By Pastor Glenn Pease
Floyd Collins was a professional cave hunter. He found the famous Crystal Cave in Kentucky in 1917. It is a popular tourist cave now, but back them it was too far off the road to get people to come to it. Floyd's dream was to find a bigger and better cave, even more beautiful than the world famous Mammoth Cave. So he began exploring, and one day as he went deep into a cave, he squeezed into a narrow opening, and found the cavern of his dreams. It was like a domed cathedral studded with glittering stalactites and stalagmites. He was so excited he became careless, and his foot pushed a small rock that held up a huge boulder, and the boulder came down on his left ankle pinning him there deep in the cave.
He almost pulled his leg off trying to get free, but it was hopeless. For 24 hours he laid there in pain and fear. Finally, he heard someone coming. He yelled, and his two partners found him. They could not budge the boulder, however. He begged them to go get help. In a matter of hours that cave sight became pandemonium. Crowds gathered as the news spread of a trapped man. His brother offered five hundred dollars to anyone who could rescue Floyd. Many tried but failed. For two days these attempts went on, and Floyd was getting weak. Finally, they offered five hundred dollars to any doctor who would amputate his leg, but there were no takers.
By this time reporters and photographers had made this cave sight the focus of world attention. Fifteen hundred people who camped in the area, and the governor had to call in the state militia to keep law and order. In desperation to get Floyd out they tried to dig a shaft from the top. This led to a cave in that blocked the passage to him, and so they could no longer get food and water to him. Eleven days later they broke through, but Floyd Collins was dead. The body could not be removed, so they held a service right there, and the cave became his tomb.
It was not a very happy ending, for it reveals that with all of man's resources there are some things he just can't get out of. There are traps he just can't escape from. Floyd could not get out himself, nor could anyone else help him out. He had gotten himself into a truly hopeless situation. Now this experience, we must admit, is very rare, but it illustrates a fact of life that is not rare, but it so common, it is true of all of us, and everybody else. Everyone of us has explored the cave of sin and gotten trapped by the boulder of guilt. The Bible says, "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God." Once you are in this cave there are no ways of escape that man can devise.
We have a record of all the ways men have tried to get free from the bondage to sin. Men have offered millions of sacrifices to God in order to get Him to forgive and release them from sin. But there is no record that anyone was ever set free by this method, even when they offered their own babies, or young virgins in sacrifice. All of this folly just added to the darkness of the cave in which they were trapped. Two thousand years ago men use to dig a pit, and get down in it, and kill a bull above it. They would then let all the blood come down upon them in the pit to atone for their sin. All they did was make a major mess. They never washed one sin away with all of that blood.
Men have tried other ways to escape their bondage. They have tried to atone for sin and escape it by doing hard things, like crawling on their hands and knees for hundreds of miles; by standing in cold water in a cave up their neck until nearly frozen; by kissing thousands of steps as they climb to a shrine on a mountain top. On and on goes the list of the many things men have done to try and get free from the cave of sin. The tragedy is none of them work, just like nothing worked to rescue Floyd Collins. Man, with all of his progress, and all of his marvelous inventions, is no closer than the caveman to a way of escaping the cave of sin.
Does this mean that man is in a hopeless situation? Yes it does, as far as man is concerned there is nothing he can do to escape the chains of sin. Once you have sinned there is no way to unsin. It is done, and the wages of sin is death, and so man is trapped. The inner anxiety cause from being trapped drives men to all sorts of things to deaden the pain of his fear and guilt. Alcohol, drugs, sex, amusements of all kinds, dominate his life in the hopes of drowning his sense of despair over the fact that he cannot escape. Yet we need not despair, for there is good news. The good news is, man is not alone in his fight for freedom. There is a God who also hates sin, and all that it does to man to rob him of life. God has come up with a plan to deal with the hopeless situation.
It is hopeless for man, that is, but God has a solution. That huge boulder of guilt that keeps you pinned to the floor of sin can be dissolved in the blood of Christ. You can't do anything about sin, but Jesus can. He can forgive it because he paid for it. If I bought a thousand books, I can give them away if I want to, and I can give them to anybody I choose. If I want you to have one, I can give it to you if you will take it. Jesus purchased forgiveness for all men, and He is ready to give it to any man who will say he wants it. Those who receive it can shout with Paul, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus." You are free in Christ and no longer trapped in the cave of sin, but free to come out into the sunlight and live again. There are only two ways to deal with sin: You can try and fight it on your own, and like Floyd Collins parish in a hopeless battle, or you can receive forgiveness in Christ as a free gift.
Forgiveness is complete with God. He does not say I forgive, but I will never forget. I will let you off this time, but if you ever fall again I will drag out all of your failures of the past and show you the scum that you are. The blood of Christ cleanses from all sin, and that means it removes it. There is no way you can know how many gravy spots I have had on my shirt, because when it is washed the spots are removed and gone for good, and there is no mark of its having been present. So God sees you when you are forgiven as clean and pure with no remembrance of your spots and stains.
