And so despite great opposition and persecution, Peter and Virtue had shared the gospel courageously at Spider Rock, and Justice and Mercy had proclaimed it boldly at Scorpion Canyon. Now, both sets of camels were making their way through the desert toward Snake Plateau.
Riding on Peter’s hump during the trip from Spider Rock to Snake Plateau was Cornelius. Peter was very thankful that Cornelius was riding on his hump and not on Virtue’s. You see, Peter had run out of sunscreen, and Cornelius, who was stretched out over the bald spot on his hump, was the only thing coming between Peter and a third-degree sunburn.
Now to be sure, a huge spider riding on the hump of a camel is a very unusual sight. As Peter, Virtue, and Cornelius were passing a group of desert foxes, the foxes stopped in their tracks and stared at them with eyes wide open.
“We’ll I’ll be!”one of the foxes exclaimed out loud in disbelief. “A big glowing spider riding on the hump of a camel? This is almost as strange as that story my grandfather once told me about the time he fled to the dunes after he saw that lizard in the southern desert jumping rope with his own tail!”
When Virtue heard this, he thought to himself, “Lizards jumping rope with their own tails? Who has ever seen or heard of such a thing!”He then laughed quietly to himself.
About two hours later, Peter noticed something off in the distance.
“Virtue, Cornelius, look over there toward the southeast,”he said. “What is that?”
Cornelius and Virtue turned their heads.
“I’m not sure,”Cornelius said.
“Me either,”said Virtue. Then Virtue squinted his eyes and looked harder. “Wait just a minute,”he said slowly and with happiness bubbling up in his heart. “I think I see the shape of two camels. And one of them is blowing a huge bubble! That must be them! It’s Mercy and Justice! They’ve made it!”
When Peter and Justice realized that it was their brother and sister they were seeing, they began to jump and dance with excitement. “Over here, over here!”they shouted. “Justice and Mercy, over here, over here! It’s Peter and Virtue!”
As Peter began to do the polka dance, Cornelius almost fell off his back. Then quickly tying himself to Peter’s hump with a few extra webs, with a big smile Cornelius thought to himself, “I didn’t realize I was going to become a cowboy riding a bucking camel on this trip!”He was very happy for his friends.
Justice and Mercy heard the all the whooping and hollering. “It’s Peter and Virtue!”they shouted happily.
Then all four of the camels started running toward one another as fast as they could. As fast as they were running, they probably could have outrun an ostrich, a horse, or even a cheetah! As they ran, Cornelius wrapped himself with a couple more web-ropes just for good measure.
When the four camels reached each other, words cannot describe the joy they all felt. They laughed, they cried, they hugged, and then they laughed, cried, and hugged some more. Then they all sat down for a small picnic.
“I’ve been saving this sandwich the whole journey for this moment,”Mercy said. She then reached into her supplies and pulled out the peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Noah and Daniel had mailed to her. She split it into five pieces and shared it with the others. As they ate, each of them talked about all the adventures they had had up to this point. When Mercy shared the story about the lizard family and Lyle Lizard jumping rope with his own tail, Virtue, who for the second time in just hours was hearing about such a phenomenon (phenomenon is just a big word for something that happens), he just shook his head and muttered, “Well, I’ll be…”
Now, these four camels were so happy about seeing each other, and were so busy enjoying the taste of peanut butter and jelly, and were so busy telling stories to one another, that they had all failed to notice a large plateau standing against the eastern horizon. That’s right. It was Snake Plateau. Getting up from the picnic to look for his pack of gum, Justice was the first to notice it.
“Everyone, I hate to interrupt all the fun, but there is something you need to come and see,”he said with a serious voice.
Cornelius and the other three camels immediately stopped their talking and walked over to Justice. With his nose, Justice pointed over in the direction of Snake Plateau. When they turned and saw the dark, Cobra-shaped plateau casting its shadow out across the desert, no one said a word. There was no need for explanation. All of them knew instantly what they were looking at.
Then Peter broke the silence. “I’m guessing that we’re only about two hours away,”he said.
“Yes,”Virtue responded, “and two hours away from the greatest challenge any of us have ever faced.”
“Well, at least we will be together for it,”Justice said, encouraged by the thought. “And the Good Shepherd will be with us as well. He has led us all faithfully this far, and He has promised to be with us no matter what may come.”
Then Mercy, trying to lighten the mood a bit, said, “Alright boys, we’re not going to get to Snake Plateau if we just sit around here all day eating and talking. Let’s get moving.”
