If a stranger approaches you and says they know your buddy “John,” but all their facts are wrong concerning him, you could safely conclude they are referring to a different John. Mark Spence uses this illustration to show why many non-Christians say they “know” Jesus Christ.
May 6, 2020
When a skydiver is under an open parachute, he is restricted to what instructors call “the cone of maneuverability.” This is where the wind and the forward speed of the parachute determine how far one can stray and still end up in the landing area. This is important, as straying from the drop zone can lead to many dangers just as bad as hitting the ground at 180 mph. Power lines, ponds, highways, trees, and fences are just a few of the potential hazards that can turn a parachute ride into an ambulance ride.
Just as there are natural laws—such as gravity—that when violated have consequences, so do the moral Laws of God. It matters little if we disagree with these laws or even believe they exist; like simple laws of physics, they are real and are violated at our peril.
“Just as there are natural laws—such as gravity—that when violated have consequences, so do the moral Laws of God.”
Most of my escapes carry some consequence for failure. Some are extreme, such as hitting the ground at 180 mph or suffocating in some predicament like the sand-filled cangue. Others are not as severe and would only leave me professionally embarrassed, like a failed jail escape. As we consider how this relates spiritually, we’re confronted with the realization that the stakes are too high and the price too dreadful to fail this escape. There are things far worse than physical death. Failure cannot be an option here.
As I share the following experiences, please consider how this relates to your spiritual condition. I can’t think of a more serious consequence than where we will spend eternity.
I traveled to Idaho for something unprecedented: I went to leap from an aircraft, bound and shackled, over the Snake River Canyon. The goal was to escape from the handcuffs in freefall with enough time to deploy my parachute and then safely land on the canyon’s north rim. The trip there, though, felt almost as dangerous as the stunt. The next time you fly and the ride gets a little bumpy, you can comfort yourself with this story.
We needed a particular type of aircraft for the canyon stunt so we decided to bring our own rather than try to find one in Idaho. We would then not only have our own jump plane but we could save money on airfares from Chicago to Idaho. The Twin Otter aircraft we used is popular among skydivers for its versatility and reliability. Nevertheless, it does have some weaknesses when used for travel. Because the Otter is not a jet (it has propellers), it’s comparatively slow. Skydiving planes have also had the seats removed and rubber mats put in their place. Sitting on the floor is fine when you’re wearing a parachute and using the plane as an elevator, but stinks when you’re using the plane for such a long flight. It makes for a very uncomfortable ride.
“There are also deadly vortexes scattered randomly throughout the river…Falling into one of these would be the absolute end with no hope of escape.”
As if that’s not bad enough, these planes don’t have pressurized cabins. That means supplemental oxygen must be used at altitude to prevent hypoxia. Hypoxia is a condition that starves the brain of oxygen and can cause confusion, disorientation, and bad judgment (most people think I am a chronic sufferer). So we flew for eight hours from Chicago to Idaho with no seats, no peanuts, and no movies, and wearing gas masks to breathe. As we passed over the Colorado Rocky Mountains, snow flew in the cracks of the cabin door and I prayed that if there would be any problems with the aircraft they wouldn’t happen there. Thankfully, we arrived without incident.
We scheduled the jump for 7:00 a.m. when the wind would be the calmest. The Sheriff’s Office gave us a boat ride the day before the jump to view the site and explained that portions of the river running through the canyon are wild and untamed, and certain areas of the canyon are virtually inaccessible. If I or the cameramen who’d accompany me were to drift there by parachute, it would mean our doom. There would be nothing they could do to save us. There are also deadly vortexes scattered randomly throughout the river. These vortexes, like a reverse tornado, would suck us violently underwater in an instant. Falling into one of these would be the absolute end with no hope of escape. Even a fully equipped scuba diver will perish if he’s swallowed by a vortex.
Our landing promised to be nerve-racking enough even if we successfully avoided the chasm below. The Idaho terrain surrounding the canyon looked like a lunar landscape. We would have to steer clear of the large boulders and rocks that would most certainly greet us upon landing.
The morning of the jump, we met representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Jerome County Search and Rescue, as well as a group of reporters and cameramen at the local airport. I slipped my jumpsuit on while my partner, Roger Nelson, demonstrated that my parachute’s automatic opening device was disabled. In other words, technology would not resolve a failed escape attempt. I had to escape in roughly 30 seconds to deploy my chute, or face the consequences at the bottom of the canyon. I would either be “World Champion Escape Artist” or remnants on a rock. We slipped our parachutes on and the pilot started the Twin Otter. The handcuffs (brand new and unaltered) were locked about my wrists and arms. We boarded the plane and took to the clear Idaho sky.
Just before we reached altitude, we realized that Roger’s goggles had somehow been misplaced. I was worried that he would be unable to see at terminal velocity, but there was no time to regroup—it was now or never. We had practiced and coordinated the timing of our jump so that Roger could grab my ankles upon exiting the aircraft and fall with me, his helmet-mounted camera capturing unique camera angles. Roger’s son, Matthew, also an expert skydiver, was to jump with us as another freefall cameraman. The Otter door was opened and we began our cadence. Ready, set, go…
Our ankle grab went as planned and we settled into a stable freefall formation. So far, Roger’s eyes had not been blown out of their sockets and I was able to spring open the first handcuff shortly after we reached terminal velocity. I freed both hands quickly and began working on the chain that encircled my neck and upper arms. However, my fingers had grown numb in the chilly, high-velocity air and had lost their deftness, so I decided to deploy my parachute and finish the job on the way down when I had more time. All of our parachutes opened properly and we effectively steered clear of the gaping sepulcher that is the Snake River Canyon.
