Friday, 2 April 2010

The Gospel according to Agatha Christie

 This is the first of an occasional series of writings that will appear in this blog looking at how we find hints or reflections of the gospel message in a wide range of contemporary media. And if you were wondering how this fits into the general theme of God’s provision, which is the main purpose of this blog, well the death and resurrection of Jesus is the greatest act that God has done, and he did it for me. It was through the death and resurrection of Jesus that God was able to provide me with salvation, and many, many other things.

On the top shelf of one of the bookcases in my study, I have the complete works of Agatha Christie. Some of her stories have enthralled and excited me. Others have bored me to tears. But there is one book which carried echoes of the death of Jesus, albeit probably totally unwittingly. Murder on the Orient Express.

Let me just get you up to speed, in case you haven’t read the book. And if you are reading it now, then go finish it before you read on. Here there be spoilers!! You have been warned!!

Hercule Poirot is taking a trip on the Orient Express, which get stuck in a snow drift. No-one can get on the train, and no-one can get off. Very Christie-esque, and, unsurprisingly, there is a murder. A guy called Ratchett is found with a large number of different stab wounds – some deep, some shallow. As the story progresses, we find that more and more people appear to have a motive to kill this man, and the denouement is that they all attacked him, stabbing him with a view to killing him. Towards the end, Poirot declares that they all killed the victim.

Now what does this have to do with the Easter story? Well, the answer to the question ‘Why killed Jesus?’ is a very interesting thing. Was it the Jews? Pontius Pilate? Satan? God?  Us?

Well, historically, the Jews and Pilate played a very significant role. But it was just that – it was a role. God used them to get the result he wanted, which was the crucifixion of Jesus. This wasn’t a cruel act, it was an act of great love.  And God allowed this to happen so that we would have a way to come back to him. The death of Jesus was a sacrificial death, and it was done in order that our sins would be taken away.

Stuart Townend wrote a hymn called ‘How deep that Father’s love’, and it contains this line, ‘It was our sin that held him there’. Our sins, the things we do that let God down, are the things that held Jesus to the cross, and, in a very real sense, we are responsible for the death of Jesus. Just as Poirot declared that everyone was guilty, so does God! Paul writes, in Romans, that ‘all have sinned’, and if we all have sinned, then we all have a part in the method that God uses to deal with this sin. We should be punished, but God laid all the sins that we have committed on Jesus shoulders, and when he died, so did all our sins. We just need to declare that we believe that Jesus truly was the Son of God, and is capable to take away our sins through his death on the cross.

But there is another aspect of the story that it is worth considering. Early in the story, chapter 3, if you want to look it up, Ratchett goes to Poirot, obviously in the belief that Poirot could save him – Ratchett is under the belief that he is going to die.. Poirot would have nothing to do with him, and only gets interested in the case once there is a murder to solve. There are some very close parallels here between this fictional story, and what happened in the hours before Jesus died on the cross.  

Jesus knew that he was going to die. In the hours leading up to his arrest and crucifixion, he prays to God, asking that God would find some other way to achieve what needed to be done. Jesus asks that this ‘cup’ would be taken away, but no matter what happened, Jesus would do God’s will. Jesus knew what this prayer would mean; he knew what his mission was, and he knew what was needed in order to complete this mission. It was this – that he would die so that we could be restored to God. For Jesus, just as for God, it was an act of great love. Jesus could have stopped what happened at any point. He could have called for a legion of angels. He could have just spoken, as the words of Jesus carry great power, but Jesus did nothing.  He went to God, pleaded with God for protection, so that, like Ratchett, he wouldn’t have to die. Poirot didn’t act to stop Ratchett dying, because he knew who Ratchett was, and what he had done. God didn’t act to stop Jesus dying, because he knew who Jesus was, and what had to be done, so that the terrible problem of sin could be dealt with.

And that is the point of the cross, and the point of Easter. God dealt with sin. Everyone’s sin. Your sin. And the question I want to pose to you is ‘What will you do in response?’

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