And so the four camels and the spider set their gaze toward Spider Plateau and started off. Over the next two hours, with passion in their voices and fire in their hearts, they prayed for the salvation of the snakes of Snake Plateau. However, they were certainly not the only ones praying. From all parts of the desert, prayer was rising up to the throne of God like the sweet-smelling smoke of burning incense. Momma Camel, Daddy Camel, Billy, and the other camels of Spacious Oasis were praying for salvation to spring up from the ground at Snake Plateau. Orville and Olivia Ostrich, who had been thrown into prison at Hyena Hollow for their fearless witness to the gospel, were praying for the word of the Lord to run swiftly among the cobras and vipers. Though they themselves had chains on their legs, they knew that the word of God could not be chained. Back at Spider Rock all the new believers were also praying for God to confirm the gospel with signs and wonders full of God’s power, just as He had done among them. Down in the southern desert, a precious family of intercessory lizards was also still on their knees crying out for mercy on behalf of the snakes. And over in Scorpion Canyon, Sylvester Scorpion and his family, together with all of the other scorpions meeting under rocks in house churches, were praying fervently for God to open the door of faith among the snakes of Snake Plateau.
Finally the camels reached their destination. When they first arrived, they just stared at Snake Plateau in silence for about ten minutes. By far, Snake Plateau was the scariest place they had ever seen—scarier even than Spider Rock or Scorpion Canyon. Part of the plateau had a cave in it, and the cave went back into the plateau in such a way that it looked like a snake’s mouth and throat. Also, at the entrance of the cave, two stalactites were hanging down from the ceiling. They started off thick and round at the top, and as they we went down, they became thinner and formed a triangle shape with sharp points at the bottom. From where the camels were looking, these stalactites looked like long, sharp fangs. As for its color, Snake Plateau was mostly black, though here and there red or sand-colored stripes and spots could also be seen. And crawling and slithering and sliding around everywhere were snakes of all shapes, sizes, colors, and breeds. Most of the snakes on Snake Plateau were from the local area, but there were also many who were visiting from other snake habitats of the world. There were so many snakes, in fact, that in some parts of Snake Plateau you couldn’t even see the ground! There were snakes that were yellow and snakes that were black, snakes that were thick and snakes that were flat. There were snakes coiled up and snakes hanging down, snakes that were serious and snakes that were clowns. There were snakes that were green and snakes that were white, snakes of the day and snakes of the night. There were snakes that were slithery and snakes that were slimy, snakes that were huge and snakes that were tiny. There were snakes that had horns and snakes that had rattles, snakes that ate mice and snakes that ate cattle. There were snakes that had scales and snakes that had hoods, snakes of the desert and snakes of the woods. There were snakes that move forward and snakes that move side-ways, and snakes so big they stop trucks on the highways. There were copperheads, cobras, rattlers, and asps, snakes that were prompt and snakes late for class. There were pit vipers, moccasins, bushmasters, and adders, snakes doing hoola-hoops and snakes climbing ladders. And next to the throne of King Viper the Vicious, were two giant boas that thought camels delicious.
“Do you see that big cave that makes up the mouth of Snake Plateau, the one with the two fangs hanging down at the entrance?”Cornelius asked. “Deep inside that cave is where King Viper the Vicious has his throne. At his side are two of the biggest, strongest snakes you have ever seen—boa constrictors. Originally, Viper the Vicious hired them from Brazil as soldiers in his first war against Spider Rock. They were such good fighters that he asked them to stay with him at Snake Plateau as his body guards. If you get squeezed by one of those two, well…”Cornelius stopped his sentence, not wanting to cause more alarm. Then he continued, “Well, let’s just pray that doesn’t happen.”
Now, stationed on top of Snake Plateau were two thousand rattle-snakes on lookout. Their job was to warn Viper the Vicious and all the other snakes if they saw intruders or invading armies coming near the plateau. If anyone got too close, then all of the rattle-snakes were to sound the alarm by shaking their rattles all at once. One of the lookouts turned his head to the west and spotted the camels walking toward Snake Plateau. “Ssssound the alarm!”he shouted to the other watch-snakes. Then all two-thousand of the rattle-snakes began to shake their tails in unison. This made a very loud sound that boomed across the desert.
“What is that sound?”Peter asked with alarm.
“They’ve spotted us,”Cornelius said, not surprised. “The lookouts are sounding the alarm to alert Viper the Vicious that strangers have approached the plateau.”
Suddenly, three cobras and two asps—some of the most deadly snakes of the desert—emerged out of the mouth of Snake Plateau. Slithering at lightning speed, they moved quickly down the plateau and started making their way toward the intruders.
“Those are some of Viper the Vicious’best and most-highly trained snake warriors. They follow him wherever he goes.”
