1062) To Save Sinners (part one of two)

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     Mrs. Finney stood on her front yard and watched the undertaker drive off with the dead body of her long time neighbor Fred.  He had been ill the last several weeks, and the hospice nurse said he died in his sleep.  

     “It’s just not fair,” Mrs. Finney said to her neighbors, all gathered to watch the commotion.  “It’s just not fair,” she said again.  “That old Fred was the meanest man I ever knew.  When our kids were small, they could hardly step out of the house without him hollering at them about something.  And you all know how he was always at the city council meetings complaining about one of us neighbors for some little thing or another.  And I can’t prove it, but I am sure he was the one who poisoned our little dog a few years ago.  And the way that man talked– cussing and swearing all the time– I never heard anyone use the Lord’s name in vain like he did.  Of course, he never had any other time for God.  It wasn’t enough that he didn’t believe in God, he had to go out of his way to ridicule and criticize the churches.  I don’t even know why the newspaper kept printing those hateful letters of his.  None of them were ever true.”  

     When Mrs. Finney stopped to take a breath, one of the other ladies standing there said, “So what’s not fair about him being dead?  I would think you would be pleased.  I know I won’t miss him.”

     “Well, haven’t you heard?,” asked Mrs. Finney.  “I heard some TV preacher said something that got to the old scoundrel right at the end, and he asked his nurse to call one of the local ministers to come over.  And sure enough, Fred convinced that preacher that he was an honest to God, born-again believer.  So the preacher baptized him on the spot and promised to give him a Christian burial.  That man never did one decent thing in his whole life, and then, right at the end, he gets saved and off to heaven he goes.”  Mrs. Finney shook her head and said again, “It’s just not fair.”

     The apostle Paul once wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord…  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord Jesus was poured our on me abundantly… (and so) here is a trustworthy saying that deserves our full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.”  That sounds like something Fred could have said– but the words are from the apostle Paul.

     Another story.  Louie had not yet made it to the top of the rap music charts, but he was doing all he could to cultivate the bad boy image that had been the lifestyle of so many of the rappers who were successful.  His songs were about violence and hating cops and using drugs and abusing women and shooting guns into cars; and much of that was how he really lived.

     When Louie was finally arrested and accused of killing his girlfriend, everyone knew he was guilty.  Louie’s tough talk and obnoxious behavior turned the trial into a circus.  But the judge and jury were not impressed by any of it, and a surprised Louie was found guilty.  He was sent to prison for many years, to no one’s regret.  He was a bad influence in the community, and decent folks were glad to see him gone.

     It wasn’t long before Louie was all but forgotten.  In fact, when his name appeared in the newspaper again a few years later, the first paragraph had to remind people of who he was.  Louie wasn’t in the entertainment pages this time, and he wasn’t in the crime report pages, but he was in the human interest section.  What was of interest in the story was not Louie, but the person who had become his most faithful visitor in prison.  All of Louie’s friends had abandoned him and he was never close to his family, so Louie didn’t get many visitors.  But one man had come to see Louie every month since he went to prison.  It was the father of the girl he had murdered.  The father wasn’t seeking any publicity.  In fact, no one even knew about it for years.  But when word did get out, a newspaper reporter came to him for an interview.

     “Why do you do it?,” the reporter asked the father of the murdered girl.  “Why would you want to visit the person who killed your daughter?”

     “Well,” said the father, “I never said I wanted to visit him.  I didn’t want to visit him at all.  But I go to church, and there I hear that Jesus said we should forgive those who have done us wrong, and he said we should pray for our enemies, and he said we should visit those who are in prison.  So I go visit Louie and spend time with him because Jesus said I should.  And I do pray for him, just like Jesus said.  I have to pray for myself, too, so I can forgive Louie, because it isn’t easy.  But Louie has changed since I started seeing him, and he says he’s a different person.  He says he believes in Jesus now, and is sorry about what he did.  I think he is telling the truth, and I think Jesus is probably happy about that.  And if something I do can make Jesus happy, I believe I am doing what I am supposed to be doing on this earth.”

     Fred and Louie were both lost souls, sinners who needed finding and saving.  In Luke 15:7 Jesus said, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  (continued…)

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I Timothy 1:12-16  —  I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.  Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.  The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.  But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

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God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

–Luke 18:13b