Suppose you were living 2,000 years ago in Palestine, that you were sinful, heavy with guilt, and Jesus told you, “Your sin is grave and deserves punishment. ‘The wages of sin are death.’ But tomorrow I will be flogged and crowned with a crown of thorns for you—I invite you to assist them when they drive nails into My hands and feet and fix Me to a cross. I will cry in anguish, and I will share the sorrow of My mother whose heart will be pierced by compassion for Me as if by a sword. You should be there to hear My cries. And when I have died, you shall know that your sins are forgiven forever, that I was your substitute, your scapegoat. This is how a man gets saved. Will you accept My suffering for your offense, or do you prefer to bear the punishment yourself?” What would you have answered?
I believe that this dilemma should be placed before a soul seeking salvation. Fifteen hundred years before the historical birth of Christ the Bible says, “Today I have begotten You” (Psalm 2:7). It also says to the penitent 2,000 years after Golgotha, “Today I die for you.” Jesus’ life and death are outside of time and space.
Would you accept? More than once in Communist prisons I have seen a pastor receive a beating to the blood in place of another prisoner. A name would be called and the pastor would simply say, “It is I.” In Auschwitz, Maximilian Kolbe, a priest, offered to take the place of a Pole sentenced to death by the Nazis. The Pole was the father of many children. The commandant of the camp accepted the substitution and the Pole was spared. Kolbe died by asphyxiation. Had you been that Pole, what would you have decided?
I lived many years in an isolated subterranean prison cell, in timelessness, something akin to the weightlessness experienced by astronauts. Just as they know no difference between heavy and light, I knew no distinction between past, present, and future. In my prison cell Jesus’ presence was immediate. His life did not belong to the past, nor was it a series of successive events. He put before me the problem I have just put to you. He told me, “You are a sinner and are condemned to eternal punishment for your transgressions, but I am ready to save you. Because of your sin, I will endure rejection, flogging, being spat upon, being crowned with a crown of thorns, the pains of crucifixion, and the agony of seeing my mother brokenhearted at the foot of the cross. My blood will cleanse you from all sin.” I had to decide whether or not to accept the sacrifice of the innocent Son of God for my sins. I believed that to accept would be a greater wickedness than all I might ever have done in my life and I flatly refused this proposal. Jesus was glad about my “No.”
Then came the real question, the thing He had had in mind from the beginning. “What if I incorporate your being into Mine, if you become part of My body, if you deny yourself as an independent self, and I will live in you henceforth and you will be ‘crucified with me’ (Galatians 2:20), ‘buried with me’ (Romans 6:4), and share the fellowship of My suffering (Philippians 3:10)? People in churches will sing, ‘safe in arms of Jesus,’ while you will be safe as an arm of Jesus, nailed like His to a cross, but also imparting goodness like His. Do you wish to become My co-worker for the salvation of mankind, alleviating sufferings, filling up ‘what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ’
I have accepted this proposal. Christians are meant to have the same vocation as their King, that of cross-bearers. It is this consciousness of a high calling and of partnership with Jesus which brings gladness in tribulation, which makes Christians enter prisons for their faith with the joy of a bridegroom entering the bridal room.
When George Vins, the general secretary of the Baptist Union of the USSR, was sentenced for his faith, believers in the courtroom covered him with flowers. His little daughter, hoisted on a stool, recited in front of the Communist judges, “Father, with Christ you are free in prison, and freedom without Him is prison.” The believers waiting outside the building received him with a Christian hymn.
The relative of a Christian prisoner in Red China said to someone who sympathized with her, “You should not feel sorry for us, for if he were not in that slave labor camp, how could the others here come to know the gospel of the Lord Jesus?”
In the same spirit we should receive the crosses of poverty, racial discrimination, personal betrayals, unfaithfulness of marriage partners, rebellion of children, and all other sorrows of life.
A man who smugly accepts Christ’s dying for him and shouts Hallelujah about the innocent Son of God receiving punishment he himself deserves should be more severely punished than before. The gospel, the good news, is the privilege of becoming a member of the Body of Christ, of suffering, of dying in pain with Him, and also of being resurrected with Him in glory.
Because sacrifice is implicit in a conversion, the call of an evangelist has the name “altar call.” Every being placed upon the altar in Jerusalem—lambs, rams, and pigeons—died. Someone dies for you. This time it is not an animal, but the Son of God. He has decreed it and nothing you can do will change His mind. You can only ask for the privilege of henceforth being able to sacrifice yourself as well, for the glory of God and for the good of your fellowmen. In return you receive the right to die to sin and to the world and its laws.
The reality of a conversion is in becoming one with Him. It is shameful and abominable to accept His substitutionary death otherwise.
Wurmbrand, Richard (2000-01-01). 100 Prison Meditations: Cries of Truth from Behind the Iron Curtain *(Kindle Locations 93-134). Living Sacrifice Book Company. Kindle Edition.
* Available for $1.00 on Kindle