“Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33.” (“We are well in the shelter, the 33.”)
That seven-word message set off a wave of euphoria in Chile and around the world. It had been written in red letters on a scrap of paper and taped to a drill bit that penetrated an area of a gold and copper mine just north of Copiapó in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile—written by the 33 miners who had been trapped 2,300 feet underground 17 days earlier.
The Copiapó mining accident, as the world came to call it, became the most-watched rescue mission in world history. There was every reason to believe that, one, the miners had not survived the initial cave-in; and, two, if they had survived they would likely starve to death before they could be reached. Rescuers on the surface had no idea where they were in the labyrinth of tunnels, ramps, and rooms that spread out underground like arteries, veins, and capillaries.
But “the 33” survived the blast and took refuge in an area three miles from the entrance to the mine. And 17 days later, when an exploratory drill bit punched through the roof into their pitch-black sanctuary, they let the world know: “Estamos bien”—“We are well.”
As soon as rescuers discovered the miners were alive, a collaborative effort began to devise a way to get them out: three international drilling rig teams, every ministry of the Chilean government, engineers and technicians from NASA, and more than a dozen multinational corporations. On October 13, 2010, fifty-two days after the miners were discovered—69 days since the cave-in—all 33 were brought to the surface alive.
The rescue took 24 hours as the miners were brought to the surface one at a time in a specially-designed, bullet-shaped capsule, barely larger than a human being. The capsule contained oxygen and medical monitors. The capsule was lowered through a shaft until it reached the miners. One at a time, each miner stepped into the capsule and stood upright, sunglasses and monitors in place, ready for the 15-minute ride to the surface. It is estimated that more than one billion people around the world watched some or all of the televised rescue of “the 33.”*
While the Copiapó mine rescue was definitely a dramatic and glorious end to what could have been a terrible tragedy, it is not the largest, most difficult, or most critical search and rescue effort ever conducted. That would be the search and rescue that was initiated by the incarnation of Jesus Christ who said, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
And there are three critical components to that search and rescue operation, outlined by Paul in Romans 10:14 in the form of three questions—three questions that all have the same answer: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
Three questions, one answer—and the answer is . . . you! (and me!) We are the ones called by God to carry out the search and rescue mission that Jesus Christ began and continues. Those who need rescuing cannot hear without a preacher (you and me), they cannot believe without hearing, and they can’t call upon a God in whom they have not believed.
It all starts with you and me leaving the light, entering the darkness, and taking the Gospel to a lost world. Let’s look at Paul’s questions in reverse order to see immediately how we are the critical links in God’s search and rescue effort.
How Shall They Hear?
“And how shall they hear without a preacher?”
The preacher God is talking about here is not necessarily one who enters the pulpit on Sunday mornings on a vocational basis. Yes, those preachers are included, but it will take many more “preachers” to accomplish Christ’s search and rescue than the ones who preach vocationally. Indeed, there are too many preachers today who never share the Gospel with the man on the street, considering that’s not their calling. Preachers who think that way need to heed the words of Vance Havner: “A preacher who is too big for a little crowd would be too little for a big crowd.” A preacher with nothing to say to a lost soul on the street has little to say to his congregation on Sunday morning.
God has called every Christian to be a preacher of the Gospel. Every Christian is to answer Paul’s question with the words of Isaiah when the Lord said, “‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?’” And Isaiah said, “‘Here am I! Send me’” (Isaiah 6:8).
Wherever you and I go in this world, we go as an answer to a question. We are the preachers without whom the lost will not hear. We are the ones who are to “gossip the Gospel” to those we meet—simply as a manner of course, sharing the reality of our life in Christ and the reason for the hope that is within us “with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
Question: If the spread of the Gospel depends on people like you and like me, how likely is it that the lost will be found and rescued?
How Shall They Believe?
“And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard?”
Sometimes we forget that the Gospel is a propositional message—that means it contains certain truths, certain propositions, which must be communicated. The Gospel is specific, not general (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). People need to hear (or read) it with understanding. The danger of the Gospel cavalierly presented or carelessly received is seen in Jesus’ own words: “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (Matthew 13:19a).
We are the ones who must know, understand, and clearly present the Gospel so it is believable. Whether people believe or not is not ultimately up to us. But if they don’t believe, it must never be because they didn’t hear the Gospel clearly from us.
Question: Are you and I prepared to communicate clearly and carefully the Gospel found in the New Testament—a Gospel that is believable for those who hear?
How Shall They Call?
“How shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?”
In the verse immediately preceding Romans 10:14, Paul makes this bold promise: “For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’” And he then asks in verse 14, “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed?” Paul depends on a bit of simple reasoning here: No one is going to call on Christ to save him who does not believe Christ can save. And in order to believe, they must hear. And in order for them to hear, you and I must preach the Gospel to them.
Question: Do you have the boldness to ask, encourage, and exhort the lost to believe that Jesus can save them?
The great English preacher, the late John R. W. Stott, in speaking about those called to preach from the pulpit, said, “The Christian preacher is to be neither a speculator who invents new doctrines which please him, nor an editor who excises old doctrines which displease him, but a steward, God’s steward, dispensing faithfully to God’s household the truths committed to him in the Scriptures, nothing more, nothing less and nothing else.”
And I submit that those words apply to you and me in the daily course of our life as well. We have not been called to be clever or original, but to be faithful witnesses of the saving mission and message of Jesus Christ, the Lord. Of all the ways in which He could have saved the lost, He decided to use us and now depends on us to be faithful stewards of the commission given to us: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Three questions, one answer. The search and rescue mission Jesus set in motion is now up to us to carry out. Just as the miners trapped in the darkness were dependent on those in the light to save them, so the lost of this world are depending on us. God has called us to be their answer by going, praying, giving, and preaching the Gospel.
*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2010_Copiap%C3%B3_mining_accident#Extraction (accessed 12-17-11).