Five minutes that doomed the Francis Scott Key Bridge

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Five minutes that doomed the Francis Scott Key Bridge

A Good Friday reflection on sacrifice and grace

March 29, 2024 -

A person at Fort McHenry views a container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A person at Fort McHenry views a container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A person at Fort McHenry views a container ship as it rests against wreckage of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When the massive cargo ship Dali lost power early Tuesday morning, there were only a few minutes to act. The ship’s crew sent a mayday signal and dropped anchor, while transportation authority police officers stopped traffic heading to Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge.

Their actions likely saved many lives, but it was too late for seven road workers and an inspector on the bridge who could not be alerted in time. After the bridge collapsed, two were pulled alive from the water; two other bodies were found Wednesday, while four others are still missing and presumed dead.

Could such a tragedy happen to other bridges? It already has: a 2018 report cataloged thirty-five bridge collapses caused by boat strikes between 1960 and 2015. According to federal authorities, over seventeen thousand US bridges are vulnerable to collapse from a single hit today.

Imagine that you’re driving across one such bridge when it is struck and collapses, plunging you into the water. A man standing safely on shore sees your plight and dives into the river to rescue you. He pulls you from your vehicle to safety but loses his life in the process.

If you could somehow thank him for his sacrifice, what would you say to him?

This is the opportunity Good Friday offers us today.

Why did Jesus die the way he did?

You know that Jesus died to pay for your sins, purchasing your debt and providing for your salvation (Romans 5:8; for more, see my article, “Why did Jesus have to die?”). It is also true that he chose the manner of his death. Among his options:

  • He could have died by stoning, the typical Jewish method of execution (cf. Acts 7:54–60).
  • He could have arranged to be born as a Roman citizen and thus beheaded (early tradition describes this as Paul’s manner of death; cf. Acts 22:28).
  • He could have been executed “with the sword” like James (Acts 12:2).
  • He could have drowned on the Sea of Galilee (cf. Matthew 8:25).
  • He could have lived to old age and died a natural death (cf. Genesis 25:8).

Instead, as you know, Jesus died on this day by crucifixion.

Why?

It is true that Scripture clearly predicted Jesus’ crucifixion (cf. Psalm 22:14–18), but the Spirit could have inspired prophecy that described stoning or beheading instead. And remember that Jesus waited in the Garden of Gethsemane, one place where he knew Judas could find him (John 18:2), then submitted to the authorities (vv. 4–8) when he could have easily resisted them (vv. 11, 36) or fled.

Instead, he died in the cruelest, most tortured, most inhumane form of execution ever devised (click here for one description of the way crucifixion victims suffered and died). Why did he choose to die in such a horrific way?

I would respond with this fact:

You will never face pain greater than the suffering Jesus chose for you.

Since he has endured the pain of crucifixion, he can sympathize with every pain we experience (Hebrews 4:15). Now, no matter what you’re facing, no matter what suffering you are enduring, you can know that Jesus knows your pain and suffers with you. Since you are in his hand (John 10:28), nothing can come to you without passing through him. Because he is interceding for you right now (Romans 8:34), he knows precisely what you are facing and feeling.

Consequently, we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).

How to have a “tranquil soul”

How shall we respond to such sacrificial grace?

A hymn attributed to Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471) worships God with praise I invite you to offer your crucified Lord on this Good Friday:

O love, how deep, how broad, how high,
Beyond all thought and fantasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake!

For us by wicked men betrayed,
For us, the crown of thorns arrayed,
He bore the shameful cross and death;
For us he gave his dying breath.

For us he rose from death again;
For us he went on high to reign;
For us he sent his Spirit here
To guide, to comfort, and to cheer.

All glory to our Lord and God
For love so deep, so high, so broad;
The Trinity whom we adore
Forever and forevermore.

According to Max Lucado, “A happy saint is one who is, at the same time, aware of the severity of sin and the immensity of grace. The saint dwells in grace, not guilt. This is the tranquil soul.”

How tranquil is your soul today?

Friday news to know

Quote for the day

“Unless there is a Good Friday in your life, there can be no Easter Sunday.” —Fulton J. Sheen

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