It was meant to be a happy family day. It ended up being an unforgettably tragic one.
Years ago, some of my wife Ana’s relatives decided to spend a day together having fun by a river in southern Brazil. They were playing, enjoying some traditional food, relaxing, talking and laughing. One of Ana’s cousins was having fun with her baby girl in the calm waters of the river.
Totally unexpectedly, to everyone’s surprise and shock, a strong current carried them both away. Ana’s cousin held her daughter in her arms and fought against the strength of the river. For some time she wasn’t able to resist it or give the baby to one of the many family members running desperately by the riverside trying to reach to them. Finally, using every drop of energy she had, Ana’s cousin held firm and managed to give her baby to someone. Sadly, right after this heroic act, she passed away. Her heart couldn’t sustain the superhuman effort. She gave her own life to save her little daughter.
Their heart-breaking story inevitably reminds me of the central episode in Jesus’ life. An honest reading of his reliable biographies demonstrates Jesus’ awareness of his coming death on the cross. Jesus explicitly stated he was giving his life for others. On one occasion he said that he “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus was more than a martyr who died for the cause he lived for. His life was indeed taken; at the same time he had chosen to give it. His life was cut short; at the same time it ended when he had planned it to. He was tortured on the cross; at the same time he decided to suffer. He was laughed at; at the same time he made billions smile. He was killed alone; at the same time he was saving countless people. They thought his story was over; at the same time he was writing history. They believed it was over; but he rose again after a few days.
We will never understand the life of the most influential person in history unless we understand his mission. And we’ll never understand his mission unless we understand the intentionality and expressed purpose of his death. Jesus, as he himself announced, died to save us.
In 1941, during World War II, three prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, one of the horrific concentration camps in Poland. As a result, the Nazis brought a list of ten men who would starve to death as a punishment. When the name Franciszek Gajowniczek was read from the list he cried out desperately: “My wife! My children!” He knew his pleading was in vain and the Nazis would have no mercy. However the unexpected happened. Another man, a Catholic priest named Maximilian Kolbe, stood up and basically said: “I don’t have a wife or children; I’m willing to die in his place.” The Nazis consented, pleased to see ten men dying no matter whom. Some time later the war ended. Gajowniczek survived and was able to be reunited with his wife, though sadly their sons had been killed. Gajowniczek died in 1995, at the age of 94, 53 years after having his life spared by Kolbe.
A very talented and joyful young lady is alive today because one day her mom died to save her. Gajowniczek survived because one day Kolbe died to save him. I’m confident I’ll be alive for eternity because one day Jesus died and rose again to save me. And to save you, if you believe.