The Depth of Christ’s Death

The Depth of Christ’s Death


I hope you don’t mind if I take some time to tell you a true story. I heard it on the radio and it deeply moved me. I have thought about it often afterward and even though it has nothing in it about Jesus, my mind could see some remarkable types of what he did in laying down his life for us. I feel my job in any exhortation is to draw you to the memorials with the right state of mind, realizing the importance and gravity of this situation. So, as I relate this story to you, maybe you can try and contemplate yourselves how this relates to the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Story - No Man Left Behind [1]

Out in the desert scrublands of northern South Africa in a place called The Karoo, there's nothing-- no trees, no water-- for as far as you can see. You're in a primeval landscape.

You see a little rise. And when you get to the little hill, there's actually a big hollow there where the ground has collapsed. At the bottom of a very steep slope, you actually have a sheer face in front of you.

And at the bottom of this sheer face is a puddle. So you think, oh, this is just a little puddle that doesn't go anywhere. But when you take the duck weed off the top, it's actually clear water.

Which means that this isn't just standing water. This water is filtering down to somewhere.

Now, if you go into this puddle, there's a small slot that goes through, which is just wide enough for a man's body to go through. After 20 foot, you're now starting to enter the cave, and gradually the cave gets wider.

Down below you is 900 feet of water. This is Bushman's Cave.

It's a huge cave. Now, if you take the Eiffel Tower and stand it on the floor of Bushman's Cave, the top of the tower would be just about coming out of the water.

The cave is almost 1,000 feet deep and 2 and 1/2 football fields wide. The main thing that lives in the pitch darkness is a species of strange little blind white cave shrimp. Otherwise, the cave is dark, deep, and dead. This cave is a dangerous place for humans. And it's basically totally inaccessible to almost all of us. But for deep water divers, this is heaven.

There are only a very few divers on the planet that have ever been anywhere near the bottom of this cave. And only about a dozen recreational divers ever dive to these kinds of depths, period. Don Shirley is one of these extreme divers. He met another of these deep water divers, a guy named Dave Shaw, back in 2002. They were immediately friends. And a couple of years later, Don took Dave to dive Bushman's.

On dive day, they got to the puddle, and Dave went in first. Dave swam down through the slot, and the cave opened up below him. While he was going down, he was doing something called laying a shot line. Basically, he was leaving a trail of rope in the total darkness. This is the only way he knew how to get out of the cave.

You're in pitch black, absolute pitch black. So if you shined a light in any direction, it would disappear. The darkness will eat the light. Basically, being 900 feet in a cave, you might as well be on the Moon. In fact, more people have been on the Moon than have been to the depths that these guys have. Now, Dave was exploring on the bare floor of the cavern. There's nothing to see but his light in the black and the white rope that he dragged with him. Then suddenly--His torch caught the remains of Deon Dreyer.

No one knows exactly what happened to Deon Dreyer. But a decade earlier, Deon was diving with a team in Bushman's. When they stopped to take a headcount, Deon was gone. People had been looking for his body ever since.

He was still in his wetsuit, still wearing his cylinders-- a collection of bones inside a wetsuit. And at the time, he tried to move the body. But the body was stuck in the silt. He was panting, and he said, I shouldn't work hard at this depth. It wasn't in the plan. So I needed to leave the body there.

Dave didn't take finding Deon lightly. It became his mission to bring the body back. He phoned up Deon's parents and said, “I'm going to retrieve your son's body.” Give them closure.

The thing is that a dive like this is a major operation. It took them months to plan.

You're 900 feet under the water. There's a lot of risk involved in that. Every 33 feet that you go down effectively doubles the risk. When you're down at those depths, anything that goes wrong is an issue.

Combining extreme depths with the hard work that Dave had to do to get Deon's body into a body bag came with a lot of risk. At those depths, too much nitrogen is kind of like a narcotic. Basically, it feels suddenly like you drank five martinis in a row. Too much helium can give you twitching fits. If you breathe too heavily, like Dave might have to while he's moving around Deon's body, you pass out. And then, of course, there's the bends. If you come up too quickly, your blood becomes like a Coke bottle that’s been shaken up and opened.

