Who’s Got Backbone?
by Pastor George Van Alstine

“Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.” (G. K. Chesterton, early nineteenth century English writer)

Among the higher animal forms, there are two general body structures: one based on an exoskeleton, the other on an endoskeleton. Each of the two models has a distinct way of supporting the muscles and other organs of the animal’s body. Those creatures with an exoskeleton have their skeleton on the outside (“exo”), and those with an endoskeleton have it on the inside (“endo”).

Animal species with exoskeletons include insects, crustaceans (crabs, lobsters, shrimp) and shellfish (clams, mussels, oysters). Their body is supported by an outside shell that gives the animal its shape, and all the soft organs are attached to that shell from within. They have no backbone.

The body structure we’re more familiar with is the one we see in the mirror. Humans share the endoskeleton model with all other vertebrates, from fish and frogs to elephants and gorillas. Radiating from a central backbone are many other bones that form a structure on which all the soft parts hang.

“Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.”

Cowardly people may display a hard crust on the outside, but they’re all gooshy inside. They may try to intimidate with bluff and bluster, but they don’t have the stomach for a genuine challenge.

Jesus was definitely a vertebrate. When poked and prodded, he seemed to give a little. He was vulnerable when they mocked him, whipped him and put a crown of thorns on his head, so they attacked him more harshly and took him to the cross.

The Gospel writer commented that not a bone of his was broken (John 19:33). In a metaphorical sense, this was a demonstration of the fact that all the abuse had not destroyed his moral endoskeleton. His true toughness was “in the middle.”

Jesus asks his brothers and sisters to follow his vertebrate example. Don’t be tough on the outside, then give up under the slightest challenge. Show the world you’ve got the backbone that reveals your family resemblance to Jesus.

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