You have to deal with the new spots and stains, and confess your latest sins, and get them forgiven, but once you come to Christ and ask His forgiveness, you do not have to deal with your past sins any longer. I do not take my suit and rub it where I had soup stains last year. I forgot all the stains of the past, for they are gone. I do not feel embarrassed by what use to be on my sleeve, for it is gone. All I have to do is deal with the now, and keep the shirt clean. Deal with sin daily, just as you wash your hands and face daily. Ask Jesus to cleanse you and forgive you, and start each day fresh and clean.
If you get a blot on your clean day, get it cared for so the next day you can start with a clean slate.
Forgiveness is connected with reconciliation with God, for forgiveness has as its goal being restored to a right relationship. If God just said, "I forgive you now, get lost," what good would forgiveness be? We would still be without God and hope. We want more than just not to suffer a penalty, we want life with meaning, joy, hope, and fellowship with God. The story is told of a servant girl caught stealing from the Queen. She was brought before her majesty for sentencing. She threw herself before the Queen, and begged for forgiveness, and pledging complete loyalty in the future. Touched by the tears, the Queen said, "Rise, I forgive you, but I don't want to see you around here anymore. Leave the palace and find employment elsewhere." "But your grace," the servant girl cried, "That isn't forgiveness. That is merely pardoned. I want to be forgiven so that I may remain in your service." The Queen was surprised by this depth of discernment and said, "You are right, return to your duties as though nothing had happened, for you are forgiven."
So God says to those who receive Christ, "Your sins are gone, and you can return to fellowship with Me. The past no longer blocks the way, for it is no longer remembered." Saving men from hell is just a marvelous fringe benefit, but that is not the primary goal of God in saving men. He wants them to be in fellowship with Him. He wants them to be a part of His family forever. The father of the Prodigal Son did not want him home just to get him out of the pigsty and cleaned up, he wanted him home to be with him, and to love him. So God also does not save men just to keep them out of hell, but because he wants them to enjoy heaven with Him. God wants to forgive you, not forsake you. God wants to pardon you, not punish you. God wants to befriend you, not blast you.
All repentance is, is being honest with yourself and God. Repentance means you admit to God you are trapped, and going in the direction that you know is leading to destruction. The reason this is hard for many is because of our pride. We are like the man who was driving to Detroit. As he turned onto the freeway his wife told him he had turned the wrong way, for Detroit was the other direction. He said, "I know what I am doing," and he stubbornly refused to consider he may have made a mistake. A few miles down the road he saw a sign that said Chicago 75 miles. He was shaken up a bit by that sign, but refused to change his direction. After two more signs, he knew he was headed the wrong way, but he just could not admit to his wife that he made a mistake. He kept hoping there was a way he could get to Detroit without turning around.
That is where man is. He wants to go to heaven, and live forever in the paradise of God, where there is no sin, suffering, or death. Who would not want such an eternal life of joy and abundance? His sin, however, is taking him the other way to a life of loss, and darkness, and the absence of all that is appealing. He knows it too, but his pride makes him stubborn, and he refuses to admit he could be such a fool as to risk the glory of heaven for the sake of his sin. No man wants to admit he gave up the chance to get diamonds because he was to busy going after jelly beans. No man will feel comfortable admitting he gave up a chance to be rich because he wanted to read comic books. Man's pride makes it so hard for him to be honest, but only when he is honest, can he stop being a fool. Repentance is simply admitting I am going the wrong way, and now I am sick of it, and want to turn around and go the way that leads to life.
Repentance is not a one time thing, as if you can only make a wrong turn once in life. Christians who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit will repent frequently, as they grow and walk in the light. They will see they are going the wrong way, and need to repent and turn around time and time again. It is not anything to be ashamed of, for it is something to be proud of, for to repent is to be honest with yourself and God.
A couple of years ago this story came out in the Dallas Times Herald. A man who had been active with the Nazi's during World War II feared reprisals when the war ended, so he hid himself in the attic of his sister's barn. There he lived alone, isolated and cut off from life. He ate only the little food his sister brought him. His whole existence was limited to that small room. When the authorities finally discovered him, they checked their records and could find no charges against him. They had never wanted him for anything, so he had spent 30 years in self-imposed imprisonment. You say, what a pathetic waste of life. What a colossal fool for not finding out he could have been a free man. The fact is, some of you may be just as foolish. God has sent His Son to set you free, yet you live as a prisoner, trapped in the cold dark cave of sin and guilt. All you have to do is repent, and admit you can't get free on your own, and turn to Jesus, trusting Him to set you free. He promises that when the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.
I'm free from the fear of tomorrow.
I'm free from the guilt of the past.
I've traded my shackles for a glorious crown.
I'm free, praise the Lord, free at last.