Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Dead Line

One of the worst places to spend the Civil War was a little known prison camp on the south side of Chicago: Camp Douglas. As many as 18,000 Confederate men endured the brutal conditions there over the course of the war. One in five did not survive. The cruel treatment by the guards, combined with grossly inadequate food rations and a lack of the most basic of sanitary needs, were inhumane at best. The harsh Chicago winters were the hardest on the soldiers, who lived in overcrowded tents with no blankets.

Camp Douglas was located close to civilian residences, so the possibility of escaping prisoners was a concern for those in charge of the camp. Strict enforcement of boundaries was established. The border around the camp became known as the Dead Line. Any prisoner caught stepping even one foot over the line was shot dead immediately. One thin line stood between living and dying.

Since its first usage back in the Civil War, the term deadline has been adopted to other situations to describe a firm boundary. The newspaper business coined the phrase to mean a strict time limit on writers, necessitated by the urgency of each edition's distribution requirements. Editors set deadlines to let the writers know: finish the story on time, or it is dead. Now in our time-conscious 21st century, there are many kinds of deadlines.

There is a Dead Line described in Scripture as well in Numbers 16. The descendants of Israel were grumbling and complaining about the terrible judgment they had witnessed the day before. They blamed Moses and Aaron for the deaths of their peers. In response to their sin, God sent judgment upon the camp. A plague began to spread quickly among the people.

Moses urged Aaron, the high priest, "Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it; then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them." Aaron rushed to do his brother's bidding. He grabbed the incense and, ignoring the possibility that he, too, might succumb to the powerful plague, ran right into the midst of the people. The plague came to a stop where Aaron stood. Those on the other side of Aaron were not affected.

Scripture tells us, "He took his stand between the dead and the living, so that the plague was checked."

This Old Testament incident is a beautiful picture foreshadowing what Jesus would someday do for us. Despite the horrendous cost, He willingly went to the cross and endured God's judgment for the sins of the world. He now stands between the living and the dead, for "whoever believes in Him will have eternal life." (John 3:15)

Colossians 1:17 tells us that "He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." Darkness to light. Condemned to forgiven. Slave to free man. Death to life. His sacrifice is all that stands between certain judgment and eternal life.

Once having crossed the Dead Line over to freedom, it is unimaginable one might willingly choose to regress back again. Can you imagine a prisoner released from Camp Douglas wishing to return? Yet this is what we do when we sin. We exchange our freedom from sin's bondage and willingly put ourselves under its influence once again. We step out of the light back into the darkness.

Choosing sin is a destructive, self-defeating act. Worse, it makes a mockery of all Christ accomplished on our behalf. We work to resist sin not because we are afraid of God's wrath. That was taken care of at the cross. We resist sin because we have been carried over the Dead Line. Our lives need to reflect where we now live: in the light.

"For you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord." Ephesians 5:8-10

The above article is this week's edition of the Dogwood Digest. To subscribe to this free weekly email, please use the link on the right of this page.

1 comment:

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