This past Sunday when I mentioned wanting to leave you with a promise for our fellowship as we go into the future, I asked for someone to find and read Matthew 18:16.
I wrote that verse on the flip chart, but of course my handwriting says I should have been a physician, so the verse that was read was Mark 18:16, “They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them.”
We all had a big laugh at that because becoming snake handlers was not what any of us expected as my vision for the future of CrossHope Chapel. The vision that I intended to communicate was our Lord’s promise that not even “the gates of hell” shall “prevail against” the church and that includes our church.
Afterwards, I got to thinking that maybe I should have taken advantage of a teachable moment and explain that the message Jesus gave in that verse was not to tempt fate by drinking poison or playing with venomous snakes, but to know that those whom he sends out on a gospel mission are protected to that end.
It is a divine protection that the Lord extends to those who trust in Him and that are willing to witness for Him through whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in.
In Numbers 21:6-9 we see poisonous snakes attacking the children of Israel, yet Moses constructs the serpent on a pole “and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” What we read here is that by keeping our eyes on the Lord, there is redemption from harm and no effect to us that is without our good.
In Acts 28:3-5 we see Paul on the island when headed to Rome, and a poisonous snake latches on his arm, to which he shakes off “into the fire, and felt no harm.” What we read here is that sometimes we spared from harm because the Lord is not finished with us yet.
Sometimes being spared from harm is sign to us that God is trying to get our attention. I think of the day in 1980 that the Lord got my attention through a miraculous saving from an automobile accident just days before my 18th birthday. The Lord certainly got my attention that He had different plans for me than I did.
The sign of being kept from harm is what is being spoken to in Mark 16:18 and it is one that I think most of us have experienced, to one degree or another, whether we were aware of it or not, especially when we are involved in a particular mission to advance the gospel or reach a soul for Christ.
Missionaries and ministers alike are often spared harm as they go about their work for the gospel. Not always, as it depends what the Lord wants to use from our situation to turn into a witness to His glory. It doesn’t always have to be the ordained that the Lord protects, it is also the ordinary. It is any man or women, boy or girl, whose witness will cause others to recognize the Lord at work.
Years ago I made a visit to a church member, she was in her late 60’s maybe early 70’s, but as she opened the door she said, “Thank God you are here.” She was holding an empty cup, and said “I just drank bleach.” I didn’t know if she really did, but the cup smelled like bleach and she told me some operation left her without the ability to taste and she thought she drank the cup of bleach instead of the cup of water.
Just into the hall by the front door was her washing machine and dryer that sat behind french doors that were wide open, and sitting on the dryer was water in a cup that looked like the one she had in her hand that she said had the bleach in it.
She looked pale, so I said, “I can use your phone to call the ambulance” to which she said, “First pray for me!” Which I did. After I said “Amen” and was looking for her phone, she said, “I’m fine, I think God has saved me, you don’t have to call anymore.”
To this day, I have to give her the benefit of the doubt that she did drink the bleach and the Lord did heal her. I can also tell you this, I didn’t go around sharing that story but she did and in some ways it became a sign to the rest of the church that the Lord was at work among them, and He was.
Earlier today I happen to have read the story of a WWII combat medic by the name of Private First Class Desmond Doss, who suffered a great deal of bullying from his fellow soldiers for his faith until the day that he single handily lowered 75 wounded soldiers down from a high cliff held by the enemy, all without a firearm or cover from another soldier.
Survivors from that battle later gave testimony that “bullets were buzzing by his head like bees” and captured Japanese soldiers later asked about the combat medic because they reported that every attempt to shot him caused their rifles to jam.
Doss received two Bronze Stars, the Congressional Medal of Honor, and he explains that day of saving 75 men in the Battle of Okinawa as being in fervent prayer, not for his own safety but for the sake of being able to save one more.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about this and just thought I would share it.