Five hundred years ago there was a group of Christians living in Europe known as the Anabaptists. The Anabaptists were “anti-baptizers,” scorning infant baptism and a heap of other cherished church doctrines. Because of this, and their refusal to join their faith to the ruling civil powers, they were violently persecuted by governments, Catholics, and Protestants alike.
One such persecution broke out in 1569 in Holland, and on a winter day a bailiff was sent to arrest an Anabaptist leader named Dirk Willems. He was charged with peculiar crimes: He had been holding secret religious meetings in his home and had allowed others to be re-baptized there. It was a crime punishable by death, so Dirk ran for his life with the bailiff right on his heels. Willems came to a small ice-covered lake and threw himself across it.
It held his weight as he ran, and he crossed safely to the other side. But the ice did not hold for his pursuer. The bailiff chasing Dirk crashed through the ice into the freezing water. Dirk Willems immediately turned back and rescued the man from the ice. For his kindness Dirk was immediately arrested, and after refusing to renounce his faith, was later burned at the stake.
Willems instinctively, reflexively turned and rescued his enemy, though he knew death would be the price he would pay. Here is the question asked by today’s Anabaptists: “Why did Dirk Willems turn back?” In the words of Joseph Liechty, “It was not a rational choice. It was not an ethical decision. It was an intuitive response. No combination of mental calculations could have carried him back across the ice…The only force strong enough to take Dirk back across the ice was an extraordinary outpouring of love, and the only love I know [like that] is the love taught and lived by Jesus.”
Can we reach a place in our walk with Christ, that when we encounter hate, suffering, injustice, frustration, or tribulation, that our immediate and reflexive response will be Christ responding through us? A place where we don’t have to think about it, we don’t have to plan a response, but supernaturally and instinctively, Jesus comes alive in our hearts?
Dirk Willems acted as he did because he had been so spiritually shaped and formed by the person of Jesus, that his response was the only response he was capable of making.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. His books include “Leaving Religion, Following Jesus” and “The Jesus Tribe.” Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.