THAT TERRIBLE CUP OF GREATNESS
The Example of Greatness
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Even the Son of Man, the representative Israelite who receives power and dominion to rule an everlasting kingdom, did not come to earth to be served. Jesus was raised in a poor family. He never used his office to his own advantage, never experienced the comforts of wealth or the hospitality of his culture. Every heart he influenced was won by sacrificial love.
But his service went even further. This Son of Man became the Suffering Servant who was crushed for our iniquities, scourged for our healing, numbered among the transgressors, and bore the sin of many as a guilt offering (53:12). And the result: “The one dies, the many find their lives ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven'” (D. A. Carson). Because of that, Jesus has been exalted. He has received power, dominion and glory forever and ever, amen.
Can You Drink this Cup?
Do you want to be great? Do you want to have a significant life and influence others? Then you must drink this cup. A glance at church history makes it obvious that this is the only way to greatness. Whenever God raised up a new prophetic voice to carry the gospel into new territory or bring renewal to a dead church it has always been accompanied by suffering, sorrow, and sometimes death. Yet the sweet fragrance of such a life given over to suffering brought about the salvation of the many.
As I reflect on the impact of our many missionaries overseas I am awed by their labors of a love that birthed orphanages and churches in Timor; planted a congregation in the Mafia capital of Italy; established a biblical training center in refugee camps in Ghana; completed a New Testament in far away Capul in the Philippines; gave to the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico a whole new language and way of life in the gospel; started a church in Moldova and made disciples in Romania. Yet anyone who is close to these brothers and sisters knows the deep sorrow they have endured through sickness, poverty, hazards, loneliness, depression, threats and persecution.
Currently I am reading one of most powerful manuscripts of a holy life that I have ever encountered. Several years ago, we commissioned a dear Romanian sister, Ligia Oprean, to translate into English the autobiography of Traian Dorz, the Romanian poet. She has now completed the task and the manuscript will be fully edited in the next few months. However, I could not wait for the final edit, since I’ve been waiting anxiously over the last ten years to read the story of this man’s life. I met Traian Dorz briefly in 1988. He said to me, “You teach about the cross. We live under the cross.” Those words have haunted me for ten years. Reading his biography, I now understand the weight of his words.
Traian Dorz was the disciple of Iosif Trifa, a young priest who poured his whole life into reviving his people with the gospel by publishing Christian literature. He labored incessantly and faced cruel persecution until his premature death. Traian took over the work and shortly thereafter was imprisoned in a cruel hell during different intervals totalling seventeen years, from 1948 into the 1980’s. Six different times all his property was confiscated. Shortly after his first imprisonment, all his works of poetry, children’s books and other writings, twenty years of work, enough to fill an ox cart, were confiscated and burned before his eyes. Over many days in his early imprisonments he was severely beaten. He was forced to live in conditions comparable to Auschwitz.
Yet over the entire duration of this cruel torture, Traian Dorz knew that he was in prison by the hand of God. He knew that his imprisonment was necessary to spread God’s word, and he gave thanks to God. The Securitate could take everything from him but his memory. From memory he began recreating the poetry of his immortal songs. At one point he found a broken shard of glass, and each day he covered it with lime dust and etched out a poem, memorizing each one for thirty days at a time. What an amazing spirit this man possessed! His penetrating gaze could look deep into the eyes of his captors and, like Paul, speak to them of the sweetest salvation. At 70 years of age, broken in body, Traian Dorz was thrown into prison one last time, this time into the darkest pit, filled with gypsy murderers and vile creatures. He said it was like living with the devil himself. Yet he felt that God had sent him there for their salvation. He wrote:
the only way to prove my faith to them and to make a way toward their hearts was to give them the little provision I had: my clothes, my food, my medicines. It was only after seeing this behavior day by day for three months, that they began getting closer to me and listened a little about God…There is no better way to get close to people in order to bring them to God, than the way of sacrificial love. There is a way, if you stay hungry and give them your food; if you can shiver and give them your clothing; if you can endure pain and give them your medicine; if you can remain dirty and give them your soap; if only you can…
Traian Dorz did, and four of those condemned gypsies came to Christ.
Meditating over each page of this manuscript has given me a better vision of Christ who endured such hostility for my sake, and who says to me and to you, “Will you drink this cup?”