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John Bradshaw - The Immortal Woman


John Bradshaw - The Immortal Woman
John Bradshaw - The Immortal Woman

Hey, thanks for stopping by. Have you heard about "the immortal woman"? She died in 1951, but she's still alive today. It's an amazing story. Don't go away. We're gonna find out about "the immortal woman," and I'm gonna share with you how you can live forever! You don't wanna miss this.

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Now, to call her "immortal" is, is slightly inaccurate, slightly. But even though she died in 1951 at the age of just 31, to call her anything but "immortal" wouldn't be entirely accurate either. It's a truly remarkable story. It's a story of historic proportions. If you haven't heard it, you're going to wonder why you didn't know about the woman who has had a greater impact on human health than practically any other woman in history. Scientists all over the world are grateful for her. She's offered hope to people in every country on every continent on the entire planet, people who in many cases would have had little or no hope at all. To show you how influential she's been, let's try a little, word association here, or maybe, maybe name association.

Now, when I say "polio vaccine," you say...who? Right. You say Jonas Salk, the scientist from New York City. You know, it's interesting that Salk chose not to profit from his work on the polio vaccine so that it could be distributed as widely as possible. Within 25 years, transmission of polio had been eliminated in the United States because of Jo... oh, wait a minute. Wait a minute, not because of Jonas Salk only, because Jonas Salk had help. And you'll likely have never heard of the woman who really ought to get a lot of the credit for what Salk did and certainly the credit for what she did. Now, if I say "measles," what do you think of? Or who? How about mumps? Or, or HIV? Who are you thinking of now? Are you thinking of a humble woman born and raised in the South who died in obscurity? Probably not.

And, of course, we want to look at the story because it has direct spiritual parallels. Immortality, everlasting life, is promised to everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts Him into his or her life. It's the burden of the most well-known verse of the 31,000-plus verses in the Bible, John 3:16. It says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life". The Bible begins with the account of Creation, then the fall into sin, then Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Israel, Israel and Judah, the prophets, Jesus, the early church, and then the final chapters of the Bible dealing with the return of Jesus, the removal of sin, heaven, the earth made new, and God's people finally living with Him forever. So let me tell you about "the immortal woman".

Loretta Pleasant was born on August the 1st, 1920, in Roanoke, Virginia. She was one of 10 children. Her mother died giving birth to that 10th child. So Loretta, who along the way became known as Henrietta, went to live with her grandfather in tiny Clover, Virginia, where her ancestors had worked as slaves. She was raised in a small cabin that had once been slave quarters. She married, had children, and moved with her husband and children to Baltimore, Maryland. The massive steel mill at Sparrows Point employed thousands of men. And although the work was hard and even unsafe, it meant a steady paycheck for Henrietta's husband, David, or, or "Day," as he was known. And life was, well, pretty good, until Henrietta became ill. She knew she had problems before they left Virginia, but things got so bad she ended up at Johns Hopkins medical center in Baltimore.

Now, keep in mind, it was 1951 by now, the Lacks might have lived in Maryland, but like African-Americans all over the country, they lived deep in the heart of Jim Crow. Even Johns Hopkins was segregated, with Blacks-only bathrooms and Blacks-only drinking fountains. Black patients were kept in Blacks-only wards. But Johns Hopkins accepted black patients, and it was the only major hospital anywhere nearby that did. So Day drove Henrietta to Hopkins, where it was found that Henrietta had cervical cancer. Now, there were treatment options, and Henrietta received good treatment, according to the treatment protocols of the day. But the cancer was aggressive, and within a year Henrietta Lacks was dead. But along the way an interesting thing happened. I'll give you some background. At that time, cervical cancer killed 15,000 women a year in the United States.

