Fifty in a Thirty

Good morning from Managua, Nicaragua!

As we continue to journey closer to Easter, I want to continue to ask the questions, “Who is Jesus and why should it matter to me?” When I was around 17 years old, I was a very fast driver. Like many teenagers, I thought the speed limit was more of a suggestion than a restriction. This way of thinking worked great for me until one fateful afternoon when I was driving around with my friends. As usual, I was going about twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. In my “great wisdom” I assumed that there would not be any police on the road. This assumption proved to be quite wrong as I came around a turn and realized I had been caught. As we pulled closer to the police officer, he waved me to the side of the road and asked for my license and registration after which he asked that famous question, “Do you know how fast you were going, young man?” I honestly do not remember what I said, but my guess is I shot low. The police officer than proceeded to tell me that I was going fifty miles per hour in a thirty mile per hour zone and would receive a ticket that included a fine as well as points on my license. He then told me I could go to court to see if the judge would have leniency on me as it was my first ticket.

Returning home that evening, I was scared to tell my parents that I had been pulled over. Thankfully they showed me mercy and did not punish me to the degree I was expecting. However, they did tell me I needed to appear in court and that one of them would be going with me.

On the day of my court case, I dressed nicely so that the judge would know I was not taking the situation lightly. We arrived at the courthouse and waited for my case to be called. In the moments before my case was called, I felt a sense of heaviness, guilt and fear as I sat in my chair wondering what the judge would say. I was definitely guilty and had no real explanation for doing what I did. When I was finally called, I went to the front of the courtroom to enter my plea and receive the judge’s decision. When the judge asked me for my plea, I said, “guilty”, as my parents had suggested, hoping that by acknowledging my guilt the judge would go easier on me. As I waited for the judge’s response, I felt about as anxious as I ever had in my life to that point. Those few seconds felt more like a few hours. Finally, the judge gave his decision – “probation before judgment”. At that moment a wave a relief washed over me. By receiving probation before judgment, the points would come off of my license, which would have had a more long term impact. There were still consequences to my actions, but at that moment I felt “forgiven and free”. Instead of carrying that blemish around with me for years to come, I could put it behind me and begin anew.

This is a feeling with which we are all familiar. We have done something wrong in our lives, but yet received forgiveness from the person or institution we harmed. The problem is we do not always feel “forgiven and free” like I did. Maybe the person forgave us, but we were not able to forgive ourselves. Instead, maybe the person was not willing to forgive us, or not available to do so. Whatever the case may be, we carry around the debt and the heaviness that comes with feeling guilty for years. Many times it just becomes a part of us and we walk with an “emotional limp” for the rest of our lives. What if it did not have to be that way?

In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, he records a story of a man who needed some healing. “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, ‘This fellow is blaspheming!’ Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’ But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralyzed man, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.'” (Matthew 9:1-8, NIV) Jesus knew that the guy needed to be healed from his paralysis, but he also knew the bigger issue was his need to be forgiven.

Many times we read this passage and just think of the eternal consequences of receiving forgiveness from our sins through the death of Jesus Christ so that we can spend eternity in relationship with God. Obviously, this is the biggest issue, but what if there is more? You see, Jesus did not say your sins are forgiven when you die one day and go to heaven, he said your sins are forgiven today. Much like to judge said to me, he told the man that from today on you could unload the debt of your sins and begin to live anew. Jesus recognized that just fixing his legs would not make the man whole. In order to be truly set free, he needed to unload the debt that comes with a lifetime of mistakes. Jesus is the ultimate forgiver. 

Jesus offers the same thing to us. Despite our mistake, we can find true freedom and forgiveness in a relationship with Christ. In my experience, this is the only way to truly feel free from our past. Even when we are forgiven by a person, we many times feel we have offended some great being and will have to carry around that debt for the rest of our lives. The good news is the greater being, God, sent Jesus to erase this very debt and release from our sins. In Christ, we no longer need to carry that “stuff” around. Certainly, we can choose to not receive the forgiveness or act like we have not been forgiven when we have, but that would be much like me driving around pretending to have points on my license when I do not. We have the ability to be forgiven by the ultimate forgiver; the only one who can say, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven.”

This Easter is a great opportunity for you to receive the freedom that comes from this forgiveness. If you are carrying around the burden that comes with a lifetime of mistakes, maybe it is time to seek forgiveness from the Forgiver. That is what he came to do earth to do. The choice is yours.

– James Belt

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