Sinking Toward Paradise

I spent last week discussing the human nature of Christ.  In Jesus, God literally set foot on earth giving up all His divine privileges to be right next to us.  In addition, Christ showed us how to maintain a constant connection with God the Father, experiencing life as we do, yet never sinning.  What’s incredibly challenging for me is what happened at the end of his life. The one person, who had the purest connection with God Himself, died the most horrific death imaginable.  How can this be? 

Many people falsely view the Christian life as one in which Jesus followers walk around in a holy bubble with nothing bothering them.  I have to laugh at this stereotype.  I’m not saying a person can’t be filled with joy, frequently rising above difficult circumstances, but reality and the Bible paint another picture: there are trials in life and lots of them!  Things can get really rough, and a person can absolutely be sinking, even while their faith in God is intact.  Before anyone gets uncomfortable with what I’m saying, it’s going to be necessary to take a look at what I mean by sinking.

Sinking must be looked at as a relative term.  It may mean something completely different to one person depending on the culture they live in, socioeconomic class, family structure, and so on.  The point of this message is not to determine what life circumstance constitutes sinking for a person, but to say that we can all experience it in different ways.  Sinking for one person may be not earning enough income to pay the bills, for another it may be losing a battle with cancer, yet for another it may be grappling with anxiety or depression.  The effects of living in a world that has been infiltrated by evil are vast in scope and often very complicated.  I’ve come to understand that many situations a person may face don’t have clear-cut answers as to why they are happening, and asking that question can actually lead to a more severe sinking feeling.  A danger zone that we can get trapped in is when we search for someone to blame for our hardships when there is actually no one at fault.  Whether our blame lands on God or other people, it never aids in pulling us back up to the surface. 

There are two survival keys that are going to be important to hear at this point.  First, we can’t get comfortable living in a constant state of sinking because that was never the life God intended for us; second, although we may be sinking at times, we have to remain steadfast in knowing that God will never let us drown.  Drowning is a state of desperation with no way out, and is impossible with Jesus in your life!  I know this not only from personal experience, but from several accounts in the Bible as well.  Let’s take a look at a few.

Christ’s disciples once asked him a question in which this very tendency to blame was on display.  Jesus’ answer will lay the foundation of what I want to address throughout the rest of this message.

“As he (Jesus) went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’

‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.’” John 9:1-3

I think it’s safe to say that this man, up until this point, lived a life of feeling as if he was sinking.  Scripture goes on to say that many people used to witness him begging on the streets, and I’m sure this is a common feeling of those living with this way of life.  Notice that I said that people “used” to witness him begging because Jesus went on to heal him of his blindness, but not before he made sure that everyone knew that neither he nor his parents were to blame for his affliction.  Christ is saying that whenever we find ourselves sinking, as opposed to blaming, look instead to what God can do!

Just like this blind man, the Bible is full of other stories of people sinking physically or emotionally before God intervened with a miracle.  That’s not to say God wasn’t at work behind the scenes the whole time, but the manifestation of the work hadn’t yet been realized.  Joseph was sold into slavery by his own family before he rose through the ranks in Pharaoh’s house; the woman caught in adultery was on the brink of being stoned to death before Jesus stepped in; the apostle Paul was literally sinking on a shipwreck before his crew landed on an island out at sea by the grace of God.  I could go on and on!  But what about when a person sinks to the most extreme depth a person can in this life?  What about when they are moments away from death, or even experience death, with seemingly no evidence of God healing or saving?  Does He let some drown?  After all, history tells us that ten of his twelve beloved disciples were martyred and experienced excruciating deaths.     

In the moment when a person breathes their last breath, some would say that is when they have drowned, but for those that have put their faith in Christ, it’s actually the moment they become fully alive again!

“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.” John 3:16

It’s not possible to drown with Jesus by your side which is why someone who has a relationship with him can live with no fear.  Even if the worst possible scenario happens and their life is taken, the imminent reunion with Christ that follows can never be taken away.

In perhaps one of the greatest acts of God’s grace in the entire Bible, this truth is displayed for all to see.  It’s a scene we all know well: two criminals being crucified alongside Jesus.  One is hurling insults at Jesus while the other comes to the realization of who Christ is.  The following simple exchange ensues,

“Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42-43

This man lived his entire life sinking.  Eventually, all the way to the lowly point of hanging on a cross, yet his final decision to turn his life toward Jesus kept him from drowning.  He indeed died moments later but was assured of eternity by the Maker of life in one of his final acts of love before he passed as well.

I find the contrast between Christ and this man incredible.  One perfect, never sinning and living every single moment with the purpose of serving his Father in Heaven.  The other led a life of crime, admitted doing wrong, and lived only moments with his attention focused on God.  Two entirely different lives, circumstances, and purposes led up to the exact same place.  Yes, through no fault of his own, Christ had sunk to the same point of hanging on a cross.  Both died a criminal’s death, deserving or not.  A life lived with God has never been guaranteed to be free of pain, or even to be fair for that matter.  However, it is just, because God is just.  As Christ breathed his last breath, he called out in a loud voice,

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46

Jesus’ life had been very difficult over the three years of his ministry prior to this moment.  He had sunk under the opposing powers of persecution, hatred, deceit, and greed, but drowning was never a possibility.  After death, he was reunited with his Father, with a criminal and many other sunken souls by his side (Romans 8:28-39).     

For some reason people falsely believe that God will never give us more than we can handle.  First of all, God is not the source of tragedy, pain, or death.  He doesn’t “dish out” life’s troubles just to see how we will handle them.  Instead, He uses them to refine our character and build our faith!  Secondly, it’s absolutely clear that we will go through things in life that are beyond the scope of what we can bear (John 16:33).  If we didn’t, we would be able to deal with every situation that came our way and wouldn’t need God’s help.  Sadly, this is the state of our nation, and it breaks His heart tremendously when He is so willing to be involved. 

I have sat at the bedside of those who have sunken to the edge of death.  One’s who have opened their lives to God, allowing Him to be involved, and those who have turned their backs.  The contrast is stark.  It’s amazing how the words, “I will never drown” can be written on a person’s face who is so close to death.  It’s an expression that is translated from the deep peace in their soul that only Jesus can place there when he whispers, “You will be with me in paradise.”