They lied. It was four o’clock in the morning in Baga, Nigeria, and, drowsy from sleep, the men in each household were told to get up and follow Boko Haram members outside so that they “could explain everything.” As 14 shaking men followed the terrorists into the brush, they were told to lie on the ground. What they had hoped for– “an explanation,” anything to acknowledge that they were human beings, too– was all for nought.
Instead of words, there were gunshots, fired at point-blank range. Not even getting to hug their own families goodbye, 13 innocent men were shot and killed; one survived only by faking his death. At the time of it’s publishing, the report said that “Boko Haram” committed these depraved crimes, with statements such as “Boko Haram razed the town” and “Boko Haram threw a grenade into his house.” The fact that it’s all under a group name, instead of it being individuals committing the crimes, leads my heart to wonder about the men involved.
The stories of Boko Haram’s activities are truly endless. Bombings, raids, kidnappings; the actions of the Boko Haram are abominable, disgusting, and hard to hear. Reading these reports, one can’t help but wonder: who are these men, really? Under the guise of one morally repulsive name, “Boko Haram,” hundreds– maybe even thousands– of men identify with the radical Islamic group, either by force or for their own benefit. Not only are there men; women and children have been documented working for the Boko Haram (BH) as well, either supporting their husbands and fathers in BH or, like many, being forced to fight after getting kidnapped. Forced to join or not, it is difficult– yet important– to realize that, just as their victims cannot be generalized and forgotten about, the members of Boko Haram are individual men too, with stories themselves. Though it seems we may never be able to understand why, each person who has chosen to walk this incredibly violent path have done so for a reason, and are in desperate need of saving.
There is no sin so sinful that it is unforgivable by Jesus, when we come to Jesus for forgiveness; there is nothing that can separate us from Jesus’ saving Love and power ([1 John 1:9; Romans 8:35-39, NIV]; for information on the “unpardonable sin” concept, click here). Yet, it is only when these men, women and children realize their need for a savior that Jesus will be able to save, change and redeem their lives. We see this very truth in the way Jesus spoke to two very wicked men in Luke 23, as He Himself was dying on the cross next to them:
“Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
…The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’
There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.”
(Luke 23:32-34; 36-38, NIV)
Though this passage is very emotional to read, it is incredibly interesting to study when asking the question of what one must do to be saved. The passage opens up by telling us that Jesus is being crucified next to two criminals; in other translations, they are called thieves, and have apparently been found guilty of such grand theft that society thought they deserved crucifixion. Though these men were not found guilty for murder, as people who take part in Boko Haram activities are guilty of doing, they were most likely seen as the scum of the earth– a perception that is shared by the world today when looking at Boko Haram’s activities.
As the passage of scripture goes on, we see that Jesus interacts with both of these thieves. In verse 39, the first criminal yells at Jesus in his misery, mocking the fact that Jesus calls Himself the Messiah.
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!'”
(Luke 23:39, NIV)
Reflecting on the immense pain that all three men were experiencing together, it is heartbreaking to know that this man, a wretch whose life was coming to a close, decided to use his last breaths to mock the One True Living God. Instead of letting his heart be softened to the Love and conviction of Christ, he hardened his heart with bitter hate towards Jesus, forever letting the violent way he had lived and they ways he had been hurt dictate how he was to spend his afterlife.
In stark contrast, we find the second criminal taking a much different stance towards Jesus’ claim of being the promised Savior of the world:
“But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'”
(Luke 23:40-42, NIV)
This criminal, though suffering the natural, just consequences for his past sin, has a change of heart. It is noted that in Mark 15:32 one can observe that both criminals mock Jesus, whereas in Luke’s gospel, one criminal mocks Jesus while the other repents. Many avid bible scholars have debated the inerracy of these two scriptures, claiming that either one of the accounts has to be wrong. However, there is reason to believe that both can be right, when looking at them side by side: It can be fairly concluded that while both criminals started out mocking Jesus, over time, the second one realized that Jesus was who He said He was and repented, while the first criminal kept on. In light of realizing the truth, the second thief humbled himself before Jesus, and, rebuking his peer, confessed his sin before Christ. With a contrite heart, this man does not ask Jesus to take Him into heaven, but merely asks the Lord to remember Him in paradise. Jesus, seeing this man’s change of heart more deeply than anyone, readily accepts the man into His kingdom with Him as He dies.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’”
(Luke 23:43, NIV)
Though these men were seen as lower than dust and not worth living, Jesus, God-in-Man, innocent of all wrongdoing, chose to humble Himself so that He could speak with each of them. These two criminals, though they had done things seen as unforgivable and unredeemable by society, were still loved and forgiven by Christ, no matter what they had done. In the end, their differing heart attitudes and reactions towards Jesus being the Messiah– NOT their past sin, even sin committed only hours before– was what sealed each of their eternal fates.
