The love of the Lord Jesus Christ in dying for us may be illustrated by the following story as told by Harry Ironside. Many years ago, Czar Nicholas I of Russia knew a young man for whom he cared a great deal. He was the son of a good friend of his. Because of his interest in this young man, Nicholas had him assigned to a border fortress of the Russian army and caused him to be given charge of the money used for paying the soldiers.

The young man started well. But he fell into bad habits, took to gambling, and eventually gambled away not only his own wealth but also a great fortune taken from government funds. He had taken just a few rubles at a time, but these had mounted up and become prodigious.

One day he received notice that on the following day an official would be coming to inspect the books. The young man knew he was in trouble. So he took out the records to find out how great his debt was. He totaled the amount. Then he went to the safe, took out his own small amount of money, and counted it carefully. He subtracted the lesser from the greater. The debt was astronomical.

As he sat looking at the final figure, the young officer picked up his pen and wrote in large letters, “A great debt; who can pay?” Then, because he did not see how he could face the terrible dishonor the next day held, he determined to kill himself with his revolver at the stroke of twelve.

The night was warm and drowsy. So as he waited for the midnight hour, in spite of himself the young man’s head dropped lower and lower and he fell asleep.

It happened that Nicholas, who was in the habit of sometimes putting on the uniform of a common soldier and visiting the troops to see how they were getting on, did so this night, coming around to the halls of the very fortress in which the young officer was sleeping. Most of the lights were out, as they should have been.

But when Nicholas got to the door of this one room he noticed a light shining under it. He knocked. No answer! He tried the latch and opened the door. There was the young officer, whom he recognized, asleep. He saw also the books and the money. The whole thing became clear in a moment. His first thought was to awaken his young friend and place him under arrest. But as he read the young man’s note, his heart went out to him. “A great debt; who can pay?”

Moved by a generous impulse, the Czar leaned over, picked up the pen that had fallen from the hand of the sleeping officer, wrote just one word, and tiptoed out.

For an hour or so the young man slept. Then he suddenly awoke and, seeing that it was long past midnight, reached for the revolver. As he did so his eye caught sight of his note—“A great debt; who can pay?”—and under it the one word that had not been there before: “Nicholas.” He was astonished.

Dropping his gun, he raced to the files where the signature of the Czar was available. He pulled this out and carefully compared it with the signature on his note. It was the real signature. He said to himself, “The Czar has been here tonight and knows all my guilt; yet he has undertaken to pay my debt; I need not die.”

So instead of taking his life, he rested upon the word of Nicholas and was not surprised when, early the next morning, a messenger came from the palace bearing precisely the amount of money needed to satisfy the deficit. Later, when the inspector came, everything was found to be in order.

Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John : An expositional commentary (Pbk. ed.) (1003–1004). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.