28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, O LORD my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 1 Kings 8:28
There was a line in the movie Field of Dreams; “They will come. They won’t even know why they are coming, but they will come, by the millions.” The stranger, the foreigner, the broken hearted, the oppressed, and the lost are searching for something. They used to come to church seeking it. They did not always know why they were coming. Not sure what they even hoped to find. Many were seeking a clear conscience and the proclamation of forgiveness; forgiveness for the bad decisions they made on their earthly journey. The broken relationships, the broken promises, the effects, and consequences of their sins. They are seeking someone to, as the movie points out, “ease their pain.” They are seeking something only God can give, forgiveness of their sins and a conscience free from blame, free from guilt, free from pain. They come seeking unconditional love and acceptance and they find that in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul reminds us of his unconditional love for all, “Yet while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
People are turning to God in their spiritual need. A clear conscience is hard to find these days. There is more than enough guilt to go around. While many groups claim to have answers: doctors, politicians and the like, their so-called solutions never work the pain remains. We have to put aside these social theories of causation for societal breakdown, and consider the load of sin and guilt which human hearts carry! Eventually, guilt has its way with people. Alienation from others, and self, and eventually from God.
The conscience speaks and the word of judgment against sin are heard. Even those far from God know that something is wrong!
As Paul writes in Romans, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.”
People will come because the same law that torments our conscience when we sin, also torments the non-believer. The difference is we know about Christ’s forgiveness and they don’t. Our consciences are clear through the bread and the wine, the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. For the non-believer, the promise of forgiveness of their sins continues to torment them day and night. So they will come to find relief, the relief that comes only through God’s forgiveness connected to Christ’s death and resurrection.
So what is special about God’s forgiveness?
First, of all it has been won through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus for sin. It was verified by the empty tomb and the risen Lord. The beauty of the life of Christ is that he had a specific purpose to be the one that carried God’s forgiveness to a sin-soaked world. Human forgiveness may restore relationships. But only God’s forgiveness restores life!
Secondly, God offers this forgiveness to a guilt-ridden world. This is the Gospel proclaimed in our churches and received with thanksgiving. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (1 Cor. 5:19)
Who is this forgiveness for? Jews only? Members of the church only? Outwardly righteous and pious people only? So many people think so. The Gospel is for anyone hurting from sin and calling on God through the power of the Holy Spirit. God heals the alienation, he binds up the broken hearted, he eases the pain, and through Jesus Christ no one turning to Him is denied. As the Scripture says, “He is a light to the Gentiles, and for the glory to your people Israel”, we, like Solomon, pray, “O Lord, forgive.” And you know the neat thing is for Jesus’ sake, God does just that. Amen