To prevent the bends, Dave would take several hours to come up to the surface. So they recruited a team of support divers that would go into the water at intervals to check on Dave at various depths while he came up.

And the rule was, no one will go deeper than the depth where we actually plan for them to be.

Don would go the deepest. If Dave had a problem, he would signal Don by flashing his light around as a distress signal.

On the day of the dive, they went down early in the morning. It was still dark. The sun was not quite up yet. At 6:15, Dave went under the water. Don followed 14 minutes later, following the shot line down through the slot and into the cave.

So as he was going down, falling through this black space, he was expecting to see some rising bubbles while going down. He didn't actually see any bubbles coming back. What he did see-- in the area where he thought Dave would actually be was a light. It was one light, a solid light just shining. But the light wasn't moving. Something is not quite right. And he's spending longer doing something. And then Don knew that he would probably be going down to the bottom.

Don dove past 800 feet, deeper than he had ever been before. When he got to 833 feet, he heard a sharp crack. His rebreather controller actually imploded.

This just means a piece of his breathing apparatus broke. Don trained constantly for moments like this. So he knew exactly what to do. He would just add oxygen to his gas mixture manually.

But at that sort of depth, any oxygen that you add makes a big difference. And he pushed his oxygen pressure much too high inadvertently. Now, that's very unhealthy at that depth-- very unhealthy. So now, he was liable to actually pass out very quickly.

Don knew then that this was it. It was the end of the line. He had to turn around and go back.

The surface is not somewhere that you can actually go to solve a problem. When you have a problem, you have to solve that problem there where you are. And if you don't solve that problem, you don't come back. You have to put the brakes on, as it were, at that point. And Don was thinking, “OK, Dave might come back. He's either dead, or he's working his way back.” But all he could deal with was what was in front of him.

Don knew that he now had over 10 hours in the water ahead of him. Don slowly ascended up to the roof of the cave. At this point, he started to pass out. And then, he got a helium bubble in his ear.

And that made him lose balance completely. He had absolutely no sense of up, down, sideways, or anything.

Don lost his grip on the shot line. And as he was passing out, reviving again, and passing out, he started swimming in these little circles, spinning around looking for the line. Remember, this line is the only way Don knows how to get out of the cave. Spinning around and around in this void of blackness when all of a sudden his torch lights up the shot line. And the next time he spun around, he grabbed hold of the line.

Don eventually stabilized himself. And he started his ascent again towards the surface. He met a support diver. And using a waterproof pencil and one of these slates the divers use to communicate underwater, Don wrote him a message, “I'm OK, and Dave's not coming back.” But still, in his mind, Don had a hope that he would. From that point on, the guys had a task, which was to support Don.

Dave's light down below had disappeared.

For hours, the team up above waited to see if he would make it out alive. It would take over 12 hours for Don to ascend to the surface. He came up half-dead. His head was like a marshmallow.

Don was put into a decompression chamber and then taken in the morning for more treatment at a hospital in Johannesburg. Dave did not come up that night. Dave was dead. And then, a week later, Don got some news.

When they pulled up the shot line, Dave's body had come up with it. During that week, there'd been lots of speculation as to what had happened. Dave was carrying a camera on his head. In retrieving the camera, then we could piece together really what happened.

As the camera rolls, you see Dave trying to get Deon's body into a body bag.

One of his lights had actually got tangled up in the line and smashed. So now, bearing in mind you're in the pitch black, his main light had actually been broken. So he couldn't really see so well.

Then Dave also gets tangled. He pulls away. But now he's tied to Deon's body.

And you could see that he was working trying to get himself out of this line. He was cutting with the scissors. But his scissors weren't even getting anywhere near the line. Dave's breathing starts to get shallower and shallower as he starts working harder and harder.

