The afternoon lay ahead of us, a boardwalk speckled with light and dark shadow dancing together in tropical exuberance. As we entered the south Florida ecological preserve, the sharp sound of traffic and hurry stilled, silenced among God’s marvelous, unique creation.
My sister and mom, Cole, Chase, Cody and I trotted down the walkway, our eyes searching for crabs in the coffee-colored, miry mud along the boardwalk’s edge. Our chattering laughter and the clunky footfalls of boys’ feet scared most of the quick critters back into the safety of their holes. Busy spiders filled the empty spaces between foliage with silken threads and shimmering webs. Signs marked the boardwalk every couple hundred feet, stories about lightning strikes and creatures that make their home in the mangrove swamps and the history of the preserve.
Along the couple-mile walk, we passed a veritable bouquet of trees: oak, palm, Royal Palm, pine, and three types of mangrove trees – black, white, and red. We followed the boys around tree-framed twists on the boardwalk and through knotted limbs and splintered branches.
As we chased the boys’ fleeting footsteps into the maze of wind-strewn, interlocking trees, my mind fell into this day. It was the afternoon of Good Friday, the day when a cross-shaped tree held my Savior.
He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Surely He has borne our grief and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. ~ Isaiah 53:3-5
Finally, we reached the boardwalk’s dead-end, a pier jutting a hundred yards into the Caloosahatchee River, which separates the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers by a liquid line of brackish blue. Small, rustic beaches bordered the preserve’s edge on each side of the pier, the sand mostly untouched by human feet but lined with red mangrove trees.
“There’s the sacrificial leaf.” My sister pointed at a clumped mangrove tree with a bright yellow leaf highlighted by sunlight.
Mindy and Cody had recently spent a few days in the Florida Keys for Cody’s school trip to Sea Camp, and they explained that the sacrificial leaf is where all the salt water goes. In order to excrete the salt from the plant, a red mangrove leaf become “sacrificial” – it draws the salt that’s soaked into the mangrove tree into itself, which in turn causes the leaf to turn yellow and eventually die.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
~ Romans 5:6-8
As we headed back out of the preserve, I was – for the hundredth, or thousandth time in my life – awestruck by the salvation plan our Creator enacted to bring us back to Him. Through Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary, Christ-followers are made right with God. Salvation is nothing we can earn, nothing we can buy, nothing we can ever brag about attaining.
It’s amazing grace, and Jesus hands it to us with nail scarred palms that seek humble hearts after His.
The yellow sacrificial mangrove leaf, where the dangerous salt pools and is shed from the mangrove tree, is much like Jesus’ shed blood on the Cross. As the sunlight waltzed across gnarled tree limbs and Royal Palms reached toward the sky’s ocean of blue, I was warmed by gratefulness that our Heavenly Father gave us a way to Him – through His sacrificial Lamb.
“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” ~ John 1:29