Did you read about the bravery and courageof “The Fukushima Fifty” following the devastating tsunami that hit Japan on the 10th March? Although they were given the name ‘The Fukushima Fifty’ there is said to have been between 100-200 engineers working around four shifts trying to halt a national nuclear disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the tsunami on March 11.
These workers remained behind to make the plant safe and to try and restart the plant. They “were said to be stoically accepting their fate ‘like a death sentence.” It is thought that high radiation levels at the plant entrance are at a level that will either kill the workers or cause them appalling illnesses in the years to come. They risk their lives to make the plant safe for the safety of others.
This story reminded me of another about Louis Slotin, told by George Vandeman in his book, A Day To Remember. Vandeman begins, “but that day the screwdriver slipped! It was early in 1946. Preparations were being made for the atomic test to be conducted in the waters of the South Pacific atoll of Bikini. A young and daring scientist by the name of Louis Slotin was carrying out an experiment. He had successfully performed it many times before. But this day, just before leaving Los Alamos for another assignment, he had offered to run through it one more time.
The purpose of the experiment was to determine the amount of U-235 necessary for a chain reaction – scientists call it the critical mass. To accomplish this, he would push two hemisphere of uranium slowly toward each other. Then, just as the mass became critical, he would push them apart with his screwdriver, instantly stopping the chain reaction.
But that day, just as the material became critical, the screwdriver slipped! The hemispheres of uranium came too close together. Instantly the room was filled with a dazzling bluish haze. Young Louis Slotin might have ducked away. He might have saved himself. But no. He interrupted the deadly chain reaction by tearing the two hemispheres apart with his bare hands!
By this instant, self-forgetful daring he saved the lives of the seven other persons in the room. He realised at once that he himself would be bound to succumb to the effects of this atomic accident. But he did not lose control. Shouting to his colleagues to stand exactly where they had been at the moment of the disaster, he drew on the black board an accurate sketch of their relative positions, so that doctors might discover the degree of radiation to which each had been exposed.
A little later, with Al Graves, the scientist who next to himself had been most severely exposed, he waited beside the road for a car to take them to the hospital. Sensing fully the fate that awaited him, he said quietly to his companion, “You’ll come through all right. But I haven’t the faintest chance myself!”
It was only too true. Nine days later he died in terrible agony.”
“Nineteen centuries ago” says Vandeman, “the Son of the living God walked directly into sin’s most concentrated radiation, allowed Himself to be touched by its curse, and let it take His life. The accumulated guilt of the ages released its deadly contamination over Calvary. And He who made the atom permitted Himself to be nailed to the tower at ground zero, allowed wicked men to trigger the cruel device we call Calvary. But by that act He broke the chain reaction. He broke the power of sin.
“Strangely true were the mocking words of the rulers who watched Him die: “He saved other; Himself He cannot save” ( Matthew 27:42).
“Never were truer words spoken. For to interrupt the chain reaction of sin, to stop its deadly fallout, he must give His whole life. His own life. He could not save Himself and save others too. It is as if He spoke to every man, “You can come through all right. But I haven’t the faintest chance Myself.”
We are coming up to Easter. It is a time when Christians remind themselves of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ – what was Jesus feeling and thinking, – and what was he then doing for humankind back at that place we refer to as Calvary?
Says Vandeman, “Calvary seems so far away, so disconnected from the restless age in which we live. As Christians, we reverence it, to be sure. But to most of us it is little more than a devotional exercise that we put on and take off like a cloak. And even when we stop to think about it, do any of us really know what it means? Or why it had to happen?”
“Calvary, to millions, is nothing more than a harmless emotional release from the tensions of the week – seldom thought of as a cure for a society like ours. It seems too far removed from our speeding, launching, boosting, counting generation.”
I have been challenged by Calvary. “ The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). We have been separated from God through our deliberate rejection, our waywardness or even just our indifference to Him. Jesus said to the people of His day, “how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).
We weren’t there at Calvary of course, and yet, I remember reading Peter Marshall’s sermon based on the Negro-spiritual, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Dr. Peter Marshall was the famous Scot who was twice-appointed chaplain to the US Senate. The sermon eventually became part of a book, The First Easter (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959)
In “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” Dr. Marshall saw that we were ALL there that day when Jesus died. One can get a grasp of his passion as he painted colourful descriptions of Jesus’ last act – of allowing himself to be taken like a common criminal and made to suffer that cruel death on a cross. Here are a few words from the closing part of Marshall’s sermon:
“A thunderstorm was blowing up from the mountains. It was becoming strangely dark. People looked at the ominous sky and became frightened. Women took little children by the hand and hurried back to the city before the storm would break. It was an uncanny darkness – it had never been as dark at midday before.
“The tears of the women were drying now. The Centurion was silent – every so often he would gaze up at Jesus with a strange look in his eyes. The soldiers were silent too, their gambling was over. Suddenly Jesus opened His eyes and gave a loud cry. The gladness in his voice startled all who heard it for it sounded like a shout of victory. “It is finished. Father into your hands I commend My spirit.”
“And with that cry, He died.
