Of Sins and Penalties

1 Chronicles 21:1-17 and 1 John 2:1-6

Three children stood before their mother, a broken bead necklace dangling from her hand. The necklace wasn’t expensive by any means, but it represented an immeasurable wealth of sentimental value.

The two little girls were infatuated with the bead jewelry their mother had purchased as a teenager from Native Americans on a trip to the West, but neither one was confessing. The boy, an unlikely suspect, had been rounded up out of fairness.

Silence swelled around the little group and it was clear the mother was growing more angry. This should have been a simple learning moment. The crime was nothing more than a misdemeanor, the perpetrator doomed to an hour confined to her bedroom. But the silence was escalating the crime.

Finally, the boy’s voice squeaked out an uncertain, “It was me, Mom. I did it. I’m sorry.”

David was Israel’s greatest king, but it didn’t mean he was always a great person. He was often in hot water with God or with other people. His decision to count the people of Israel might seem to be a minor thing, but what David was stating, loud and clear, was that he didn’t trust God to raise up soldiers if Israel needed them. David wanted to build his army on his terms and God didn’t approve.

So, God sends a prophet to tell him that he can choose between three punishments: a three year famine, three months of being pursued by enemies, or three days of plague.

David knew that he didn’t stand much of a chance at the mercy of people, so he chose to throw himself on the mercy of God. A plague swept across the nation and 70,000 of David’s people died. It wasn’t until after his sinfulness brought pain and suffering on so many others that David was able to see how he had harmed his own people and begged God to punish him alone. 

With Jesus, however, we have a different model. Unlike David  who pursued his own will and brought harm to many, Jesus lived completely in the will of God. While the penalty of David’s sin was paid by his people, Jesus paid the penalty for other people’s sins.

We are told in 1 John that if we want to be Jesus’ disciples, we should live like he lived.

This is a tall order for us. It can be easier to point fingers at each other and condemn one another for sins we might not think we commit. However, to truly live like Jesus means we would be willing to pay the penalty for someone else so that they can live free.

To a much smaller degree, many years ago, a little boy decided to apply that principle to his own life. He watched as his little sisters stood, frightened, knowing that they had both transgressed the rule their mother had established: Don’t play with my jewelry without permission. This time, they were caught. But instead of blaming them, he willingly assumed their punishment for them.

Later that evening, long after the incident had faded from the memories of the rest of the family, the mother bent over her youngest daughter’s bed to kiss her goodnight when her little voice said, “He didn’t take it, Mommy. I did.”

Mother smiled and wiped a tear away from the little cheek and said, “I know. Thank you for telling the truth.”

Would you be willing to pay the penalty for someone else’s sin? Are there people you would not be willing to pay the penalty for? Why? Is there sinfulness in your life that is harming others? 

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