Philip Yancey tells the story of a friend of his who went swimming in a large lake at dusk: “As he was paddling at a leisurely pace about a hundred yards offshore, a freak evening fog rolled in across the water. Suddenly he could see nothing: no horizon, no landmarks, no objects or lights on shore. Because the fog diffused all light, he could not even make out the direction of the setting sun.”
Can you imagine the thoughts this man felt as he pondered his future survival? Yancey writes that his friend splashed about in absolute panic. “He would start off in one direction, lose confidence, and turn 90 degrees to the right. Or left – it made no difference which way he turned. He could feel his heart racing uncontrollably. He would stop and float, trying to conserve energy and force himself to breathe slower. Then he would blindly strike out again. At last he heard a faint voice calling from shore. He pointed his body to the sounds and followed them to safety.”
Our lives lead us to similar waters. We have felt the desperation and hope lurking under the surface of life’s waters. There are times we find ourselves in a place the fog has set in, wondering what tomorrow will bring, splashing about for dear life. We cry out to God for mercy. Drenched, dripping wet with life and death, we come to an end of ourselves. Here is the thing: In order for there to be a resurrection, we must first die. Into death—our death—Jesus breathes life. At first, the waters may appear dangerous, fearful, unsurmountable. Yet as we look a little closer, through the eyes of faith, God leads us to see that He is working something much bigger than our mortal eyes can perceive (1 Cor 2:6-9).
It hurts to die. There are pains that occur as the body ages and decays: Eyesight diminishes, arthritis grips joints, steadiness becomes a challenge, new aches and pains show up on a regular basis. We feel the brevity and decay of life deep within our bones. From the moment we are born, every breath we breathe leads us closer to our last. In death, life is stripped away and we are left with the shell of our former self as we come face-to-face with the ugly parts of our selves we try to keep hidden. Yet nothing is hidden from God, although we like to pretend otherwise. He sees our brokenness, our shattered hearts, our lukewarm faith, and He has compassion. While we are still sinners, God sends Jesus (Rom 5:8). In Jesus’ own words: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) He loves us too much to leave us to drown alone. He came to our rescue!
The waters rush over our life. Our soul gasps. One final breath and to dust we return. Our old sinful self is drowned. We die. Lifeless. But we do not die alone! As Paul reminds us: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20) The very things that bring our death—worry, fear, sadness, depression, anxiety, wounds, hurts—are all buried with Christ. We have a Savior who takes our lifetime of luggage upon Himself: Our sin, our shame, our death. Every. Single. Piece. He felt the full weight and brunt force of our death as He died upon the old rugged cross for all creation to see. He tasted the agony, shame, and defeat of breathing a final breath and walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps 23). As His story ends, ours finds a new beginning. This Word made flesh speaks life into our dead, brittle, lifeless bones, a word of resurrection! Dead, gone, buried, that is what we are … until Jesus shows up! In a place of death, our everlasting story is just getting started!
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:4-5)
The empty tomb we celebrate at Easter reminds us that the struggles will have an end. What defines us is Jesus. We will not live with the pains of this world forever. For those in Christ, the grave clothes come off, as there is in store for us a new and glorious day when our weeping and sorrow will end. Bitterness and worry will turn to laughter, sorrow into joy, all through the amazing grace of God. Through the power of the Spirit, we are called out of the waters of our baptism to live a new life. A life marked by an ocean of blood filled with grace, forgiveness, and Jesus.
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
Dead in the water!