Sacrificial Love

by | May 20, 2007 | Love, Sacrifice

Two years ago on Easter I spent the day as I always do, preaching the Gospel in prison. Afterward I visited those in solitary, including a man I will call Richard, who would face his execution in just five short days.

There is something a bit surreal about talking face to face with a man who knows he is going to die. There is a heaviness about the room and, in this case, also a very palpable sense of evil. In fact, I have never felt the assault of evil as strongly as I did in that place.

I shared the Gospel and my own testimony with Richard, but found him very resistant. Every time Richard would throw out an objection, I would knock it down. Intellectually astute, Richard had reasoned himself into a fortress that barred faith as even a possibility. It was as hard as I had ever worked to persuade someone, and I left feeling drained and discouraged.

But God was not finished. As a result of that visit, the warden allowed something highly unprecedented: He allowed a fellow inmate, Mickey, to visit Richard and speak with him before his execution.

Mickey faced a life sentence but had discovered in prison a freedom through the Gospel of Christ that Richard had not yet experienced.

Taking a seat across a table, Mickey looked into Richard’s eyes. Richard’s face was emotionless. Mickey breathed a prayer and began by sharing the simple facts of the Gospel and how it had changed his life. But Richard remained stoic. Talking with Richard “felt like beating my head against a wall,” recalls Mickey.

At a loss, Mickey offered one final thought: “Richard, I wish I could take your place on Friday.”

For the first time since their conversation began, the stoicism on Richard’s face melted. In its place, a look of shock swept over him.

Mickey continued, “You see, Richard, I know where my soul’s going when I leave this world. You don’t yet have that assurance of salvation. I wish I could give you just a little more time.”

Once Mickey was back in his own cell, he cried. He felt like he had let God down. But soon Mickey heard God’s gentle reassurance that he had done exactly what he had been asked to do.

What Mickey said to Richard strikes a real chord with me, because more than thirty years ago, I myself stood condemned and imprisoned. I will never forget when my friend and then-congressman Al Quie sincerely offered to take my place in prison. Imagine my reaction!

But then, imagine the astonishment of a prisoner at Auschwitz named Franciszek. Chosen by the Nazi camp commandant to die in the death chamber, Franciszek was spared when a Polish priest named Maximilian Kolbe offered to take his place. Father Kolbe willingly laid down his life so that another might live.

In Congressman Quie’s offer, as in Father Kolbe’s martyrdom and in Mickey’s wish for Richard, I hear the echo of the first Good Friday: Christ taking our place on the cross, laying down His life so that a condemned people might live.

May Christ’s love, displayed on the cross, continue to astonish us. And may His sacrifice inspire us to follow in His footsteps.

From BreakPoint, April 6, 2007, reprinted/posted with permission of Prison Fellowship,

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Sacrificial Love