In the same way, each living member of the Boko Haram still has a chance to recieve true forgiveness, grace, and redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ. While the people of this world may never forgive them for the unspeakable acts of physical, sexual, and emotional violence they have committed, Christ is willing to forgive them of all their sin, no matter how evil, and offers them a new life filled with Love, joy, peace, and humble service towards others.
Praise Jesus for His great Love. May Boko Haram members recieve His Love into their hearts, allowing it to profoundly and eternally change them from the inside out. For, “all have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NIV)– and only Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, can save all of us from ourselves.
Of course, be praying for the members of the Boko Haram. Pray that Jesus would work and move powerfully around and within the members, convicting them of the truth, of their need for a Savior, and of Christ’s completely perfect fulfillment of that need.
Pray for those whom the Boko Haram has affected, either directly or indirectly. Since 2009, more than 10,000 people have been killed by the Boko Haram, with hundreds of thousands more injured. Pray that the inumerable amount of wounded people would come to know Christ’s forgiveness, and would, in turn, be able to forgive Boko Haram members for the horrendous crimes they’ve committed.
Pray for all those in the Boko Haram’s custody as of this month. Since the insurgency began, hundreds– maybe even thousands– of men, women and children have been abducted by the Boko Haram, including many kidnappings that happened this January. The Chibok School Kidnapping of April 2014 causing the Boko Haram to gain worldwide attention. Pray that these people, believers and nonbelievers alike, would run to Christ during this time and for the comfort, strength, and peace they need. Pray that Jesus would use those abducted by the Boko Haram to bring them to Christ.
Please be praying for those who are trying to defeat the Boko Haram right now. A multinational task force is being created to fight the insurgency; pray that these people would rely on Christ for wisdom, strength, courage, and the skill needed to completely defeat the Boko Haram. Pray that in the midst of their defeat, BH members would be humbled and would come to know Christ as their Savior.
These men, women and children have done savage, grotesque things towards other humans beings, all in the name of Allah. Pray that these people would come to know the One True Living God, Jesus Christ, and in the process, would come to know what true Love really is. Because all of us, no matter what we’ve done, need it.
Do you know Jesus?
All of us can relate to the story found in Luke 23 in one way or another. Whether you are the man who has repented or the man still mocking Jesus, we all have a reaction to who Jesus said He was. Many people can’t bring themselves to believe in Christianity because of theological questions, past hurtful experiences, or purely out of feeling that they do not need their sins “forgiven” by some guy who “claimed to be God.” All of these things are good, legitimate reasons to reject Christianity– but truly, when looking past all questions, debates, and religious opinions, there are only two questions that mattter in the end: Who was Jesus, and what truly happened?
The Problem of Sin
If you are looking for the biblical answer, it starts years before Jesus was ever directly mentioned. In Genesis 1, it describes God making mankind, a “special” creation fashioned in the very image of the Lord (Genesis 1:27, NIV). God made humanity so that we might enjoy perfect, unending communion with Him, while stewarding the earth He created (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 3:8-9, NIV). To make this union authentically Loving, He endowed human beings with free will, giving us the freedom to make our own decisions– even if our decisions led to breaking that communion (Genesis 2:16-17, NIV).
