Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Matt. 10:28
I’ve started reading a book by Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black; maybe you’ve heard of it. Piper is the typical upper middle class girl. She graduates from college, and unfortunately is attracted to the wrong person — a woman whose life seems exciting and adventurous. turns out her lifestyle is funded by drug money. She invites Piper to travel with her as she manages drug mules and money laundering couriers in exotic places; it’s fun … for a while. Eventually Piper is put into a situation where she crosses the line and delivers a suitcase full of dirty money for her friend. The stress and fear she experiences while committing this act wakes her up to the fact that she’s in over her head, so she flees. She moves, gets a regular job, reconnects with family and eventually is engaged to a nice young man. She’s recovered her “normal” life and nobody is aware of that brief, foolish, lapse in judgement.
Ten years later federal agents knock on her door to tell her she is being indicted for drug trafficking. At this point she must confess to her fiancé and family. She is humbled and embarrased as she agrees to plead guilty to a charge of money laundering and serve three years in prison. Then something even worse happens — shortly after sentencing, her date with prison in postponed indefinitely, as the authorities want her to be available to testify against one of the drug kingpins “in street clothes, not an orange jumpsuit.”
Okay, I’m finally getting to the point. For years Piper lives with a jail sentence hanging over her. Can you imagine how awful that would be? She knew she had committed a crime and she was going to prison, she just didn’t know when or where. It was a miserable way to live. I could empathize with her pain and terror, trying to lead a normal life, yet knowing the punishment that was waiting for her. But, think about it, without Jesus, wouldn’t we be in the very same situation?
Like Piper, we go on living our lives, telling ourselves that our sins don’t have consequences. They’re not big sins anyway. Just the kind of things we fell into without really thinking; things somebody else lured into; things that happened when we were young and inexperienced. We foolishly think we’ll never be called to account.
The Bible tells a different story. Judgement is hanging over us and we don’t know when it will come. Most of us, like Piper, would be terrified at the thought of going to prison, even for a short time — so why aren’t we worried about spending eternity separated from God? Piper was humbled before an earthly judge; at some future date, we’ll all bow before the Lord God Almighty! She was pathetically grateful for those who spoke up for her in order to reduce her sentence because she knew what she really deserved — how grateful should we be to Jesus who died to save us from the fate awaiting us?
Christmas is a time to rejoice in the good news that our sentence has been commuted, thanks to the God who came as a helpless baby, willing to bear our punishment. We’ve been released from the penalty of sin. We don’t have an eternity of darkness hanging over us. Now we need to live a life that reflects gratitude for that grace. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to appreciate the gift we’ve received.