Disaster, Miracle, Fightback!
The Sydney Morning Herald pages for the month of August 1997 were filled with what the newspaper called "Disaster, Miracle and Fightback: the Thredbo Tragedy." I have kept the newspapers from those days and each page tells of disaster, then miracle, then fightback.
DISASTER! This was the front page message on Friday, August 1, 1997: "We have no sign of life." The stark reality of the tragedy that had occurred at the popular ski resort was slowly dawning in the minds of Australians. We had all heard the instant radio reports, then seen the first TV coverage and now the newspapers were carrying the details.
Friday, August 1, 1997: "Cold light of day ... emergency workers prepare to search the rubble of the two ski lodges for survivors. The operation continued in freezing temperatures last night. Hundreds of rescuers searched desperately in sub-zero temperatures last night for what they now fear are at least 20 bodies in the debris of the Thredbo landslide. The collapsed hillside roared through the State's premier ski resort late on Wednesday night, reducing two lodges to rubble. Late yesterday thermal imaging and audio probes failed to detect any sign of life under the hundreds of tonnes of concrete, wood and metal. Police conceded that hopes of finding anyone alive were fading. The commander of the NSW Police South-East Region, Chief Superintendent Bruce Johnston, said: "We can hope there will be life but we have no sign of life."
We all knew that a terrible disaster had occurred. We waited and prayed. We were all thinking death.
Then Sunday morning's papers carried a new word: MIRACLE! Stuart Diver, 27, was alive 65 hours after the landslide that trapped 20 people. The Sydney Morning Herald screamed: "It is the miracle that all of Australia has prayed for since the tragedy Wednesday night."
Sunday, August 3, 1997. The headlines shouted: "He's alive! Thumbs up to a miracle... The signal Australia prayed for as rescue workers confirm Stuart Diver is alive. A ski instructor has been found alive 55 hours after the Thredbo landslide. "It's freezing in here. Get me a blanket," Stuart Diver told rescuers when they made contact with him at 5.37 am. "A miracle has occurred," said Superintendent Charlie Sanderson when he broke the news that there were signs of life in the maelstrom of ruins. Once Mr Diver was discovered it took rescuers the rest of the day to free him. Eventually to huge cheers from friends of Mr Diver, relatives of other people still missing in the tragedy, rescue workers and press, Mr Diver was finally brought to the surface, some 65 hours after he was trapped underneath what was the concrete car park." The miracle had occurred. The man had come back from the dead. Against all the odds. He was alive!
Now a few weeks later a third word dominated the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald FIGHTBACK! Saturday, August 23, 1997. "Life stirs again after the frozen moment. High on the snowfields above Thredbo yesterday, some of the world's best snowboarders were shredding their way through the Sprite Sessions. This is a four-day event carrying $20,000 prize money.
Down below, Australia's loveliest alpine village is struggling to regain something of the carefree life it enjoyed before the July 30 landslide gouged a great slice out of its heart. But everyone connected with the village and the Snowy Mountains knows that recovery is still a long way down the track."
What a interesting confluence of words and emotions for those terrible, wonderful weeks: DISASTER! MIRACLE! FIGHTBACK! In some ways those same words could be used to describe the experience of the first Easter week in Jerusalem. Those first Christians and their friends in Jerusalem experienced DISASTER! MIRACLE! FIGHTBACK! In a moment I return to complete the story. Right now here is my colleague, Rev Dr Tony Chi, to lead us in our prayers for Australia.
If you had been reading The Jerusalem Post in Israel, over the terrible weeks of the first Easter, the journalists would have used the same words to describe the events as did the twentieth century journalists. They would have front paged words like DISASTER! MIRACLE! FIGHTBACK!.
DISASTER! would have been used to describe the events that happened on the Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the first Easter. The Jerusalem Post journalists would have written articles on the crushed hopes of people as the new movement from Galilee ended in disaster. Jesus of Nazareth, had shown compassion and concern for the poor, the disabled and the diseased had been rejected. His new movement for peace, justice and acceptance for all people, offering them a new start and new hope had been quashed.
