by Dick Innes
It was almost 1:00 AM when Dr. Leo Winters, a highly skilled surgeon, received an urgent telephone call from the hospital. A small child had been badly mangled in an accident and without immediate help he had little chance to survive. Dr. Winters was called because he was the most qualified surgeon to help save this child's life.
The doctor took the quickest way to the hospital, which was through a rough neighborhood. When he pulled up at a stop sign he was stunned to find his car door suddenly opened and a man wearing a gray hat and dressed in a dirty gray flannel shirt screaming at him.
"I've got to have your car," the man demanded as he grabbed the doctor and jerked him out of the car.
Winters tried to explain the gravity of the situation, who he was, and that he was rushing to the hospital to save a child's life. But the man paid no attention. The doctor was left standing on the street as the stranger sped off in his car.
It took Winters an hour to find a telephone, call a taxi, and get to the hospital. He was almost breathless when he arrived, only to learn that it was too late. The child had died thirty minutes before.
"His dad got here a few minutes before he died," the nurse informed him. "He is in the chapel. Go see him. He is awfully confused. He couldn't understand why you never came."
Without saying a word the doctor went straight to the chapel where he found a man weeping over the loss of his child. The man was wearing a dirty flannel shirt. A gray hat lay beside him. 1
Another man, George Wilson, arrested for robbing a federal payroll from a train and killing a guard, was judged and sentenced to death. Because there was such a cry against capital punishment at the time, considerable pressure was brought to bear on President Andrew Jackson to grant Wilson a pardon. Eventually the president did but George Wilson refused to accept it.
As this had never happened before, the Supreme Court was asked to rule on whether anyone could refuse a presidential pardon. Chief Justice John Marshall handed down the court's decision. It read: "A pardon is a parchment whose only value must be determined by the receiver of the pardon. It has no value apart from that which the receiver gives to it. George Wilson refused to accept the pardon. We cannot conceive why he would do so, but he has. Therefore, George Wilson must die." 2
Two men. One desperately wanted to save his son and pushed away the only one who could have helped him. The other was sentenced to die for the crime he committed but refused to accept a pardon. He was hung to pay for his crime.
Hard to understand? Yes. But so many react in a similar way when it comes to eternal life which is even harder to under-stand. Some ignore the only one who can save them, God's Son, Jesus Christ who died on the cross to pay the penalty for, and judgment on, all our sins, failures, and wrongdoing to provide a full and free pardon for us. Some put their hope in man-made religion. Others straight out reject God's pardon with no interest in God's plan of salvation. And, unfortunately, great masses believe in God but don't do anything about receiving the pardon he has for them. Some don't realize they need to do this.
Others live by chance thinking that if there is life after death, heaven or hell, somehow if they do enough good things to outweigh the bad things they have done, God will let them into his heaven. But it doesn't work that way. "By grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves," says God's Word, the Bible. And again, "Your salvation is a gift of God. You cannot earn it through good works."3
Because we have all failed and have sinned some more, some lesson it is impossible for us to save ourselves. God is the only one who can do that.
Your salvation is a gift of God. You cannot earn it through good works. Ephesians 2:8-9 (Paraphrase)
There are also those who ignore God's pardon be-cause he seems abstract or far away. If so, it isn't God's doing but because of barriers people erect between themselves and God. If, for example, we don't feel close to a loved one, it's because there's a barrier between us. It can be caused by an unresolved conflict, anger, guilt, hurt, or un-forgiveness. To feel close to this person we need to confess our feelings and resolve the conflict. Otherwise we grow apart or fake it by going through the motions and unhappily settle for a shallow relationship.
It's the same in our relationship to God. It's our unresolved sin, failures, guilt, etc., that separate us from him. As long as these barriers stay unresolved, it may seem that God is far away, that he has abandoned us, or that he is nonexistent. Worse still, if we don't confess our sins and receive God's pardon and forgiveness, the consequences of sin will lead us to what God is warning us against spiritual or eternal death which is eternal separation from God, the source of all life, love, and peace. If we reject or fail to receive his forgiveness and pardon, it is not God who sends us to this hell, we send ourselves there.
God loves each of us so much that he paid the price for all the sins we have ever committed. He did this by giving his own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross in our place two thousand years ago. In so doing he provided a free and complete pardon for us. But the pardon is of no use unless we accept it. And so it is choice, not chance, that determines our destiny not only for this life but also for the life to come. We have three choices:
Like George Wilson we can reject the pardon Christ died to provide for us and pay the penalty for our own sins.
We can fail to do anything about accepting that pardon and again pay the penalty for our sins. Or we can accept God's pardon and with it the gift of eternal life.
It is not enough to believe that God exists or that Jesus died on the cross to save us, the devil believes this! No doubt George Wilson believed the pardon he was offered was real, but that did not save him. Likewise, God's pardon for us is only effective when we accept it. We can do this today by praying to God, acknowledging our need of Jesus, and humbly confessing to him our sinfulness and inviting his Son, Jesus Christ, to come into our life as personal Lord and Savior. If you have never done this, why not do it right now?
1. Reported in Moody Monthly. 2. Adapted from Parables, Etc. 3. Ephesians 2:8-9 (Paraphrase).