Now, for some context, the population of the United States is now more than double what it was then, and yet deaths from cervical cancer have fallen to a little over 4,000 a year. So there was a lot of work to do in understanding and treating cancer. And there was a lot of controversy, a lot of debate, about how to best treat cervical cancer. Doctors and scientists everywhere were conducting research, but in 1951, well, that was the Stone Age for cancer research compared to modern science today. People were trying to understand the biology of the human cell. And keep in mind, cancers begin with a single cell gone wrong. The key to getting a grip on cervical cancer and so many other cancers, and so many other diseases, was working with cells to understand them and to understand disease much better.

But the challenge with researching cancer cells in 1951 was that cells would die outside the human body. Human cells will typically divide and then divide again. In fact, they divide around 50 times, and then they die. And no one had ever kept cells alive indefinitely in a lab. But here's the interesting thing, that history-altering thing. During her treatment, cells from Henrietta Lacks' body were brought into a lab and cultured. A physician named Dr. George Gey had spent 30 years trying to grow cancerous cells outside the human body, but without success.

Now, another physician, knowing about Gey's obsession, began collecting cancer cells and giving them to Dr. Gey. There was no shortage of patients at Johns Hopkins. And the ethics of taking cells from the public patients that came through wasn't a question for anyone concerned in that day. Henrietta's cells were accepted by an assistant, who wrote "HeLa" on the samples, shorthand for Henrietta Lacks. By now no one was expecting anything to be different from any of the other samples that had been taken. It was expected they'd survive a while, then die, and that would be that.

But something strange happened, something for which to this day there's not really a good explanation. The cells taken from Henrietta Lacks began to divide rapidly, and they didn't stop dividing. Before long, Dr. Gey had millions and millions and millions of cancer cells dividing and dividing and dividing, and not dying. It was a first, a massive scientific breakthrough. And it meant that although she was dead, Henrietta Lacks was still living! The world had its first immortal woman. I'll be right back.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. When Dr. George Gey realized he had succeeded in growing human cells outside a human body, and that the cells taken from Henrietta Lacks were not dying, the research potential became obvious, and Gey began enthusiastically giving the cells to researchers who wanted to use them. It was a seriously big deal. And this is where, even after her death, Henrietta Lacks, the immortal woman, continued to impact and benefit the world. HeLa cells allowed Jonas Salk to test his polio vaccine. They've been used to study measles and mumps and Ebola, to develop treatments for AIDs, and to develop chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Henrietta Lacks' cells have even traveled to outer space.

Now, there are limitations as to what can and can't be achieved using HeLa cells, but there's no question that Henrietta Lacks' cells have advanced science and benefited all of humanity. As you might imagine, there are ethical questions that persist. Henrietta wasn't told that her cells would be used for scientific purposes. But that was normal in the 1950s. Informing a patient or relatives about the use of samples obtained through medical procedures wasn't required in 1951. In fact, it's not required today. And Henrietta's case shines a light on those ethical issues. But here's what you've got: a woman who's been dead since 1951, whose cells have been living on in laboratories around the world for 70 years.

Researchers believe they've figured out why the HeLa cells continue to live when others do not. But it's, it's an exception. It's, it's one of those things that you accept happens, even if you don't really fully understand the reasons why or how. And here's where we see the strong and obvious spiritual parallel. The Bible makes these interesting statements in the book of 1 Timothy. It speaks of "our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing, which He will manifest in His own time, He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who alone has immortality". In chapter 1 of the same book, it says: "Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to God who alone is wise, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen". The Bible says that we "seek for glory, honor, and immortality," in Romans 2 in verse 7.

Immortality is not something human beings inherently have. Since sin entered the world, we humans have had a problem, and that is, we die, and life after death isn't assured. In fact, everlasting life is out of our grasp. There are only three people in the world who have immortality: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And for about as long as we can remember, human beings have been trying to solve aging. They've been trying to fight back against death. The Tower of Babel was an attempt by humans to reach heaven under their own steam. And right down to our day, that obsession hasn't stopped. In September 2013, Calico was created, the California Life Company, backed by Google. It's now a subsidiary of Alphabet. Its mission is to find out what it takes to live longer and get people on that track. But can Google crack the code of life and end aging? A Google engineer thinks so. He spoke of "computers the size of blood cells, little robotic devices that can go through our bloodstream," and those little devices, he said, will be "connected to the cloud".

