What The Avengers Teaches Us About Missions
Whatever it takes
In summer of 2018, in the African country of Wakanda, Thanos snapped his fingers and decimated half of all living creatures in the universe. Of course, this is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thankfully, not ours.
The movie Avengers: Endgame follows this seemingly hopeless story. A cultural phenomenon, even a silly movie franchise like The Avengers has a deeply serious parallel to which Christians need to pay attention.
Opening Title Sequence
The list of Avengers movies is a staggering 22 and counting. Every movie in the franchise since Iron Man in 2008 led to this moment in Avengers: Infinity War, when the unstoppable Thanos finally achieved his goal. With a snap of his fingers, half of humanity (and all living things) turned to dust in an instant. Then the screen went black, the credits rolled, and the theater lights came on.
Wait, what? The villain wins and that’s it?
So this is where the newest film, Avengers: Endgame, begins. It’s five years after Thanos issued universal genocide and the people left on Earth are trying to move on. The Avengers are no more. There are no leads, no known options, so what can they do?
Before he is turned to dust himself during the infamous snap, Doctor Strange looks into the future at every possible outcome, 14 million to be exact. “How many do we win?” Iron Man asks. “One.” The Avengers: Endgame is fighting for the 1 in 14,000,000.
Imagine This is Real
I know it’s silly, but imagine this fictional story really happened and half of all the people you’ve ever known were just gone. And then you learn there is a 1 in 14,000,000 chance that you could get them back and save all of those people- not just the strangers you didn’t know, but also the family and friends you did. What lengths would you go to if there was even the smallest possibility they could be brought back from the dead? You would definitely do something. Which, of course, is what our heroes do in Avengers: Endgame.
Even if There’s a Small Chance…
See, there’s this moment in the Endgame movie trailer (starting at minute 1:15, posted above) where the Avengers say, “Even if there’s a small chance, we owe this - to everyone who is not in this room - to try.”
“We will,” comes the response. “Whatever it takes.”
Meanwhile, Back in our Universe…
There is no Thanos here. No genocide of half of the human population with a handful of infinity stones.
But if the Bible is to be believed, something far worse has happened here. Our “Thanos Snap” moment came right in the beginning in Genesis chapter 3. Paul summarizes in Romans 5:12-
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man (Adam), and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned.
Once sin entered the world, we hear something from the mouth of God that sounds a lot like an Avengers movie:
And he said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:
[…] You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow
until you return to the ground,
since you were taken from it.
For you are dust,
and you will return to dust.”
Genesis 3:17 & 19
It is still surprising for me to hear, but the Bible says that humanity was originally spared from all physical suffering. Death was not originally a part of the plan. But now, we all see the evidence of this fall caused by sin. We know cancer, corruption, greed, selfishness, car accidents, miscarriages, poverty, and old age.
Thanos only had a 50% mortality rate. Sin has a perfect 100%.
Worse Than Thanos
Jesus spoke a great deal about a second death.
To be honest, hell is the most difficult and unpleasant part of Christian faith. I think we all feel that way and for me, the easiest solution is to ignore hell. We’re not alone in that feeling, C.S. Lewis wrote about hell. “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.”
The problem is- Jesus talked about hell a lot. He talked about hell more than he talked about heaven, actually. Most of what we know of hell comes from the mouth of Jesus.
And the words he chose were horrifying. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51). He used the word “fire” to describe hell 20 times.
Jesus chose to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever want if they knew what they were choosing. Fire, weeping, screaming, darkness, torture, never a moment of rest- and it never ever ends.
So if we believe the words of Jesus or Paul or John or the prophet Isaiah, Hell is actually the default destination for us all.
Leslie Schmucker explained:
Jesus has to talk about hell because it is the fate that awaits all people apart from him. Because of Adam’s sin, we’re all guilty and deserve God’s eternal punishment. Contrary to popular belief, hell is not a place where God sends those who have been especially bad; it’s our default destination. We need a rescuer or we stand condemned.
How does someone avoid such a second death? Jesus tells us that, too.
John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
In our universe, 151,600 people die every day, worldwide. Of those, we can estimate that 104,000 people are finding themselves in a new eternity in hell every day.
A 1-in-14,000,000 Chance
Our world needed a savior and he came. Two thousand years ago, Jesus came, taught, died, and rose from the dead. In all of that, he gave us odds better than 1:14,000,000. He gave us hope and new life. But Paul writes,
“How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” -Romans 10:14
You have the secret to defeating death itself. Our friends, co-workers, and family are going to hell and you have the information they need to find another way. Of course, you can’t save anybody- it’s always the Lord at work and it’s up to the hearer to make a decision to follow Jesus. But that’s an option we must give them.
Ask your neighbor to coffee, listen carefully as they share about themselves, and look for opportunities to tell them about the hope you have in Jesus. Our friends might reject Jesus, but we’ve got to give them that opportunity. Hell is real and if we say nothing and do nothing, they might spend forever there.
“Whatever It Takes”
“But Jared,” you might say, “Everyone I know already knows about Jesus.”
In reality, there are many, many places where no one knows about Jesus at all. About 3.2 BILLION people have no access to the gospel. That means that even if someone wanted to know about Jesus, there is no one to talk to and no Bible for them to read. In those 16,000 unreached people groups, no one has ever heard his name.
In the United States, most people have access to the gospel if they wanted to, but many people have a false or incomplete picture of who Jesus is. How many people have you heard say, “I used to go to church, but then _________ happened,” or maybe, “I knew a Christian once and he/she was so terrible to me.” Even here, people need to know the real, true gospel, and they need to see it.
Are you willing to do whatever it takes?
Would you give up your life and go to the unreached?
Would you talk to your co-worker about Jesus?
Would you sacrifice an hour a week to pray for those you know don’t follow Jesus?
Would you do whatever it takes if it meant someone could spend eternity with Jesus and away from hell?
There are some people who saw what was at stake, stood up, and said, “Whatever it takes.” Peter. Paul. James. St. Patrick. David Livingstone. J. Hudson Taylor. Jim Elliott. William Cameron Townsend. Just to name a few. In your life, you probably aren’t being called to die for your faith, but you are called to do something. It might require you to do something uncomfortable or something you don’t prefer.
Will you lay down your life to save another?
But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God's grace.
We’re in the Endgame Now
Avengers: Endgame is only a movie. But the high-risk, high-reward stakes it presents should be extremely familiar to the Christian. Like the Avengers, if we felt the gravity of our planet’s situation, we should be compelled to do something.
Every day, as many people go to hell as could fit inside UT’s Neyland Stadium. For many people, the endgame is now. For the world, the endgame is soon. Regardless of your end-times beliefs or biblical interpretations, Jesus made it certain that judgement comes for every person, past, present, and future.
Death has a 100% success rate and one day, your friend will stand before God’s judgement. In that moment, will God say to them, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant”? Or will he say, “Depart from me, I never knew you”?
Step into action, because we’re in the endgame now.
“And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” -Matthew 24:14