Updated: May 2
In The Poseidon Adventure, a cruise ship meets disaster and gets turned upside down. Though many are killed, the survivors, who are walking on the ceilings as floors, journey upward into the ship to the bottom as the ship continues to sink, bottom first.
In hopes of getting rescued, they go through various obstacles but eventually, they get trapped in one of the air pockets of the ship. As the water continually swallows the vessel, filling up more and more with water, they get trapped.
With time running low, they find the only one way out. But it’s underwater, and in order to get to the other side to the next air pocket, they have to swim an impressive distance, or they'll die.
This is a parody of what it's often like to live a human life.
Humanity had a cruise-ship-like existence in the Garden in Eden, but our refusal to follow the Creator's instructions resulted in a loss of paradise.
Now we're all born into a condition that should have never been.
Now, life is turned upside down like a sinking ship: our struggle to live is hard, painful, and filled with disappointments, discouragement, disasters, and frustrations; with twisted bodies, tortured minds, bitter relationships, in a universe cracked and wracked with misery.
As we desperately crawl towards the happy life that often eludes us, we creep inevitably into the decay of death and the decomposition of everything we know and love.
Life is not what it should anymore, but there's a way out.
And like in The Poseidon Adventure, there is only one way out, which is what Jesus announced when he said, "The kingdom of God has is arriving, so stop doing life your way and follow me."
Jesus came so we could survive the sting of life and death, but that doesn’t mean we’re following him to Disneyland.
He calls us to a life of supernatural love. And it's not for the weak.
On the night of his murder, Jesus summarized all his instructions: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (Jn. 14:34).
He calls us to love all other people the same way he loved all of us, which means he calls us to a cross-like life of love.
As our king wore a crown of thorns, staked to a Roman torture device to rescue his enemies, so we follow him into a life of self-denial, self-sacrifice, rejection, persecution, and woes of every kind.
The life of cross-love is hard. Even impossible.
Following Jesus means we must:
Put other’s needs first
Turn the cheek
Abdicate our rights
Give without getting
Forgive while being scorned
Sacrifice until our bodies give way
But it’ll all be worth it to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the happiness of your Master.”
It's all worth it to live in"the power of his resurrection", as Paul put it in Philippians 3:10, "that I may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, so that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (vs. 11).
This is what the heartbeat of Spirit-filled Christians sounds like.
But this life of cross-love is impossible without God.
There have been many people I have known who appeared as zealous and in love with Jesus, the Bible, people, and ministry as anyone you could find.
Where are they today?
Today, they couldn’t care less about these things. They're agnostic about Jesus and indifferent to the welfare of his kingdom. You surely know people like this who have fallen away. We all do!
This cross-love is hard, and the escape button for immediate relief is always dangling in front of us: with every temptation, distraction, and difficulty.
How can we survive? How can we endure?
How can we run this race until the last breath squeezed out of our tired lungs can squeal, “I did it! I was faithful to the end”?
Jesus ran this track without skipping a beat, without falling down, and without taking a wrong turn. He finished, and he finished flawlessly.
“Follow me!” He urges us with his hand extended out. “Follow me and I’ll show you the way!”
Of course, we won't ever live flawlessly, and thankfully, because of Jesus's sacrifice, we don't have to. But don't be duped by the lie that it doesn't matter how we live.
Quite the opposite is true: Jesus saved us from death to lead us into a life of cross-love fueled by a "passion for good works" (Titus 2:14).
Jesus still calls us to follow him and he still expects us to represent him as his agents in this age, as his very bodily members.
But how? Let's look at how Jesus did it.
Isaiah spoke vividly of the Messiah’s role hundreds of years beforehand. Some of the most graphic portions are in the Servant Songs, which are a series of hymns about the so-called "suffering servant".
As Isaiah foretells the cloaked victory of suffering servant of God, he reveals how God designed the human life of love to be lived. In one of these songs, this servant is described as hearing, which is to obey, God’s calling to carry out his assignment (Is. 50:4-5).
