"Several years ago I travelled to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in search of a pastoral intern. In the process of interviewing a number of men, I met a seminarian I will never forget. As it turned out, I did not select him to come for the summer, but I was extremely impressed with his sensitivity to God. Although young and inexperienced, his spirit was tender and he spoke with gentleness. It was obvious that the Lord was deeply at work in his life. The marks of a servant’s heart were clearly visible, so much so I probed to discover why. Among other things he related an incredible, true story that illustrated how God was moulding him and shaping him through one of those tough ‘forgiveness exams’. As best as I can remember, here’s his story. I’ll call him Aaron, not his real name.
Late one spring he was praying about having a significant ministry the following summer. He asked God for a position to open up on some church staff or Christian organisation. Nothing happened. Summer arrived, still nothing. Days turned into weeks, and Aaron finally faced reality – he needed any job he could find. He checked want ads and the only thing that seemed a possibility was driving a bus in southside Chicago … nothing to brag about, but it would help with tuition in the fall. After learning the route, he was on his own – a rookie driver in a dangerous section of the city. It wasn’t long before Aaron realised just how dangerous his job really was.
A small gang of tough kids spotted the young driver, and began to take advantage of him. For several mornings in a row they got on, walked right past him without paying, ignoring his warnings, and rode until they decided to get off … all the while making smart remarks to him and others on the bus. Finally, he decided that had gone on long enough.
The next morning, after the gang got on as usual, Aaron saw a policeman on the next corner, so he pulled over and reported the offence. The officer told them to pay or get off. They paid … but, unfortunately, the policeman got off. And they stayed on. When the bus turned another corner or two, the gang assaulted the young driver.
When he came to, blood was all over his shirt, two teeth were missing, both eyes were swollen, his money was gone, and the bus was empty. After returning to the terminal and being given the weekend off, our friend went to his little apartment, sank onto his bed and started at the ceiling in disbelief. Resentful thoughts swarmed his mind. Confusion, anger and disillusionment added fuel to the fire of his physical pain. He spent a fitful night wrestling with his Lord.
How can this be? Where’s God in all of this? I genuinely want to serve Him. I prayed for a ministry. I was willing to serve Him anywhere, doing anything … and this is the thanks I get!
On Monday morning Aaron decided to press charges. With the help of the officer who had encountered the gang and several who were willing to testify as witnesses against the thugs, most of them were rounded up and taken to the local county jail. Within a few days there was a hearing before the judge.
In walked Aaron and his attorney plus the angry gang members who glared across the room in his direction. Suddenly he was seized with a whole new series of thoughts. Not bitter ones, but compassionate ones! His heart went out to the guys who had attacked him. Under the Spirit’s control he no longer hated them – he pitied them. They needed help, not more hate. What could he do? Or say?
Suddenly, after there had been a plea of guilty, Aaron (to the surprise of his attorney and everybody else in the courtroom) stood to his feet and requested permission to speak.
Your honour, I would like you to total up all the days of punishment against these men – all the time sentenced against them – and I request that you allow me to go to jail in their place.
The judge didn’t know whether to spit or wind his watch. Both attorneys were stunned. As Aaron looked over at the gang members (whose mouths and eyes looked like saucers), he smiled and said quietly, “It’s because I forgive you.”
The dumbfounded judge, when he reached a level of composure, said rather firmly: “Young man, you’re out of order. This sort of thing has never been done before!” To which the man replied with genius insight:
Oh, yes, it has, your honour … yes, it has. It happened over nineteen centuries ago when a man from Galilee paid the penalty that all mankind deserved.
And then, for the next three or four minutes, without interruption, he explained how Jesus Christ died on our behalf, thereby proving God’s love and forgiveness.
He was not granted his request, but the young man visited the gang members in jail, led most of them to faith in Christ, and began a significant ministry to many others in southside Chicago.
He passed a tough exam. And, as a result, a large door of ministry – the very thing he’d prayed for – opened up before him. Through the pain and abuse and assault, Aaron began to get a handle on serving others."