And one day, we did decide to break that union. Eve– the first created female, made to help Adam, man– was told along with Adam not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because in doing so, she would bring death on herself and Adam (Genesis 2:8; 2:15-17, NIV). Yet, decieved by satan as a serpent, Eve gave into the lie that instead of protecting her, God was trying to keep her from goodness (Genesis 3:4-5, NIV). After seeing “that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6, NIV). In doing this, Eve tried to find fulfillment outside of God’s will for her– outside of God himself. Her willful disobedience against God ushered sin and death into the world, and into the lives of all mankind (Romans 5:12, NIV).
We, because of this sin, were eternally seperated from God, unfit to be in perfect communion with Him anymore– this eternal separation is called hell (Isaiah 59:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9, NIV). This separation from God resulted in every type of death imaginable: relationally, emotionally, mentally, physically, and worst of all, spiritually, sin has broken us in unfathomable ways (Romans 6:23, NIV). Throughout the ages, God gave His chosen people, the Israelites, commands and statutes to obey, saying that obedience would result in blessing (Deuteronomy 11). Though they tried to abide perfectly by His laws and precepts, they failed, proving that mankind could do nothing to solve the problem of sin (James 2:10; Galatians 3:10; Romans 3:23, NIV). It would take God Himself coming to save us for the problem of eternal separation from God to be truly, eternally fixed (Romans 5:6, NIV).
Christ, the Solution
This is where Jesus comes in. Born perfect as God-in-Man, Jesus humbled Himself, choosing to pursue us with a relentless love, showing us what true righteousness looked like (Philippians 2:8, NIV). Instead of trying to follow the Law in our own power, Jesus came to die for our sin, and fulfill the Law so that we would no longer have to be under it (Matthew 5:17, NIV). Creating a whole new covenant of grace instead of the Law, Jesus proclaimed that all one must do to enter into eternal, perfect union with God was this: “to believe in the One [God] had sent,” referring to Himself (John 6:29, NIV). Jesus, dying a humilitating, excruciating death on the cross, reconciled us forever to the Father through faith in Him alone (2 Corinthians 5:18, NIV). Though our crucifying Him was unspeakably horrific, it did not keep Jesus in the grave. Three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. In doing this, He proclaimed that His Love and Power were stronger than the sin and shame we had created for ourselves (1 Corinthians 15:4; Romans 4:25; Mark 16:19, NIV).
Whether you believe it or not, Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6, NIV). Nothing we can do– no good works or obedience to the Law of Moses– can save us or reconcile us to the Father (Titus 3:5, NIV). Grace is a gift freely given to us when we simply accept and put our trust in who Jesus said He was, and who He proclaims to be now: the Lord over all, working actively in our hearts and lives by His Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 14:26, NIV).
So, it comes down to a simple question: Do you believe Jesus is who He said He was? If so, that’s amazing! Jesus tells us that if we “declare with [our] mouth[s], “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in [our] heart[s] that God raised him from the dead, [we] will be saved” (Romans 10:9, NIV). To declare with your mouth, feel free to say this simple prayer with me– or say one of your own.
Jesus, I believe that You are who You said You are: I believe that You are the Son of God, God-in-Man, God’s perfect sacrifice for mankind. I believe that you died on the cross for my sin and shame, and rose again, three days later. I have sinned against You in word and deed, Jesus, and I deserve hell, but I pray now that You would forgive me of my sin, enter into my life, and help me by the power of Your Spirit to live for You. I thank You for that, Jesus! Amen.
If you have prayed this prayer with me, I am overjoyed to announce that you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV)! Like the repentant man in Luke 23, you have been forgiven of your sin, and now have a personal, intimate relationship with God Himself through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15, NIV)! In this new life, you will still sin, and you will still have troubles, but Christ promises to enable us by His Spirit to live right lives for Him– and that in Him, we can overcome life’s problems (Ezekiel 36:27; John 16:33, NIV ).
Do you know people who, like the mocking man in Luke 23, still have yet to see who Jesus truly is and what He did? Jesus commands us as believers to share this amazing news with those around us (Matthew 28:19; Psalm 96:3, NIV). Please be praying that the Lord would give you opportunities and the words to say, so that you may share your faith and bring others to know of Christ’s amazing, saving, redeeming love!
If you have more questions on who Jesus is, What He did, or the Holy Spirit, click here.
Be blessed in your walk with Jesus! 🙂