That's My Place
The huge clock atop the Tribune Tower in the downtown section of our town, boomingly informed us that it was now 12:30, on this beautiful Lord’s Day, as Ralph Kirkland and I drove by on our way to my home for dinner.
Brother Kirkland was an honored servant of the Lord who had spent over twenty years in His work in the heart of the Middle African bush country. He was home on a brief furlough, and for “old time’s sake” was staying at my home for a time. This morning we had gone down to church for the morning service. The pastor had brought a very lovely message on the blessed Lord Jesus taking our place, in our stead for our sins, on that rugged Cross without the city wall.
“May I ask you how you enjoyed the service this morning, Ralph?” I queried, as we turned the last corner onto the street of home. “I thought that Pastor Williams brought a fine message.”
“Yes, kid., it was a blessed message indeed, but…,” and then he suddenly stopped. I flashed a glance, and found my breath catching with surprise. For the strangest look was spreading itself over his face. It almost seemed like a look of agony!
Then, before I knew it, Kirkland suddenly slumped in his seat. His hands cupped with trembling to receive his head, which had collapsed into them. Then to my stunned ears, there came the sound of heavy weeping. I felt like stopping the car, reaching over, with a word, with an arm around the shoulder, but somehow I didn’t. Somehow I felt that he would tell me the sudden sorrow in his heart.
Home was just before us, on the right. Slowly I parked the car by the curb, and turned off the engine. That sound, coupled with the halt of the car, caused him to look up slowly, then at me. I was right. There was agony written deep in the lines of his face. He looked at me for a long moment, then reached for a handkerchief.
“I just couldn’t help it, Ed,” he said simply. “It – it had to come. The sight of all those people sitting there in church this morning, and the way they were sitting there, it was almost too much. They were all so different from dear Ljambo, back there in the bush country. So different, that – that my heart was almost torn out of me.”
The words just came like that. Agony and memory worked together, and I knew that somehow, somewhere, they fit together, and explained poor Ralph’s fate.
Later that afternoon, when we were alone, he did explain. And I could understand the agony, the tears. I almost felt like weeping myself.
The pastor had brought a blessed message about the Lord. And the people sat there listening, but that was all. It did not seem to affect them. It did not seem to grip their souls. There was no heartfelt “Amen.” There was no sense of tears filming grateful eyes because of what He had done in the marvel of His grace. It was just a sermon for a Sunday morning.
But how different from dear Ljambo back there in the bush country.
He was a native chief, Ralph had explained, of one of the tribes of his station. From the very beginning, he had taken a keen liking to the tall, dark figure, who came to the meeting, squatting on the ground with the others, drinking in the message of life. And when the service was over, Ralph would sit down alongside of him, with patience and with love, relating over and over the love of the Lord for his black heart.
And then that Friday evening he had gone for a short walk in the purple of the African twilight. After a short spell of treading the narrow path that wound through the green heavy bush, he came to a clearing. There was Ljambo, sitting on a rock with a copy of the Gospel of John in his own tongue, which he had given him some weeks before. The native looked up, and there was earnest questioning in those eyes.
Ralph leaned over and looked. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up,” John 3:14, were the words that reflected back. Ljambo’s eyes followed him to the place, and then a long, black finger placed itself beneath the verse. Their eyes met again, and the deepening of that earnest questioning.
Breathing a prayer to the Lord, Ralph explained as sweetly, as simply as he could, the old, old story of Jesus and His love—and Calvary. How long he spoke, he did not know. But he thanked God for the change that ran through those deep eyes. The questioning was slowly dying away, and a new look was there. A look of wonder, of understanding, at last!
And then – then! before he knew it, Ljambo suddenly sprang to his feet. His native head was thrust to the sky. The long arms were thrust upward as well. And then came that deep-throated cry.
“Lord Jesus, come down from that bad Cross! That’s my place up there. You don’t belong up there at all. By all right, that place is all for me!”
Ralph Kirkland told his simple story and I could well understand. “I have often thought of the native chief, and the way in which he put the blessed Gospel truth. It was so wonderfully real to him! Oh, if you could only have been there, had seen the way he leaped to his feet, as the truth broke in upon him at last!” His voice trailed away, and he looked away for a bit. I knew what he was about to say; and what a convicting thing about so many of us!
“That’s – that’s why I had to weep this morning, dear friend. It was such an awful difference,” and then those words that I shall never forget; “what really is wrong with so many of us? Don’t we understand? Don’t we really love the Lord Jesus Christ for what He has done for us?”
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” I Peter 3:18