They were all dead men.
No one entertained any illusions of survival. It was not a possibility; it was not an outside chance; it was not a hope. To even attempt this job required the full and complete forfeiture of their lives.
They did it anyway.
The Chernobyl divers—Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov—each understood that death was the only certain outcome of this voyage. If they failed, they would die. If they succeeded, they would die. No matter what happened, their deaths were guaranteed.
They did it anyway.
It was ten days after the initial explosion of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. A series of increasingly poor decisions—beginning with the plant’s design and culminating in the brash ineptitude of a handful of researchers—led to the most infamous nuclear meltdown in human history. The thousand-ton concrete lid covering Reactor #4 was launched skyward while the core itself spewed out enough nuclear fuel to dwarf even Hiroshima in terms of radioactivity. The winds carried the fallout far beyond the town of Chernobyl, spreading radioactive poisons that would eventually claim the lives of thousands.
But, believe it or not, it could have been worse.
Initial firefighting attempts had covered the glowing reactor core with a combination of water, sand, clay, and boron. In the ultimate stroke of irony, these materials all combined with parts of the core itself, forming corium—a radioactive, lava-like substance which, with temperatures peaking at over 4000 degrees Fahrenheit, was more than capable of melting through the concrete floor beneath the reactor. Left unchecked, officials feared the corium would burn all the way down to the emergency water reservoirs located directly beneath the core, where it would almost instantly convert the water into steam. The resulting thermal explosion would unleash a second round of radioactive chaos and death—this time with devastating consequences across all of Europe.
An entire continent was in serious danger. The water had to be drained, and that couldn’t be done without swimming through a pool of highly contaminated water and manually activating the now-submerged emergency release valve. The amount of radiation involved was beyond lethal—this job was a death sentence, and the Chernobyl divers knew it. They could have said no. They could have walked away and shrugged it off; they could have let it be someone else’s problem; they could have done anything else besides accepting the job.
They did it anyway.
Equipped with scuba gear and a light that failed almost immediately after entering the water, the team found the pipes and blindly groped their way to the release valve. They drained the water, averted a continental disaster, and resurfaced to the applause and wild cheering of onlookers.
A little more than two weeks later, they were all dead.
The Chernobyl divers gave up their lives to save a continent in which they were about to stop living. What possesses a man to do such a thing—to give up his claim to existence in exchange for no tangible reward?
Christ gave an instruction to all those who would follow in His footsteps: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). That sentence should give us pause, because a journey that begins with carrying a cross only ends one way.
We are all dead men.
The cross we take up is symbolic, but the end result is still the same. As Deitrich Bonhoeffer once said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” Taking up the mantle of a Christian—dedicating our lives to the pursuit of righteousness and the Kingdom of God—means choosing a life of self-sacrifice that ends, inevitably, with death.
We do it anyway.
The Chernobyl divers didn’t see a future paved with riches and fame. They saw hardship and pain and death. But alongside that, they saw something worth dying for.
The road we’re on, it ends with death. We aren’t promised cushy physical lives filled with wealth and comfort. We’re promised tribulation, we’re promised persecution, and we’re promised being hated by all for the sake of the name of our God (Matthew 10:22).
That is not a possibility. That is not an outside chance. That is a promise. To even attempt this job requires the full and complete forfeiture of our lives.
We do it anyway.
We do it because if there’s any path worth dying on, it’s this one. There’s far more at stake than just a continent—the entire world is in the throes of a spiritual meltdown that, left unchecked, is guaranteed to purge every trace of human life from the face of this planet. This path is the only way to get to a place where can make a difference.
Not that we can stop the meltdown. The chain reaction is self-sustaining now, and nothing we do or say can restrain it. There is coming a time of “great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved” (Matthew 24:21-22).
But those days will be shortened, because another plan is already in motion. It was set in motion a long time ago, and the lynchpin of this plan was the death of the God who now calls us to take up our crosses. That death opened the door to fix the damage this meltdown will cause, but walking through that door requires sacrificing our lives as well.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.
Corruption cannot inherit incorruption.
Between now and the Kingdom of God, change is required—and not just inward change. It’s more than just changing who you are; it’s about accepting that, as a physical being, what you are has to change, too.
You have to die. Your physical body has to stop existing. Your consciousness will come to a halt and you will join the countless faithful men and women before you who are now quietly awaiting their change. For some of them, their deaths came peacefully, happily surrounded by loved ones in their old age. Others, though…others “were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:35-38).
They did it anyway.
Would you? If you knew your physical journey was going to end at the tip of a sword or the teeth of a saw, would you still take up your cross?
Because it might end that way. Things have been relatively peaceful in America and other first-world countries, but we’re starting to feel the rumblings of unrest. The world will descend into chaos shortly before the return of Christ, and that time might not be so far away.
If you’re only on this path because you’re hoping it might not be so hard—if you’re hoping that a little soul-searching is the only hurdle between you and the Kingdom, think again. Satan has prepared a gauntlet of a million terrible things to pelt you with—some spiritual, some emotional, and some physical. And every time God allows our adversary to land a direct hit, you’re going to have to ask yourself: Is making it through that door worth it?
Because on the other side of that door…
On the other side of that door, we get to save the world. We get to work alongside our older Brother and fix everything that can’t be fixed right now. We get to take a world that’s broken and hurting and help make it whole again, help lead it toward a future and a hope God has been preparing for millennia.
Being part of that future means being willing to die in the pursuit of that future. We can’t get from here to there any other way. There are too many distractions, too many temptations, too many things that are guaranteed to get in our way and take us off the path unless we’re willing to die on the path.
If you are willing—if that future is worth every breath you have left in your lungs—then take up your cross.
We have work to do.
Until next time,