“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No, it was for this very season I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name … And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:27-28a, 32-33, TNIV)
Rocketing against the earth’s rotation, 36 thousand feet somewhere over the Pacific, the midnight sky strangely comforted me as we returned to the east. I don’t know what it is about flying at night, but for some reason I always have less anxiety about losing lift and experiencing a two minute free fall, plummeting into the less than warm waters below. As the engines continued to roar I continued to day-dream, looking for anything to take my mind off the mixture of emotion and details that simultaneously filled my head and my heart.
For a second I wondered what it must be like piloting a mass of metal and jet fuel, moving forward at some ridiculous three-digit digit speed, watching the sky and horizon all melt into one as the twilight fades and the lightless ocean remains. Honestly, there are times when I feel like this is how life works following Jesus; we are all simply flying by faith through the night as evidence of things hoped for materialize, and the eternal internal radar within gives us assurance about things we cannot see.
As my mind raced I thought about how almost two years ago my wife Sarah and I responded to His leading to follow Him across this same ocean. We left on a one-way ticket to Indonesia, not knowing what we were going to do, where we were going to live or when we were coming home. One of the first couples who helped us occupied my mind were Teddy and Iko. They were two young and beautiful hearts full of life and love, newly married with a baby on the way. We received news just before we took off for our return flight that, in an overcrowded Bali hospital at 27 years old, Iko crossed her last ocean. There was no more room for her in intensive care. Teddy and their baby remain in this world.
Is there beauty in death? For most, somehow I doubt it. But for One, I know there was beauty—beauty in a defining three-day moment that changed everything. Outside of ancient Jerusalem’s city limits, Jesus’ horrific slaughter on the cross became the center of time and eternity. His death satisfied the demands of God’s holy justice and appeased His holy wrath by serving as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all humanity, including mine. He did what we could not and lived in flawless rhythm with God, His Father, perfectly obedient and sinless. This means that Jesus’ sacrificial blood is the red carpet leading into the relational presence of God. In God’s eyes Jesus’ perfection becomes ours … and that is beautiful.
Thinking about all of this, the upcoming teams arriving at our location, the church we plan to launch and the work we do with Indonesian orphans made my head spin. Maybe it was the cabin pressure, or maybe I got the short end of the stick when God was handing out administrative gifting. Nevertheless in all of this, there is one thing I do know: death outside of Christ is never beautiful. At times this truth haunts me when I relive the heart pounding terror of looking it in the face, peering into an agonizing, fear-centered eternity without love, light, peace, comfort or hope for a better tomorrow. In eternity tomorrow never comes.
That day, Sarah and I crossed dark oceans by the light of the bright Morning Star. May all humanity see His life giving light, a light that never goes out. We will continue our work until the whole world knows.