Ok, I admit it: I do like “The Princess Bride”. The swashbuckling is obviously an appealing factor, and there’s also the fact that I’m just enough of a romantic to enjoy that side of it too (in small doses!). But the biggest draw is the characters: Inigo the swordsman, Fezzik the giant, the “Inconceivable” guy… great stuff. But one of the best has to be Miracle Max, an excellent performance from Billy Crystal, who has the best lines in the film.
Those of you who have watched the movie surely remember the scene in Miracle Max’s hut when the hero, Wesley, is lying on the table, assumed to be expired. But as Miracle Max prepares to work his magic, he informs Inigo and Fezzik that Wesley is not actually dead – he’s only “mostly dead”. And, as Max wryly observes, “there’s a big difference between mostly dead, and all dead.” After all, “Mostly dead is slightly alive.” You may think me strange, but I believe Miracle Max is on to something profound there.
Indeed, there certainly is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. In the case of mostly dead, we have ways of fixing that. For Max, it’s little round pills; in the hospital where I work it’s IV solutions and mechanical ventilators. It’s not at all unheard of for someone to come in mostly dead, and walk out mostly alive, on their own feet even.
All dead, however, is an entirely different story. With all dead, you could have all the medical equipment and know-how in the world, but at the end of the day, that person will still be all dead. And all dead is definitely not alive.
Now, ponder this: can the all-dead come back to life? Of course, scripture tells us this plainly in stories like that of Lazarus, and we too shall rise on the last day according to God. But who can make the all dead alive? A dead man can do nothing to raise himself. Only God can raise the dead (Deut 32:39).
But here’s the thing: just as one can be physically dead, one can also be spiritually dead. In fact, Paul tells us explicitly in both his letter to the Colossians and his letter to the Ephesians that, without Christ, we are dead in sin (Col 2:13, Eph 2:1-5). So I guess the obvious question is: all dead, or mostly dead?
If you polled the majority of American Evangelicalism, overwhelmingly the most common answer by far would be the latter, or, “mostly dead”. Modern Christianity (indeed, modern society period) blares a cacophony of “be a good person”, “you can do it if you really try”, “all men have good in them, you just have to choose to be good”, and “live a good life and obey God, that’s all that really matters”.
If that’s true, and sinful man is only “mostly dead” in sin, then all we really need is some spiritual IV fluids and maybe a couple of days on the spiritual ventilator. That is to say, we don’t necessarily need God to bring us through it, just a good spiritual mentor or life coach to show us how to be better, so we can get ourselves from “mostly dead” to “mostly (or fully) alive”.
It is in circles that hold this belief, that man is inherently good inside (known as Pelagianism for those who care), where Christ is taught not as the Lord of Glory dying on the cross and taking the just punishment for all of us, but as a good teacher, someone to emulate and learn from, someone who can tell and show us how to get it right, so we can be good people too. In other words, Christ becomes more of a spiritual rehab unit – there to get us up and moving so that we can get around on our own two feet again – and less of the God-man who justifies wholly corrupt sinners by grace in his shed blood.
In truth, friends, without Christ we are every one of us all-dead in sin. Genesis 8:21 tells us that “the intentions of man’s heart are evil from his youth”. According to Psalm 51:5 “behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me”. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” In Romans 3:9 and following, Paul argues from the Old Testament that “None is righteous, no, not one.”
That all said, no amount of “spiritual rehab” could ever hope to help us, as if we were “mostly dead and slightly alive”. Instead, we are completely, entirely, stone cold dead in our trespasses. It would take more than we are even remotely capable of to bring life to our rotting selves.
It would take God.
On the cross.
Not simply to show you the way to live a righteous life – but to live the way you never could, and to face the punishment you rightly deserved for being the wretch you are.
And that, boys and girls, is more than a miracle.