Last week I met two sinners.
One was a young woman who has been caught in the consequences of sin. She’s been avoiding me quite a bit, but she needed some paperwork for something else she’s involved in. She stopped by to pick up that paperwork, and as she was there, I asked her, “When can we get together? We need to talk, but I’m not going to do that now. I’m not going to ambush you, and I know you have other plans right now. When can we talk?”
She looked at me blankly. “What do we need to talk about?”
As she had a friend there that I didn’t want to involve in this discussion, I simply answered, “I think you know.”
Again, she answered, “What do we need to talk about?”
After weighing my answer just a moment, I responded, “Sin and grace.”
“I don’t think we need to talk about that.”
She walked away.
I have a feeling I will never see this woman again – at least not any time soon if she has her way. She’s been caught in sin, but she refuses to admit it. I want to give her forgiveness, I want to pour out the mercy of God and the love of her congregation on her, but she has hardened her heart and wants nothing to do with it.
The next day I met with a woman who asked me an odd question. “How do I honor my mother and father?”
I learned at least some of her story. Her father was abusive. Her mother never stood up to him. Both have been dead more than a decade. “I should have done something,” she tells me. “I should have done something to help her. To help her stand. To stand up to my father. I should have done something. So how do I honor them now when I never honored them then?”
We circled the issue a few times as I continued to gather more information and find out where she was. This woman, while not a member of my congregation, is a Christian who loves Jesus. She knows him, and I have seen her express that love.
I told her, “Imagine that you’re on top of a hill. There in front of you is a cross. It’s big. It’s made of rough wood. And there are thousands of nails in it. Every single nail has a piece of red paper on it – like someone took a book of construction paper and nailed it into the wood, one little torn piece at a time. You reach out and take one of the strips of paper and feel the texture under your fingers. It’s like the construction paper you always gave your kids. Good, heavy paper. And as you turn it over, you read, ‘The time that I…’ and there’s one of the times that you should have stood up for your mother. You take another strip, and it starts, ‘The time that I…’ A third. And this one lists an occasion you can’t even remember. Every single one of those pieces of paper has one of your sins on it. Every little thing you feel guilty of, and everything that you don’t feel guilty of that’s a sin. When Jesus died, he took all your sins and nailed them to the cross. They’re not yours anymore. He took them away. And so, as a servant of Christ, I tell you: I forgive you all your sins, those that you’re feeling guilty for and those that you’re not.”
We sat on the stairs of her front porch, and she cried. I sat beside her. I told her again that she was forgiven. She continued to cry. The sun shone down on us. Down the street, some men talked loudly. Here, she cried.
“Thank you,” she said.
And so two different sinners, both in desperate need for forgiveness, react to Jesus. One walks away, and one cries for joy.
My heart bled so many times this week. As a pastor, you get to see and hear so much hurt. There is more pain in this world than anyone would ever let you believe. There are more tears than anyone would ever be able to wipe away.
There are those who gather their tears and tuck them away. They have no use for tears. They have no use for sadness, unless that sadness can be leveraged to get them something. They have no sorrow over their own actions – at least not that they’d share with anyone. Everything is someone else’s fault, or there’s a good reason they did what they did.
There are those who hide their tears because they’re afraid that someone will take advantage of them. They live in fear.
And there are those to whom Jesus has said, “I will wipe every tear from your eyes. Let them out. You don’t need to hide them. You don’t need to stockpile them. I will not mock you. I know you hurt. I can see your pain. Let that out, and I will wipe your tears away. I will turn your mourning into joy.”
And Jesus has said that to everyone. He says that to the fearful and the vengeful. He makes his offer to you.
This week I saw a woman walk away from Jesus. I saw her leave, and my heart bled for her. I saw a woman rejoice that Jesus would forgive even her, and I saw her tears. My heart bled for her, that she carried that burden for so long. She had no need to carry that.
What’s the difference between the two?
One has hardened her heart. One does not want to admit her sin. She sees no need for sin and grace.
The other has been softened. Her heart of stone has been replaced with a heart of flesh, and not even that was her doing. The Holy Spirit has called her and sanctified her, and now Jesus gets to wipe her tears away.
This week I saw two sinners, and I saw two very different reactions to sin and grace. I am blessed to see Jesus working in amazing ways. Even as my heart bleeds, I give thanks to the God who keeps his promises. His Word still works. It still does not return to him empty. I am blessed to see it work.
It’s amazing that even to a pastor, God is at his most amazing when he keeps his promises. He keeps his promises to sinners… he keeps his promises to me.