My story is a strange one. Indeed, you may not believe it at all, and I’d hardly blame you. But friend, I beg you to take heed. It may mean your very soul.
My name—when I was alive—was Shemuel. I lived in a little town on the Mediterranean coast, with my wife and two daughters. I could tell you the name of my village, and how to get there, but it has long since crumbled to dust. Everyone that I knew there, and all of their descendants—gone, gone, gone.
I was an important man in the village—a rich man. By profession, I was a fig merchant, but you’d never find me in the little village market, selling figs from a pathetic booth. That was work for women and children. I’d sold thousands of figs that way when I was young, but the shrewd use of my thumb on the scale, and the hiding of rotten figs under the plump ones had earned me plenty of profit. By the time I was a young man, I’d bought my own grove, and had hired several people to do the hard work for long, underpaid hours, while I lived in comfort and watched the money roll in.
By virtue of my wealth—and the judicious use of threats and bribes—I became a local magistrate. I was merciless in my post, and thus ensured the downfall of several of my competitors. My wealth and power increased.
Allow me, please, to summarize my wretched life. I beat my poor wife, Susannah, for her failure to bear sons to me. I beat my little daughters when they did not sell enough figs, or for crying at my mistreatment of their mother. I turned my back on the God of my fathers, and broke each commandment many times over.
One afternoon, as I was hearing a dispute over the sale of a diseased donkey, I felt a heaviness and a tightening in my chest. An invisible fist seemed to grip and squeeze my struggling heart. I gasped and cried out—and my life was over.
It will be difficult for me to describe what happened next. My friend, if you think as I did that after your last heartbeat all is silence and sleep, you are wrong. Our language is insufficient to express the horrors of the place where I now found myself. There was fire …torment … utter darkness…constant accusation and guilt …pain … emptiness … burning … burning …burning…
Time did not pass in that place of agony. Nothing ever changed. With what rational thought remained to me, I knew that I would suffer there for eternity.
Then, hours or centuries after I had arrived, I became aware of a great light, and my tormentors—creatures of sulfur and flame—fled in terror.
Out of the light there suddenly appeared my Savior—my Redeemer—my Lord. He spoke my name! He gathered me into His arms and spoke to me—of sinfulness, of mercy and grace, of redemption. He told me that He had paid for my sins, and was now in this place of horror to reconcile me to God.
How grateful I was to Him, my Messiah! And how desperately I wished that He did not have to suffer there for me! I gradually became aware that He was doing a mighty work in that place—that somehow He was saving thousands of tortured souls just as He had saved me. And all the while, He seemed to be giving all of His comfort to me alone.
I believed there could be no greater joy than the peace that I had found. I was content now to stay there forever, having tasted the sweetness of salvation for a time. But then, suddenly the Lord ascended from the flames with a triumphant shout, and we who had come to love Him found ourselves eternally in the holy presence of our Heavenly Father.
I know the whole story now, and with joy I proclaim: Jesus has risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
1 Peter 3:18-19 NIV “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.”
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