The assignment is not easy, as we've already seen.
He said, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheek to those who pull out the beard.” Yet he could say, “I did not hide my face from disgrace and spitting” (vs. 6).
In the face of the worst disgrace the servant prevails, and it's a terrible disgrace.
To die a death like this in this culture was the epitome of wasting your life because you gambled it on something that didn't matter; hence, you're dead.
It’s what the Psalms call being “put to shame” (as Isaiah himself puts it in vs. 7).
This kind of death was worse than torture, as it was the fatality of one’s core value, the execution of one’s reputation, wisdom, and honor.
This was ultimately a vision of the tribulation of the future Messiah. In the garden of Gethsemane, we can see this very dismay in the face of Jesus, as he beholds the terrible before him.
The only one to honor God would be called a blasphemer; the only one to love others would be executed as a violent criminal. "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death", he told his disciples (Matt. 26:38).
But as we know from the Gospel accounts, in the face of this fate, the servant resolves to finish his task: “I was not rebellious” (vs. 5).
He went forward.
Here’s his secret!
What Jesus Did
The task seemed insurmountable but God's servant marches forward: “But Yahweh helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced (Is. 50:7).
He goes on to say: “I know that I will not be put to shame” because “he who vindicates me is near” (vs. 7-8). It’s something he knew: “I know that I will not be put to shame” (emphasis mine).
Even though he would suffer a disgraceful fate, he knew his God would be faithful to him.
With an impossible mission filled with obstacles and enemies on every side, God's servant is made invincible by his confidence in God.
The servant is able to overcome all fears by trusting that he would “not be put to shame”, because “he who vindicates me is near” (vs. 7). He overcame his fears by trusting in God’s goodness to him.
He overcame all obstacles by knowing that God would take care of him.
Yet he marched forward because he entrusted his life to God. He trusted that he would not look back at his death with regret, but with gladness.
Jesus was as human as any of us, and just like any of us, he shrunk at the sight of his fate on that dreary night. Yet he commanded his body to follow his father's instructions and go through with the terrible ordeal because he had a source of infinite strength within him.
Jesus trusted that he would be:
Exalted above all as God's chosen king
He conquered by trusting that his murder—this mighty act of love—would not be in vain. This is how he willingly, even joyfully (Heb. 12:2), drank the cup of deadly poison.
He knew what the outcome would be.
Follow Jesus into cross-love by cross-faith.
Faith Working for Love
We’re each called to follow Jesus into a specific and unique life of obedient love to others.
Our families need this.
Our friends need this.
The world needs this.
But that life is a difficult and contrary experience, and there’s only one way to survive it—to entrust ourselves to a faithful Savior. To trust in the vindication of God, especially the greatest vindication of all.
Resurrection is the climax of our hope, as Paul peaks in his vision about Christianity's hope: "And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies." (Rom. 8:23).
This is the hope of Jesus that must fuel our faith and extinguish our fears.
Follow Jesus into the faith that works love.
Paul’s treatise on the resurrection concludes with action for this very reason: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Being rejected, abused, and humiliated for Jesus is not in vain.
Missing out on the pleasures of self-serving is not useless.
Choosing a life of service and giving over self-service and the American dream, no matter what it costs, is not wasted.
All that can assail us in this life in enemy territory is “light and momentary” compared to the “eternal weight of glory” of the coming resurrection (2 Cor. 4:17).
With this hope, we are free to love until it hurts, until we bleed, until we die. This is the kind of love the world needs to feel, and it can only come by trusting our Lord to vindicate us.
Follow Jesus and “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” as Jesus did (Phil. 2:3-6).
Love to death by trusting in life.
Follow Jesus who, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2:7-9).
Trust in our vindication.
Follow Jesus through this single, narrow path of escape—of love and trust—knowing that he will transform:
Your sorrow into gladness
Your sufferings into vindication
Your rejection into acceptance
Your failure into success
Your defeat into victory
Your humility into exaltation
Your death into resurrected life