In the early years of commercial flight, and with the advent of voice radio transmission, officials determined that they needed an easily understood term for use in emergencies. A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London came up with the term “mayday,” derived from a French term that means, “come and help me.” This term became the universal distress signal for voice procedure radio communications. It is primarily used by aviators and mariners, and is repeated three times to signify an actual emergency. An aircraft pilot or ship’s captain who sends a “mayday” signal is declaring a state of emergency and is requesting assistance from all available sources. At that moment nothing is more important, because it is literally a life or death situation.
We do not normally associate “mayday” with spiritual matters, but it certainly fits. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he and his companions came to the city of Troas in Asia Minor. In Acts 16:6-8 Luke tells us that Paul intended to go into the areas north and east of the group of cities in southern Galatia that he had visited on his first journey. God, however, had other plans for the apostle. In Acts 16:9 the scriptures say, “A vision appeared to Paul in the night; a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.” In effect, Paul received a “mayday” call from Macedonia.
In response to this call, Paul went into Macedonia and preached the gospel in the cities of Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. From there he went into the province of Achaia and preached in the cities of Athens and Corinth. The “mayday” call in Paul’s vision was God’s way of directing Paul into a fertile field for evangelism. The success of this mission was such that thriving churches existed in several Greek cities for many years thereafter.
It is clear from this miraculous vision that God wanted Paul to go into this region to preach the gospel. Was it because God knew that the people in this region would be more receptive to the gospel than those in the other areas Paul wanted to visit? This is certainly possible, since God sees the heart. We don’t know if the Macedonians realized that they were lost until Paul preached to them, but God knew they were. It may have been that God, seeing their lost condition, issued the “mayday” call on their behalf, by means of Paul’s vision, so the opportunity for salvation could be brought to them more quickly.
The issuance of a “mayday” call, however, does not guarantee salvation in a life or death situation. Sometimes help does not arrive in time, as in the Titanic disaster. Even when help arrives in time, though, the ones in danger must respond to that help in order to be saved. When Paul arrived in Macedonia, he preached the gospel to them. Some of them believed and obeyed. Others did not. For those who refused to believe and obey, the “mayday” call did them no good.
The same is still true today. Whether we realize it or not, if we are outside of Christ we are like the passengers on a sinking ship. Our souls are in jeopardy, and we have no means to save ourselves. We desperately need someone to come and help us. God has sent out a “mayday” call, by means of the Great Commission, so we may be saved. When someone comes and preaches the gospel to us, this is the help we need to save our souls. But it will only save us, if we obey it. A drowning man may call for help, but if he refuses to grasp the life preserver when it is thrown to him, he will still drown.
“Mayday! Mayday! Mayday!” means one is in a life or death emergency. This is our situation if we are outside of Christ. The answer to our spiritual “mayday” is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we obey the gospel, our souls will be saved. Why would anyone be so foolish as to refuse this salvation?