Grace, and peace to you in the name of our risen Lord and Savior. Amen.
In many Jewish households this weekend they are having a bunch of fun. This year the festival of Purim was on Thursday. Purim is celebrated each year to remember the record of events recorded in the book of Ester in the Bible. That was a time when God worked through humble people, to save the nation of Israel from sure extermination while they were captives in the country of Persia.
For those of you who don’t know that book, it might be a good idea to read it sometime this week. It’s short, maybe ten or a dozen pages, but in those pages is a wonderful account of intrigue, conspiracy and victory for the under-dog. You will fall in love with the beautiful Esther. You will come to hate evil Haman. You will grow to respect the wise Mordecai. The book of Esther as something for everyone.
This festival is remembered through giving to the poor, to care for those who are less fortunate then we are. It is also a time of forgiveness. Jewish tradition, and many Christians do this too, is that a teacher or pastor will sit on a chair. The children will be given masks of the various characters. Then as the book of Esther is read out loud the children act out the scenes as their imagination leads them. The one rule is that every time the name Haman is mentioned everyone must boo and hiss. Haman was a very bad man who tried to use conniving and evil means to wipe out the entire nation of Israel.
Sadly even though Haman was punished and killed for his crimes, he was not the last person to try to exterminate the people through whom God brought salvation for all of us. In far more recent history we remember World War II and the sad events that surround much of that conflict.
It was during World War II that a Jewish man found himself in a Nazi camp. He had been separated from the rest of his family, and he was certain some of them were most probably dead. In fact after the war he discovered that 89 of his relatives had died in those horrible camps.
Well one day a guard pulled this Jewish man away from his work, and took him to the back door of a hospital. They entered a dark room and the man was told to have a seat at the bedside where another man lay. The man in the bed was a wounded German soldier. His name was Karl. With a grady voice he gasped out his confession. He had been sent to the Russian front as part of an S.S. Unit. He had been party to many atrocities directed against the Jews. Although he had seen and done much the great horror that seemed to plague his thoughts was when his unit rounded up all of a community’s Jewish residents, locked them in a large wooden building, and then burned it to the ground around them.
The soldier’s inhuman litany was painful for the Jewish man to hear. Several times he wanted to get up and leave but each time he rose the soldier would ask him to stay. Finally after two long hours of confession for the most horrible acts of contempt for human life, the soldier told the Jewish man why he had been called. The soldier said that the doctors had told him that he was not going to survive his wounds. Before he breathed his last he wanted a clear conscience. That was why he asked to have a Jewish man brought to his bed. Then the soldier said, “I do not want to die with guilt. I don’t know you. I only know that you are a Jew, and I want you to forgive me for all of the Jews that I have killed. Without your forgiveness I cannot die in peace.”
The Jewish man sat in silence. He stared at the face of the dying man saying nothing. He was imagining all of the many faces of those this man had killed. Finally without speaking or uttering a sound the Jewish man got up, walked out, and returned to his work detail, leaving the soldier to die alone.
Years later after he was released, and the war was over, he often wondered if he had done the right thing. This was not just a passing thought but one that troubled his mind often. He really wanted to know if he had done the right thing. He spoke to Jewish rabbis, Christian pastors, secular philosophers and other friends and neighbors. Each time he asked, “Would you have offered forgiveness?” Of the 32 people the man approached seriously on this subject, only six disagreed with him. Only six said that they would have offered the soldier forgiveness as he lay dying there.
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What about you? What would you have done of you were sitting in that chair, next to the soldier, dying in that bed? With your family, many tortured to death, and dumped in unmarked mass graves would you, could you, forgive that man? Many of you are parents and grandparents. If someone had systematically, methodically, and deliberately killed all of your children and grandchildren would you, could you, forgive them if they asked you to?
Perhaps it is possible that you might be a super-saint. A person who think Mother Theresa and Father Damian were “not so bad” people. You might be the kind of person who, no matter what is done to you, remains above their intended pain. You might be that kind of person, but in truth I’ve met very few people who were like that.
Thankfully, what you, or I, would do is not the point of this message. The real point of this message is what God would do, or to quote a well known phrase, “What would Jesus do?” He was innocent of any crime. He committed nothing against anyone. We could probably provide a list of all the times when we’ve been short-changed or cheated; when we’ve not been given what we deserve. We could probably spend a lot of time presenting reasons we believe life is not fair.
The truth is if we were given a part to play in the events I just told you about, your part would have to be the soldier, not the worker. God would be the man escorted to the room to offer forgiveness. The truth is we are the offenders, not the offended; we are the ones who have done the sinning. We are, as far as God is concerned, the criminals. We are not the victims.