He had been through the travesty of illegal trials held over-night, been severely scourged with the 39 lashes and condemned to death by crucifixion by the Romans. They had nailed Him to a Cross just after dawn on Friday and He had died by three in the afternoon. The Roman spear up into His heart released fluid and blood that showed the heart had already stopped beating. Just before nightfall, His body had been taken down, laid in a tomb, which had the huge stone rolled down against the opening. The tomb was sealed. A Roman guard was posted. The whole Galilean movement was a disaster! The world has been dominated by death since creation. Death is the last enemy. Despair and tears flowed all that Friday and Saturday through to the first light Sunday morning.
The next edition of The Jerusalem Post heralded another word "MIRACLE!" The impossible had happened. Jesus was no longer in the tomb, but alive! The report said: Luke 24:1-6 "On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!"
One correspondent wrote: "Several women were on the way to the tomb carrying spices to embalm the body. Jesus of Nazareth had been crucified by the hands of wicked men and buried. When the women arrived they found the tomb empty and two heavenly visitors saying a miracle had occurred. Jesus was not there. He had risen. These women had expected to embalm the dead body but their task was never accomplished. Their assumptions had been wrong. They are known locally as The Spice Girls."
The Jerusalem Post over the next few weeks ran story after story giving details of more than ten different appearances of the Risen Jesus, including one to more than 500 witnesses at one time. Now the believers of Jesus had found new courage and were fearlessly facing death themselves while telling that Jesus had risen.
This was a time when FIGHTBACK! was being used to describe the expanding new movement. Since the day of Pentecost, the church had grown by thousands of believers, all of whom declared that Jesus was alive. The words of The Jerusalem Post could have been the same words published in The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, Saturday 12th April 1998. The editorial writer, made a brilliant and true observation: "The early Christians were overwhelmed and demoralised by the crucifixion of Jesus. Peter and other friends from Galilee planned to return and try to pick up the threads of their former life. The dream was over. Then came the astonishing news: Jesus is alive. A scattered and broken people were given hope. Astonishingly, courage was born. Out from behind closed doors they came to proclaim the resurrection. They spoke with such assurance that in one day 3,000 joined the Christian Church."
That was the miracle that changed people completely from being cowards to being heroes of the Cross. From limited farmers, tax-collectors and fishermen who had never been more than a hundred miles from their own homes and who were captives of their own culture and era, they became the messengers of the faith who travelled to every known part of the world with a sophisticated and triumphant message which placed the Christian faith central in the world scene and laid the foundations for a new culture which totally revolutionised the history of the world.
Now around the globe, the Christian faith is in strong growth, stronger than at any time in the history of the world.
Two of the world's most populous nations, the Soviet Union and China have been in the iron grip of communism for seventy years. The teachings of Marx and Lenin ordered atheism. Stalin and Mao Zedong were responsible for the persecution and deaths of millions of Christians. Today, Communism is in tatters. The dogmas of Marx and Lenin have not stood the test of time. Portraits of Marx and Lenin which adorned the walls of every public building and school in two of the world's largest countries lie in store rooms amid other junk. The giant statues of Stalin who murdered untold millions, lie in metal scrap yards. The body of Mao Zedong lies in the Mao-soleum in Tiananmen Square where a million students protested for democracy and freedom. The communist world's largest populations are disintegrating. No wonder the populations of the Soviet and of China are turning to Christianity in unprecedented numbers, as I witnessed in China last month.
TIME magazine this week 13th April 1998 features the first twenty of one hundred leaders and revolutionaries of the twentieth century. The lead article states this our century has probably been the greatest in human history, except for "the first century, which if only for the life and death of Jesus may have had the most impact of any century." The reason why Jesus made the first century the era of greatest impact on the life of the world over all centuries, was not however, His life and death as mentioned, but His resurrection from the dead! 1 Cor 15:54-57 "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
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