The five snakes raced faster and faster toward the four camels. They were just about to jump on them when one of the cobras noticed Cornelius sitting on Peter’s back. “Halt!”the cobra shouted to the other four snakes, suddenly overcome with fear.
“Cr…Cr…Cranky Cornelius,”he said trembling. “Is that you?”
“It is,”Cornelius replied confidently.
“Pleasssse forgive ussss for ssssuch an unssssightly welcome,”the cobra hissed. “We didn’t know that you were with these intruderssss. Do you come in peace[ssss]?”
“Yes, we come in peace,”Cornelius answered. “These are my friends. We would like to request an audience with King Viper the Vicious. We have a very important message to share with him and the snakes of Snake Plateau.”
“Give us a few minutessss,”the cobra said. “We will talk with the king and return with an answer ssssoon.”
Then the five snakes turned around and slithered back up the plateau and into the cave just as quickly as they had slithered out of and down them.
When they had left, Peter turned his head and looked at Cornelius. “Boy, am I thankful that God sent you on this trip with us, Cornelius!”he exclaimed. “He just used you to save our lives!”
“It is nothing compared to the gift that I received from you, dear camel,”Cornelius replied. Then with a sigh he added, “Though I wish I had not been so mean to the snakes before I knew the Lord, I am thankful that God can take what I meant for evil and turn even that into something good.”
Fifteen minutes later, the five snakes came slithering back out the cave and down the plateau again. When they reached Cornelius and the camels, they said, “The king has agreed to ssssee you and your friendssss. We will escort you to the throne, and you shall remain unharmed by the other ssssnakessss.”
And so Peter, Virtue, Justice, Mercy, and Cornelius started making their way toward the foot of Snake Plateau, praying under their breath as they moved closer and closer. When they finally reached the bottom of the plateau, they came to some stairs.
“These sssstairssss,”the cobra said, “lead up to the cave where the throne of the king is located. Pleasssse, follow ussss.”
The camels and Cornelius followed the three cobras and two asps up the stairs. As they walked up, they passed countless snakes on both sides of them. They could tell that the snakes really wanted to bite them. However, all of them had been told not to harm the visitors—at least not yet—and the snakes were too afraid of Viper the Vicious to disobey his orders. When they reached the entrance of the cave, they stared deep into the mouth of Snake Plateau. Along the top of both sides of the cave, leading back into the throat of the plateau, were burning torches. And as far as the eye could see, snakes were slithering all over the floor of the cave. Then with a loud voice the cobra shouted a command into the cave. “Move to the ssssidessss and clear a path!”At once the snakes obeyed and slid themselves to the sides of the cave. Within seconds, a clear path had emerged. “Thissss way,”the cobra said as he began to slither toward the throat of the cave. The others followed. The deeper they went into the cave, the shorter the ceiling became. After about ten minutes, the camels even had to crawl on their knees to keep moving ahead.
Finally they came to the end of the narrow passageway, and suddenly the cave opened up into a huge, spacious cavern that was situated deep in the heart of Snake Plateau. Torches formed a circle around the cavern, and as you might imagine, there were snakes everywhere. And these snakes looked even meaner than any of the snakes they had seen outside the cave. And there in the very center of the cavern was the throne! The throne was in the shape of a hooded cobra, and two blazing torches made up the throne’s eyes. And then they saw him. Sitting under the fangs of the throne was King Viper the Vicious himself! Viper the Vicious’body was thick and long. His belly was white and his sides, back, and tail were dark red mixed with purple. Running all the way down his back was a black, diamond-shaped pattern. He had two horns and deep hollows in the sides of his head. His head was much broader than his neck, his eyes were yellow, and the pupils of his eyes were long, black slivers that looked like those of angry cats. He had two large, long, white fangs, and greenish-yellow poison was dripping from them. And stationed on both sides of the king were his body guards—the biggest, strongest, ugliest boa constrictors you have ever seen. When the four camels laid eyes on King Viper the Vicious and his body guards, chills and shivers went down their spines.
“Father,”Peter began to pray quietly under his breath, “give us strength now. Whether we live or die, and whether they receive our message or not, help us to be faithful and true messengers of the gospel. Our lives are in Your hands, Master.”
Then with a slithery voice Viper the Vicious shouted a command to the intruders. “Come here!”he hissed loudly.
The three cobras and two asps then escorted Peter, Virtue, Justice, Mercy, and Cornelius to the throne. When they reached the throne, Viper the Vicious looked at Cornelius and said, “Is that you, Cranky Cornelius?”
