I am astonished
at how my perceptions have been influenced by the spirit
of Christ between the ages of 75 and 80. And in my continuing
studies in theology, I'm asking a question today that I've
never asked before. Why has the cross of Jesus become the
chosen symbol of the faith that counts more people as followers
than any other religion in history? As followers of Jesus
Christ we are entering the Easter season, so I want to ask
the question, "How do you interpret the cross?"
People ask me,
"Why do you use the cross for a symbol? It is so negative.
You're so positive, why do you believe in the cross?"
In the brief time we have today, I may not be able to give
you all my answers. I want to give you a direction to one
of three choices.
1) The Choice
of Lenin - the Atheist
The first choice
is what I call the choice of Lenin, the atheist. When Armand
Hammer took me to Russia to meet Gorbachev, I received a
special invitation to visit Lenin's private residence which
is not open to the public. This was a most extraordinary
opportunity for me. My escort was the chief Lenin-ologist,
the number one Lenin author. He had the answers to all of
my questions about Lenin. I immediately asked him, "How
did Lenin become an atheist?" He answered, "Dr.
Schuller, let me begin by showing you Lenin's apartment
where he and his family lived until his death. Follow me."
He led me first to the kitchen where simple white dishes
were displayed on the table. "These were the very same
dishes that Lenin ate from." Then he led me to a little
study where he showed me a phonograph with a record of Beethoven's
music to which Lenin loved to listen. Here Lenin also did
his most personal reading, and the Lenin-ologist said, "Dr.
Schuller, I've been watching you on Hour of Power here in
Moscow and we really respect you so I'm going to give you
a rare privilege. Sit in the chair behind that desk. That's
Lenin's chair. That's where he sat." So I carefully
did. Then he said, "Turn to your right and what do
you see?" I said, "A wall of books." "Yes
and at your eye level, what books do you see? Do you see
a red one?" I said, "Yes." "Pull it
out." I pulled it out; the title was 'Jesus.'"
Shocked, I asked, "Did Lenin read this?" "Yes."
"But then how and why did he become an atheist?"
I asked. He said, "It is very tragic. He even had in
mind to become a priest in the Orthodox Church. As was the
custom, Lenin always wore a cross. But one day in class
the professor holding up a cross, gave a very negative interpretation
of the cross, saying, to be a Christian you have to understand
what the cross means. You have to understand that the cross
means that God wants us all to experience shame and suffering
and have the kind of a death Jesus did. We need to show
that we are totally committed. And Lenin, shocked, reached
for the cross around his neck, jerked it off, threw it down
and said, 'Then I'm never going to wear the cross again.'"
How do you choose
to interpret the cross? The Lenin approach leads to atheism.
2) Choose to
Believe that Jesus Christ was
while being Totally Human
The second choice, wrestles with a big theological question.
Let me share an unforgettable experience. In 1999, I received
a letter from the Grand Mufti in Damascus, Syria. (The Roman
Catholic Church has one Pope as their leader and the Islam
faith has six grand Muftis). Grand Mufti Kuftara was inviting
me to come to preach the sermon on one of their holy days.
That was an unusual invitation. I accepted and I was the
first Christian ever invited to preach a full sermon in
the Mosque in Damascus. I was given the privilege to choose
my own title, and they did not censor it. I visited with
the Grand Mufti Kuftaro for many hours and Mrs. Schuller
and I were his guests at his Ramadan feast.
I found him to
be one of the most powerful spiritual giants I've ever met
in my life, even though he belonged to a different faith.
We discussed at length the main differences that largely
separate the Islam and Christian religion. Then we focused
on the cross. I asked the Grand Mufti Kuftaro, "You
believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin. You believe
in His life and His teachings and you say you believe that
He is going to come again, why aren't you a Christian?"
"Because," he said, "We cannot accept the
cross. That is where we cannot go. And that is the heart
of the Christian believers." I said, "Why can't
you go there?" "Because," he said, "You
teach that Jesus was God, part of the Holy Trinity, Father,
Son and Holy Spirit. But," the Grand Mufti continued,
"We can't buy the fact that He died on a cross. If
Jesus was totally divine, how could He die? You can't kill
That is a very,
very important opinion and a lot of people who are not Muslims
probably agree. Millions of Muslims watch this program every
week and. I want to try to answer the very important question:
How could God die? Jesus died on the cross. If He was totally
God how could that be? I believe that Jesus Christ was God
with a body coming to earth, that makes God real to me.
The Man, Jesus, God in flesh, bones, meat and hair, hammered
with nails to a wooden cross died. But the God Jesus did
not die. I choose to believe Jesus was totally human while
also totally Divine.
3) Choose to
Believe that the Cross Leads to Easter
Why do you believe
in the cross? How do you interpret the cross? I believe
that the cross deserves to be the crown statement of our
faith to the whole world until the end of time. Why? Because
the cross says we are a religion that is honest. We don't
say that if you become a Christian that everything will
always go your way. We don't say that if you become a Christian
you're spared of all hardship, suffering and death. What
we DO say is we can go through our own cross somehow, someway,
but we will recover, we will be resurrected. Easter is coming!
