What To Do When You Don’t Know What to Do: Jesus Died Of A Broken Heart
Ernest T. Campbell tells about an Anglican bishop who was asked to speak at a Christian conference in England. For many weeks he did not respond to the invitation. Finally, in exasperation, the conference director wrote this insistent note: “Please, Bishop, we must know if you are coming. We need to make our plans.” The Bishop wrote back that he was waiting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter, and he would let them know his decision in four weeks. The director quickly fired back this letter: “Bishop, please don’t bother. We are canceling the invitation. Frankly, we are not interested in having anyone speak at our conference who lives four weeks away from the Holy Spirit!”Ernest T. Campbell tells about an Anglican bishop who was asked to speak at a Christian conference in England. For many weeks he did not respond to the invitation. Finally, in exasperation, the conference director wrote this insistent note: “Please, Bishop, we must know if you are coming. We need to make our plans.” The Bishop wrote back that he was waiting on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the matter, and he would let them know his decision in four weeks. The director quickly fired back this letter: “Bishop, please don’t bother. We are canceling the invitation. Frankly, we are not interested in having anyone speak at our conference who lives four weeks away from the Holy Spirit!”Well, I don’t want us living four weeks away from the Holy Spirit either. True commitment to Jesus Christ does not mean living at some distance from the Heavenly Father. Rather, it means a close daily walk with the Lord. When you move through all of the uncertainties which are a part of this life, in a deep-down daily commitment to Jesus Christ, then you will find your life focused and filled with meaning and purpose. You will discover who you are, why you are here, and what you are to do.
We see it so clearly in Jesus Himself. When we study His life carefully, we see His incredible commitment to stay close to His Father and to do the will of His Father. Total commitment. Total dedication. Total consecration. The result? A totally focused and significant life. He knew with certainty why He was here and what He was to do. He came not to claim a crown, but to climb a cross. No throne for Jesus; only a task. No royal mantle for Jesus; only a rigorous ministry. No splendid scepter for Jesus; only a sacrificial service. He came not to grab but to give, not to destroy but to love, not to condemn but to help, not to fight but to heal. He chose to walk not the way of the crown but the way of the cross.
And that’s the spirit in which He calls us to live. The secret to certainty and significance in your life and mine is to choose the way of the cross. But let me try to spell out for you just a bit of what that might mean…
To choose the way of the cross means to take up the cross of Christ-like values.
For most of this century, we in America have been highly “success-oriented”, and we claim Webster’s definition of success: “Success is the attainment of wealth and fame.” But Webster was wrong. Money and fame are not enough. Those who have risen to the top of the heap are sometimes the most miserable. Their success is often a sham, because, you see, there is more to successful living than eating well, dressing right, counting wealth, and wearing crowns. Success was not enough to keep Robert Maxwell from drowning himself in the deep blue sea. Prestige was not enough to keep Vince Foster from ending his life in a national park. Fame was not enough to keep Kurt Cobain from blowing his brains out.
That’s precisely why Jesus introduces us to a refreshingly different understanding of what success is. His startling statement is: “Those among you who would be great or successful, let them be servants.” But what in the world could Jesus mean by that? Successful people aren’t servants; successful people have servants. What is Jesus trying to do? Upset our whole scale of values? That’s right! That’s what He is trying to do. He is giving us a whole new standard for measuring value and success. He is saying to us: “Discipleship is better than dollars; service is better than securities; choosing the way of the cross is better than grasping for crowns.”
There is a true story which comes from the sinking of the Titanic. A frightened woman found her place in a lifeboat and was about to be lowered into the frigid waters of the North Atlantic on that tragic night of April of 1912. The woman suddenly remembered something and asked for permission to return to her stateroom. She was told that she had only three minutes and she could only bring one thing. She rushed back to her room across the decks which already were slanted at a dangerous angle. There she searched for her jewelry box containing all of her diamonds, bracelets, necklaces, and other expensive items. Then suddenly her eyes fell on another box, a box containing a few apples and three small oranges. She could only take one thing back to the lifeboat, and the clock was ticking. Which one should she choose? The jewels or the fruit? The priceless gems or food to save lives on the lifeboat? The crown or the cross? She chose the box of fruit.
Fascinating, isn’t it? An hour earlier, that woman would never have chosen a box of fruit over a box of jewelry. But her life-and-death circumstances gave her a new way of measuring value; a new way of deciding what is important. When we in faith put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, He changes our perspective like that. He gives us new vision, new wisdom, new priorities, new ways of deciding what is really valuable. To choose the way of the cross in life is to build your life on Christ-like values.
And it means to fill your life with Christ-like love.
His name was Chet Bitterman. He was a bright, dedicated young Christian who studies long and hard to become a Wycliffe Bible linguist. He went as a missionary to Colombia in South America, to help translate the Bible into the Indian dialects in that country. But in January, 1981, Chet Bitterman was kidnapped by hostile Colombian rebels. For no reason, they shot him and left his body in a hijacked bus.
