17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will not harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.”
5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Matthew 4:5-7
In Matthew 4, Satan is tempting Jesus in a very, very similar scenario to snake handling. He quotes Jesus a passage about God’s protection, and then dares Jesus to do something incredibly dangerous. Jesus answers very simply and profoundly: You shall NOT put God to the test. The very same Greek verb used by Jesus in Matthew 4 for testing is also mentioned by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:9:
9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 1 Corinthians 10:9
What a chilling verse for a snake handler!! You see, in the Old Testament – venomous snakes were symbols of judgment – of God’s punishment and disapproval. To take one up as a way of testing one’s faith is tantamount to testing God, and such an act will almost certainly lead to trouble – because we are commanded to NOT put God to the test. Neither are we commanded to pick up venomous snakes ANYWHERE in the Bible. We must NOT put God to a test. Snake handling is NOT a test of our faith – for humans do not have the ability to protect themselves from snakebite venom. Snake handling is a test of GOD’s intervention! And, as such, it is a clearly disobedient, foolish, prohibited, reckless and dangerous activity that is counter to the teachings of Scripture and Jesus Himself has given us an example that we MUST NOT practice such foolishness.
What of Paul’s situation? Well, as noted earlier – he wasn’t testing God, and Spurgeon sees in this incident a proving of Mark 16’s promise:
Was not this a fulfilment of the Master’s words concerning the signs following faith in him? “They shall take up serpents.” Whether this viper had bitten Paul so as to really fill his veins with venom, we do not know; and it is an equal miracle whether it had done so or not. Whether the sting had already poisoned him or not, his life was preserved, and that was sufficient.
C. H. Spurgeon, “Mocking the King,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 55 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1909), 166.
Spurgeon is right. Mark 16, such as it is, is NOT an invitation to seek out trouble and test God – it is a proclamation of the protective powers of God for those proclaiming the good news to the world.
End of the Show: Bible memory verse for MARCH!: Hebrews 7:25 “Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.”
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