The Butterfly Palace is a family owned attraction in Branson, Missouri. On my last visit to the area, I visited The Butterfly Palace with my sister and her family. In the butterfly aviary, which is designed to be a living rainforest, there are over 1,000 live tropical butterflies from around the world. Butterflies of all sizes and colors were flying everywhere and even lighting on us.
As we walked through the aviary, it was hard to decide where to look next. As a photographer, I was most interested in taking photos of the beautiful butterflies. While we were there, we took part in the daily butterfly release. The Butterfly Palace purchases butterflies in the chrysalis stage from around the world. Each chrysalis is placed in a plastic container. Every day, the butterflies that have emerged from their chrysalis are released into the aviary. The average lifespan of a butterfly is about one month, so the Butterfly Palace must release new butterflies to keep a large population in the aviary.
I enjoyed being a part of the butterfly release. People who are in the aviary at the time of the release are allowed to participate. Each butterfly is in the clear plastic container that has been the home of the chrysalis. Those of us participating were instructed to hold the container over our heads, remove the lid, and turn the container upside down, allowing the butterfly to go free. Some of the butterflies had to be coaxed out of the container after it was opened. My butterfly was eager to be free and flew out of the container before I even turned it upside down.
The butterfly release provides for some great photo opportunities. When the butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, its wings are wet, and the butterfly cannot yet fly. The wings must dry, and the butterfly must exercise flight muscles before it can fly. When the butterflies are released, they like to find a place to land and stretch out their wings. I took some beautiful photographs of these butterflies with their wings spread out.
According to the website, Learn About Nature, "all butterflies have complete metamorphosis. To grow into an adult, they go through 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Each stage has a different goal - for instance, caterpillars need to eat a lot, and adults need to reproduce. Depending on the type of butterfly, the life cycle of a butterfly may take anywhere from one month to a whole year.
A butterfly starts life as a very small, round, oval or cylindrical egg. The coolest thing about butterfly eggs, especially monarch butterfly eggs, is that if you look close enough, you can see the tiny caterpillar growing inside of it. Some butterfly eggs may be round, some oval and some may be ribbed while others may have other features. The egg shape depends on the type of butterfly that laid the egg.
Butterfly eggs are usually laid on the leaves of plants, so if you are actively searching for these very tiny eggs, you will have to take some time and examine quite a few leaves to find some.
When the egg finally hatches, most of you would expect for a butterfly to emerge, right? Well, not exactly. In the butterfly’s life cycle, there are four stages, and this is only the second stage. Butterfly larvae are actually what we call caterpillars. Caterpillars do not stay in this stage for very long, and mostly, in this stage, all they do is eat.
When the egg hatches, the caterpillar will start his work and eat the leaf they were born on. The mother butterfly needs to lay her eggs on the type of leaf the caterpillar will eat – each caterpillar type likes only certain types of leaves. Since they are tiny and can not travel to a new plant, the caterpillar needs to hatch on the kind of leaf it wants to eat.
Caterpillars need to eat and eat so they can grow quickly. When a caterpillar is born, they are extremely small. When they start eating, they instantly start growing and expanding. Their exoskeleton (skin) does not stretch or grow, so they grow by “molting” (shedding the outgrown skin) several times while it grows.
The pupa stage is one of the coolest stages of a butterfly’s life. As soon as a caterpillar is done growing and they have reached their full length/weight, they form themselves into a pupa, also known as a chrysalis. From the outside of the pupa, it looks as if the caterpillar may just be resting, but the inside is where all of the action is."
An article in Scientific American helps us understand the process. "Inside of the pupa, the caterpillar is rapidly changing. The old body parts of the caterpillar are undergoing a remarkable transformation, called ‘metamorphosis,’ to become the beautiful parts that make up the butterfly that will emerge. Tissue, limbs, and organs of a caterpillar have all been changed by the time the pupa is finished and is now ready for the final stage of a butterfly’s life cycle.
The caterpillar’s metamorphosis from a tree clinging, 12-legged pest into the majestic flying butterfly is one of the most used metaphors to describe a 180 transformation. It’s truly a fantastic mechanism, yet while all may seem fantastic on the outside, this transformation looks pretty gruesome deep inside the chrysalis. In short, for a caterpillar to turn into a butterfly it digests itself using enzymes triggered by hormones before sleeping cells similar to stem cells grow into the body parts of the future butterfly.
How does a caterpillar rearrange itself into a butterfly? What happens inside a chrysalis or cocoon?
First, the caterpillar digests itself, releasing enzymes to dissolve all of its tissues. If you were to cut open a cocoon or chrysalis at just the right time, caterpillar soup would ooze out. But the contents of the pupa are not entirely an amorphous mess. Certain highly organized groups of cells known as imaginal discs survive the digestive process. Before hatching, when a caterpillar is still developing inside its egg, it grows an imaginal disc for each of the adult body parts it will need as a mature butterfly.
Once a caterpillar has disintegrated all of its tissues except for the imaginal discs, those discs use the protein-rich soup all around them to fuel the rapid cell division required to form the wings, antennae, legs, eyes, and all the other features of an adult butterfly or moth. Some organs stay intact. Others, like muscles, break down into clumps of cells that can be re-used, like a Lego sculpture decomposing into bricks."