Dave passed out from too much carbon dioxide. He worked right up-- right up-- to the very last breath that he ever took trying to get out. Then the camera just carries on recording until the batteries run out.

There’s a final twist to this story. When Dave's body had come up, hanging underneath Dave's body, cocooned in the line that Dave originally had laid, was Deon Dreyer's body.

Don said, “He did what he set out to do, which was to bring the body back. If you are going to die, I can't think of a better way of doing it. How would you rather end your days, doing something like that, or crossing the road?”

The Parallels in Christ

He Died For Us

There’s the story. How does this bring our thoughts to Jesus Christ? As we’ll see, deep waters in scripture are an analogy for death and the grave. Here is a man who died for another.

Yet, in the Lord Jesus Christ there is something more profound. Dave never thought that he would lose his life in the process. But Jesus knew that he would have to die to save us. Dave dove to great depths to save a corpse that would not come back to life (Psa. 49:7). Jesus went to the depth of hell and rose again that we might live.

There’s a very fitting verse found in Romans 5:6-8,

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (7)  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. (8) But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

It’s very rare for a person to die for another and usually it is for a good person, a family member, someone you deeply love. This is what makes the love of God and Christ so remarkable. He died for us even though we were undeserving sinners. This is the depth of the love of Christ. Deeper than a 900 foot cave.

Jesus Facing Death as Overflowing Deep Waters

The remarkable thing to me is that Jesus knew he would have to die. Psalm 88:15 tells us of the mind of Christ,

“I am afflicted and ready to die from my youth up: while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.”

Interestingly it is Psalm about Christ struggling with the death that is before him. He cries to God because the grave is before him (v. 3) where he would be like a man without strength (v. 4. cp. Rom. 5:6). This death would be like going into deep waters, covered by waves (v. 6-7). A lonely place, abandoned by his closest friends (v. 8). It would be a dark place (v. 12).

Psalm 18 is another one of these Psalms that is Messianic, it shows us the mind of Christ. Here’s is how he felt, v. 4-6,

“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.  (5)  The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.  (6)  In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.

This is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed and his sweat were as great drops of blood falling to the ground. This is the passage that is used in Hebrews 5:7 where it says,

“[Jesus] Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared.”

Both the Psalm and Hebrews says that he was heard, that God saved him from death. Or maybe more in fact saved him out of death for the Psalmist in describing the resurrection of Jesus continues in 18:16-19,

“He sent from above, he took me, he drew me out of many waters.  (17)  He delivered me from my strong enemy [the last enemy is death, 1 Cor. 15:26], and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. (18) They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the LORD was my stay. (19) He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.”

Psalm 40, another Psalm about Jesus says,

“I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry.  (2)  He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.  (3) And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD.”

If we are truly to understand the depth of Jesus’ sacrifice we must immerse ourselves in these Psalms. They speak of the great struggle Jesus faced in death. It helps us to appreciate how great his love towards us truly was and still is.

Let’s look at just one more, Psalm 69. This psalm is quoted no less than five times in the New Testament about Jesus. So is this the prayer of Jesus in the garden?

(Psa. 69:1-3) “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul.  (2)  I sink in deep mire, where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.  (3)  I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God.”

also in verses 14-15,

“Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.  (15)  Let not the waterflood overflow me, neither let the deep swallow me up, and let not the pit shut her mouth upon me.”

Imagine yourself in a cave, filled with water, deep and dark, alone, facing death. This is how Jesus felt.

No Greater Love

Why did he go through with it? What compelled him so much? He tells us in John 15:13,

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is the pinnacle of love. God wanted Christ to show his love and there is no greater way to do that then to lay down your life for your brethren. In the face of this how can we turn away? The love of Christ compels us to do what he did in whatever smaller measure. This is brought home to us in 1 John 3:16,

“Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”


Now we come to this table with bread and wine to proclaim the death of Christ. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Let us never forgot the deep and abiding love of Christ that he faced death for all mankind. And if he died, let us be assured that we die in him too so that the life of Christ might be manifested in our bodies.