I once met a man who said to me, with angry defiance, “God can never forgive me. I killed my wife.” Now what is he saying? He is saying that what he did was evil, that he agrees with God on the evilness of the matter, he agrees with God on the just punishment for what he did. He is saying it is a matter of justice that he should be punished for what he did. If God loved his wife and valued her life, he must be punished for what he did. This is the one thing in this man’s life that needs an answer in order for him to understand the gospel.
He could sit in my church for years and never hear a word I had to say until I could show him how God can meet the challenge of the one thing in his life. Until an application to his current situation in which he is under conviction to the point of understanding the deserved punishment is shown, he will not be open to understanding anything else.
In my lifetime, I have seen only a few things that rise to such a level in our conscience. Acts like adultery or abortion definitely bring this out for many people. That is the one thing that they are hooked on. They do not believe that God can forgive them for what they did to an innocent child just like how this man can never believe that God can justify forgiving him for killing his wife.
From a pastoral viewpoint, pastors need to understand that our silence in the pulpit is heard as additional condemnation. If it is so evil that we can never talk about it, then it is the unspeakable evil. It justifies the sense of condemnation. So what did I say to this man? And what would I encourage you to say to those who are actually feeling the weight of their guilt and shame?
I said to this man, “I agree with you, God can never forgive you. It would take a miracle for God to forgive you.” Now, he was a little bit shocked by my response because he expected me to give him a big argument about how God loves him, so on and so forth. But for the guilty conscience, the beginning point is to agree with them.
The people feel guilty because they are indeed guilty. They are not crazy. Their conscience is not misfiring. It is actually working quite accurately. It is bringing condemnation for things that deserve condemnation. After the shock had worn off, I began to explain to him the cross, not so much as the love of God being exemplified, but the justice of wrath being satisfied on the cross.
I took him to Isaiah 53 in which the emphasis is focused on the wrath of God being poured out on his son Jesus Christ. It is where God justifies his mercy. Let me read a passage from Isaiah 53 for you. “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted” (v. 4-5).
See, that is the cross. It is being smitten by God and afflicted. He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities and some translations even use the word punishment. He was punished for our iniquities. That is why it is called a substitutionary punishment. This is what I began to explain to the man that his miracle is found in trusting Christ who paid for the full punishment that is due.
This is the swing point. This is where everything begins to change because now the justice of God, that once condemned him, starts to defend him. For even in a court of law, we can not condemn people twice for the same crime. So if Christ has paid it all, then God would be unjust to punish us again. That leaves us with the position of simply receiving the miracle of having our conscience cleansed and satisfied in the same way our Heavenly Father is satisfied with Christ’s sacrifice.
Peace with God and being reconciled to him comes from beginning to live a life in which we realize how God’s mercy has formed us into a walking miracle. God’s mercy can change a man who killed his wife into a born again Child of God. This is the message that we need to bring to the world that feels like this is the one thing that they can not get their head around. This world does not see how God can justify it after all the evils they have committed.
Explain the cross as the shedding of Innocent Blood to cover over the shedding of innocent blood and we will begin to help people move from the condemnation of our sin to rejoicing in the mercy and the kindness of God our savior, Jesus Christ. Thank you very much.