“My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” (John 10:17-18) Our Lord could well have added to this profound statement, “See how the life-history of the butterfly has this truth written into it. The earthly life of the caterpillar is forfeited. After a season in the death of the chrysalis, it emerges with its heavenly body and flies away.”
I suppose many of us will have heard the story of the butterfly preached, especially in the Passover Season, and it is indeed a creative wonder given to mankind to learn the truth of death and resurrection. But in today’s portion I would like to concentrate on “earthly things” by writing about the life of the caterpillar in more detail. This also has a lesson for us.
After hatching from the egg, the caterpillar begins to eat, and in fact it does little else in life. Watching caterpillars eat is amazing. They are voracious eaters! You can almost watch them grow as a result. But a time comes when they stop for a while. If we continue watching we will see a change come over them. By careful observation we see the skin harden and after a bit of wriggling, the skin is sloughed. From a biological point of view we call the process of moulting an ecdysis, which is brought about by hormones. It has completed its first stage of life, brought about because the caterpillar’s skin is not infinitely elastic but gets tighter and tighter until no further food can be eaten until the ecdysis takes place. The new skin, or cuticle, beneath the old skin is now soft and elastic, enabling further growth to occur. The exoskeleton having been cast, life goes on.
During the life of the caterpillar this process of growing, resting, and moulting occurs five times before it finally settles down into its chrysalis tomb. Each of the five stages of growth is called an instar. The formation of the chrysalis, called pupation, is virtually the same as an ecdysis, but more permanent in that the caterpillar remains within the hardened skin.
Let us now think about the life of an average child in the western world. It also has a series of instars. The first three years are with its mother, the next two in a pre-school environment. The next six years are at an elementary school, followed by five years at high school until 16, or seven years until 18. This would be followed by three years at university. Only then would he be ready for life in the outside world. We have seen five instars of development, and at the end of each instar he leaves something behind in order to go on to the next stage of development.
But this is not the main lesson I wanted to bring out. We are not interested in normal human development, however obvious was the parallel, but rather in our spiritual progress from the time we are “born again.” The Lord is in charge of our growth, and He knows that we need occasionally to “move out” of our present circumstances in order to make progress. Without changes of this sort, we could stagnate rather than grow spiritually. If we find that our present church is no longer able to cater for our growth; if the teaching is that of constant repetition, then we might prayerfully think of moving. This will probably cause a rumpus and every means possible will be flung at us to insist we remain. But we must grow, even if others in the church are not yet ready to understand that. It is our time for an ecdysis, and may be a bit painful, but necessary.
Christian churches and fellowships should learn the necessity of being fluid rather than fixed. Each born again child of God must receive spiritual food in order to grow, and if this means that we outgrow the usefulness of one situation, then we must move on, regardless of pain and misunderstanding. Over the last 60 years of my own pilgrimage I have seen the Lord orchestrate circumstances requiring moves. It has not always been easy or pleasant, but in hindsight I can look back over the years and see the wisdom of the Lord in arranging the circumstances of my life. I believe the life of the caterpillar is given to us to recognise the need of ecdysis, and be able to cope with it when the time arrives.