The crew of the Endurance on Elephant Island
Life is a marathon. Finishing does not go to the fast, but to the faithful. Victory is had only by endurance.
The story of Ernest Shackleton’s heroic expedition in 1914 to Antarctica had a profound impact on me when I read it several years ago. It is a tale of incredible survival and endurance. His family motto was, “By endurance we conquer.” Indeed, that was the name of his ship.
The Endurance became stuck in the ice when they were only eighty miles from the Antarctic continent. Unable to free the boat, it was crushed by the ice pack and sank ten months later. In 1914, there were no cell phones and there were no radio stations on Antarctica. Shackleton and his crew of 27 men endured violent hurricane-force winds, temperatures below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, an extreme diet of penguin and seal meat, dangerous ice flows and flagging hope in a seemingly impossible situation.
But Shackleton never allowed his men’s morale to sink. When they finally arrived on the desolate Elephant Island they still had no hope of rescue. Leaving 22 men on shore, Shackleton took five crewmen and sailed eight hundred miles to reach civilization. Against impossible odds, the crew and their small 22-foot boat made it to the whaling station at South Georgia island.
We can only imagine the thoughts of the men who were left as they watched their leader sail away from Elephant Island. Though Shackleton promised to return with a rescue party, it was likely he would not make it. The Southern Ocean has the worst seas in the world with converging currents of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Waves are typically over fifty feet from crest to trough and winds can howl over 100 miles an hour. Navigation was nearly impossible with the sun rarely visible and if they missed their destination, they would be swept out into the vast Atlantic Ocean with no hope of return. The crew on Elephant Island knew all of this. In their quiet moments, we can only imagine the thoughts of despair and madness they wrestled with.
The stranded crew had to wait another four months on the desolate and inhospitable rock before they were miraculously rescued. Not one of them perished. They had overcome by standing firm and holding fast to the promise of their captain’s return. Through it all, they survived the horrible ordeal with enduring hope.
Sometimes, I think we must feel like the stranded men on Elephant Island. We wonder, “What is to become of us and our world?” We see things getting worse and worse. Is there any hope for the future?
The ancient world in which the church was born was not unlike ours. The church in Thessalonica had been taught that Jesus would return and set everything right. But some false teachers had come to them and said that Jesus had already returned and that they had somehow missed it. The Apostle Paul, who had planted the church, wrote to them to correct their thinking and to dispel their fears...
The twenty-two men who remained stranded on Elephant Island after Shackleton departed could have wallowed in their desperate conditions. But they didn’t. The kept doing what the Boss had told them to do. They had come a long way. They had endured incredible hardships. They stood firm in the character they had acquired through their trials and they held fast to the promise of their rescue.
So, friends, stand firm in the spiritual maturity to which God has brought you. Hold fast to the truth that has been delivered to you. We will endure tough times in the midst of a world that is in rebellion towards God. Stand firm and hold fast because your reward is glorious: "He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thess. 2:14).
(From the introduction and closing to a sermon delivered to the First Baptist Church, Galesburg, IL. 7.23.17 II Thessalonians 2:1-17)