Today is “Good Friday” – the day that a carpenter from a little village called Nazareth, in a dusty, out of the way place called Galilee, was crucified in Jerusalem under the authority of the Roman Empire, more than 2,000 years ago.
The carpenter’s name is Jesus. His followers are called Christians. After Jesus was nailed to a Roman cross in Jerusalem, Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire until 313. But then an amazing thing happened – Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire in 380.
Today, millions of people all over the world know, and honor, the name of Jesus. The calendar by which we people of earth organize our lives is based on the date of His birth. Many of the world’s greatest architectural achievements are built to praise Him. Much of the world’s most magnificent art is created to honor Him. Some of the world’s most beautiful music is written to celebrate Him.
Millions of people all over the world emphatically say that Jesus has saved them from drugs, suicide, illness, depression, hopelessness. In the name of Jesus, people have turned away from personal gain to help the homeless, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick.
In the name of Jesus, a Roman Catholic nun and missionary, Mary Teresa Bojaxhiu, from Skopje, Kosovo, known simply as Mother Teresa, gave her life to comfort outcast, dying people in Calcutta, India. In 1950, Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation of more than 4,500 nuns that was active in 133 countries in 2012. The congregation manages orphanages, schools, and homes for people who are dying of leprosy, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS. Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity also run soup kitchens, dispensaries, mobile clinics, children’s services, and family counseling programs. Members take vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, and commit themselves to give “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor.”
A soldier in the Russian Army during the Second World War, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, became a respected philosopher, historian, and writer. Condemned to a labor camp as a political prisoner, he was sentenced to internal exile in the Soviet Union for criticizing Josef Stalin in a private letter. Slowly starving in a Siberian Gulag, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said that the very thought of Jesus was enough for him to keep his sanity.
In Nazi Germany, pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, openly opposed National Socialism. As a young seminary student in New York, he attended the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and became deeply committed to fighting against racial injustice. In Germany, he protected the Jewish people, and was involved in the anti-Nazi underground. His ties to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to overthrow the Nazi regime led to his execution by the Gestapo at the Flossenbürg concentration camp.
At dawn on April 9, 1945, as the Nazi regime was collapsing, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and six other men were stripped naked, and hanged by piano wire over a period of six hours. Their execution occurred just two weeks before soldiers of the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated Flossenbürg. The day of execution was 21 days before Adolf Hitler committed suicide, three weeks before the Soviet Army captured Berlin, and one month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.
The murder of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and those six other men that day (75 years ago, yesterday) was a crime perpetrated at all levels of the Nazi government. Dishonorable men, with a habitual pattern of torturing prisoners, had become used to torturing everyone who dared to challenge their regime. Dietrich Bonhoeffer stressed the idea of imitating Christ, and believed that Christians “had to share in the sufferings of God at the hands of a godless world.”
Jesus said, “Take up your cross, and follow me.” For more than 2,000 years, millions of His followers have done just that.