This time last month I was in Nepal meeting lots of amazing folk and seeing astonishing reconstruction following the devastating earthquakes of 2015 that killed over 9,000 people.
While there I was privileged to visit the famous United Mission hospital in Tansen, which has the compelling strap-line ‘We serve. Jesus heals’. In one of the treatment rooms of the hospital I took a photograph of a large selection of the 80 varieties of snake found in that mountainous part of the world, carefully preserved in jars of formaldehyde.
These are examples of serpents that had been brought into the hospital by patients who had been bitten and who required urgent treatment. They also served as useful visual aids to victims who were able to identify the particular type of snake that had struck them.
There’s a very strange verse in the first book of the Bible about snakes, which is often read at Nine Lessons and Carol services at this time of the year. It’s a conversation between the Lord God and Adam and Eve, who are blaming each other and a snake for leading them into disobedience and sin, and this is what God said to the serpent.
“Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals. You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15).
What on earth is that all about?
Well, it is actually what the early church fathers described as the first messianic prophecy in the Old Testament, or what scholar Derek Kidner calls ‘the first glimpse of the gospel.’
The snake is Satan, and because of his malevolent influence upon Adam and Eve a conflict will one day take place between Eve’s offspring and the evil one. Satan will strike hard at Jesus’ heel causing severe harm to him, but Jesus will crush Satan’s head causing him terminal damage.
It’s a picture of what would happen at the cross when it looked as though Satan had won an incredible victory over Jesus, but that was to forget that Eve’s offspring would be raised from the dead, winning the ultimate battle between good and evil. In Romans 16, the Apostle Paul puts it this way, “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
So while in Tansen Hospital there are many examples of snakes that have inflicted their venomous poison upon numerous patients, there is an antidote to the poison of sin and wrong and harm. The first glimmer of this good news which is read about in the Nine Lessons and Carols is this, that while it may seem that evil is winning in the world today, Jesus the Prince of Peace will have the final say.
This blog was broadcast as a 'Thought for the Day' on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme on 21st December 2016. Dr. Sellar’s daughter, Ruth, accompanied her father to Nepal and wrote about her visit to the United Mission Hospital in Tansen. You can read it here. You can read his final blog from Nepal here.