“It is, O king,”Cornelius replied respectfully. Now, this was the first time that Viper the Vicious had ever heard Cornelius speak to him in a respectful way. At first the king was caught off guard. Then he became suspicious.
“Cranky Cornelius,”the king began, “after our last war we agreed that we snakes would stay here at Snake Plateau, and that you spiders would stay at Spider Rock. Why, then, have you come here, and why have you brought these foreigners into my domain?”
“O king,”Cornelius replied, bowing his head in respect. “These camels have come here from a faraway place called Spacious Oasis. That camel there is named Virtue, and the camel upon which I am now sitting is named Peter. Despite great opposition from the spiders at Spider Rock, these two dared to share their message with us even at the risk of their own lives.”Cornelius then went on to share the miracle that God had done in Virtue, and how he and the spiders of Spider Rock had turned to the living God in repentance and faith.
When the king heard this, he was shocked and surprised. There was something so different about Cornelius. He had never seen the spider smile. And yet, as Cornelius talked about what Jesus had done for him, he kept smiling and smiling. And not only that. Viper the Vicious had even seen a tear come into one of the spider’s eyes when Cornelius had mentioned the name Jesus. On his throne, the king began to squirm nervously. Finally he looked at the camels and said, “You may sssspeak your messssage! But make it sssswift!”
When the king said this, a hush fell over all of the snakes in the cavern. At that moment the Holy Spirit came upon the four camels and Cornelius. When that happened, all fear left the hearts of these five messengers, even though they were surrounded on every side by thousands of snakes full of deadly poison. Peter was the first to speak.
“O King Viper the Vicious, and all who are listening today, we have come here in the name of Jesus the Messiah. We are from an oasis called Spacious Oasis. While growing up, we four camels had hatred in our hearts for all the snakes of the desert.”
“Indeed,”Virtue then began, “a deep hatred. On my part, I thought that I was full of so much virtue and righteousness. Every day I tried hard to do things that made people think that I was a holy, devout, and righteous camel. However, I soon discovered that all of my works were not coming from a sincere heart of truth. They were just a show to win the praise of other camels. However, God was not fooled. One night after we had gone to drink water at the Eastern Pool, our favorite watering spot in Spacious Oasis, God showed me, my brothers, and my sister that we are in need of His mercy just as much as any of the desert creatures that we hated.”
Then Justice joined in. “A day is coming when all of us will give an account of our lives before God’s chosen Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. He is the only truly Just One, and when we stand before Him, He will examine and bring all of our thoughts, deeds, words, and motives into the light. He will punish the entire world for its sin, and will make all of the wrong things right. All those who refuse to repent and put their faith in Him will be punished. They will receive new bodies in something called the resurrection of the wicked. They will then been thrown forever into something called the Lake of Fire. And as for me, I of all creatures deserve that Lake of Fire. That alone would be true justice in light of all the wicked things I have thought and done in my life.”
“However,”Mercy then spoke up boldly, “though God is perfectly just, He is also full of mercy and compassion. He does not want anyone to suffer eternal death in the Lake of Fire. Therefore, He sent His Son Jesus into the world a first time two thousand years ago. Jesus was God Himself, but He chose to take on a human body. The punishment we deserved was death, but God didn’t want to give us that punishment. Therefore, He sent Jesus to the cross and punished Him instead of punishing us. When He did this, He showed the world His justice by giving sin the punishment it deserves. And at the very same time He also showed the world His mercy by putting the punishment on someone else. Then He raised Jesus from the dead three days later. Jesus is now sitting at the Father’s right hand, waiting there patiently until the day His Father sends Him back to the earth again to raise the dead, set up His kingdom from Jerusalem, and restore all things back to the way they were before sin entered His creation.”
Then Cornelius took his turn. “Oh King, you know how many innocent crickets, lady-bugs, and butterflies I have trapped in my webs over the years. You also know how mean and cruel I have been to you snakes. In the presence of all who are listening here at Snake Plateau, I testify that if God is willing to have mercy even on me, He will also have mercy on you and forgive your sins if you repent and put your trust in Jesus’work on the cross. Then you, too, along with me and these camels, will share in eternal glory at the Second Coming of Jesus.”Then looking straight at Viper the Vicious with eyes full of compassion, he said, “Viper the Vicious, I ask you to please forgive me for the wars and for all of the wicked things I have done to you and to those who are part of your kingdom.”
When Cornelius said this, a silence that could be felt hung over all of Snake Plateau. All eyes were on the king to see how he would respond. For the first time in the history of Viper the Vicious’kingdom, the snakes saw a look of hope of the king’s face—mixed with a look of fear. Was he going to repent and believe? It looked like he was just about to do this. However, right when he was about to speak, one of his body-guards leaned over and whispered something into his hear.
