As I sat down to eat my lunch at a local fast food restaurant today, I noticed a kind of heavy-set guy sitting directly across from me in the next booth. He had only a small cup of soda, never looked up, wore a baseball cap which covered my view of his face, fiddled with his cell phone and was wearing an Al Capone t-shirt- what significance that had, I’m not sure.
As I ate, I noticed his fairly big forearms. Both were tattooed with large lettering and the ink was worn enough that I knew they weren’t fresh. What got my attention and started me thinking compassionately was what the words said. As I faced him, the left forearm read “vengeance” in 1-inch-plus letters. The right forearm read “retribution.” And just above that word was a large red spider with a fairly big web protruding from under its head, ending in a heavy, linked chain. “Whoa!” I remember thinking. “What’s his story?” I really wanted to talk to him about it and how the incredible love of Jesus could set him free, whatever it was. But, I didn’t have enough time for what would surely not be a short conversation; and that’s assuming he would’ve even wanted or been willing to talk.
After finishing eating and driving to where I needed to be, I couldn’t help but think about what or who had angered him and caused him so much pain that he not only hurt, but continued to hurt. Then, he let it fester and grow to the point that he focused on it so much as to decide to get a tattoo. Then, he endured the physical pain and the time and money it took to get the tattoo(s).
All the while along the way, he could have chosen not to do it. It must have been something so awful, like a betrayal or the taking of a loved one’s life. Now he’s got these very noticeable reminders of an event he probably wishes he could forget. I so wanted to talk to him about the Lord of the universe and how He died to set us free from sin and the consequences associated with it- those who sin against us and those we sin against.
Beyond that, there’s a scripture in Psalm 51:4 that says we sin, actually, not against each other but against God Himself. So, taking this man’s pain and hurt and multiplying it times every person who has ever lived and will live (right now there are 7 billion people on the earth, not to mention all the people who have lived and died before us), can you begin to fathom how much it hurts and offends our holy, perfect and loving Father? Imagine how He feels. Does sin anger Him? Sure. But does He revile us? Does He let this defile Him? Does He vow to take us down? No. No? What does He do? How does He react?
He takes a part of Himself, His only Son Jesus Christ, and sends Him down from His perfect dwelling place to live among all of us sinners- not to condemn us- but to save us (John 3:17). How do we react to this? We reject Him, we put anything and everything before Him (idolatry), we say things like “Oh, my God!”, “G— D—!”, and “for Christ’s sake!”, for example. All of these things are taking the Lord’s name in vain and are serious offenses, from which the Lord promises we will not be held guiltless. We should be ashamed, confess our guilt, accept His FREE gift of eternal life and forgiveness of sins, be overwhelmed with gratitude, and issue a huge and collective sigh of relief that He chose LOVE and self-sacrifice over “vengeance and retribution.”
And He died. That was His purpose. Many of us who haven’t accepted the wonderful and totally undeserving grace of Jesus Christ wonder what our purpose in life is. In Christ’s case, you could say that “He was born to die.” What does that mean? In an oversimplified but very true sense, He was sent here to die (for us). That wasn’t His only purpose, but it was His ultimate one. God is saying, “I love these people, but they have transgressed my laws. They have rejected my ways. They act as if they are God by choosing which ones they want to obey and which ones they don’t. Or worse, they make their own laws which only lead them further astray. I am God. I am Almighty. I am sovereign in all the universe. I am Judge. They are guilty. This deserves death because there are only two eternal outcomes: Life and Death. Any transgression of my laws nullifies life. But, I love them so much! I will send My Son who is perfect to die in their place. That’s the only way to ensure that My JUSTICE and My LOVE can both be satisfied.”
WOW! Can you imagine that? Can you believe that? Yet, vengeance and retribution and any other sins keep us from having that amazing second and last chance. My prayer for that man- and for you- is to let it go. Give it to Jesus. Accept the love. Turn away from sin. Turn to God. Be forgiven. Be set free. Live as a new creation. God Bless you!