“They were all there that day on the top of the hill” said Peter Marshall. “the friends of Jesus – and His enemies. The Godly people, they were there, as well as the people who could have cared less about God. The Priests were there and the scribes, the greedy Sadducees, the hypocrites, the proud authorities with their robes, their broad-bordered phylacteries on which the golden bells were sewn with golden thread. They were there, gathering their robes more tightly around them and standing with arms folded approvingly. The unbelievers were standing beside them. The harlots were there and their customers were there, they were all there. Simon of Cyrene was there and the soldiers too.
“Were YOU there when they crucified my Lord?”
Said Marshall, “When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we were there too and that we helped to put Christ there. Because every attitude present on that hilltop that day is present with us now. Every emotion that tugged at human hearts then, tugs at human hearts still. Every face that was there is here too, every voice that shouted then is shouting still. Every human being was represented at Calvary, every sin was in a nail or the spear or the needle-like thorns, and pardon for them all was in the blood that was shed…
“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”
“I was!” said Peter Marshall.
I give way to Peter Marshall’s claim. I know I too was represented there among the crowds of that day. And I wasn’t one of his followers either! I can remember on one occasion in the work place being drawn into a negative discussion about Christianity. I should have known better but I joined in the criticism. My criticism and cynicism was a bit too bold for one colleague. His change of colour appeared to be a cue for me to remove myself from his immediate presence. His appearance and posture suggested that his anatomy could explode all over me at any moment. He was a bigger and heavier fellow than myself and I hadn’t seen him turn that colour before.
I lost a good work colleague that day – things were never the same again, any friendship was finished. I have often wondered why he turned angry all of sudden. There had been no evidence up to that time that he had any Christian convictions; by his language or by his behaviour. He might not have been a Christian himself, but had my critical remarks cut too deep and offended his respect for people or someone he knew who were genuine Christians; family members for whom he had good reason to respect and love?
If I wasn’t so hasty to excuse my own rejection of Christianity and God, I might have reminded myself of those Christians I once knew who were above the reproach and diatribe I was then delivering in the work place. So when I read, and reread Peter Marshall, I was represented there, and specifically among the mockers at that.
To come back to the analogy of those dealing with the deadly atomic elements to make others safe, whether at Fukushima, or with young Louis Slottin back at Los Alamos in 1946, the ‘Calvary’ symbol is about a much more critical moment. It affects every living person on planet earth. Jesus chose to come between the deadly consequences of sin and a just God. At Calvary, mercy was mingled with justice. Jesus had the option not to step in between sin and its consequence. “The wages of sin is death, but the Gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
When I think of my own indifference to God in earlier days, and even the verbal defamation, and now read such passages as in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,” I can’t help feeling ashamed.
His death wasn’t a murder. He wasn’t a martyr dying for a good cause. He could have walked away from the cross. When he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me,” it was possible for him not to take upon himself the wages of sin, death, my death, our death, present and eternal! In intent his separation from God the Father was eternal. We see it in his cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). And so his submission to the Father’s will had you and me at the heart of it, “nevertheless, not my will be your will be done” (Matthew 26:39; Hebrews: 12:3-4)).
So no, his death wasn’t murder; his death wasn’t martyrdom, his death was a sacrifice! (Isaiah 53:3-6). It was a voluntary death (John 10:17,18; 12:32). He was one with God (John 1:1), equal with God (Philippians 2:6), and yet he became one of us (John 1:14), a human being, even a servant; and in his humanity he became obedient even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8). “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23; 3:21-26).
And it’s all about the Law of God. Sin is the breaking of God’s Law (1 John 3:4-6). And the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Galatians 4:4,5 tells us that “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law. . . . “ The Apostle Paul uses the term “under the law” to mean under the law’s condemnation. Not that we ignore the law but there is no salvation by keeping the law – salvation comes as a gift from Jesus Christ. As Vandeman states, “If that law could have been set aside without peril to the universe, if its commandments could have been abolished without shattering the security of heaven and earth, then Calvary was unnecessary and only a meaningless drama!” Sin, the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), becomes very real when we see what it did to the Son of God.
The whole of the human race finds itself making a choice. Jesus came to this world to reverse the effect of sin. The mission of Jesus to this world was not just to reveal what God was like (John 1:18). We can say from reading John 14:9 had it been God the Father who had come to this world he would not have thought or behaved any differently from God the Son. But the mission of Jesus was also to remove the effect of sin, “the wages of sin is death.” It then goes on to say, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
As noble an act that it is, ‘The Fukushima Fifty’ could only try to save their fellow citizens from the toxic consequences of the damage done by the tsunami. And the same with Louis Slotin. He could save the lives of his colleagues by taking the consequences of his own mistake. But their lives are still only the allotted span for this life. Jesus had made no mistake. He has taken the consequences of our mistakes – and offers us eternal life – life everlasting (Isaiah 53:4-6; John 6:40).
As the most well known and most loved text in the Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). I don’t know why I was ever ungrateful to God. I now wonder why anyone can be ungrateful to God. What I know is, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). That’s a powerful incentive to love him in return, isn’t it?