Between a Rabbi and Two ImamsWednesday, September 21, 2011
It was a wonderful opportunity. I was asked to participate in an open discussion about death and dying from a patient’s perspective. The event was held at a local medical college. It was the first ministry situation I’d ever been in where I’d sat between a rabbi and two imams. My Jewish and Islamic colleagues were all very warm and articulate, but I had an unfair advantage. My advantage had nothing to do with my gifts, ministry experience or skill. My advantage was simply this; I came armed with the gospel. I carried something into the room that no one else had, and as the evening went on the practical, real-life glory of the gospel glistened with greater and greater beauty.
The men on either side of me were gentle and caring. They knew their faith well, but they’d one distinct disadvantage: the only message they brought into the room was the message of the law. The only hope they could give was the hope that somehow, someway, a person could be obedient enough to be accepted into eternity with God. Their message was basically this, you’ve either performed your way into acceptance with God or you haven't. The more they spoke, the more beautiful the the promises and provisions of the gospel looked.
The most significant moment of the evening came when we were asked about what we’d say to a family of someone who had committed suicide. It was at this moment that the gospel shined the brightest. I said, “Suicide doesn’t change the paradigm. Think with me: who of us could lie in our bed during the last hours of our life and look back and say to ourselves that we’ve been as good as a person could be? Wouldn’t we all look back and have regrets about things we’ve chosen, said, and done? None of us is able to commend ourselves to God on the basis of our performance. In this way, the person who’s committed suicide and the person who hasn’t are exactly the same. Both of them are completely dependent on one thing and one thing alone, the forgiveness of a God of grace in order to have any hope for eternity.”
You and I share identity with the hypothetical suicidal man just as we share identity with David, the adulterous and murderous king of Psalm 51. Our only hope is one thing — God’s “steadfast love” and his “abundant mercy” (v. 1). We can’t look to our education, or family, or ministry track record, or our theological knowledge, or our evangelistic zeal, or our faithful obedience. We’ve one hope; it’s the hope to which this ancient psalm of confession looks. Here’s that hope in the words of a wonderful old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All”:
Since nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim,
I’ll wash my garment white
In the blood of Calvary’s lamb.
Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain;
He washed it white as snow.
I said good-bye to the rabbi and the two imams and got in my car to drive home. But I didn’t just drive; I celebrated! In fact, I sang aloud in my car the hymn quoted above. You see, I was very excited as I thought about the evening, not because I’d had such a golden opportunity to speak the gospel, but because by means of God’s grace I'd been included in it!