Imagine how his parents and loved ones and co-workers must have felt at that senseless death of this devoted young man. But in April of 1982, as a demonstration of Christian love and good will, the churches and civic groups in Chet Bitterman’s hometown, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gave an ambulance to the state of Meta in Colombia where Chet Bitterman had been killed. Chet Bitterman’s parents traveled to Colombia for the final formal presentation of that ambulance. At the ceremony, his mother said: “We serve the Christ who taught us to love unconditionally, so we came to present this ambulance as a symbol of our Christian love and forgiveness. We can do this because Christ has taken the hatred from our hearts.”
Could you and I have done that? Could we forgive like that? Could we love like that? That’s the way of the cross, and to choose the way of the cross in your life means to fill your life with Christ-like love.
And it means to surrender yourself in Christ-like commitment.
And what is Christ-like commitment? You see it on the cross as nowhere else. I don’t know if you have thought about it or not, but one of the most unusual things about Jesus’ death on the cross was that He died so quickly. Some people were known to hang on crosses as long as a day or two or even three, unless they were mercifully put to death by the crucifiers. Yet Jesus died within a few hours. It seems unusual because, given the fact that He worked as a carpenter and lived a strongly disciplined life, we can safely assume that He was robust and healthy. It seems unusual, also, because Jesus’ last word from the cross was a loud cry—clearly, He still had strength at that point. But then, moments later, He was gone. What is it that caused this apparent sudden death when all the indications are that He should have lasted much longer? The answer, I believe, is found in one telling little detail John included in his account of what happened.
Cardiac physicians tell us that it is possible for people to die because their hearts break or rupture. We have a saying: “That person died of a broken heart.” But it is not just a poetic image or a figure of speech. It can be literally true. It is possible in times of profound anguish or grief for a heart to literally rupture under the strain. When that happens, the blood from the heart flows into the pericardial sac. That’s the fluid-filled sac which encloses the heart and allows the heart to beat without friction. The fluid in the pericardial sac is clear. The blood and the fluid do not mix. They remain separate. Now if you were to pierce that sac with a sharp instrument, what would then flow from the pericardial sac would look to anyone witnessing the scene like blood and water.
Now listen to the words John wrote about the cross: “But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. Instead one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” John then swears to the truth of what he just described. Here then is concrete evidence that Jesus died of a broken heart. It was not His arrest, not the beatings He endured, not carrying the heavy cross, not the crown of thorns, not the nails in hands and feet that killed Him. It was not even the moment when they lifted the cross with Him on it and dropped it thuddingly into the hole in the earth so that every nerve in His body must have shrieked in agony. None of those things killed Him. He died quite literally of a broken heart. He held fast to His commitment to the heavenly Father and He kept on loving you and me and all of us until His heart couldn’t take it anymore. I cannot forget that. I think of it every single day of my life. The thought is never without some hold on some corner of my consciousness.
Let me express it like this. Addison Leitch was a great Presbyterian teacher of preachers. Once he told of sitting with his wife at dinner in their home one evening. Through the window, they saw some boys shooting BB guns at birds in the vacant lot next door. Suddenly, one of the BB’s hit the dining room window, shattering it and scattering glass all over Ad Leitch and his wife. Leitch jumped up and headed outside. The boys quickly ran off, but not before Leitch recognized one of them. Leitch was angry and upset, but he didn’t go after the boy he recognized. Instead he had the window fixed and paid for it and continued living his life. One day, he happened to encounter the boy who had fired the gun. The boy’s name was David Jones. Leitch said to him: “You know, David, you need to face up to what you did and say you’re sorry.” At first the boy responded with hostility, but then suddenly he said: “Oh, all right. I admit I did it and I am sorry.” Then Addison Leitch said to him: “That’s the end of it. It’s fixed. It’s paid for. It’s all over. We can be friends.” The boy said: “I don’t want to be your friend.” Leitch said: “Look, it’s over. It’s fixed. It’s paid for. We can be friends.” The boy said: “I don’t want to be your friend.” Leitch said: “It’s over. It’s fixed. It’s paid for. We can be friends.” Still the boy churned out words of rejection. Yet again the good news was given: “It’s all over. It’s fixed. It’s paid for. We can be friends.” Finally, the boy believed it. Finally the boy reached out his hand. And finally they became friends.
That’s the Gospel, my beloved- that God loved us all the way to the cross and died a death there which is the supreme expression of love—He died of a broken heart. And what He says to us in the midst of our troubled and troubling lives is: “It’s alright. It’s over. It’s fixed. It’s paid for. We can be friends.” He broke His heart to say that to you and to me. And when we in response hold out our hand in faith to Him, we discover that He embraces us and all the uncertainty in our lives fades away. You see, when we become friends with God through Jesus Christ, then a new power moves into our lives and we begin to love because we know how much we are loved. That’s what it means to choose the way of the cross in life. It means surrendering to a Christ-like commitment.
Remember, please. On the cross Jesus died of a broken heart. He broke His heart…for you…and for me.