A Great Debt. Who Can Pay?

Author Greg Koukl Published on 03/22/2013

An illustration showing the great gift we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus. He came to pay a debt that we could not pay.

Harry Ironside used to tell about a young Russian soldier. Because his father was a friend of Czar Nicholas I, the young man had been made paymaster in one of the barracks.

The young man meant well, but his character was not up to his responsibility. He took to gambling and eventually gambled away a great deal of the government's money as well as all of his own.

In due course the young man received notice that a representative of the czar was coming to check accounts, and he knew he was in trouble.

That evening he got out the books and totaled up the funds he owed. Then he went to the safe and got out his own pitifully small amount of money. As he sat and looked at the two he was overwhelmed at the astronomical debt versus his own small change. He was ruined! He knew he would be disgraced.

At last the young soldier determined to take his life. He pulled out his revolver, placed it on the table before him, and wrote a summation of his misdeeds. At the bottom of the ledger where he had totaled up his illegal borrowings, he wrote: “A great debt! Who can pay?” He decided that at the stroke of midnight he would die.

As the evening wore on the young soldier grew drowsy and eventually fell asleep. That night Czar Nicholas I, as was sometimes his custom, made the rounds of the barracks. Seeing a light, he stopped, looked in, and saw the young man asleep. He recognized him immediately and, looking over his shoulder, saw the ledger and realized all that had taken place.

He was about to awaken him and put him under arrest when his eye fastened on the young man’s message: “A great debt! Who can pay?”

Suddenly, with a surge of magnanimity, he reached over, wrote one word at the bottom of the ledger, and slipped out.

When the young man awoke, he glanced at the clock and saw that it was long after midnight. He reached for his revolver to shoot himself. But his eye fell upon the ledger and he saw something that he had not seen before. There beneath his writing: “A great debt! Who can pay?” was written, “Nicholas.”

He was dumbfounded. It was the Czar’s signature. He said to himself, “The czar must have come by when I was asleep. He has seen the book. He knows all. Still he is willing to forgive me.”

The young soldier then rested on the word of the czar, and the next morning a messenger came from the palace with exactly the amount needed to meet the deficit. Only the czar could pay, and the czar did pay.

We compare [God’s righteousness] with our own tawdry performance, and we ask the question: “A great debt to God! Who can pay?” But then the Lord Jesus Christ steps forward and signs His name to our ledger: “Jesus Christ.” Only Jesus can pay, and He did.