“O king,”the boa whispered, “all of this looks ssssneaky and ssssly to me. As you know, O king, we are at war with the ssssalamanderssss. What if this sssspider has ssssided with the ssssalamaderssss and is sssspying on ussss? I am ssssupscioussss that he is just pretending to ask for forgivenessss to make you think he is now a friend. When he leavessss, he will then go and tell the ssssalamanderssss about our sssstrategy to sssstrike Ssssalamander [sss]City next week.”
When the king heard this, the look on his face quickly became hard and mean again. Then he yelled, “Cornelius you ssssneaky sssspider! Do you think I can be sssso easily tricked? You and your friends have joined the ssssalamanderssss, and you are sssspiessss!”Then pointing at Cornelius and the camels with his forked-tongued, Viper the Vicious commanded his boa body-guards, “Sssseize them and ssssqueeze them!”
As soon as the king said this, an uproar broke out all over the cavern, and the body-guards slithered quickly over to the camels. One of them began to wrap himself around Justice, and the other around his twin brother Virtue. Then they began to squeeze them tight, tight, tight. Then Mercy leaned close to Peter while the other snakes in the cavern began to surround them as well. As the boa body-guards squeezed Justice and Virtue tighter and tighter, it started becoming hard for them to breath. Then Justice gasped out, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”
Things were certainly not looking good for either the camels or Cornelius. Just when Virtue was about to pass out, however, suddenly a messenger snake entered the cavern from the outside and slithered quickly before the throne. He had just returned from the battlefront in the war with the salamanders. Panting heavily, he motioned to the king with his tail. “Silence!”Viper the Vicious then shouted to all the snakes. Immediately the uproar ceased, and the boas began loosening their grip on Justice and Virtue. When they did so, the two camels gasped for air and regained their strength. “Whew, that was close!”Justice whispered to Virtue.
The king looked at the messenger snake and said, “What news do you have from the war?”
Then in a very distressed voice the messenger replied, “O Sssire, we have a very sssserious ssssituation! Your ssssecond ssssister SSSSusan the Sssslithery has ssssuffered a very ssssevere sssslice at the ssssword of Ssssimon the ssssword-sssslinging ssssalamander!”
When the messenger finished saying this, some other snakes, which were carrying Susan the Slithery on a stretcher, approached the throne. They laid the injured snake on the ground. As they did so, she looked up at her brother and said, “My brother, I fear I have been sssslain.”Then she breathed her last and died.
Susan was the king’s closest and favorite sister. They had hatched from the same nest of viper eggs, and had grown up together all their lives. When Viper the Vicious saw his sister die, tears came to his eyes and he began to weep and cry aloud.
“Oh, my dear, dear ssssister!”He cried. Then he burst out with lament and said, “Thissss death is exactly what I deserve! I have hurt sssso many creaturessss with my poision, and now I am being punished!”As the king wept and mourned, all of the other snakes in Desert Plateau joined him.
But then something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit moved Cornelius to ask the king a question. “O king, may we please pray for your sister?”The king nodded his head “yes”and granted their request. The two body-guards let go of Virtue and Justice, and the two twin camels along with Peter, Mercy, and Cornelius walked over to the dead snake. Then the camels laid hooves and Cornelius laid legs on the still body of Susan the Slithery. Then Peter prayed, “O God of all creation, we know that when Jesus returns, He is going to raise from the dead and welcome into His kingdom those who repent and believe the gospel. As a sign pointing to the certainty of that day, we ask You in the name of Jesus to send life and breath once again into Susan the Slithery!”Then all the others said, “Amen!”
As soon as they finished praying, a sound like a rushing wind came into the cavern and the power of the Holy Spirit fell on Susan the Slithery’s body. When this happened, her fatal slice was immediately healed, and she opened her eyes. “Where, where am I?”she asked quietly, looking up at her brother the king.
When the king’s sister spoke, great fear fell over all the snakes of Snake Plateau, and Viper the Vicious himself was trembling and shaking. Then he went over to his sister Susan, hugged her tightly, and began to sob and rejoice. Then with a voice full of joy he shouted, “I repent! I believe! Jesus is Lord, and He has been raised from the dead! He has power over death, and He is coming back! I deserve the Lake of Fire more than all creatures! From the viper’s nest I have been full of nothing but poison, venom, and depravity! I am the chief of sinners, the snake of all snakes, the very worst of cold-blooded reptiles! And yet praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, the compassionate and gracious God, for there is even room at the cross for me!”