Saviour of the World

The saviour of the world

Maximilian Kolbe with four of his companions were deported to Auschwitz. Auschwitz was a labour and death camp. Few passed through the prison gate to leave the camp alive. Cruelly the prisoners were told that the only way out was through the chimneys of the crematorium. Father Maximilian Kolbe, a Christian minister received the striped convict garment and was tattooed with the number 16670. He began work immediately carrying blocks of stone for the construction of a crematorium wall.

Auschwitz, Poland
Auschwitz, Poland

Prison Law stated that if anyone attempted to escape ten men from the same bunker would be chosen for death by starvation in the dreaded windowless underground cell. Near the end of July a prisoner apparently escaped and the men from Kolbe's bunker were led out in the blazing mid-day sun knowing what to expect.

One man from each line was selected at random, including Sergeant Francis Gajowniczek , when the sergeant cried out, "My wife and children. I shall never see them again". A man stepped out form the rows and offered to take his place. It was prisoner 16670, Maximilian Kolbe. A German officer asked Kolbe who he was. Kolbe responded, "I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old. He has a wife and children". So it was that Maximilian Kolbe and the nine others were taken to the death chamber of cell 18. Francis Gajowniczek was set free. It was a day that changed his world.

During the next two weeks the prisoners were not given any food or water. One after the other died, until only four were left including Maximilian. The authorities felt that death by starvation was taking too long for the remaining four and the cell was needed for new victims. Each prisoner in turn was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid (phenol) in the vein of his left arm. Maximilian, with a prayer on his lips gave his arm to his executioner. Maximilian Kolbe was 47 years old when he was executed.

Prisoners' shoes - Auschwitz
Prisoners' shoes - Auschwitz

I visited Auschwitz which is still surrounded by a triple row of fences which were originally electrified. Inside the prison chamber I stood motionless gazing through the bars at the dark and gloomy cell in which Kolbe was kept before his death. I could not but think about the amazing love that this one man had for another. Maximilian's act of love was to sacrifice his own life; it was voluntary. This death had purpose - it allowed another, Francis Gajowniczek to live to a very old age. Maximilian's gift of his life reminds me of Jesus Christ's gift of His life for the whole of humanity.

The day that changed the world

Two thousand years ago something wonderful happened that would affect the world for ever. It was the day that changed the world. Indeed the day that changed history. It was the day God's son died. God so loved the world that he gave up his one and only son to be crucified on the cross so that whoever believes in Jesus today, may have abundant life in this life and eternal life. Since the day Christ died, 2000 years ago until today and forever, the cross has never lost its power and effect to forgive, bless, empower and grant eternal life, through faith. Jesus Christ took up our sins and sorrows. His death brings us peace of mind and peace with God.

It is important to say that the blood of Jesus is not first and foremost for us, it is for God. Today God looks upon the finished work of his son and is satisfied that our sin has been paid for, for everyone who repents, receives and believes.

Millions of people through the centuries have discovered this abundant life and peace with God by responding with faith to the old message. These disciples and followers of Christ have become new creations, where the new has come and the old has gone and the world is a different and better place. Today the Church celebrates the day on which Jesus died as 'Good Friday'. The only reason that it was a 'good' Friday was that three days later Jesus rose from the dead. Today the Church calls that special Sunday 'Easter Day'.

Jesus Christ's act of love was to willingly sacrifice and lay down His life for humanity for all time. We begin our examination of the events that took place starting at the Garden of Gethsemene the evening before he was crucified. Gethsemene was on the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives just outside Jerusalem, one of Jesus' favourite places.

Overwhelmed with sorrow

Jesus expressed to his dear friends, who had been with him from the beginning, his deep distress and troubled heart. His heart was overwhelmed with sorrow, almost to the point of death. He asked help from his disciples. He needed their friendship, now more than ever. Jesus fell to the ground, he could not help it, because he knew the abuse, suffering, and evil that was to come. Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father, asking that if possible God might take the cup of suffering away from him. But he would rather do God's will, whatever the cost and therefore acknowledged that he would drink the deadly cup (Mark 14:32-36). While Jesus was talking to his sleepy disciples, Judas the betrayer approached, bringing others with him, to arrest Jesus.

Betrayed with a kiss

Judas was aware that people knew Jesus well enough by sight. He felt that in the dim light of the garden, that they needed a definite indication who they were to arrest. He chose the most terrible of signs - a kiss. It was customary to greet a rabbi with a kiss. It was a sign of respect, affection for a well-loved teacher. There is a dreadful thing here, when Judas says, 'The one I kiss is the man'. He uses the word philein, which is the ordinary word for kiss. When it is written that he kissed Jesus, the word used is kata philein. The kata, is intensive. Kata philein means to kiss as a lover kisses his beloved. The sign of betrayal was not a mere form of kiss of respectful greeting. It was a lover's kiss. Jesus was betrayed by one of his chosen and closest friends (Mark 14:43-46).

