This week’s “thought” comes from a man whose faith and commitment to Jesus I have admired for years. Shortly after I came to Christ 38 years ago, I headed to the Dominican Republic as a short-term missionary. At one point I came across a book in the mission’s library. It was Richard Wurmbrand’s autobiographical sketch of the 14 years he spent in a Communist prison camp in Romania for being a Christian - “Tortured for Christ.”
It was the first Christian book I ever read cover to cover in one sitting, and I have given out many copies to friends ever since! The two stories I share today were related by Wurmbrand to a friend, and are samples of what you will find in that book. They come from the most recent “Voice of the Martyr’s” magazine. Enjoy.
“Richard once overheard a conversation between a pastor named Simeon and a thief named Cunia. Every day Cunia stole Simeon’s eyeglasses and then offered to return them in exchange for the pastor’s supply of sugar. Pastor Simeon never complained, and then one day he said to the thief, “I will give you the sugar gladly. You don’t need to blackmail me by taking my glasses.” “Why don’t you get angry with me and report me?” Cunia asked. “Because I want you to become a better man,” Simeon replied, “I love you.”
“Nobody loves me,” Cunia said. “I am a thief.” “It is Christmas -- Jesus’ birth,” Simeon continued. “He loved thieves so much that He likened Himself to a thief who comes in the night. I too have learned much from thieves. You are passionate in your trade. You go to great lengths to get money. You suffer repeatedly, but, once freed, you revert to stealing. You are a model of perseverance. Like you, I too like gold. I have chosen as my eternal abode a city where even the streets are paved with gold. Jesus came from there to enrich us. There is no need to steal anymore.” He went on to tell Cunia about the Son of God who was born in a stable to save us...
Wurmbrand said of Pastor Simeon, “On Christmas the Son of God was made a man that we might become children of God. His aim has been fulfilled. There are real children of God.”
“On Christmas Eve, while Richard lay in bed, an abbot named Iscu lay in another bed on his right, awaiting death from the tortures he received. The abbot was serene knowing he would soon be with Jesus in heaven… On Richard’s left was another prisoner – the man who had tortured Iscu. His comrades had turned on him and he too had been imprisoned and tortured. Distraught by his deeds, this man woke Richard during the night. “I have committed horrible crimes,” he confessed. “I can find no rest. Help me,” he pleaded.
Just then, Iscu called two other prisoners to his side to help him. Leaning on them, he slowly walked to his former torturer and sat down on his bedside. “You were young and did not know what you were doing,” he said, caressing the man’s head. “I forgive you and love you, as do all the other Christians you have mistreated. And if we sinners who have been saved by Jesus can love like this, how much more is He ready to erase all the evil you have done, to cleanse you fully. Only repent.”
In that common cell in which there was no privacy, Richard heard the torturer confessing his crimes to the one he had tortured… Both men died that night, on Christmas Eve. It was not simply a commemoration of the event in Bethlehem. It was Jesus being born in the heart of a criminal.”
Such a degree of love really is amazing. Who could explain it except as the fruit of a very real and true faith in Jesus Christ. And what a blessing it is for those who have messed up so badly to discover that salvation is by the grace of Jesus, and therefore no one is too far gone to be beyond the reach of God’s power to redeem. Not even a man who had tortured and brought great pain and suffering to many.
It is a matter for great praise that forgiveness is not earned, but as the Gospel proclaims, is a free gift of grace to those who cast themselves upon the mercy of Jesus and take eternal refuge in the blood that was shed to satisfy God’s just wrath against sin. A Gospel promise that is to all who will turn in faith to Jesus and leave their life of sin behind -- regardless of how terrible that past life of sin may have been.
Blessing the Name of him who came and took on flesh that first Christmas, Pastor Jeff