That is the uniqueness of the Christian religion that no
other religion offers. Our leader lived, even though He
lived the most perfect life, He died, He suffered the worst
death, and came back on Easter. That is why the cross has
a power above any other religious symbol ever chosen!
I have a personal
friend whose name I cannot disclose. I must maintain his
secrecy. He came from a foreign country, was given the privilege
to become a citizen of America. And he is so grateful that
when the war broke out in Iraq, he was one of the first
to volunteer. He speaks many languages including Arabic,
so he was assigned to dangerous covert operations. He spent
his first year there, came home, but was asked in Washington
to go back for another tour and he did. He survived many
close calls working alone, even driving his own car. He
was asked to go back for a third tour of duty. Again, he
had some close calls where he probably faced death an average
of four times a day.
of his language skills, he was needed so badly and he went
back for a fourth tour. That was a little over a year ago,
and we had a very small, private dinner party for him. At
the end of the evening I felt very concerned for him, so
before I left the dinner party, I asked, "May I pray
for you?" And he said, "Please." So I put
my hands with open palms on each side of his face and lifted
it up. His eyes were open and he became very quiet as I
prayed, "Dear God, this is Bob Schuller. We know each
other. You know, we've had a lot of conversations back and
forth, God. And You've always been good to me. You've always
answered my prayers. Dear God, this is a special one. Spare
his life from death; bring him home alive." We hugged
and he left.
This past week
he came home and I saw him. He said, "Dr. Schuller,
I can't tell you how that prayer kept me alive this year.
Three times I experienced a miracle.
miracle was when I was sitting on the bench at the entrance
of the American Embassy. I was perfectly safe behind huge
gates. But I saw a car come in and I suddenly felt suspicious
and uneasy. At that very same moment God pushed me off that
bench. I fell to the ground. I didn't plan it. God set it
up. I wasn't on the ground but seconds when that car came
right toward the embassy. Bullets sprayed from sub-machine
guns right over the bench where I had been sitting and into
the building. It was a total miracle that I was spared!
miracle, Dr. Schuller, occurred while I was sitting on my
cot in our barracks when we heard a plane and suddenly through
the wooden roof came an 18 millimeter bomb. It landed inches
from my feet. The tail had hooked on the wood in the roof
and was detached. I froze because I knew this was the end
for me. But it didn't go off. Shocked, we ran out and the
robots dismantled the bomb and then the bomb was carefully
examined by all the engineers. The pin was perfect, in the
right position. The fuel to explode and the spark were also
perfect. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the bomb.
But the question is why didn't it go off? Nobody could figure
that out. The commanding general said, "That is a miracle."
And before I left to come home, not many days ago, he gave
me a plaque, made of a piece of wood from the section of
the roof with the tail of the bomb. The Commanding General
wrote, 'This is the mark of a miracle bomb. It fell inches
from …… (his name). It did not go off.' The
plaque carries the signature of the Commanding General,
followed by the words, "In God we Trust." With
great emotion, my friend said, "Dr. Schuller, that
was my second miracle and I'm alive!
The third miracle
happened when I was captured. While I was a hostage I was
blindfolded, my hands and feet were tied. Lying on the ground,
three enemy guards kicked me repeatedly in my head and in
the sides. They would stamp on my feet and arms. This went
on day after day. Then we were told that a plane was coming
to pick us up that same day, late in the afternoon. A group
was paying five thousand dollars cash for each of us, dead
or alive. But then the guards told us the plans were switched
and the plane was coming that morning. So two guards left
and only one guard was watching us. (We were in pretty bad
shape by this time.)
"Suddenly there was a helicopter circling low over
us and the remaining guard panicked. He thought the Americans
had found us. So, dropping his weapon he ran. The three
of us were now alone. So I immediately shifted my body over
to my hostage friend. With his arms tied behind his back,
he maneuvered himself to be able to remove the blindfold
from me so I could untie myself then we all helped each
other untie our feet to make a fast getaway. Running as
fast as our injuries allowed, we yelled and yelled, "We're
Americans! We're Americans!" But we didn't look like
Americans. We were in bad shape, dirty and unshaven. With
guns drawn, they stopped and made sure we were Americans.
We were free!
thing I knew I was on a plane to Frankfurt, Germany because
of the beatings my head had swelled to almost double its
normal size. I never told anybody, that I had been a hostage.
What a miracle that I survived and I want to thank everyone
who have been praying for me. I'm proud to serve my country.
Our goals are noble and honorable. So, Dr. Schuller, thank
I believe in
God. I believe that in the worst times God will see me through.
I believe in the cross. So I say to all, "Never give
up faith when you have every reason to become an atheist.
No. Keep trusting. Keep believing. The cross the single
most powerful symbol of any religion in history, because
the cross offers us forgiveness of sins! It offers us hope
in the darkest times! The cross is empty! There is an Easter
coming! Hallelujah! Amen."