2nd April 2018

Letter from the Pastor

‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’

John 15:13

I suspect that a couple of weeks ago the name ‘Arnaud Bertrame’ would have been completely unknown to us all. However, events which took place in the southern French town of Trèbes last week have brought his name into international renown. As a mad man entered a local supermarket, killing 2, then taking a number of hostages, after releasing all but one – a lady, M. Bertrame, an officer of the law, volunteered to swap places with the remaining hostage. He then lost his life, as the crazed killer turned on him instead of the woman just released.
What many do not know, it is reported that Arnaud Bertrame had recently become a Christian – and so having nothing to fear from death, he carried out this act of great sacrifice – laying his life down for the saving of this lady. He died in her place.
As we come to think about the Easter story at this time of the year – particularly the solemn events of that first Good Friday – we can say that the act of M. Bertrame was one which in a number of respects had parallels with the greatest sacrifice of all – that made by his Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The lady was facing danger that day, – even death; but were we not also facing peril – of a far greater kind? The deadly danger of our sins and guilt, which, should we die without receiving pardon for them, will see us coming to the terrible death the Bible speaks of – the second death – that of eternal Hell. However, things were different in one way: the hostage did not deserve to be in that danger that day, but we were facing a danger deserved – one which comes to guilty lawbreakers – facing a just punishment for their sins. But then, like M. Bertrame coming to save that lady, One came to be our substitute, to take our place, to take our danger upon Himself. One who also would die for others, that they might go free and live.
This is the essence of the Good Friday message. As we look upon the Lord Jesus dying on the cruel cross of Calvary, have you ever wondered why He did this? What it was all about? Well, this is what the Lord Jesus Christ is accomplishing upon the cross; this is why He suffered and died: He was taking the place of sinners. Where they deserved to die, being held hostage by their sins, He stepped in. He took their sins and the death deserved for our guilt. And this He did out of His wonderful love to us, as the verse above tells us: ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’.
How sad it is that so much commercialism crowds out and obscures this simple yet vital Easter message – the good news of the Gospel. What a far cry that cruel cross was, on which the Prince of glory died, from the multiple chocolate eggs, chicks and bunny rabbits which have come to fill the shelves of our shops at this time of the year, as well as filling the minds of most.
But we can also draw out one more key difference between the sacrifice of Arnaud Bertrame and that of the Lord Jesus upon the cross of Calvary. If indeed M. Bertrame was a Christian, his soul will now be safe and happy, and will be at peace with God in heaven – his body, however, after receiving the honour of a state funeral, was laid to rest – dead and buried. The Lord Jesus’ body was also laid to rest, not without honour, by a rich man, Joseph of Arimathaea, who laid the dead Lord Jesus in his own tomb. But that was not the end of the story, for on the third day, that first Easter morn, He rose from the dead! Death could not hold Him the sinless One!
How wonderful it is that we, as Christians, follow, serve and worship a living Lord Jesus Christ! There are many religions in the world which have multiple teachings and practices; and Christianity has these also. But in this it is unique: all those who gave those teachings and writings in days gone by in those other ‘faiths’ are dead and buried, long ago; in many cases you could visit the tombs where they were laid. But with the Gospel this is not so! The Author and Finisher of our faith is alive. He says as much Himself: ‘I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore’ (Rev. 1:18). And so the Christian truth has this unique and precious element: a risen, living Saviour with whom we may enter into relation. It has been said by one of old that Christians do not have a dead religion so much as a living relationship. There is much truth in this.
I pray this Easter time you may come to meet Him… to know Him… to worship Him – the risen Lord Jesus Christ – through believing His loving work upon the cross, taking the place of sinners, and then believing in His glorious resurrection.

Pastor Paul Ackerley