A few years ago, I had the privilege of being invited to India to teach at a pastor’s conference. I was deeply moved by the experience. I flew into New Delhi where I met up with a team of ministers that had come in to speak at the conference. One of my best friends from seminary at ORU, Jonathan Haward, was leading the team (www.GlobalInfusion.org). Jonathan and I had attended seminary with another student whose father was the founder of a large church planting organization in India called IET, India Evangelical Team (http://www.ietmissions.org). It was this organization under whose auspices we were going to be teaching and ministering while in India.
From Delhi, we flew to another city that I will not disclose. That was followed by an 8 hour jeep ride through jungles on dirt roads to get to the city in which we were hosting the pastors’ conference. This city was not an urban center one might imagine in the U.S., Canada or Western Europe. There was one paved road through the city. Burning barrels and tires lit up the night along side the road. Many of the buildings were ramshackle. They were assembled out of concrete, plywood or a mixture of both, but lacking in finishes standard in 1st world nations.
On a Sunday, before the conference began, our hosts had set up opportunities for us to preach in local congregations. The congregation I spoke in required an additional two to three hours travel by jeep deeper into the jungle. The regional pastor told me that they had never seen a Caucasian person before our team had arrived. In preparation for the service, I sought the Lord for a Rhema word, a fresh spoken word for the congregation. I didn’t want to bring a canned sermon. I wanted something that would meet this village congregation right where they were at.
The Lord gave me a message that I didn’t expect.
Matthew 18 (NIV)-
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Now the traditional use of this parable is to emphasis the necessity of forgiving others so that our own sins will be eligible for the mercy purchased at such a high cost by Christ Jesus on the cross. That was not the message that the Lord gave me for the church that day. The questions that kept resounding in my heart was “Why did you not show the same mercy that was shown to you?” and “What mercy has been shown to you?”
The Church had no building to meet in. The congregation gathered on a dirt floor, under a tarp that was attached to the pastor’s house. There were three walls. One was provided by the pastor’s home, and two provided by canvas. There was no back wall. About 50 people had assembled for the meeting that night. The worship was simple but devout and filled with passion. When the time came to present the message, I came humbly but with assurance that the message I would present was from the Lord.
“What mercy had been shown to you?” I asked the crowd. “Have not men and women surrendered their lives that you would hear the gospel? If not in your life time, have they not in the spiritual generations that have lead to this point, so that you might have a chance to receive the mercy afforded to you by the Cross? Disciples of Christ have died to give you this opportunity. Are you willing to die that others would have that same mercy shown to you? Or will you stand before a God who sacrificed Himself, and have him ask you, ‘Why didn’t you show the same mercy that was shown to you?’ “
During that meeting 10 people gave their lives to the Lord. When I gave the audience the opportunity to commit their lives, even unto death, to share the mercy of our Lord with others, every soul there did so with zeal, including the 10 that had just surrendered themselves to Christ Jesus. Their cry of commitment was vehement and tear soaked. As impassioned and inspiring as this response was, it paled in light of the revelation that was to follow.
Returning back to the hotel that night, we had a long jeep ride ahead of us. The regional pastor shared some background about the church and village I had just spoken in. Two weeks before I had shared my message and entreated these people to lay down their lives for the gospel, one of the congregation members had done just that. A local villager, who was a devote and radical Hindu, had taken one of the women from the church and chopped her up with a machete. He proceeded to spread her body parts all over the village as a warning to the other Christians.
When I heard this, I was broken. Who was I to ask of these people to die for the gospel? When had I been faced with such sacrifice? I began to weep without reserve. I knew at that moment, if I would have known the recent history of this village I might not have been willing to bring the message that the Lord had wanted shared. I knew now, beyond a shadow of a doubt that the message I had brought was a challenge directly from the throne room of God. I have seen many a teenager or college student commit to lay down their lives for the gospel with great sincerity at the altar. Never have I witnessed it done by people who truly knew the cost, by people who had witnessed exactly what the price may be to call Jesus Lord of All. Even those who had just committed their lives to Jesus that night, did so with vivid memories of the sight, sound, and smell of death, brutally paid by another believer.
I have never been so moved. I have never been so humbled. I have never been so emboldened. For the first time in my life I believe I truly understood what Paul was speaking of in Philippians chapter 1 (NRS).
12 I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; 14 and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
I always understood what he was writing, but it never made logical sense to me. What Paul was saying was a complete contradiction to human nature, at least in my experience. As a youth growing up in school, when a student got caught violating a rule in class, they were punished. Their punishment never inspired us to follow the same path of disobedience, but rather it instilled a fear that helped us keep ourselves in check. Paul was claiming something that was completely the opposite. He said that other believers were emboldened by his chains to preach the gospel. Christians were invigorated to preach without fear or restraint by his suffering. His negative consequences didn’t smother the embers of believers’ faith but fanned the flame of passion. And now I understood. It was not an intellectual comprehension but an experiential understanding. I was emboldened by their testimony. I was engulfed by a passion and fearlessness in respect to sharing the hope I have within me.
I am determined, that the day I stand face to face with my Lord, He will not have to ask me “Why did you not show the same mercy that was shown to you?”
So today, I ask you, what mercy has been shown to you?