Most of us are familiar with the account of the RMS Titanic, the largest and most luxurious ship of its time. Setting sail on its maiden voyage from England, bound for New York, the Titanic was designed to pamper its first-class passengers in every way possible. But instead of a carefree cruise, the trip became a world-renowned tragedy.
On the evening of April 14, 2017, the Titanic’s crew began hearing warnings from ships ahead about the large amount of ice in the ocean, urging that approaching ships should exercise all caution. However, the captain of the “unsinkable Titanic” arrogantly chose to ignore the warnings and forged ahead at full speed. The Titanic struck an iceberg and immediately began to take on water. As the ship began to sink and break apart, passengers with no hope of getting on the life boats ended up in the frigid waters, clinging to whatever bits of flotsam and jetsam might hold them up till help came. Chairs, doors, wooden trunks – anything that would float might just save them.
You probably think you know the rest of the Titanic story, but what do you know about the Carpathia, the only ship that came to the Titanic’s rescue? The Carpathia was designed to be a workhorse of a ship, not a glamour queen like the Titanic, and was contracted for nothing more exciting than ferrying eastern European emigrants to the United States on the westbound trip and carrying older, less-than-wealthy tourists to Europe on the eastbound trip. That April night, upon hearing about the Titanic’s distress signal from the Carpathia’s wireless operator, Captain Arthur Rostrum took immediate action. All hot water and heat to the ship was cut off so as to funnel all the steam toward running the engines at top speed. The captain instructed some of the crew to ready the deck for rescue operations: lifeboats were set up to be deployed, slings were prepared to lift children to safety, a crane was readied to lift the lifeboats up to the deck. He sent another cadre of crew members to gather blankets and set up first aid stations with any doctors who could be found. The remainder of the crew began preparing hot soups, coffee and tea for the survivors. As the Carpathia drew closer to the scene, Captain Rostrum urged his crew to fortify themselves with these provisions against the cold job ahead. Lastly, the captain took on the responsibility of deliberately guiding his own ship into the ice-filled waters where the desperate and lost would be found. Thanks to the sacrifices of the captain and crew of the Carpathia, 705 souls survived this tragedy. That doubled the number of people on the Carpathia and many of the passengers who hours earlier had just been along for the ride suddenly became involved in the rescue, giving up their beds, their extra blankets, and their dry clothing to help bring comfort to the shocked and grief-stricken. After he was convinced they had rescued the last victim, the captain turned the ship around and headed straight back for New York in order to spare the Titanic’s survivors any further distress. Her arrival in New York marked the only time in her history that the Carpathia was greeted by huge crowds of family, journalists, dignitaries, and the simply curious. The other ships which had been closer to the Titanic than the Carpathia was but which had been unwilling to risk anything to help the dying now slunk into their ports only to be met with questions and inquiries regarding their callous behavior.
In a similar vein, most of us are also familiar with the account of the Garden of Eden. According to Genesis 2:8, the Lord God prepared a paradise for Adam and Eve to live in; a garden in Eden. This garden was surely the Titanic of its day because we’re told that God personally chose and placed there “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”. The Lord came down in the cool of the evenings to walk with them and enjoy their company. He gave them only one warning to obey: Don’t eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. But when Adam and Eve chose to ignore God’s rule and eat from the forbidden tree, it had the same effect on all of creation as the Titanic plowing full speed into the iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean.
Every person born after Adam and Eve enters this world afloat in a dark, frigid ocean, clinging to the wreckage of what’s left of God’s original creation. We grasp desperately onto relationships, careers, hobbies, position in society, volunteer work, higher education – anything that might save us.
But God had a rescue plan for mankind in His Son, Jesus Christ. Philippians 2:6-8 tells us this of Jesus: “Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privilege; He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When He appeared in human form, He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Jesus came to do what Adam would not do. He obeyed God to the point of dying as a payment for our sin and arrogance, allowing Himself to be executed in our place. And when God had raised Jesus from the dead and restored Him to His rightful place in Heaven, He didn’t just wave good bye and leave mankind here alone. He sent His Holy Spirit and He established the church.
Like the Carpathia, the church has a captain in Jesus Christ who is concerned not about His reputation, but about all those in His domain: the ones who know they are part of the crew, those who think they’re just passengers along for the ride, and the ones who are utterly lost and doomed to perish.
To those who know they are part of the crew, and are already hard at work, the Word says this in Philippians 1:3-5: “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” It’s always heartening to know that what we’re doing really matters. What an encouragement this is to keep obeying and serving!
To those who think they’re just passengers along for the ride, the Word says this: “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing whole-heartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish...Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” (Philippians 2: 1-5) It’s as though Jesus is saying to us, “Step up! The church is not a self-centered cruise ship. You have received comfort and encouragement from Christ and from those around you, and it’s time for you to become part of the rescue operation.”
To those who aren’t safely on board the Carpathia yet, pause for a moment and think how utterly foolish it would have been for a Titanic passenger to turn down a place in a lifeboat because it would mean leaving behind the wooden chair which had been barely keeping them afloat. Yet, don’t we all have the tendency to do just that when we cling to something that “sort of” worked in the past? It’s time to quit being so short-sighted and focus on the long term. 1 Peter 1: 3-5 give this promise to those who will choose to put their trust in Christ: “Because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead, now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance…And through your faith, God is protecting you by His power until you receive this salvation…”
Or how about this: the life boat full of dripping, near-freezing passengers has reached the Carpathia where they are to be hauled onto the ship and hustled into cabins to be warmed and dried. But two or three in the lifeboat are hanging back and muttering. “No thanks. The last ship went down, so how do I know I can trust this ship not to go down? I’m going to stay here where I can take care of myself.” Is that not the attitude of those who have been hurt by the church? Although the church is not our salvation, it is part of who we are in Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 gives a great teaching on the body of Christ, the church. And right in the middle it says, “Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you’.” So while it’s clear from this 2,000-year-old letter that being hurt by human beings in the church is not a new thing, we are not let off the hook. The concluding verse says, “All of you together are Christ’s body…” So it’s that clear. Christians are only part of Christ’s body when they submit to being together as Christ’s body.
Like the Carpathia, the church is part of God’s rescue plan. We begin as the rescued ones. Then, as we mature and grow, we become the rescuers. We go from being rather needy, isolated individuals to individuals who are willing to sacrifice at their Lord’s orders, willing to be part of a team, each having a specific role to fulfill in God’s mission of salvation. As Jesus Christ has given His life for our rescue, we are to give our lives for Him to use as He sees fit.
Why? Because some day, Captain Jesus is going to navigate His church into port and along with all the rest of the rescued ones, we will be part of the glorious welcome that we have never seen on this Earth. “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). Amen and Amen.