This is a fish story. This is not a grandiose tale of record-breaking sizes nor of hard-fought battles of rod and reel, waves and wrestling. The scale is smaller and the location is my daughter K.’s apartment, in an aquarium that is home to Bob, the longear sunfish. Bob’s home is lush with green plants, their leaves wave gently in the water. The rugged stones on the floor of the tank afford him places to hide, rest, and dart about. Floating through the water are smaller fish, the same kinds he was used to eating in the Tennessee waters from whence he came. All in all, a pretty good life for a fish. Except it wasn’t.
In case you are wondering if maybe you’ve stumbled onto the wrong blog (fish?) let me assure you that I think I’m on pretty safe ground using a fish for an illustration. The world God made is rich with objects, analogies, comparisons, and every wonderful thing to use as a picture to help us know him better. Camels, sheep, lamps, and coins – when we have eyes to see – help us to understand abstract truths in a concrete way. Think back to your favorite Bible stories and I’ll bet you can think of a fish or two.
A Certain Death
This fish was dying. The problem seemed obvious. Bob suffered from an ailment called “popeye,” where a fluid build-up caused his eyes to bulge out wildly, marring the appearance of his beautiful turquoise and orange body. Blinded, he kept swimming straight into the glass walls of the aquarium, unable to eat, and slowly starving to death. My daughter tried to give him different food, improve the condition of the water, and even treat the water itself with medicine— all futile efforts. Bob’s blindness was due to an underlying infection, and without treating that, he would not make it.
The problem was, how do you get medicine into a fish that won’t, or can’t, eat? K. sought a solution. Thanks to the Internet, You Tube, and a knowledgeable pet store owner, she found it. First she had to create a paste made of bloodworms (larvae that fish love to eat) and antibiotics. Next she put the medicated food into a syringe. Afterward she gently reached into the aquarium, took hold of the fish, and with her other hand used the syringe to squirt the food into its mouth.
What a beautiful illustration of the gospel! Here are some truths I noticed. Perhaps you can find even more!
A host of problems plagued this fish. He was blind, ill, and starving. Fixing the obvious problem— his blindness— wasn’t enough. The greater, underlying infection needed to be dealt with. What a picture of our hopeless, sinful selves! Remember what Jesus said to the paralytic, handed down through the roof by his caring friends? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Paralysis was not the worst of his problems. And the problems that paralyze us are minor compared to our overarching problem. Our sins need to be forgiven. Friends, whatever problem or need initially drew us to Jesus, we needed to realize our real problem was our separation from God. We needed to be reconciled with him….
There’s a canvas hanging in my bedroom, one given to me by a friend. She allowed me to pick a verse, and I chose this passage: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins he sat down at the right hand of God…for by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:12-14). It never fails to amaze me when I consider the contrast of two types of priests.
Old Testament Priesthood
Old Testament priests had many duties including representing the people before God and offering the various sacrifices prescribed in the law. If you’ve ever done a study in Leviticus, you know that these sacrifices were many. They were also unending; the priests had to repeat them day after day. You and I can relate to unending jobs: unending laundry, unending meal prep and clean up, unending vacuuming. Priests also stood to indicate that their job was never finished. That’s because the people continued to sin, requiring repeated sacrifices.
These sacrifices were earthly and temporal, and therefore not effective. The blood of bulls and goats could not satisfy the wrath of God; it could not fully pay the debt for sin. God used this sacrificial system to burn into his people’s hearts the reality of their fallenness, to show them that they needed not just a temporary sacrifice, but a perfect and forever sacrifice. They needed their sin covered once and for all.
The book of Hebrews looks at the Old Testament sacrificial system and unpacks its limitations and flaws. It shows us how it was temporary—how it pointed to something greater.