Here’s what most of us found out: growing up, that bad stuff we did got bigger and more serious. Along with it came something else: guilt and shame. Maybe there’s a night, or a weekend, or those college years, or that thing with the money, or that other thing with the boss, or that first marriage that we wish we could just go back and live over or erase somehow. We do all kinds of things to wash it away, but all we have to do is hear that song, be reminded of that name, drive down that street and BOOM, it all comes flooding back.
And there’s this sense that we owe something. We owed it to them to have been better parents, better husbands, better wives, better friends. We should never have talked to our daughter that way or said that to our son. We owed it to them to have had more patience or more character. If there was just a way to pay it back somehow, maybe that shadow or cloud that follows us around would be gone. We’ve all wondered whether there is a way to make that happen.
Now, every faith system, every religion offers a so-called solution for how to deal with our past, our shame, our guilt, how to move forward. Normally, it’s a list of things to do to make it all go away, to wipe the slate clean. But in all history, only one person stepped up and said, “I don’t have a solution you need to implement. I am the solution.” John the Baptist called him “the lamb that God sent to take away the sin of the world.” Not just the sin of Jews, but of Romans, and Greeks, and, yes, Americans. And me and you. That person John was referring to was Jesus. Now, the culture John the Baptist was talking to was familiar with sacrificial lambs, animals whose blood was shed to atone for or pay for the sins of people. But, these were not dumb people. They knew the blood of an animal was not worth that of a person, but they knew that sin had to be paid for by the death of something. They were just glad God allowed them to kill an animal rather than requiring the lives of people. So, animals did the trick temporarily, but there was one coming who would take away the sin permanently.
And Jesus, during his ministry, left clues that there was something to what John the Baptist had said. For example, on his last Passover with his disciples, Jesus shakes up their world. “Hey, you guys, from now on, no longer celebrate Passover as that moment when God delivered the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt through the blood of a lamb smeared on doorposts. From now on, let’s do this. Let’s remember me.” Man, this is wild stuff. It’d be like me telling everyone that Christmas is going to be the time we celebrate my birthday every year. Somehow, I think the church would shrink dramatically the next Sunday.
But that night Jesus is arrested. He is put through a mock trial and crucified, and he bleeds out. And any guy who claims he is the lamb that God sent take away the sin of the world is either crazy, or he’s lying, or we might just have to pay attention. Because, look, we’ve done everything we know how to do to erase our past, to make up for those things, to make it all go away. And we know it hasn’t worked, any more than a serial killer who becomes a really nice inmate. It doesn’t matter how good you act on death row, none of that makes up for the slaughter of innocent victims back there in your past. So, it is possible that there really was someone who could take away our guilt, our shame, our mistakes?
Well, the Apostle Paul—you remember him, right? The Jew of Jews who made it his life’s goal to rid the world of Christians? Yeah, until the resurrected Jesus showed up and confronted him. Paul then became a Christian and planted more churches than anyone. Paul writes a letter to one of those churches, and he kinda spells out what John the Baptist and Jesus had alluded to. Paul says in Colossians, chapter 2, that Jesus forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness that condemned us. So, the reason we feel like we owe people is because we do. We owe not only them, but God himself.
So, if you’re sick and tired of trying to make things right, sick and tired of the guilt and shame and memories you can’t erase, maybe trusting that Jesus did what he said he would do once we declare him our savior and Lord—to pick those up and carry them away, erasing our debt to God completely. Not because we’re so wonderful, but because he is.