The Sting of a Portuguese Man-O-War and the Cross

picture from wimp.com

Not too long ago, I suffered my first Portuguese-man-o-war sting. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt (yes, ladies, I know what you’re about to say: try childbirth; but bear with me).

I was at the beach attending a friend’s going away party. Several families were there with their kids (including my daughter), swimming and playing in the sand. Portuguese Man O’ Wars (their swollen bodies looking like inflated purplish blue plastic bags) littered the beach. Since there were many children around, I used a small bucket to collect and dispose them away from the crowds to prevent the children from being stung. One was still bobbing in the water. I dutifully waded in and scooped it up. However, one of its tentacles brushed a couple fingers. The pain was instantaneous – like razor blades laced with battery acid. Even now as I write this, the top part of one finger has no sensation, as if it had been permanently anesthetized. Like a strong man, I didn’t yelp (although the crying out to Jesus in my mind said different). I carried it out and dumped it. My friends winced when I mentioned to them I was stung. A few humourously offered to urinate on my hand (a mythical antidote to the sting). My wife searched on her phone for proper treatments. Vinegar was one. Luckily, someone had brought a condiment with the stuff. I doused a paper towel and soaked the fingers affected. Torture! The best way to deal with the pain was with a hot compress. I wasn’t able to do this until I got home. Pleasurable relief! However, the pain lasted well into the night.

I’m sure most normal people would think about ending the pain as soon as possible and why was I so stupid to scoop one up in the ocean. But as some of my close friends know, I’m weird. Tried to overcome this weirdness for decades, but now I accept it as gift. In the midst of crying out to Jesus for relief, I thought of a Bible verse: O death, where is your sting? Weird, I know. At that point in time, death would have been great. And it was just two fingers! My wife says that I am hypersensitive to pain. Did I tell you that I was weird?

Anyway, I digress.

It made me realize that Jesus reached out to touch the sting of death and sin on a wooden cross about 2000 years ago – in my place. He became sin so that I might become the righteousness of God through Him.[1] The pain I suffered was nothing to the pain of bearing God’s wrath for the sin of all of mankind. And in this word mankind, is me. Wretched, sinful me. Jesus was stung for me. It should have been me, but He loved me enough to deal with the pain of God’s justice and separation in my place. What love! What sacrifice! And because of this incredible act of redemption, I can say with the apostle Paul:

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”[2]

 

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:21

[2] 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NLT