by Emily Grooms

CLEVELAND, Ga., (TMCNews)— Imprisoned for his faith, a martyr, and a man who understood the significance of being rescued by Christ: this is how Truett-McConnell College‘s president, Dr. Emir Caner, described Anabaptist martyr, Dirk Willems, in the school’s first chapel service, Aug. 29.

Imprisoned, Willems knew death was certain, so he escaped. The fleeing Anabaptist ran across a frozen pond, but the pursuing guard crashed through the thin ice. He screamed for Willems to help.

Willems pulled his former captor from the water only to be taken back to prison. Willems was soon martyred, burned at the stake.

“He didn’t have to be executed,” Caner said, “he escaped.”

Willems didn’t “live under human standards, he lived by divine standards; and his understanding of God’s word is to love your enemy, even if it means your life,” Caner said. “He rescued the man because he himself had been rescued.”

Caner related the tragic yet heroic account of Willems in a sermon titled “Rescued.”

Preaching from Luke 19.1-10, Caner compared Willems’ ordeal to Zacchaeus, who was rescued by Jesus.

“What would it have been like to be Zacchaeus?” Caner asked. “He was the chief tax collector and not liked by the community; a man who had the authority to strip citizens of money and property. He was a man who understood Jewish law but turned his back on his own people for his own gain.”

If Zacchaeus were here today, he would tell us he was desperate to be loved, Caner said.

Caner stated that Zacchaeus’ desperation reminds us that the depth of God’s love for us is not based on our actions but in God’s character. “If you’ve come in here today thinking you are too wretched to come to the cross or too small to come to God, you think too small of God,” he said. “Your actions are not the basis of God’s love; God’s character is the basis of His love.”

Caner noted Zacchaeus’ plea in Luke 19:4-6, “So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”

Zacchaeus was a “seeker of truth, persistent, and a man who wanted to be known,” Caner said. He desired to know the truth and he knew he didn’t have it, so he climbed the tree in order to see Jesus.

Caner noted that when Jesus called out to Zacchaeus, whose name in Hebrew means “pure, righteous,” Jesus was looking past the dishonest tax collector’s actions and straight into his heart.

“You may not know the answers to life’s questions, but I promise you, like Zacchaeus, you walked in today knowing the pains of life,” said Caner to the students. “May those pains draw you to be persistent and to be a truth catcher,” he added, noting the only way to find the truth is through God’s Word, the Bible.

“When you’re saved, God doesn’t save you so you can work with Him; he saves you to have a relationship with Him,” Caner said.

Zacchaeus is a perfect picture of repentance, Caner stated. “He stood and repented publicly and admitted he was a thief and then retuned all he took.”

In his story, Zacchaeus tells us it’s not about him, but about the one who came to rescue him, Caner noted. “When he was falling deep into the waters, a hand reached out and yanked him out of the depth of sin and rescued him.”

“Maybe you’re the one drowning,” Caner said. “Don’t tell me how bad your sin is or how horrible your life is. Feel the hand of God this morning; He wants you, He loves you. You may feel inadequate, but it’s not about what you did, but what He did on the cross.”



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