Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What Does it Mean to be "Christlike?"

“Greater Love”
John 15:13 says, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (NRSV). But, what would you call laying down one’s life for one’s enemies? An act like that would certainly rise to the level of being “Christ like!”
Very few people know the name Dirk Willems. But, he is legendary in the annals of Anabaptist martyrology. The year was 1569. The setting was Holland, specifically the town of Leerdam. During his teenage years, Willems rejected his infant baptism and accepted believer’s baptism, was baptized in Rotterdam, and thereby joined himself with the Anabaptists. Anabaptism was illegal in Holland in the late 16th century. And, although it was dangerous to identify oneself with the movement, to be considered one of its sponsors or leaders was an even greater offense. According to the court record of his case, Willems “permitted several persons to be rebaptized in his aforesaid house; all of which is contrary to our holy Christian faith, and to the decrees of his royal majesty, and ought not to be tolerated, but severely punished, for an example to others.”[1] Therefore, Willems was sentenced to death at the stake and was burned alive sometime in May, 1569.
What is so remarkable about this story, however, is what happened before his final capture and execution. It seems that when he was first arrested, he was able to break free from his pursuer and he began to run. He ran out of town and across a field which eventually led him to a frozen pond. The ice was strong enough to support Willems. However, his captor fell through the ice while in pursuit. Hearing the man crying out for help, Willems turned to help the man out of the water. Although he was inclined to allow Willems to go free in return for this good deed, the burgomaster “very sternly called him to consider his oath.”[2] So Willems was apprehended a second time by the man, taken back into town where he stood trial, and was eventually burned at the stake.
How Christ like is that? It is one thing to lay down your life for your friends. But, one who sacrifices one’s life for enemies is clearly living like Jesus. What a testimony!
Lord, help me to be more like Jesus in my dealings with other people. Help me to love those who are not easy to love with the kind of compassion and grace that Jesus had. Help me, through showing this kind of sacrificial love, to be a witness to your grace and life-changing power. Through the power of Christ, Amen.
[1] Thieleman J. van Braght, ed., Martyrs Mirror: The Story of Seventeen Centuries of Christian Martyrdom from the Time of Christ to A.D. 1660, Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001, p. 742.
[2] Ibid., p. 741.

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