Free Indeed!

God can turn the most impossible situation into victory.

Roy Allan Anderson is a former editor of The Ministry magazine.

Tetelestai! "It is finished." That dramatic cry from the cross was the most comprehensive ever uttered by human lips. It was a shout of victory. Something tremendous had happened, affecting not only the earth but the entire universe. In one single act the massive tyranny of darkness was overthrown and its leader unmasked.

The age-old conflict between two in visible kingdoms—the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, the kingdom of love and the kingdom of hate, the kingdom of Christ and the kingdom of Satan—culminated at the cross. On Calvary the character of God was revealed, and the great gulf that separated heaven and earth was bridged. In that death grapple in the darkness we were reconciled to God. It was wholly God's work. Humanity had no part in it. Nor did anyone on earth except Jesus know what was really happening. "They know not what they do," Christ stated in His prayer for their forgiveness. "None of the Powers of this world understand it," said the apostle Paul, "(if they had, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory)" (1 Cor. 2:8, Moffatt).*

How could it be that this mighty act, which meant so much to the human race, was misunderstood by the very men God had called to make known His salvation? Although each of the Gospel writers tells the story of Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, Luke alone records the journey of Cleopas and an unnamed companion, two disciples who left Jerusalem to return to their hometown, Emmaus. As do all of Luke's stories, it unfolds in beautiful simplicity. Emmaus was about eight miles from Jerusalem and on the day of the resurrection the whole city was astir. All knew that Jesus, the Great Teacher, the One whom many hoped might be the Messiah, had been crucified on Friday, and many knew that His body was laid away in Joseph's new sepulcher. But that body was no longer in the tomb. Strange and contradictory reports filled the city. Some were saying, "He is alive"; others insisted His body had been stolen.

Leaving the confusion of the city, Cleopas and his companion started on what was to be the most memorable journey of their lives.

Cleopas is mentioned in John 19:25 as the husband of a woman named Mary. Tradition has it that these two, Cleopas and his unnamed companion in grief, were husband and wife. This may be true, for the record simply says that when they reached their home "they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening."

In their excitement they tell the story:

"A Stranger, a wonderful Person, joined us along the road; and noticing our sadness, He drew us out in conversation. Then He began to unfold to us God's way and God's Word. On the way down our grief-stricken moan was, 'We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel.' With our restricted vision we failed to understand. But as He talked to us, we realized that something wonderful had happened, much more wonderful than the mere driving of the Romans out of Palestine. We are different since He talked to us."

The Scriptures Testify of Christ

Our Lord was much more concerned about driving the evil from the hearts of His people than driving the foreigners out of Palestine. Then, "beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he ex pounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Actually, this was the earliest truly Christian sermon. It was preached on the day of the resurrection, not in the Temple, but on a country road a few miles from Jerusalem. Two Jewish peasants comprised the audience. But the theme was the most stupendous in the Word of God—"Christ in all the Scriptures."

Recalling the effect of that sermon, Cleopas and his companion later said, "Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:32). No home can ever be the same when once the Lord has walked and talked with the members of the house hold.

The New Testament message that the first evangelists proclaimed with such power rested not only on the mighty facts of our Lord's death and resurrection but also that those great events were a fulfillment of God's Word. This gave authority to their witness. When the Bible is studied in the light of the empty tomb, history and poetry, symbol and sacrifice, narrative and biography, glow with new meaning.

In the earliest decades of Christianity neither the four Gospels nor the other portions of the New Testament were available. And the New Testament began not with the writings of the Gospels, but with the letters Paul and others wrote to individuals or to groups. Realizing the value of the truths set forth in these Epistles, leaders of the early church had them copied and sent to other localities, especially those where similar conditions existed.

In his letter to Corinth Paul wrote, "I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins." We sing today of the glory of the cross, but in the first few decades of the Christian Era, no glory was associated with a cross. It was a symbol of shame, defeat, and humiliation. It was a Roman means of execution, reserved for those whom they were particularly eager to dishonor. The association of the cross with everything shameful made it difficult for both the Greeks and the Hebrews to grasp the full meaning of the apostolic message. To the Hebrews the cross was "a stumbling block," and to the Greeks, "a scandal." Only when the Spirit of God opens our eyes to the real meaning of the cross does it become something in which we can glory.

To his Corinthian friends Paul wrote: "I must remind you of the gospel that I preached to you; the gospel which you received, on which you have taken your stand. . . . First and foremost, I handed on to you the facts which had been imparted to me: that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised to life on the third day, according to the scriptures" (1 Cor. 15:1-4, N.E.B.).+

His mention of the Scriptures is interesting. Jesus Himself set that pattern of study. He turned first to the books of Moses, then to the Psalms, and then to all the prophets, as He expounded the truths concerning Himself. He wanted His disciples to know that He is the center of all truth, the One of whom all the prophets have testified. As we study their messages in the light streaming from the empty tomb, those Old Testament scriptures flash with new radiance and beauty.

In Isaiah's prophecy we read of One who was "despised and rejected of men"; One who was wounded, but not for His own sins; One who suffered, but not for His own iniquities. It was for the transgression of His people that He was stricken. "The chastisement of our peace was upon him," for "the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all." Even more astounding are these words: "It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief" (Isa. 53:3-6, 10).