Look at humanity’s tract record. God set up a perfect world with perfect everything in it. Forget about pains and problems, sins and shortcomings, hurts and hatreds. They didn’t exist. Adam and Eve had everything, anything they could have wanted. What did they do with that paradise on Earth? They wanted more. With ungrateful hearts they turned away from God’s gift of perfection and they did the one thing that He had asked them not do.
What was God’s response to their destruction and staining of all God’s perfect creation? He promised a Savior who would mend it all back together again, and wash it all clean. Now you would think with God’s promise and forgiveness given to them they would see the error of their ways and start to behave. You might think that but you would be wrong. In the very next generation Scripture records an older brother killing his younger brother. As the years went by humanity became so disgusting, so despicable that God, with the exception of eight people who had remained faithful, decided to start over with the whole human race.
With that fresh and new beginning you might think that people would have learned their lesson. You might think that, but you would be wrong. You can read just how wrong in the pages of the Old Testament. God picked leaders, heroes of faith, to be the recipients of His blessings and promises. Most of those heroes were pretty messed up. Abraham received promises from God and then, to make those promises a reality, Abraham took matters into his own hands. Abraham’s son Isaac stole from his brother; Jacob showed favoritism between his children; his sons sold their brother into slavery. God appointed a leader Moses, to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt, and all the free people could do was moan, complain, and stage a series of petty revolts, and threats to kill Moses.
When God finally brought His people into the promised land they quickly grew ungrateful. God would punish them, they would repent, be forgiven, and then before you could blink twice, they would reject God and return to their ungrateful conduct. God sent kings to rule the people and the kings grew power-crazed. They became murderers, adulterers, and idolaters. God sent prophets, and the people rejected the prophets. Idolatry, blasphemy, murder, incest, hatred, gossip, lies, greed and grabs for power… Those are just some of humanity’s qualities shown to God in response to His unfailing love and salvation. We are the sinners. God is the One who against whom we is sin.
Now, if God was going to be fair about all the things that we’ve done wrong in our thoughts, words and deeds, He would punish us. He would condemn us to the fires of Hell without a second thought. He would throw away the key, and stand up, walk away without regret, without a single glance back over His shoulder, leaving us to die in our guilt. If He was going to give us what we deserve that is just what He would do, but that is not what God did.
In the Old Testament when people sinned God kept promising a Savior who would pay for those sins. God kept His promises. The Bible says it this way:
God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world.1
God, who had been sinned against by every man, woman, and child that has, or ever will live, sent His Son into this world to save every man, woman, and child.
You might think that people would show some appreciation for God keeping His promises. You might think that, but you would be wrong. Read the Gospels of the New Testament and you will see the record of Jesus’ life. Almost every act of His helping is met with hatred. His love is continuously countered with loathing. His miracles are maligned. His divinity is denied. His peace is pushed aside.
In spite of that He kept helping. He kept loving. He kept caring. Jesus said that He had come to seek and save the lost. He did. Jesus said that He had come to give His life as a ransom. He did that too. When He was arrested He did not strike down the guards. When He was unjustly accused, He did not curse His accusers. When He was condemned, He did not rant about life’s unfairness. When He was nailed to the cross, He said, “Father forgive them…” Then when His work was finished, He died…for you.
What would you do if someone had lied about you, spread cruel gossip and maligned your reputation? What would you do if someone spread those same kinds of lies about someone dear to you? How would that make you feel? How would you act?
I can tell you what God did. God allowed His Son to pay the price. God allowed His Son to be unjustly accused. God allowed His Son to be crucified. You couldn’t do that, but God did.
Then to show to the whole world that His gracious gift was not an impossible dream of pixie tales and fairy stories, God raised His Son from the dead. God raised His Son from the dead so that you and I can know, and be sure, that we can be saved. Because Christ has risen all who come to Jesus with Spirit-given faith, all who say, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!” find there is forgiveness, there is hope, there is healing, there is happiness, there is Heaven. God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son.2
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I once heard of a father who was teaching his son to memorize this verse. The father would say, “God so loved the world,” and the little boy would repeat, “God so loved the world.” “That He gave His One and Only Son.” “That He gave His One and Only Son.” Eventually the dad thought his son had the verse down pat. He said it once more and his son, watching his dad say it while he repeated it with him. “God so loved… the world… that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish…” The Dad stopped, waiting for his son to finish.
The boy did, he said, “will not perish, but have everlasting …FUN!” The boy wasn’t far off. Having Jesus, God’s Son, as your Substitute, as your Savior from sin, is the best thing that can ever happen to you. Jesus is the greatest gift you will ever receive.
May that true and lasting message of salvation forever remain in the hearts and minds of we poor sinners. Let us also remember those who are poor around us this Purim season. Especially those who are poor faith. Let us renew our efforts to give to the poor. Especially giving the Gospel message Jesus, and salvation through Him alone.