The arresting mob came from the chief priests, the scribes and the elders, the three sections of the Sanhedrin police, the Jewish religious council. They marched Jesus away to the high priest. The disciples' nerves cracked. They could not face it. They were afraid that they too would share in the fate prepared for Jesus. They all left him and fled. Through all this, Jesus displays serenity, for the struggle in the garden was over. Now there was the peace of a man who knows that he is following the will of God.

Who is Jesus?

The religious trial before Caiaphas the high priest was grossly unfair and unlawful. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. The high priest was exasperated. He asked the question which he knew would get the result he wanted - a verdict of death. 'Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?' Jesus answered 'I am'.That was it. They condemned him worthy of death. The issue here was not about any unlawful deed that Jesus may have done. Jesus never did anything that was unlawful or sinful. They sentenced him to death because of who he claimed to be. He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah.

Having passed sentence, they began to spit at him, they blindfolded him and hit him with their fists, taunting him saying, 'Guess who hit you?' The guards took him and beat him.

Very early the next morning the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. He was to be tried under the state now.

Jesus is sentenced to death

crossPilate wanted to release Jesus, because he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. The continued pressure from the religious leaders and the crowd finally weakened Pilate's resolve to free Jesus. He changed his mind. Now he wanted to satisfy the crowd. He ordered Jesus to be flogged and then crucified.

Roman flogging was a terrible thing. Jesus was stripped naked and tied to the scourging post. The whip had strips of leather studded hear and there with pieces of bone and sharpened pieces of lead. The soldiers inflicted this weapon on Christ. His chest, neck, shoulders, back, hips, and legs were slashed as if with knives; his body streamed with blood and was covered with swollen bruises. Even his face was cut and disfigured by the lashes that came down upon him. He was in such a state that he could scarcely have been recognised, even by those who knew him well. Jesus now lay at the foot of the post. A bucket of water mixed with salt was thrown over him, the stinging brine was a routine way to revive a victim and helped to stop the flow of blood. Jesus was pulled to his feet and held upright until he could feel some strength return. His body ached with pain. Jesus stood shivering in shock. The flogging was completed and Jesus struggled to reclothe himself as best as he could.

The soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and calling out the entire company of soldiers they began to mock him. They dressed him in a purple robe and made a crown of long sharp thorns and set it on him. Then they began to salute him, 'Hail, king of the Jews!'

They beat him on the head with a stick, spat in his face, and dropped to their knees in mock worship. Tired of their mocking they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. He was led out to be crucified. The slow walk to Golgotha, the place of the skull began.

Three soldiers were ordered to complete the execution. The commanding officer took the unusual step of attaching a centuria, a further hundred troops in full battle dress, to accompany them. This was a precaution against any attempt to intervene in the proceedings. The procession assembled. First came five rows of soldiers; ten in each row, followed by the execution party made up of three soldiers and Jesus carrying his cross; then a further five rows of soldiers; again with ten soldiers in each row. Caiaphas, the high priest along with the religious guard walked behind the Roman soldiers. The public followed. In all they may have been close to four thousand people who went to see Jesus die. The longest way to the place of execution was taken, passing through the business quarter and shops. They followed every possible street and lane so that as many people could see and take warning. Jesus already badly beaten stumbled under the weight of the heavy cross. A man from Cyrene, Northern Africa was close by and they forced him to carry Jesus' cross.

When they reached the place of crucifixion the cross was laid flat on the ground, Jesus stretched on it and his hands were nailed to the wood. His feet were loosely bound. Between Jesus' legs projected a ledge of wood called a saddle, to take the weight when the cross was raised upright. The cross was then lifted upright and set in its socket with Jesus left to die. The cross was not tall. Sometimes prisoners hung for as long as a week, slowly dying of hunger and thirst. They offered Jesus drugged wine to ease the pain but he refused it. In the shadow of the cross the soldiers diced for Christ's seamless garment. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. Jesus had suffered much abuse but it was not over yet, as many passers-by ridiculed him (Mark 15:27-39). At three o'clock Jesus breathed his last breath. His mission was accomplished.

As evening approached Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the council, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus' body. Pilate, having received confirmation of Jesus' death, gave permission for Joseph to take the body. Joseph had Jesus' body wrapped in linen and placed in a tomb cut out of rock. A stone was rolled against the entrance of the tomb. Roman soldiers were posted outside the tomb keeping guard. A Roman wax seal was set between the stone door and the entrance. The soldiers had the responsibility to ensure that the seal was never broken. The soldiers guarded the seal with their lives, because Roman law for soldiers stated that allowing a seal to be unlawfully broken was punishable by death.

Christ is risen

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary of Magdala went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!' So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple out-ran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (John 20:1-8)

One thing is certain - if Jesus had not risen from the dead, we would never have heard of him. The attitude of the women was that they had come to pay their last tribute to a dead man. The attitude of the disciples was that everything had finished in tragedy. By far the best proof of the resurrection is the existence of the Christian Church. Nothing else could have changed sad and despairing men and women into people radiant with joy and flaming with courage. The resurrection is the central fact of the whole Christian faith.

The resurrection of Jesus makes Christianity unique

In Jesus' time the religious leaders wanted Jesus executed because of who he claimed to be, the Son of God (John 3:16-18).These religious leaders rightly understood that this claim to be the Son of God meant, equality with God or claiming to be God (John 5:16-19, 10:29-36).

