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A Great Debt! Who Can Pay?


In his Easter sermon, the Rev. Jeff Miller illustrated Jesus’ gift to us with a story he’d read by Harry Allen Ironside, former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago. In the story, a young man, the son of a friend of Czar Nicholas of Russia, had been given a post as paymaster in a border fortress. A gambling problem, though, soon led him to begin taking a few rubles here and there from the money entrusted to him; he didn’t realize how much he’d taken until one day he received word that an official was coming the next day to examine the books. Confronted with the magnitude of his debt and realizing he had no way to set things right, he decided the only way out was to end it, and he readied his service revolver. On his notes, which outlined all he’d taken, all that was missing, he wrote, “A great debt! Who can pay?” To work up his courage to go through with the deed, he began to drink, more and more, but before he could bolster himself up all the way, he passed out.

That same night, Czar Nicholas, dressed as a soldier, happened to be visiting that very fortress––a surprise inspection. Noticing a light on when all should have been dark, he entered the room to find the young man asleep at his desk, and a quick survey––the notes, the alcohol, the gun––told him what had transpired, what had been transpiring for months. Even though he recognized the young man as the son of his friend, his first inclination was to have him arrested immediately. But then he thought of his boyhood, of his friend, and he considered the disgrace the arrest would cause to the family. And he saw the words written at the bottom of the paper: “A great debt! Who can pay?”

Czar Nicholas reached for a pen and wrote a single word on the paper. The next morning, the young man awoke to the sounds of the bugle call and immediately reached for his gun and put it to his temple. But the single, new word written beneath his own message caught his eye: Nicholas. He didn’t pull the trigger.

“And next to that one word was a small sack of gold coins containing the exact amount necessary to balance the account. The debt was paid. The young man was free,” our rector explained. “Well, I want you to understand something: If you are a Christian today, I want you to understand that that is exactly what God has done for you in the person of Jesus Christ. On Good Friday, on the cross, Jesus Christ paid a debt he didn’t owe, because you and I owed a debt we couldn’t pay. And the glory of Easter is that Easter is the seal upon Good Friday. Easter is the assurance that that payment has been received and credited to your account and to mine. You see, it’s one thing  for Jesus to say that he was going to die for the sins of the whole world, but if he had died and that was the end of it, we would have never known if he had really accomplished his goal. But Easter assures us that he has. Easter assures us that the debt is paid in full, credited to your account and mine, we need only receive it by faith.”

Listen to the rector’s Easter sermon in full here. For easy listening on your phone, subscribe to our podcast! Subscription links are available at


Easter Flowers 2019– Image 1 of 9