Metamorphosis isn’t just some beautiful physical transformation, though. It’s a stunning display of God’s creative power at work. Butterflies and caterpillars don’t just look different; they behave differently too. One lives in trees, the other flies. Most importantly, one eats leaves, and the other solely feeds on nectar. There’s plenty of room for both kinds throughout the ecosystem since they don’t interfere with each other’s food stocks. It’s brilliant! One butterfly expert said, “The creation of the body of a caterpillar into the body and wings of a butterfly is, without doubt, one of the wonders of life on earth.”
The metamorphosis of butterflies is a difficult process to understand. Scientists have made great strides in the last few years in their understanding of the process. A groundbreaking study was done in 2013 using CT scans on butterflies in the pupa stage. The more scientists learn, the more questions are raised.
Just like the rebirth of a caterpillar into a butterfly can be a difficult process to understand, so can the rebirth of a person. When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” John 3:3 (NLT) Nicodemus then asked Him, “how can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” John 3:4 (NLT)
How can we be born again? The caterpillar’s metamorphosis provides a great illustration of a believer’s spiritual transformation. In 1 John 2:15-17 we read, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”
God has a plan to change our lives. Have you been born again? You might call it conversion, call it commitment, call it repentance, call it being saved, but has it happened to you? Does Christ live in your heart? Do you know it?
You may go to church, but perhaps you are still searching. There is an empty place in your heart, and something inside tells you that you’re not right with God. Nicodemus fasted two days a week. He spent two hours every day in prayer. He tithed. Why did he seek out Jesus? What do you think he wanted to know.
Why did Jesus say that Nicodemus must be born again? It was because He could read the heart of Nicodemus. Jesus saw that Nicodemus had covered himself with religion but had not yet found fellowship with God.
What is new birth? Nicodemus asked that question too: “How can a man be born when he is old?” He wanted to understand it. Nicodemus could see only the physical and the material, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual.
How is the new birth accomplished? We cannot inherit new birth. The Bible says that those who are born again “were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:13 Your father and mother may be the greatest born-again Christians in the world, but that doesn’t make you a born-again Christians, too. Many people have the idea that because they were born into a Christian home, they are automatically Christians. They’re not.
We cannot work our way to God, either. The Bible says that salvation comes “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Titus 3:5
Reformation is not enough. We can say, “I am going to turn over a new leaf,” or “I am going to make New Year’s resolutions.” But Isaiah said that in the sight of God “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6
Some of us have changed on the outside to conform to certain social standards or behavior that is expected of us in our church, but down inside we have never been changed. That is what Jesus was talking to Nicodemus about. He said, “Nicodemus, you need changing inside,” and only the Holy Spirit can do that. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin; He disturbs us because we have sinned against God.
When the caterpillar emerges from its chrysalis, it is transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, and receive God’s forgiveness, we are transformed into a new life in Him. 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17
When we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness, the Holy Spirit regenerates us. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. That is when we are born again. The Holy Spirit comes to live in our hearts to help us in our daily lives. The Spirit of God assures us, gives us joy, produces fruit in our lives and teaches us the Scriptures.
In the chrysalis stage, the caterpillar appears lifeless. Paul described this stage of a Christians life in Romans 6:6 (NCV); “We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin.”
Once the butterfly emerges, it does not return to the caterpillar state. When a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis, it flies; something it couldn’t do before. The butterfly drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves. The butterfly has a new life, a new purpose, a new way of feeding itself.
But all too often, we as Christians try to crawl back into the chrysalis. We want to be caterpillars again. Peter wrote about this behavior in 1 Peter 2:9-11. “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul.” He continues in verse 20, “For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning.”
A caterpillar cannot change itself. It has to lose its form and identity as a caterpillar to become a butterfly. Most Christians are familiar with the passage found in Ephesians 2:8,9 “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Martin Luther wrote about this passage. “God has surely promised His grace to the humbled: that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled till he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will and works, and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure, and work of Another — God alone.”
As important as these verses are to Christians, I think that we need to look at the context in which Paul was writing. Let’s start at the beginning of Chapter 2. “You He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
Here Paul is describing the caterpillar portion of our existence. The caterpillar's main purpose in life is eating. It eats the leaves in its world just as we feed on the ideas of the world around us. As Paul puts it, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and the mind. But God has a plan for us.
Startin again with Ephesians 2:4 we read, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
In our born again, recreated phase, we were created for good works. Just like the caterpillar when it emerges from its cocoon, we are transformed into a completely new creature. When we recognize our sin, confess it, receive God’s forgiveness, and accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord we are transformed into new life in Him.
The butterfly does not return to the caterpillar state; nor can it return to the pupa phase. When a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it flies — something it couldn’t do before! The butterfly also drinks sweet nectar instead of gorging on leaves.
Are you a new creation in Christ still trying to gorge on leaves? If so, do you find them choking you? Are you a new creation in Christ still trying to crawl back inside the chrysalis to live as you once lived? Even if you could go back in time, leaves would no longer nourish you, and the torn chrysalis would no longer protect you. Why? It's because God has transformed you into a new creation. Now you have the blessed privilege and opportunity to live in His power and do His work on this planet. So spread your wings into their full, beautiful glory. It’s time to fly.