Enter By the Narrow Gate

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On March 27, 1513, a squadron of three ships flying Spanish colors drew within sight of the Florida mainland for the first time. The leader of the expedition was an aging Conquistador named Juan Ponce De Leon. He came ashore at a site just south of where the St. John’s River flows out into the Atlantic, and there he planted a cross and raised the royal banner of Spain. Because he made this discovery at Easter time he called this new land that he’d discovered “Terra de Pascua Florida,” which translates, “Land of Easter Flowers.” Of course, the name would be shortened over time from Terra de Pascua Florida to just Florida. Then at some point, as all true Floridians know, it would be shortened again from three syllables FLO-RI-DA to just two “FLAR-DA!”

But Ponce De Leon had not happened upon Terra De Pascua Florida by accident. He was looking for it on purpose because he had heard from native tribes in the Caribbean that somewhere in the peninsula’s densely forested interior was gold. (The Spaniards always seemed crazy about gold in those days.) However, Ponce De Leon had also heard, and apparently believed, amazing tales of a spring, a fountain of youth, whose magical waters the Indians had told him could reverse the effects of aging and confer immortality onto anyone who bathed in its waters. This was partly why he outfitted three ships and raised a company of more than 200 men, all at his own expense. He didn’t want to die, and he thought that if he could find this fountain while he still had his strength and health he could cheat death after all.

Well… he didn’t find it, and just seven years later, on a return trip to Florida, he was attacked by Indians, shot with an arrow, and when the wound became infected he died as a result.

But I’ll tell you a secret. I have found what Ponce De Leon was looking for… really! Truly! A fountain… that confers immortality on all who are bathed in it.

As the old hymn says,

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains;
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

I was just a boy when I found the fountain. I didn’t hear about it from natives in the Caribbean though. My parents, Barry and Janet Tate, they told me about it first, and then I read about it for myself in an ancient book that they gave me. Later, when I was still just a little boy, a man named Billy Graham opened up the map of God’s Word and showed me precisely where to find this fountain. It wasn’t hard or complicated to find. Even though I was young I understood every word of it. In the ancient book that my parents gave me an old oracle of God, a prophet named Zechariah said, (Zechariah 13:1) “there shall be a fountain opened…to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.” A fountain that could wash away sins!!! The same book went on to explain that it was our sins that had separated us from God and that caused us to die (Romans 3:23). So to be cleansed of our sin is to be reconciled to God and freed from ever having to worry about dying again. As Revelation 1:5 says, Jesus has, “freed us from our sins by his blood.” Romans 8:1 says, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away;
Wash all my sins away, wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away.

I think that it’s very ironic that Ponce De Leon named Florida, where he hoped to find his magical, life-giving spring, in honor of the Easter Holiday. Didn’t he understand what Easter meant? It meant that he could have found the immortality he was looking for in Jesus, and Jesus could have been found in Spain just as easily as Florida. Didn’t he understand the significance of the resurrection? Easter is, above all else, a celebration of the end of death. For those of us who have truly put our trust in Jesus for salvation, Easter is a great victory celebration. As 1 Corinthians 15:57 says, “But Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” As the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the resurrection, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

I hope you listen in as we celebrate the death of death.