Now, if you're wondering when this is going to happen, it was said that it'll be reality by 2030. The same Google engineer, Ray Kurzweil, said that by 2045, our brains will be connected to the internet, and human beings will be able to live forever. Well? No. In 2014, a Silicon Valley hedge fund manager offered a $1 million prize challenging scientists to hack the code of life and push human life span past 120 years. You see, that seems to be our limit. More and more people are living longer. More people are living to 100 than ever before, at least in modern times. But the very oldest human beings still seem to die at around 115.

Joon Yun, the hedge fund manager, believes it's possible for scientists to solve aging. This is really just a modern iteration of the legend of Juan Ponce de León, whose search for the fountain of youth led him to Florida in the year 1513. Forever is a very long time, but it is possible to live forever. We really need to understand how. To do so, let's go right back to the very beginning. Genesis 1, verse 1: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Then on day 6 of Creation week, God created people. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being". So, where did life come from? Life came from God. Look at Nehemiah 9, verse 6: "You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, the heaven of heavens with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them, You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before you".

It's God who gives life. This is Psalm 36, verse 9: "For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light". So where is life? Life is in God. In the beginning God originated life. When sin came into the world, death entered the world, because human beings surrendered their connection with God. It was as though Adam and Eve drank poison when they sinned. But instead of standing by and watching them die, God intervened. Jesus took their sin, and yours and mine, and offers us His purity, His righteousness. He offers us His, His life. This is 1 John 5, verse 12: "He", or she, for that matter, "who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life". Everlasting life. So now let me bring it home to you. Can you have everlasting life? And what do you tell someone if they ask you if they can have everlasting life? I'll tell you that in just a moment.

When Henrietta Lacks died at the age of 31, cells that had been taken from her body did not; they lived on. They still live, even though she died so many years ago. Which leads us to questions about immortality. That's ultimately the goal of every believer: everlasting life, that eternal life granted to believers in Jesus. So let me ask you this: Why is it only believers in Jesus that receive everlasting life? You might wanna know why there are plenty of otherwise perfectly decent people who won't receive everlasting life. And you might wonder why that's the case simply because they never believed in Jesus.

Does that make God unfair? Unfair? Wait. Let's say there's someone in deep water, and they're going to drown. What do you throw them? You throw them a life preserver. In some countries you'd call that a life buoy. Right? That's what you'd throw them. Would you throw them... a brick? A rock? Would you offer a drowning person an anchor? No, you would not, because that cannot save them. When it comes to a sinner, and we're all sinners, that sinner needs something that will save her, save him. You don't throw morality, because morality cannot save a sinner. You don't throw that person a self-help book or the sayings of some wise person, because none of those things remedy the sin problem, which is another way of describing alienation from God.

Look, humans have turned their backs on God. And God sent Jesus into the world to try to convince us that God is good, that God loves us, that God wants the very best for us. So, the sinner needs Jesus, just like a drowning person needs a life preserver. And there's a second part to this. What if you throw the drowning person a life preserver, and that person refuses to take hold of it? Sounds crazy, but you know it happens. You have a chance to be saved right now. And Jesus will save you. You have a chance to receive life, eternal life, everlasting life. You know what the Bible says? First Thessalonians, chapter 4: "For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord".

In other words, and so will we be with the Lord forever. And this isn't small stuff. Eternity isn't about sitting around doing nothing. First Corinthians 2 and verse 9 has often been quoted to describe life after life. It says, "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him". We can't even imagine how good it's going to be. But think of the alternative, death, or you can have everlasting life. This is the no-brainerest no-brainer that you've ever encountered. It's a wonder to me that God has to try to convince people that this is a good idea. Why wouldn't you want eternal life? God wants it for you, so much so, that He had Jesus come to this world to die for you and to show you what God is really like, to demonstrate the love of God.

