A dozen boys aged 11-16 trapped in a flooded mountain cave in northern Thailand with their football coach for over two weeks have all been rescued. As millions of people prayed and watched the media coverage, the thirteen have been saved at last, with the help of over a thousand multinational specialists.
The thirteen entered the cave on June 23 and were soon reported missing. Search and rescue teams sprang into action. They were found on July 2, and then elaborate rescue plans were put into place, including trial runs through the 4km flooded cave system. Flooding from monsoonal rains made it all very risky, and some wondered if the rescue should be put off until the rainy season subsided.
But the rescuers went ahead, and the world watched as four of the boys first emerged, followed by a very long interval, and then four more emerged, and then even later the rest were freed. So over a period of three days, they all eventually emerged, including the 25-year-old coach. The details of their lengthy ordeal are becoming well known, with numerous media sites giving us plenty of information on all this.
So I will not here rehearse all those intriguing details. But one part of the story does deserve some attention. While countless individuals from Thailand and overseas put in tremendous efforts and put their lives at risk to help the thirteen, one rescuer did not make it.
Some days ago one Thai diver gave his life in order to rescue those he likely had never met. As one news report put it:
Thai authorities say a former Navy SEAL working to rescue the boys and their soccer coach trapped in a cave died from lack of oxygen. Petty Officer First Class Saman Kunan, a former member of Thailand’s elite Navy SEAL unit who was part of the rescue team in Chiang Rai, died on Thursday night after entering the cave to lay oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, the SEAL commander said.
SEAL commander Arpakorn Yookongkaew told a news conference on Friday morning the rescuer was working in a volunteer capacity and died during an overnight mission in which he was placing oxygen canisters. The ABC understands he was diving late at night to get to the chamber where the boys are trapped. Petty Officer Saman, 38, set out at 8:37pm local time to deliver three oxygen tanks from chamber three to where the boys and their coach are located.
He completed his task but on the way back lost consciousness. His diving partner performed CPR but was unable to revive him. Petty Officer Saman was brought to chamber three but was pronounced dead about 1:00am (local time) on Friday. He is one of about 80 Thai Navy SEALs. They make up the bulk of the divers that are running the rescue effort.
As mentioned, countless heroes were involved in this mammoth rescue effort, and many of them took great risks to rescue the thirteen. But sadly one man paid the ultimate price. This was a case of sacrificial love for other people. It is not an isolated event, as many have given their lives for the sake of others over the centuries, especially in times of war.
But it is a moving story. And the parallels with the biblical gospel message should be evident. The entire world is trapped in a hopeless situation. Death is imminent. It seems like there is no way out. The inhabitants of the cave could not save themselves, and all of us are in the same dire situation.
They needed help from without, and so do we. Our condition is terminal. Unless someone somehow sets us free from the bondage of sin, we are all doomed. We cannot make it out on our own. So God took the initiative, and sent his son to take our place, suffering the penalty for our sin.
He willingly took that upon himself, so that we could gain pardon and reconciliation with God if we come to him in faith and repentance. Just as one man died so that the thirteen could live, so one man died so that we all could live – if we avail ourselves of the divine rescue plan offered us.
As we read in Scripture, Jesus voluntarily offered himself a substitute for us, giving his own life so that we might find life. Consider a few key passages:
Mark 10:45 The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
Romans 5:6-8 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
1 Corinthians 15:3 Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.
Galatians 1:4 [Jesus] gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
1 Timothy 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Peter 3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.
Jesus was born to die. He left the comforts of heaven knowing that the very people he came to love and serve would turn on him and kill him. He knew he would die, and that most folks would not appreciate what he did nor avail themselves of what he came to do.
Brave Saman Kunan gave his life as he sought to help others. But even he was not born to die. He did not come into the world knowing he was going to give his life. He eventually did know that his work as a SEAL was risky, and that death might come.
Jesus however knew that his mission was not only risky, but he knew that the cross was his determined end. He knew this not just while on earth, but in his pre-existent state as well. He knew all along that he had to pay the full price to secure the release of the captives.
Let’s pray for the family and friends of Saman Kunan. And pray for the thirteen as they recover and heal from all the trauma and grief they have been through. And pray for all those who do not yet know why Christ came and what he accomplished on their behalf. They are in dire need of the greatest rescue mission ever.