The courage and self-sacrifice of the French gendarme Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame was remarkable. When an armed man took hostages at a supermarket in Trébes, near Carcassonne, Arnaud offered to take the place of a woman hostage whom the gunman was using as a human shield. Within minutes of taking the woman’s place Arnaud had been fatally wounded by the gunman and later died in hospital. The woman whose place he took survived the ordeal. A short time before he died, Arnaud was married in the hospital in a religious ceremony to his beloved Marielle. They had already been married in a civil ceremony but were planning to be married in church in June.
Arnaud grew up in a non-religious family but experienced a genuine conversion in 2008, when he was 33 years old. From that time on he was keen to learn more about God and his Son, Jesus Christ. What he learned about Jesus prepared him for the moment when he offered to take the place of the woman in the supermarket. Arnaud knew that since he had been converted his life belonged to Jesus who said, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
This weekend Christians around the world will be celebrating Easter and remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus. When he died on the Cross Jesus paid the price of our sins. He took our place and suffered the punishment our sins deserve so that we may be forgiven. The joy of knowing Jesus as our Saviour is expressed in a well-known hymn, “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought! My sin, not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O may soul.”
On the third day after he died Jesus was raised from the dead. The women, who went early in the morning to the tomb where Jesus had been buried, were met by two angels who asked them, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” The resurrection of Jesus is the foundation of Christian hope. Arnaud’s death was tragic, but he knew Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. Jesus made a wonderful promise, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.”
Last Sunday Christians around the world remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit. On the last night Jesus was with his disciples he told them that, although he was leaving them to go to the cross, he would send the Holy Spirit to them. He said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper to be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth.” Six weeks later, on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came on the Apostles and they proclaimed the good news of Jesus to a great crowd gathered in Jerusalem. That day 3000 people became followers of Jesus.
The coming of the Holy Spirit transformed the Apostles. After the death of Jesus they were in despair and it seemed extremely unlikely that they would change the world. However, when Jesus rose from the dead and then sent the Holy Spirit the Apostles were wonderfully empowered. Despite constant persecution from religious people and from the Romans, Christianity grew and spread to every part of the Empire.
The power of the Holy Spirit was also seen 1904-05 Revival in Wales, which spread to England, Scotland and North America. It was a time of great social change. The churches were in decline and there was a growing indifference to religion. Through the preaching of men like Evan Roberts the Holy Spirit transformed the lives of many people. It is estimated that in one year more than 100,000 people became Christians and joined the chapels in Wales alone.
The Holy Spirit can change anyone, even those who are totally opposed to Jesus. One young man who was converted during the revival was Conolwyn Pugh. He was making a name for himself as a cornet player, but his family were always at the revival meetings. One night, after a very successful concert, he came home to an empty house. All the family were at the chapel. He was angry and decided to go to the chapel and tell his family and the people what he thought of them. The chapel was packed, but he managed to find a seat. As he listened to the preacher the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sin. He went to the front of the chapel seeking salvation. That night he became a Christian and was a changed man. He became a minister of the Gospel and served in a church in Chicago. Today, all around the world, the Holy Spirit is still changing lives.