Think of that. When Jesus was here on earth, He healed people, blessed people, fed people, taught people, cast demons out of people. He forgave people. He loved people. He raised people from the dead. And all of this was so that you could see what God is really like. As He said, "He that [has] seen me [has] seen the Father". God has done so much for us. A verse in Isaiah, chapter 5 sums this up, where God said, "What more could have been done to my vineyard that I have not done in it"? He's done all He can...for you. And if you think it's selfishness that inspires a person to want to live forever, let me tell you otherwise. It's God's will that you live forever. That's how God set this thing up. We have eternity to look forward to. That's why the return of Jesus is referred to as the "blessed hope," because once Jesus returns, eternity.

I mean, think about this. Without eternal life, you're going to get what? India, average life span: 70 years; Jamaica, almost 75; Puerto Rico, 80; Japan, 85. And yet God offers you eternity. Seventy, 75, 80, 85 years? You're just getting started. Life is really a bit of a cruel joke if this world is all you have. But it isn't. God offers you everlasting life in a perfect world with no sin or pollution or injustice or illness. So how can a person receive everlasting life? It's easy. Jesus spoke to a group of people once and He said, "But you are not willing to come to me that you may have life". That's John 5, verse 40. You just come to Jesus. He described Himself as "the bread of life". He said, "He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst." - John 6:35.

If you can make room in your life for a God of love, don't worry about hypocritical Christians who drive you crazy. Don't worry about how weak you are. You don't come to Jesus once you beat your addiction or clean up your act. You let Him into your life because there are some things that you just cannot do on your own. Can you believe that there's a God? Sure you can. Can you believe His Son Jesus came into the world? You can believe that, too. If you have any doubt at all, read the Bible.

I spoke with a man recently who told me there was a time in his life that he wasn't sure about faith in God. So he started reading the Bible. He wanted to check it out for himself. He said that by the time he got to the Kings, he was convinced. The Word of God just got hold of him. So if you've never given the Bible a real chance, you wanna do so. Read it. Check it out. And then you ask yourself, Is this a good idea? Weigh it up. You get 80 years here, if you're fortunate. Or you could have eternity there, without humidity in the summer, without shoveling snow in the winter. You get to be with the One who made you and who loved you enough to give His life for you, eternal life that just doesn't end.

It's wonderful that Henrietta Lacks' cells have done so much for so many people. In her death she's a modern-day hero, enabling science and scientists to go where they couldn't have gone without her. She didn't benefit, and her family hasn't benefited from her contribution to science, but there's a little part of Henrietta Lacks that lives today. Those cells, they're small; they're tiny. You're not gonna see one without a microscope. But those small cells taken from a courageous woman with a big heart have done so much. Think, then, of the value of you, all of you, throughout eternity. We're talking about something truly amazing: a life lived forever, without end, without interruption. This is what God offers you now, in spite of your past, in spite of your present, in spite of your troubles, your problems, your weaknesses. God says, "I want to give you eternal life". Will you accept that gift today? Everlasting life, why would you be without it?

Our Father in heaven, in Jesus' name we come to You, grateful now for the gift of everlasting life. We see the remarkable things that You have done through the cells, these cells that live on, cells from a remarkable woman, who lived and died not knowing that she had blessed all of humanity. And so I pray right now with thanks for Jesus, for life, for eternity.


And, friend, as we pray, I speak to your heart. Have you said to the God of heaven, "I want, I choose, I accept from You everlasting life"? If that's your prayer, pray it now. Say with me:

God of heaven, we accept the gift of everlasting life in Jesus. Let Him live His life in us. We thank You that we look beyond this world to an eternal world. Save us there at last, we pray. We thank You for the assurance we have today in Jesus. And we pray in Jesus' name, amen.

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