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8th May, 2006

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Saved at last!

Australians have been glued to their TV sets the past few days waiting for the long-anticipated moment of release for two miners trapped in their cage by a rock fall triggered by an earth tremor a kilometer below the surface. The two men had spent the past two weeks huddled in the crushed cage, four and a half feet square, that had saved their lives. As the sun was rising a few hours ago the unbelievable happened — an elevator from deep in the bowels of the earth arrived at the surface, to the accompaniment of blasts of the mine siren. Out stepped about a dozen men in miners' outfits. The first two men to walk out raised their arms in victory and the waiting crowd went berserk — it was them, Todd Russell and Brant Webb. Adding a humorous twist to the drama, they went straight to the check-in/checkout panel and removed their check in tags. Within seconds they were hugging their wives and children. Macho men could be seen weeping openly. Though it's a bit early to say yet, the drama of the past two weeks will probably go down as the local news story of the decade in Australia. Elite journalists from all over the country had been waiting outside the mine for days. (One of Australia's best known journalists, Richard Carlton, fell down dead from a heart attack while putting questions to the mine manager, Matthew Gill.)

The ecstasy of the moment of salvation was felt by every Australian who has been following the drama as it unfolded. But it's an ecstasy tempered by agony. Though Todd and Brant escaped from their tomb, and are right now undergoing medical checks in the Launceston Hospital, in just three hours from now one of their colleagues who perished in the cave-in, Larry Knight, will be put to rest. His family had been postponing the burial in hopes that Todd and Brant would be able to attend. The breaking news right now is that, unbelievably, they are fit enough to go.

The three miners worked for the Beaconsfield Gold Mine, only 40 minutes drive from here, in northern Tasmania. A couple of the crew working on the fateful shift come from our town of Westbury. I spoke briefly with one of them a couple of days after the disaster, when it was assumed all three were dead, and he was visibly distressed.

Sixteen meters of very hard rock — the last couple of meters was five times harder than cement — separated the prisoners from freedom. Nobody even knew they had survived until four days after the quake had

struck. For another day or two their enforced fast continued until a narrow supply hole was drilled through to them. The unprecedented rescue mission faced enormous difficulty and danger; for eight nail-biting days we were given blow-by-blow accounts of progress. A huge drill with a meter-wide bit had to be brought in and cemented in position before work could begin. The last couple of meters had to be chiseled and blasted out inch by inch using hand drills and low-percussion explosives. Everybody worried that the slightest vibration would bring the burden of rocks overlying the cage crashing down. But it didn't happen.

Like thousands of others, Martha and I have prayed for the success of the rescue mission. I have no way of knowing whether or not God intervened to save them or whether He left the outcome to time and chance (Eccl. 9:11) and the skill of the rescuers. Not being privy to the Divine Counsel I have no way of knowing. Neither does anybody else. God allows hundreds of miners to perish every year in China in accidents. He allowed Larry Knight to perish. Yet He loves all equally.

The drama has brought the issues of life and death to the forefront for many people. Wise people heed the urging of Solomon to “go the house of mourning” (Eccl. 7:2). May I tell you what has impacted me the most? We are all going to die, whether it be in an accident underground, or through a car wreck, cancer, or by just growing old and wearing out. The jubilation of the crowd when these two men rose from their tomb, metaphorically speaking, gave me a taste, in miniature, of the almost infinitely more intense joy awaiting the saints at the very moment, so to speak, they breathe their last breath. (The dead awaiting the resurrection have no awareness of the passage of time, just as you had no awareness of anything for billions and billions of years before you came into existence at birth.) New life, then, begins at the instant of death.

Todd and Brant were overjoyed to see their families again. The saints will rise, in the company of millions of new family members, to the sound of a great trumpet and, much more, the voice of their elder brother, their Savior, Jesus Christ — very God — calling them out of their graves (1 Thess. 4:16). He will personally greet and rejoice with each one (Matt. 25:21). At that moment begin the never-ending pleasures of eternal life in the bosom of a huge, loving family and in the intimate, personal presence of our Chief Shepherd. It's just too staggering to believe, too mind-blowing to be possible. But it's the gospel truth.


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