sin. At that time "fiery serpents" came among them and began to bite some of them leading to their immediate death. The people quickly ask Moses to save them and God instructs Moses to "make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." (Nu 21:8) And this is in fact what happened. This all seems a bit strange doesn't it? What is going on here?

Put yourself in the shoes (or sandals) of these Israelites. If you were surrounded by venomous snakes your first instinct would have to be to keep your eyes on every single snake you could - swatting them away with your hand or kicking them away with your feet. At least, that would be my instinctive reaction. But God (through Moses) commands them to do something very strange - something that contradicted every fiber of their being. The only way that they would find salvation was not through their own efforts but by keeping their eyes firmly fixed on that "bronze serpent". No doubt, obeying this would have required faith. When a snake is slithering by my feet I want to seek and destroy it myself, but the Lord essentially says:

"No. Keep your eyes on that bronze serpent. This is your only hope for salvation."

On the surface, this appears to make little sense. God just got done telling them that they were strictly forbidden from worshiping any other gods or creating any graven images (Ex 20:1-4). Now here He is commanding them to stare at a "bronze serpent" Moses was instructed to create. Was God contradicting Himself?

No. Not at all. He is just giving us a type or "a prophetic picture" of Jesus to His people 1,400 years before He sends Him to earth. One classic example of a "type" is found in the Passover Lamb that God institutes as their long awaited redemption from their bondage to Egypt. This lamb had to be a male lamb without blemish and was solemnly sacrificed within each household. This ritual profoundly pictured an innocent creature being substituted for their own sins. The blood of this lamb was to be applied on three spots on the wooden doorposts of each home and if this was done than the angel of death "passed over" the home. It didn't matter if you were a Jew or Gentile - if you had the blood covering your house - you were spared. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the "type" found in the Passover as John the Baptist later exclaims, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!" (Jn 1:29) and as he is eventually crucified on (you guessed it) the Jewish Passover.

So what does a bronze serpent on a pole have to do with Jesus? Well, if you go one book earlier in Leviticus you will find that "bronze" always symbolized God's judgment - because in order to bronze something you had to put it under intense heat to remove all the impurities in the metal. (bronze = judgment).

Figuring out what "the serpent" symbolized is a little easier - a couple books earlier (Genesis 3) a serpent is the creature Satan uses to disguise himself in the Garden of Eden and so serpents are often a symbol of "sin". (serpent = sin).

So if you put it all together the Israelites were told to fix their eyes on a bronze serpent on a pole because it was a profound foreshadowing of "sin being judged" (i.e. JESUS on a cross!). Let me lay it out in the form of a mathematical proof:


1,400 years before our Heavenly Father sends His Son, He is laying down the gospel story of salvation to all who look upon Him with eyes of faith. Just in case you think I'm just making this stuff up, Jesus himself identifies with this bronze serpent while talking to Nicodemus and immediately before the famous John 3:16 verse he says:
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life." (Jn 3:14-15)
Nicodemus, being a Pharisee, was a bonafide expert on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible). He gets it. When we understand this little story we now understand what Paul means when he says this:
"God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  (2 Cor 5:21)
What an amazing verse! At the cross we see Jesus taking on our sin and our judgment so that we might be made holy. And He has done all this so that we could be restored back into a loving and intimate relationship with the holy God who created us. What was lost in the Garden of Eden can now be found at the Cross of Calvary.

I wonder if the American Medical Association knew all this when they chose the bronze serpent on a pole for their symbol of their organization.  It's a neat little sign that represents healing in the Bible, but to the one who understands the gospel it's so much more than that. It is not just the source of physical healing on earth but eternal life in heaven.

And it's not just a neat little story that has zero relevance to us today. We place our faith on the finished work of the cross as the Israelites placed their faith on that "serpent on a pole". And every day we wake up we will find ourselves surrounded by "serpents". But no matter how venomous or how many there are - may we keep our eyes fixed on the "bronze serpent" - the One who "became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God".

In His Grace,

Peter & Kim

1 comment:

  1. How powerful- You should think about putting the content of this blog as book. Great blog- Praying for Kim completes healing and with prayers waiting for the results...