Transcript of a Sermon Preached at Morgan County Correctional Facility in Wartburg, TN
Friends, the great equalizer in all of our lives is our desperate need for God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
If someone forgives you a $100 debt, that means they have to cover that debt with $100 of their own money. I want you to keep that in mind as we go along.
We are going to look at three examples in the Bible of people who received God’s forgiveness. Friends, we don’t appreciate the depth of God’s desire for reconciliation with those who have wondered away from Him.
Jesus had set up this parable with other stories about leaving the 99 sheep to find the one who had strayed away and also about a woman who loses a coin and diligently searches all over her house until she finds it. But then comes the finale Family relationships and how they reflect the heart of God.
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32 ESV)
And (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.
This young man basically tells his father “I wish you were dead! I can’t wait for you to die! Give me my inheritance NOW”
It wasn’t just a matter of the father going into his office and cutting a check. He had to go sell a sizeable portion of his land. It would have cost the father much of what he used to make his living. It would have cost him status in the community. But he didn’t care. His devotion to his son was so strong.
Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
Talk about a humiliating job for a young Jewish man to have to take! But it goes even deeper. If he was simply an employee, he would have been given food. The fact that he wanted to eat the pig slop indicates that he wasn’t as much of an employee as he was a slave. But notice the next part
“But when he came to himself, ”
he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’
This is where it all starts. The son recognizes the depth of the evil deed he has done. He realizes that he is totally unworthy to ask anything of his father. Friends, when we get to that point, where are exactly where we need to be for God to reach us!
And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
We see the only time in the Bible that God is seen as running. He runs to greet His Wayward son as he makes his way home. Isn’t that beautiful? And Friends, He will do the same for you!
Next, we’re going to look at God’s grace in the eleventh hour:
The Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Again, we have, a powerful contrast. The one Thief took mocked Jesus and was only concerned about the here and now, challenging Jesus to come down from the cross and take them down too. He wanted the benefits, but not the relationship.
But the other thief, recognizing, maybe for the first time who Jesus was, acknowledges His own guilt and unworthiness. Like the prodigal son, He “came to himself. Friends, that’s where it starts with all of us. When we get our first glimpse of Jesus for who He really is it can be frightening because we see how lost abd sinful we really are. But thank God it doesn’t stop there!
This Thief knew he was guilty and deserved everything that he was getting, but when Jesus saw that heart of Repentance, His response was one of total mercy and forgiveness.
Let me say this before we go on: As I said earlier, God’s grace is still there even at the 11th hour. But don’t ever take that for granted. Friends, seek God while He can be found. You never know what tomorrow will bring, if tomorrow ever comes at all.
As I Now, we are going to see what happens when God’s grace gets hold of one of the most religious men who ever lived. A brilliant rabbi named Saul of Tarsus, who we know now as the Apostle Paul. This is the powerful story of how a murderer went on to become the, second greatest man who ever lived.
Saul of Tarsus Acts 9:1-5, 7-9 ESV
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Notice Jesus said “Why are you persecuting Me?” God takes it personally when you mistreat His kids!
And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
After this, a man named Ananias baptizes Saul and he regains his eyesight. Long story short, God would use this man to write roughly 2/3 of the New Testament and to travel over 10, 000 miles sharing this Good News that had changed his life so deeply.
Paul struggled with the guilt of his actions for the rest of his life, calling himself the least of the apostles because of how he had persecuted the church..In spite of that, he was the one that God used to give us the revelation
“Therefore, if any person is (ingrafted) in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old (previous moral and spiritual condition) has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 Amplified Bible)
In spite of all of the horrible things that Paul had done in the past, he experienced this transformation himself, and every one of you can too! We see this in the last words that we have recorded written by Paul shortly before he laid down His life
2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.
Paul knew the joy of having his sins forgiven and because of that, he could face the end of his life with confidence and hope. And now I’m going to talk about what made that possible.
Remember earlier how I mentioned how forgiving a debt means you have to assume the cost of that debt yourself? That’s exactly what Jesus did when He died on the cross.
Medical Doctor Gerald H. Bradley gives us a look:
This was the most agonizing death man could face…He had to support Himself in order to breathe…the flaming pain caused by the spikes hitting the median nerve in the wrists explodes up His arms, into His brain and down His spine. The spike burning through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet jerks His body erect, then the leg muscles convulse and drive His body downward…beating Him against the cross. Air is sucked in, but cannot be exhaled until the buildup carbon dioxide in the lungs and blood stream stimulates breathing to relieve the cramps. Exhaustion, shock, dehydration and paralysis destroy the victim. The heart is barely able to pump the thick blood as each of His billions of cells die one at a time. Prior to His death in all His agony, Jesus is in full control of His mind. He asks the heavenly Father to “Forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And the dear Lamb of God was sacrificed for you…
At least thirty Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus’ death . The guard thrust his spear into Jesus’ side, and blood and water came out (John 19:34). Medically, this showed that the ultimate cause of death was heart failure due to shock and constriction of the heart by fluid in the sac around the heart. Think about that for a moment: Because of our sins, He literally died of a broken heart.
Friends, the debt of your sin has been paid, it’s up to you to receive that gift. Like the prodigal son, God will come running to greet you with open arms. Like the repentant thief, Jesus will joyfully receive you as one of His own. Like Saul of Tarsus, He will give you a brand new start!