I was almost a part of a fiery car explosion. Twice.
I was trying to pull into a gas station but the woman driving out of the gas station wasn’t having it. She was too busy talking on her phone to bother with operating the steering wheel in front of her. We managed to avoid a fiery collision but, in my inner road rage, I wanted to create one of my own. I wondered to myself what was wrong with this lady. She was an obvious threat to the community and something had to be done about this.
About a week later a man was pulling into that same gas station. Because he was too busy talking on his phone, he almost hit a lady that was leaving the gas station. This time, I wasn’t near as angry at the man who almost blew up the gas station with his crazy driving.
That’s because I was that man.
The woman that almost hit me was a public nuisance who probably deserved jail time.
But me? Oh, I was just busy, you know, doing the Lord’s work.
She was a terrible sinner. I made a small mistake.
This is a trap of course. It’s so easy to want justice when others sin and mercy when we sin. Sometimes, a little perspective helps.
In 2 Samuel 12, a prophet named Nathan tells a story to David, the king. The story is about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had a lot of flocks and herds and the poor man only had one tiny lamb. The poor man’s lamb played with the kids, ate from the same table and drank from the same cup as the rest of the family. The poor man’s lamb was more than a pet. The Bible says that it was, “like a daughter to him.”
One day the rich man had a guest come by and instead of using one from his own herd he took the poor man’s lamb, killed it and ate it.
David was furious after hearing this story.
“This man deserves to die!”
“The rich man has to pay the poor man back four times.”
“What a selfish jerk.”
Nathan, in perhaps one of the most courageous moments in the entire Bible, gives David a surprising response.
“You are that man.”
Nathan was referring to David’s prior abuse of power where he essentially raped a woman and tried to cover it up by having her husband killed (2 Samuel 11). David had already sentenced himself. If his judgment was true for a man that stole a lamb how much more true was it for a man that raped and murdered? He was the one that deserved to die. He was the one that needed to pay back four times what he took. He was the selfish jerk.
He was the man.
But the story doesn’t end here.
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” And Nathan said to David, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” 2 Samuel 12:13 (ESV)
Later, as was typical for him, David poured his heart out on paper before his God.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” Psalm 51:1 (ESV)
Not, “according to my goodness.” Not “according to the fact that I am, after all, the king of your people.” David had none of that to rely on.
All he had was the steadfast love and abundant mercy of his Lord.
And that was enough.
It’s easy for us to lash out at the sins of the bad driver at the gas station, the crazy liberals on MSNBC and the greedy money makers at the big banks. It’s much harder to look our own sin in the eye. But it’s at this point, the point where we come to grips with the depth of our depravity, that we see that God’s love and mercy goes even deeper.
We never really understand grace until we come to grips with our sin (Psalm 51:3).
And we never see who we really are in Christ until we realize that, because of the cross, our identity is not found in our sins but in the man who took our punishment on himself and made us new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
All of our sins are exposed before a holy God who demands punishment for those sins.
Someone must pay.
The cross is where Jesus said, on behalf of his people, “I am that man.”