An Excerpt from Living the Cross Centered Life
In World War II, Ernest Gordan was a British captive in a Japanese prison camp by the River Kwai in Burma, where the POW’s were forced to build a “railroad of death” for transporting Japanese troops to the battlefront. They were tortured, starved, and worked to the point of exhaustion. Nearly 16,000 died.
Gordan survived the horrors of that experience and wrote about it in a monumental work, Through the Valley of the Kwai, published in 1962 (and later made into the movie To End All Wars). He describes one occasion when, at the end of a workday, the tools were being counted before the prisoners returned to their quarters. A guard declared that a shovel was missing. He began to rant and rave, demanding to know which prisoner had stolen it.
Working himself into a paranoid fury, he ordered whoever was guility to step forward and take his punishment.
No one did.
“All die!” the guard shrieked. “All die!” He cocked his rifle and aimed it at the prisoners.
At that moment, one man stepped forward. Standing at attention he calmly declared, “I did it.”
The Japanese guard at once clubbed the prisoner to death.
As his friends carried away his lifeless body, the shovels in the tool shed were recounted–only to reveal that there was no missing shovel.
Imagine, if you can, the effect upon his fellow prisoners of this man’s substitutionary sacrifice for them. It’s a profound and moving story of sacrifice and heroism. Yet it falls short of being an adequate illustration of the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ–because there is no adequate illustration.
Unlike the situation of those prisoners staring into the cocked and loaded gun of a deranged guard, you and I do not face death from a fellow sinner. What we face is the righteous threat of a furious wrath from a holy God. That is the threat faced by all who have gone astray, by each one who has turned to his own way. In our case, the shovel is missing; there is in fact a great deal more that’s missing. We are indeed guilty of sin and deserving punishment.
But the innocent One, the holy One–God the son–stepped forward to die for the rest of us. On that Cross the Servant suffered for sinners like you and me, because of sinner like you and me–and as the substitute for sinners like you and me.