The Christian church from its very beginning has applied this prophecy to Christ. His death was no accident; it was planned and was the fulfillment of an eternal purpose. A covenant of peace from the days of eternity had been made between the Father and the Son, members of the Godhead. And that covenant concerned the salvation of the human race, if and when such salvation was needed.

When Peter preached to the multitude in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, he declared emphatically that the One whom the Jews and Romans had slain was actually "delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). Paul says He was "delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification" (Rom. 4:25). That is, He rose from the dead that He might become goodness in us, thus making justification possible. Jesus' resurrection gave meaning to all that had happened, and made the cross a triumph, not a defeat. And for all who accept of His grace, life takes on new meaning.

Goth Chief Captured by Girl Slave

Sixteen centuries ago, when Emperor Constantine came to the throne of the Roman Empire, one of the first things he did was to answer a request from a tribe of Goths on the north shore of the Black Sea. The chief told how a Christian girl whom they captured had so witnessed for her Lord that the whole tribe accepted the gospel. Now they wanted a Christian teacher. Could there be a greater symbol of human helplessness than to be a slave of the plundering Goths? But even though they had captured her, she really captured them for Christ. That helpless girl became a mighty power through the grace of God. The same power that raised Christ from the dead was at work in and through that little slave. How many times we have seen that power change lives!

There is the story of Manasseh, the young prince of Judah. He was only 12 years old when his father, the king, died and he became king. While King Hezekiah had been a wonderful example to the nation, his son soon became known as the wickedest king that ever ruled.

He was a murdere—the shed much innocent blood. He turned from the God of his fathers and went into gross idolatry and spirit worship, worse even than the licentious Amorites. He resisted every attempt on the part of good men to halt the spread of evil.

But his reign came to a sudden end when "the captains of the host of the king of Assyria . . . took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon" (2 Chron. 33:11). Although he was a king, he could not escape the consequences of his sin. In a Babylonian dungeon with his feet manacled and his hands in chains he had time to think.

The story does not end there. "When he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed unto him." It had been a long time since Manasseh had done any praying. But now in deep remorse he sought the God he had spurned, and the Lord "heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom" (verses 12, 13).

Of all men Manasseh deserved death. But when he turned to the Lord in earnest, humble confession, the Lord heard him, and the king of Babylon permitted him to return and occupy his throne in Jerusalem. To his credit, when Manasseh reached home, he set to work to undo the results of his folly. "He took away the strange gods," "he repaired the altar of the Lord," and strengthened the defenses of his nation.

Looking at this king from a human standpoint, all could have said, "This wicked, defiant man is hopeless. He has gone too far." But God can turn the most impossible situation into victory. By His grace He can also reach out and save even those who have never known Him and those who seem the most hopeless.

New Yorker Wanders Into Madison Square Garden

I was listening to Dr. Billy Graham preaching at Madison Square Garden in New York a few years ago. He made the story of Manasseh the setting for his message. In dramatic language he related how this young king ended up a prisoner in a dark Babylonian dungeon.

In the top balcony sat a man who had never before attended a meeting like this. He had happened to be walking past Madison Square Garden when he saw the crowds and he followed them inside, thinking it was another prize fight. When he discovered that the admission was free, he was all the more pleased. Unable to find a seat on the main floor, he took the elevator to the top balcony, where an usher showed him to the only seat available. It was right on the front row.

The choir was singing, and after Beverly Shea's magnificent solo the evangelist rose to give his message. "I am going to speak tonight about the wickedest man that ever lived," Dr. Graham began. In seconds everyone was gripped, except the man in the front row of the top balcony. He was still not sure what was going on.

After a few minutes he left. When the usher asked if there was anything he could do for him, he said, "No, just let me out of this place. This must be some thing like church. I've never been to church in all my life. I don't belong here." He took the elevator to the Eighth Avenue exit. When he had walked three blocks the traffic lights changed, and he had to wait while the cars swept by. Looking up, he saw those familiar words on the New York traffic signal, "Don't Walk." He had read them many times before, but now the Spirit of God was impressing him.

In his soul he seemed to hear, "Don't walk, don't walk, don't walk." And believe it or not that man turned and went back to Madison Square Garden. He took the elevator to the top floor again and sat in the seat he had left. During the next twenty-five minutes he drank in the mes sage. Dr. Graham emphasized how God in His love heard the prayers of wicked Manasseh who in defiance had led the whole nation astray. God gave him an other chance. "If God could do that for a man as wicked as Manasseh," said the evangelist, "He can do it for you, who ever you are, whatever your background, if you will only give yourself to Him now." Then in his accustomed way he invited those who wanted deliverance to come forward.

The man in the balcony responded. He was one of the first to go forward and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour. Never in his life had he even prayed, but now he was standing there among the seekers. Later in the inquiry room he and hundreds of others were given simple instructions on how to live a Christian life. When he came to that meeting, he was a poor lost soul; when he left, he was a child of God.

How many times we have seen the chains of sin and vice broken by the power of the living God. God forgave Manasseh, and he was again placed on the throne of glory. "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne" (Rev. 3:21). If the Son has made us free we are free indeed.

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Roy Allan Anderson is a former editor of The Ministry magazine.

November 1976

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