There’s always a rope bridge with a plank missing in the movies. Someone’s always running and there’s never any other choice.
It’s suspended over a chasm with rushing water at the bottom, spanning 100 yards. The ropes are always frayed, and you never know if the primitive engineers who put it there are trustworthy people.
In that moment, what’s on either side of the bridge, chasing you or waiting for you, matters more than that present peril.
It’s always a matter of life and death.
Coaxed off the cliff, the hesitant is told, “Don’t look down.”
Why do they say that?
Who can ignore the danger?
What good will that do?
The Present is always a matter of life and death.
The Saturday before Palm Sunday, tradition holds that Jesus went to Bethany because he’d heard Lazarus had died.
At first, Jesus tells the disciples he had to return to Bethany (Sort of a suburb of Jerusalem) because Lazarus is sick. The disciples, remembering that the officials had tried to seize Jesus the last time they were there, begged him not to go. It was a matter of life and death.
Lazarus is just sick; he’ll be fine.
Jesus concedes the rest and says, “Actually, Lazarus is dead; thanks for your concern, but I’m going.”
It’s a matter of Life and Death.
By the time Jesus gets to Bethany, Lazarus had been dead 4 days. A few miles out, Martha meets him.
She’s a wreck. Her beloved brother is dead.
Cultural history reveals that she’d not only lost a dear family member, but as the man of the house, Lazarus would have been the sisters’ provision and protection. She’s hurt and vulnerable. Angry about the past, fearful of the future, and furious—furious—that the one who could have spared them all this didn’t come on time.
She believed in Him enough to know that He could have done something, but then He didn’t. All that Love, all those promises; all that teaching, all those miracles—she knew they were real.
Why could He do it for everyone else—for strangers who weren’t even grateful—but not for her?
“If you had just been here when I needed you, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Jesus answers, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha can’t hide her disappointment.
Really?!? Really, Jesus?
That’s all you’ve got? All I can do is resign myself to “hope” offered by some abstract future reality?
More teaching. More promises. Fine. She’d heard them. At some unknown end of the world, she’ll finally have relief from the hurt. From the hard.
That’s great, and all. But I hurt today.
I’m alive and he is dead. And I don’t know how we’re going to make it.
Jesus calls her out on this doubt of hers: “Do you believe I AM who I say that I Am? Do you actually believe that I am the resurrection and the life—that if you believe in me you’ll live, even though you die, and that if you actually live and believe in Me, you’ll actually never die?
Don’t look down.
Don’t look at the hurt and the fear. Don’t look at the disappointment. Don’t look at the abandonment you feel because I didn’t leave you. Don’t look at your resentment and rejection.
I’m right here with you.
Look at Me.
Can do you do this?”
Okay, then. Let’s go.
Jesus knew what He had come to do. It was a matter of death then Life.
I don’t have to tell you what came next.
I don’t have to tell you that Mary and Martha, the women who were most hurt and disappointed by Jesus (tradition holds that these two women were the closest to Him, were His favorites) were the only ones in history to get the impossible.
After days of death and heartbreak, what if they had known all along what Jesus was coming to do?
They would have been Present to both Life and death.
Fast forward to Tuesday and Wednesday of Holy week when Jesus goes around Jerusalem teaching.
What he has to do is ever before him, ever present on His mind. He talks about it a lot, this week.
But when He talks about His own death, it is always paired with the promise of new life.
24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves his life will lose it, while anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
This is how he talks while he’s aware that in 72 hours He’ll face the most brutal form of capital punishment ever known to the Western world.
Is he looking at the tearing of flesh, the stabbing, the broken ribs, the punctured lung, the vicious torment, and the injustice of the trial system? Is He anticipating the grief and abandonment he’ll endure as He hangs there, unable to say anything but words from the darkest Psalm?
27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”
He doesn’t look down.
“28Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.”
The resurrection is ever before Him, even as death is.
When Jesus faces death, he doesn’t look at it. He looks ahead of it to the resurrection. And He can only do that because He’s already looking up. When His heart is troubled, He doesn’t turn to Himself or His circumstances to try to fix it. Or get out of it. He turns right to the Father.
And as He does that, knows what He came to do: It’s not die, but defeat death.
There’s a difference. And if we lose sight of that, it’s over.
They tell you not to look down because your eyes can’t handle the perspective of both the very near rope bridge and the very far away bottom of the chasm. They tell you not to look down because this will cause Vertigo even in people who aren’t prone to it, and you’ll lose your balance and fall anyway.
They tell you “don’t look down” because they know the fear of falling is actually more likely to kill you than the fall.
The Present is always a matter of Death and Life.