“In looking at the distance across the canyon I was reminded how far our sin has separated us from God. When I looked at the bottom of the chasm I was reminded of the penalty for dying in our sins.”
I chose the Snake River Canyon because, as a youngster in the 1970s, I saw Evel Knievel try to jump it in his “Skycycle” and dreamed of doing something similar. My jump was successful, in that I escaped my shackles in time to open my parachute and not plummet to the bottom of the canyon. Evel Knievel, on the other hand, had a malfunction and failed to breach the gap. Luckily for him, he missed the river vortex and landed on some nearby rocks. I jumped above it; he tried to jump across. In looking at the distance across the canyon I was reminded how far our sin has separated us from God. When I looked at the bottom of the chasm I was reminded of the penalty for dying in our sins.
The Chasm Below
If we’ve been honest in our examination of God’s Law, we will admit that we are all bound by the shackles of sin and are guilty before God (John 8:34; Romans 3:19). We are in a deadly freefall, unable to free ourselves, and face a horrifying fate below. Yet for some inexplicable reason, some people insist they are not falling. Others may admit that they are falling, but their pride leads them to quickly point out how others have jumped from much higher altitudes; therefore, their jump isn’t as bad as everyone else’s. They forget that the length of the fall is not the final judgment—it’s the sudden stop at the end we should be concerned with. That stop will not only be death, but our souls will be sent to a terrible place called Hell.
“We are all bound by the shackles of sin and are guilty before God…. We are in a deadly freefall, unable to free ourselves, and face a horrifying fate below.”
Hell is a real, literal place, and like the river vortexes at the bottom of that canyon, it will be the absolute end with no hope of escape. It is described as a place of torment and everlasting punishment. The Bible teaches, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Hell is the eternal prison for those who persist in their rebellion and reject the pardon offered by God. It is a place reserved not only for murderers and rapists but for fornicators, thieves, and all liars as well. It is a jail without parole or reprieve from regret, where the crushing burden of sin is felt forever.
I’m not telling you this just to scare you—although it certainly should. Jesus explained that Hell is so horrifying that if your eye or hand causes you to sin, it would be better to pluck out your eye or cut off your hand than to go there (Matthew 18:8,9). Just like the Jerome County sheriff warned me about the vortexes, I need to warn you about Hell. The sheriff would have been doing me a great disservice by not warning me of the real dangers I would be facing. He could be charged with not fulfilling his oath to serve and protect citizens. In the same way, you need to be made aware that Hell exists and why people go there. You need to know the penalty for failing to escape—and I need to faithfully warn you.
“Hell is a real, literal place, and like the river vortexes at the bottom of that canyon, it will be the absolute end with no hope of escape.”
While I successfully cheated death during the Snake River jump, it required two primary steps to succeed: I had to escape from the handcuffs, and then deploy my parachute before it was too late. In our spiritual freefall, we have the same tasks we must accomplish to make our great escape. The first step is to get out of what is binding us
The 180-Degree Turn
“Repentance toward God unfastens our shackles and is the first step to defeating death. However, we’re still headed for that chasm unless we complete the second step in our escape plan.”
While training for a handcuffed jump in Lake Wales, Florida, I heard a voice yelling at me as I was descending under my open parachute: “Right turn! Right turn!” My trainer was desperately trying to get my attention on my chest-mounted radio. The winds had changed and I was approaching some dangerous obstacles. I listened to his advice and steered the parachute as instructed. Similarly, the Scriptures are desperately telling us to make the right turn of repentance or we will perish (Luke 13:3). Repentance is best understood as a change of mind that results in a change of behavior—a 180-degree turn from our sins.
If your conscience is working, it will convict you of your sins; you simply need to be honest and confess your guilt and turn away from all known sin. The Bible promises, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
Repentance toward God unfastens our shackles and is the first step to defeating death. However, we’re still headed for that chasm unless we complete the second step in our escape plan. We must accomplish both or we’re still doomed.
The Perfect Parachute
No amount of expert arm flapping will enable us to overcome the law of gravity, and the Law of God is even harsher. To stop the freefall we are in, we need a parachute—a proven, verified, trustworthy parachute. Jesus, the Son of God, is that perfect Parachute. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The Bible tells us to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:14). He alone can land us safely on the other side of death.
“To stop the freefall we are in, we need a parachute—a proven, verified, trustworthy parachute. Jesus, the Son of God, is that perfect Parachute.”
There are two steps essential for our salvation: we must exercise both “repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:21). When you take those steps—repent of your sin and trust in Christ as your Savior and Lord—you become sinless in God’s sight. Your shackles fall off and God’s Parachute opens. Because Jesus destroyed the power of death, He is able to “release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14,15). And Scripture assures us, if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36)!
Repenting and trusting Jesus Christ to save you is the only way to be released from the shackles of sin and escape death. When you do that, you will have this wonderful promise from God:
Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons—because they rebelled against the words of God,…they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces. (Psalm 107:10–14)
“Repenting and trusting Jesus Christ to save you is the only way to be released from the shackles of sin and escape death.”
Once you’re under the open Parachute of God’s love in Jesus Christ, you become enabled to go where the wind of His Spirit guides you. One of the clear goals of that guidance will be to empower you to share with others how they too can defeat death once and for all. You have in your hand the key to making the greatest escape. God has graciously done His part; now it’s up to you to apply what you have learned and tell others about Jesus.
Without Him, there is no escape. With Him, the sky is the limit.
I hope to see you land safely on the other side.
“Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” —Psalm 68:20 (NIV)