I have been offered peace

Christ: Our Peace

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall.  Ephesians 2:14 NAS

“Annie” sat in my back yard in Africa and showed me her scars.  “This is where he hit me with a belt.  This is where he got me with a tree branch.” Sadly, the culture in the country where I served believed a man had every right to keep his wife in line by hitting her.  And his family was welcome to join right in.

“My mother-in-law was the worst,” Annie told me.  “She’d drag me out of the hut and call my husband to come beat me.  She’d get furious if I didn’t help her cook.  Sometimes, she even hit me herself.”

And so, Annie fled her little village to go live with her own mother in the capital city, where I met her. We became fast friends, and after a time, she gave her life to Christ.  Once a week, we’d have a Bible study on my porch.  Annie couldn’t read, so what we really had was a story-telling session.  I’d either tell a Bible story in her language or play one for her on tape, and then I’d ask her all sorts of questions to help her understand and apply those truths to her life.  Week by week, we walked through the life of Christ.

The day we covered the crucifixion, I asked her this question: “Jesus died on the cross saying ‘Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.’ Since we are supposed to be like Jesus, is there anyone you need to forgive?” 

Annie thought a moment.  “Yes,” she said.  “My mother-in-law.  Just a few days ago, she sent a messenger from our village to me to beg my forgiveness, because she is old and ill.  She can no longer cook or even bathe herself, and there is no one to take care of her.  She asked me to come back and do it.”

I sat there with my mouth open.  Really?  Forgive the monster who drug you to your snake husband to have you beaten?  Quite frankly, when I’d asked the question, Annie’s mother-in-law and her husband were the furthest people from my mind.  I despised them.

And yet, I knew the culture.  Old women were cared for by their daughters-in-law.  There were no nursing homes, no state institutions to step in.  Men didn’t fill the role of caregivers, and there are some things a son can’t do for his mother anyway. 

Annie and I sat there in the shade of my porch for several quiet moments.  “I need to go home and do it,” she said.

And she did.  She traveled back to her rural village and moved in with her mother-in-law.  She cooked for her.  She fed her.  She helped her to the outside latrine, and she bathed her – the woman who had made life hell.  Annie’s husband was around, but she didn’t get back together with him. When her task was done with her mother-in-law, she left again.  But for the time she was there, he left her alone. He could not strike this living picture of Christ’s forgiveness.

Annie made this verse come alive for me.  Jesus was truly her “peace,” the peace between herself and her husband’s extended family.  No power on earth except Christ himself could have worked that kind of forgiveness in Annie’s heart.  It was forgiveness of deed – she took action on it.  I still stand amazed.

When Paul wrote this verse, he was talking about Jews and Gentiles, two groups who had been brought together in Christ despite their differences.  He Himself is our peace, able to take down the dividing walls of Jews and Gentiles, husbands and wives, estranged siblings, two co-workers, factions of church members, parents and kids.  With Christ in our lives, we can truly forgive.  We can act on the forgiveness.  We can have peace.

Christ – our peace.

I am forgiven

The Price of Forgiveness

If his gift is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to bring an unblemished male. … He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering so it can be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. Leviticus 1:3,4

Every Friday for about a year, I met under the stars with about six African women to tell Bible stories.  We sat in the shadows of their mud huts often until midnight.  It was the only time they had free after a day full of working in their fields, hauling well water, chopping fire wood, and cooking dinner over open fires.  Those dark hours were quiet – except for the occasional donkey throwing a braying fit – so we were able to weave our way through the Old Testament.

My African partner and I explained the Jewish sacrificial system to them, and we told them about this verse – how, by laying a hand on the sacrificial animal’s head, the sinner’s sin was symbolically transferred to the animal.

Friday after Friday, we worked our way through the Bible until we reached the stories of Jesus.  The women were non-literate, and they had never heard the stories before. I was amazed at the spiritual truth they could mine out of the Biblical passages.  Unschooled does not mean un-smart.  Some of them were enthralled with this Jesus. Some just came to listen out of curiosity.  One, I’ll call her “Jill,” was a skeptic.  She asked wickedly astute questions, but it was obvious she didn’t believe anything we were saying

The full moon bathed the whole group in silvery light the night we told the crucifixion story.  I asked a question: “Why do you think Jesus said, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,’ as he hung on the cross?”

I watched Jill’s face, and I saw the Holy Spirit reveal it to her.  She spoke slowly.  “Because that was the moment that God laid his hand on Jesus’ head and put the sins of the whole world on him.”

Indeed. 

This forgiveness I enjoy?  It came at a terrible price.  Jesus became a sacrifice – a bloody heap of physical suffering. But when uttered those anguished words, he was separated from God himself. Spiritual suffering.  He’d never been separated before.  And why?  Because my sin had just been laid on his head.  It had just rolled off of me and on to him.

He died in my place.

The wages of sin is death.  Death is separation.  Physical death is the separation of the soul from the body. Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.  Jesus endured them both. For me.

So I could be forgiven.

May I never cease to be awed.