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Christ: Christ the Catalyst (John 3:17)

By James L. Killen
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)

Do you know what a catalyst is? I found out a long time ago in an interesting way. And what I learned suggested to me a new way of understanding the meaning of the coming of the Christ.

When I was a college student, I had the good fortune of being employed during the summers as a vacation relief worker in an oil refinery. I worked day after day among the ponderous machines and the awesome towers of that industry. I have always been a curious soul so I wanted to learn what I could about the things around me.

One day, while I was working on one of the tallest towers in the plant, I asked the pipe fitter with whom I was working, "What is this thing?"

He said, "It's a cat cracker."

I said, "A what?"

He said, "That is short for a thermocatalytic cracking unit."

"Oh." I said. "Well what does it do?" (That is the question I really wanted to ask in the first place but I was a little afraid to ask it after the fitter told me it was a cat cracker.)

He answered. "I don't know." He could fix it but he couldn't explain it.

As time went by, I asked some of the operators and others the same question and got very similar answers. I found people who could run it and people who could fix it but no one who could explain it.

Finally one day, quite by accident, I found someone who could explain the unit. Sure enough, it was another college student like myself, a chemistry major. Typically, he couldn't run the unit or fix it but he could explain it.

We were working together preparing a box car to be loaded, (mine was not an executive position), and my friend bent over and picked up a little cylinder of something that looked like asbestos about half the circumference of a pencil and about a quarter of an inch long. He asked, "Do you know what this is?" I didn't, so he explained. This is a catalyst. They use it in the thermocatalytic cracking unit. They heat these little pellets until they are white hot. Then they force them into the crude oil. The heat causes a chemical reaction that breaks the crude oil down into its components and separates the light oil from the heavier components. That is an important part of the refining process.

I had learned something. My old collegiate dictionary explained, "Catalysis is the causing or the speeding up of a chemical reaction by the presence of a substance that does not itself change." A catalyst is the substance used to bring about that reaction.

As I began to translate those words into pictures, which is the only way I have ever been able to understand anything new, it occurred to me that I had just caught a new vision of what it means that God sent the Son into the world in order that the world might be saved through Him. Let me try to share with you what I began to understand.

God sent the Son into the world to interact with us and with our world in a way that will cause a reaction that will make a difference that will save.

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