On Death & Discipleship

by Hélder Favarin

It was meant to be a happy family day. It ended up being an unforgettably tragic one.

Years ago, some of my wife Ana’s relatives decided to spend a day together having fun by a river in southern Brazil. They were playing, enjoying some traditional food, relaxing, talking, and laughing. One of Ana’s cousins was having fun with her baby girl in the calm waters of the river.

To everyone’s surprise and shock, a strong current carried them both away. Ana’s cousin held her daughter in her arms and fought against the strength of the river. For some time, she wasn’t able to resist it or give the baby to one of the many family members running desperately by the riverside trying to reach to them. Finally, using every drop of energy she had, Ana’s cousin held firm and managed to give her baby to someone. Sadly, right after this heroic act, she passed away. Her heart couldn’t sustain the superhuman effort. She gave her own life to save her little daughter.

This heart-breaking story inevitably reminds me of the central episode in Jesus’ life. An honest reading of His reliable biographies (the four Gospels) demonstrates Jesus’ awareness of His coming death on the cross. Jesus explicitly stated He was giving His life for others. On one occasion, He said that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus was more than a martyr who died for the cause He lived for. His life was indeed taken; at the same time, He had chosen to give it. His life was cut short; at the same time, it ended when He had planned it to.

He was tortured on the cross; at the same time, He decided to suffer. He was laughed at; at the same time, He made countless people smile. He was killed alone; at the same time, He was saving countless people.

They thought His story was over; at the same time, He was writing history. They believed it was over, but He rose again on the third day.

We will never understand the life of the most influential person in history unless we understand His mission. And we’ll never understand His mission unless we understand the intentionality and expressed purpose of His death. Jesus, as He Himself announced, died to save us.

In 1941, during World War II, three prisoners escaped from Auschwitz, one of the horrific concentration camps in Poland. As a result, the Nazis brought a list of ten men who would starve to death as a punishment. When the name Franciszek Gajowniczek was read from the list, he cried out desperately: “My wife! My children!” He knew his pleading was in vain and the Nazis would have no mercy.

However, the unexpected happened. Another man, a Catholic priest named Maximilian Kolbe, stood up and basically said, “I don’t have a wife or children; I’m willing to die in his place.” The Nazis consented, pleased to see ten men dying no matter whom. Some time later, the war ended. Gajowniczek survived and was able to be reunited with his wife, although unfortunately, their sons had been killed. Gajowniczek died in 1995 at the age of 94, 53 years after having his life spared by Kolbe.

A very talented and joyful young lady is alive today because one day her mom died to save her. Gajowniczek survived because one day Kolbe died to save him. I’m confident that I’ll be alive for eternity because one day Jesus died and rose again to save me.

May the substitutionary death of Jesus, our Lord and saviour fill us with gratitude, adoration, and passion for His mission. May we look at his cross and hear his words afresh: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:19).


Hélder Favarin is an evangelist, missionary, and pastor. He’s the founder of 180º Global/Festival 180º and the founding pastor of the church Capítulo 29 in Granada, a prominent university city in southern Spain. He’s a founding leader of RedTimoteo, a pioneer program for young evangelists in Spain and serves as a board member of Mission-Net. He’s part of OC Global Alliance, an interdenominational missionary organization and a member of the young leaders leadership team of the Spanish Evangelical Alliance. Hélder has a Masters degree from the London School of Theology and is currently undergoing a Doctor of Ministry in Preaching at the Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has lived in Brazil, Mexico, England, Scotland, and now in Spain. Hélder is married to Ana and they have four little children.