Summary: To some people, the world is a dark and difficult experience. But in the midst of their frustration, there is the hint of eternity that makes them hope that there is something more than they are presently experiencing.

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(Twenty years ago I heard a preacher give a sermon with the same kinds of opening and closing illustrations. It left such an impression on me that I have waited all this time to preach this specific sermon.)

OPEN: Nine men lay trapped more than 200 feet beneath the ground in a coal mine in Pennsylvania. A nearby older mine - filled with tons of water - had been breached and now that water had forced these miners to a dead end shaft, an 18 x 70 foot air pocket that was illuminated only by the lamps on their helmets.

They rapped on the rock ceiling- 9 taps every ten minutes - hoping someone using specialized listening equipment could hear them.

The leader of the miners gave it to them straight: In another hour, he estimated, all of them would be dead.

There was quiet.

There were tears.

There were silent prayers.

Another one of the miners asked if anyone had a pen. He wrote a note on cardboard to his wife and kids, telling them he loved them. He put the note in a white plastic bucket and offered the pen to the others.

Each man wrote his goodbyes to loved ones.

When nine notes had been placed inside the bucket, the lid was snapped on and the bucket lashed to a boulder so it would be found.

A 3rd miner then grabbed steel cable from the materials normally used in a working mine He looped it onto their belts saying that if they were to die, they would do so as a team, as a family.

APPLY: Nine men.

200 feet below the surface.

Unable to dig their own way out to freedom.

Facing the prospect of certain - and inevitable - death in a dark world.

But in their heart of hearts they just knew there was someone up above them. And if that someone could just reach them, that someone could save them.

But they had no way of knowing whether or not that someone actually was there.

They had hope... but they also had to face reality.

Theirs was a dark world with no real promise of salvation.

And there are people who walk around us every day who see this world the same way - as a dark and harsh place to live.

ILLUS: Comedian Tim Allen was interviewed a couple years ago he was asked about the death of father in a car accident with a drunk driver.

“I never really recovered. The world’s a mean place. It’s unfair, then it’s fair. It’s hateful, then it’s loving. It’s a very peculiar place on philosophical and metaphysical and religious levels. I love human beings because we’re very courageous in the peculiar place that we live: reality.”

ILLUS: Bertrand Russell, a prominent atheist who had no faith in the Bible or God, once said:

“The life of man is a long march through the night, surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, towards a goal that few can hope to reach and where none can tarry long. One by one, as they march, our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death.

“Brief and powerless is man’s life, on his and all his race the slow, sure doom falls, pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day.”

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