The bodily resurrection of Christ on that first Easter Sunday validates and confirms his person and claim to be the Son of God. The resurrection also confirms his words and promises to humanity. Jesus spoke of blessings in this life and eternal life in the next. We can be sure of life with God after this life because Jesus promises it, his resurrection makes it believable and possible.

Because we believe in the resurrection something important follows. Jesus is a living presence not just a person in a book. It is not enough to know the story of Jesus. We may begin that way but we move on to meeting him. The Christian life is not the life of a person who knows about Jesus, but the life of a person who knows him. There is all the difference in the world between knowing about a person and knowing a person. Most people know about the President of the United States of America, but few actually know him. The resurrection of Jesus makes Christianity unique. There is no-one like Jesus Christ - He is unequalled, unusual and remarkable. Knowing Jesus means experiencing life to the full in this life and the next. Jesus came for that purpose. Know Jesus - know life. No Jesus - no life.

Jesus' death has purpose

Jesus Christ gave up his life willingly. He allowed his life to be taken. He was in control, although the people responsible for his death thought that they were.

While Jesus hung on the cross he cried out those incredible words, 'It is finished!' He immediately breathed his last, gave up his spirit and died. It was a cry of victory, 'I have done it!' He accomplished his ultimate purpose when visiting our world, that of shedding his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin and shame to bring us to God. We no longer have to be separated from God who is holy and without sin. Separation means no real communication with God is possible. This separation is like a thick cloud that prevents the warm sun from shining on us.

When our sin is removed the way to God is clear so we can be friends with our heavenly father. The purpose of Christ's cross is to bring you to God by removing your sin. The cross of Christ has never lost its power and purpose.

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18 ).

Christ is the way to God. It was for our sins that Christ died. The good and righteous one died for us so that we could come to God. Our being brought to God means living in close friendship with God, meeting him and knowing him. That is eternal life. It is knowing God and Jesus Christ, not knowing about but actually knowing God and his Son Jesus (John 17:3).

On the cross Jesus literally took our transgressions on himself. Transgressions means breaking God's laws. We have all done that. He carried our iniquity. Iniquity is the evil that we have done. He was punished that we may have peace. Peace with God. Peace with ourselves. Jesus' death has purpose.

You can know forgiveness. You can experience becoming a new creation. All of this is done by God. It is his power coming within your life. Transforming the rest of your life. The Power being the Holy Spirit coming within you, giving you a spiritual birth. It is being born again by the Holy Spirit.

For this to happen you must do your part and God will certainly do his. Firstly you need to repent from sin - feel deep sorrow about your sinful actions and resolve not to continue in your old ways that are not according to the teaching of the Bible. This change of mind is a turning from sin and turning to God. If we say we are without sin we deceive ourselves but if we confess our sin God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. The saviour of the world died to bring forgiveness. Embrace the Saviour. You need him. Jesus' death has purpose.

Secondly you must receive Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Some however did receive him and believed in him so he gave them the right to become God's children. They did not become God's children by natural means that is by being born as the children of a human father, God himself was their father (John 1:12-13).

Receive and believe

Receiving Jesus means to welcome him into your life. He wants to come and live within your life by his Spirit. Jesus stands at the door of your life and knocks, waiting for you to open the door and invite him in. He says:

'Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me' (Revelation 3:20 ).

To receive Jesus means to no longer live your life without him. It involves receiving his ways and purposes for your life. In other words receive him gladly as your Lord. Let him have his way.

Thirdly you need to believe that God so loved the world that he gave his only son to be crucified for your sins. It also means believing in God's risen son, Jesus the Saviour. Will you put your trust in the cross of Christ. Embrace Christ as your personal Saviour. For those who repent, receive and believe, a miracle happens - they experience the new birth, they are born again.

Think of Jesus knocking now, asking to come into your life. You want him to come into your life or perhaps you want to make sure he has come into your life. It may help you to say this prayer quietly, phrase by phrase, thinking carefully what you are saying, what you are doing.

Lord Jesus Christ, I know I have sinned in my thoughts, words and actions. There are so many good things I have not done. There are so many sinful things I have done. I am sorry for my sins and turn from everything I know to be wrong. You gave your life upon the cross for me. Gratefully I give my life back to you. Now I ask you to come into my life. Come in as my Saviour to cleanse me. Come in as my Lord to control me. Come in as my Friend and to be with me. And I will serve you all the remaining years of my life in complete obedience. Amen.

Asking Jesus into your life is just the first step - like greeting someone you have just met. Getting to know someone well takes time and effort. It is the same with Jesus. We can get to know Jesus better through the Bible, through prayer and through the local church. Most importantly God has given you the Holy Spirit to enable and empower you. The Holy Spirit is a wonderful person available to you, to help you become like Jesus. The Holy Spirit will comfort, strengthen and guide you.

Andy Economides says

"If you have prayed that prayer, perhaps for the first time - congratulations and well done. It may be that for you it is a new and fresh decision to follow Christ, again congratulations. We would like to hear from you. Please email or write to us.

May the Lord bless you and keep you always"