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River Kwai – Holy Week Devotional Day 1

River Kwai – Holy Week Devotional Day 1

Dan Shields
Bridget Over River Kwai Devotional

The crowd of wearied downtrodden men gathered behind the crooked bamboo fence, brimming over with all the sorrow, shock, and indignation a human soul could hold. They had just watched their friend and comrade of these past years endure the unendurable for a crime he did not commit, the innocent perishing for the guilty.  Pierced through the hands and feet with the heavy railroad spikes they knew as instruments of their own torture; their friend was lifted up on the heavy cross for all to see.  Abject power forcing its cruel will on the powerless, a stern warning that utter obedience was all that would be tolerated, and breaching this merciless and capricious law meant severe punishment or death.

1945, Kwai Valley

Bridge Over River KwaiThe year was 1945, and the place was the Kwai Valley in Burma, made famous by the classic movie Bridge Over the River Kwai.  This was just one of the thousands of terrible stories that could be told by prisoners of those awful camps.

These prisoners were part of the British Expeditionary Forces in the Far East.  As the Imperial Japanese Army rolled mercilessly toward the West, these men were captured, tortured, starved, and forced into such brutal slave labor as the world has rarely seen.  80,000 of these strong young men would eventually die of starvation, disease, or abuse.

Build a Railway

They were charged to build a railway through the Burmese Jungle, through swamps and cruel river valleys to prepare a way for the Japanese invasion of India.  Often naked except for a loincloth, stung by insects, bitten by malaria causing mosquitos, fed starvation rations, feet and hands blistered and bleeding from the brutal work under the 110-degree sun, nearly 400 of these once healthy battle-hardened soldiers would die for each mile of this terrible passageway of death they built.

But in the midst of this utter hell, 24-year-old Captain Ernest Gordon was witnessing a revelation of a type of substitutionary atonement that he had been taught of in bible studies, but now saw acted out in its vivid cruelty with his own eyes.

He was watching his friend and mentor, Dusty Miller, pay the ultimate price to save one of his friends.  Dusty was a farmer in his civilian life but was caught up in the wheels of global war and was propelled to his destiny in the prison camps of Burma.  Gordon had met him when he himself was lying dying in the death ward of the camp, a place where many went in, and few came out.

Dusty came to visit his dying comrades there.  And though he didn’t know Gordon personally, he fed him from some of his own starvation rations, cleaned his putrid ulcers, and massaged his atrophied muscles to help the blood flow and maybe bring life from death.  Or at least comfort and love for the journey to the other side.

Sacrificing for Another

But miraculously, Gordon somehow pulled through.  And in a camp, where cruelty was law and one only looked out for his own interests, he wanted to know why this man sacrificed himself for a man he didn’t know.  He came to hear about Dusty’s faith, and a God Who not only knew him, but loved him and wanted a relationship with him.

But that scalding torturous afternoon Gordon was watching his friend die, not for his own indiscretion.  One of his fellow soldiers had tried to escape and was caught.  He was brought before all the men and severely beaten.  But the sentence was death.  And they all watched as he was forced to bow his head before the executioner as the razor-sharp steel of the Katana blade glistened above the soldier’s head.  At that moment the unthinkable happened.   Dusty calmly walked forward and whispered in the commander’s ear. Incredulously, the men’s eyes opened wide, and their jaws dropped, prisoners and captors alike. No one talked to the commander.  Suddenly the Japanese commandant barked out an order stop to the execution, to the shock and relief of all the men.  But then the unthinkable happened.  They ripped the clothes off the calm interceder and dragged Dusty to a nearby railroad tie.  There they watched his hands get nailed with railroad spikes to the rough wood to be crucified like his Lord.  He was lifted up before all his friends and tormentors, to die a death he didn’t deserve.

Dusty gave His life for the guilty life of another.  He lived the way of the cross, the sacrifice of one for another.

2000 years ago in Palestine, there was another innocent man who gave His life in place of a guilty prisoner. It’s ironic that the other prisoner’s name was also Jesus. Jesus Barabbas. Barabbas meant son of the father. So, Pilate held 2 prisoners named Jesus. Both sons of their father.  Jesus the Christ, the only begotten Son of His Father in Heaven. And Jesus Barrabas, the murder, who was the son of his father below, who was also a murderer.

Jesus the Christ went to the cross in place of Jesus Barabbas, who deserved the cross, but walked free that day. But Jesus, the one they called the Christ, was not just sacrificing himself to replace a deserving criminal. He was really going for all of us, because we too all had the same father as Barabbas. Like Jesus Barrabas, and like the prisoners in that awful prison camp, we witness a guilty life being spared by the sacrifice of the innocent in our stead. And we too stand in awe knowing the One Who was righteous and undeserving took our penalty, our transgression, our sin upon Him.  Theologians call it the penal substitutionary atonement.

It says in the Westminster Confession,

‘Christ executes the office of a priest, offering up himself as a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, to reconcile us to God; the death of the righteous redeeming the life of the guilty’.

During Holy Week, we remember the ultimate sacrifice of our Redeemer, who paid a punishment that we deserved, to give a redemption that we did not deserve.  On the cross we witness the Holy Undeserving One giving His life for the unholy and utterly deserving ones. It is only because of who Jesus was that holy justice could be meted out, and that like Dusty Miller, a life was taken that a life might be gained.  Let’s remember our redemption this Holy week and the sacrifice of our savior, Jesus, (Son of the Father).

Philippians 2:6-8 (ESV): Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

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