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. Sadly, that is not the case nearly as much anymore. Those seeking peace and wholeness did not always know why they were coming. Those nomads were not quite sure what they even hoped to find. Some were seeking a clear conscience for their lives were a mess. They had made terrible life choices and were feeling the weight and guilt of those decisions.
Those troubled souls came seeking a kind word, and forgiving heart and whether they totally understood it or not they were seeking a clear and complete wiping of the slate clean. They need forgiveness. Not just a casual “it’s okay, we all make mistakes.” No, they needed the complete and total forgiveness for all the bad decisions they made on their earthly journey. For the pain, their broken relationships, their broken promises, the effects, and consequences of their misdeeds had caused not only on themselves but also on those they cared for so deeply. These millions of lost souls are seeking someone to, as the movie points out, “ease their pain.”
They are seeking something that I can’t provide, but I feel profoundly affected. I can empathize with those who come to the well’s suffering; I can feel how deep the hurt is, it keeps me up at night. It has been a relief the last nearly ten years not being a shepherd of a congregation because then I got relief from that anguish. The last ten years gave me a chance to turn off the pain faucet. But is that a good thing? Paul in Romans 9:1-3 would say no. “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
When I think about the reason, I became a pastor it was because I could not help noticing what Paul described – people walking through life suffering under the weight of past mistakes – and knew I had the words they desperately needed to hear. God puts on the heart of every Christian this awareness of the spiritual condition of others. However, like many things in life we can ignore that so long that we lose the ability to have anguish for those who are suffering. Our mission is to “Ease their Pain.” How do we do that?
By pointing people who are seeking, back to God. God is the one who can give forgiveness of their sins and a conscience free from blame, free from guilt, free from pain. For the millions who 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. The guilty conscience never stops reminding us of just how far we are from perfection. We must 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 sins is 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 particular 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!
Second, God offers this forgiveness to a guilt-ridden world. The message of forgiveness and healing that is spoken in our churches and received with thanksgiving is clearly revealed in Paul’s letter to a young group of believers in Corinth, “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 the Jews only? Is it a “members of the church only” offering? Was it meant only for the ones who have their act together? The holy people? So, many people think so. They believe that the Gospel is exclusive. That somehow the Gospel excludes anyone hurting from sin. To the contrary that is exactly why Jesus came, to call the broken and hurting back to God through the power of Jesus’ death on the cross. God, through Jesus’ sacrifice, heals the alienated, Jesus binds up the broken hearted, He eases the pain of those suffering. And I am not affected by the pain of others; I am blessed to be reminded of how God uses me to point those hurting and seeking to my rescuer, Jesus Christ. In turning to Jesus Christ, you will discover that no one turning to Him is denied. As the Scripture says, “He is a light to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel,” we, like Solomon, pray, “O Lord, forgive.” And you know the neat thing is for Jesus’ sake, God does just that.