What do grocery stores, armored cars, ATM machines and my back patio all have in common? Theft.
Over the course of 2018 we have seen a rise in crime. There were at least three attacks by gangs of armed criminals on armored vehicles transporting money. That is quite an undertaking as each armored truck has two armed men with a car full of armed men following behind. Unfortunately, they were taken by surprise and some of the guards were shot. If my memory serves me well, I do believe that the men recovered, though I imagine that there must be lingering effects from their wounds. Two of the robberies were within five blocks of our home. The first was at a bank on the corner and another took place in the parking lot at the mall – both within broad daylight. Even more striking, the third robbery took place very close to the Uruguayan seat of government – the Palacio Legislativo (Legisltative Palace)!
One of the most tragic crimes took place at a grocery store a few miles away where two men entered a supermarket, robbed it and then shot and killed one of the employees on the way out. The victim was a young mother. Later, the shooter was found by police which ended up in him being shot and killed. A friend of mine had met this young man years ago – an example of what a small world Uruguay can be at times.
Very recently, I have been seeing news of ATM machines being blown to bits so that criminals can steal the cash. Some ATM’s are even equipped with an anti-theft ink system which sprays the money with ink so that it will be recognized – making it hard to spend. Sadly, sometimes the ATM machine is the only one in a small town and it can be difficult for the retired folks living there to withdraw money if the banks decide not to install a new one.
One day last month I woke up and went to the kitchen like normal to turn on the burner so that I could cook up some fried eggs. Eggs are my favorite breakfast. But to my surprise, the flame would not start. I thought that was odd and I eventually had the idea of checking the propane tank just outside the kitchen in the back patio. It was missing. Not only was it missing, but the valve and another empty propane tank were gone. Someone had climbed our roof, descended into our back patio and carried out two propane tanks! They are not easy to lift either! I filed a police report, but nothing much came of it.
As we heard news of these various crimes, we prayed – asking the Lord to be at work. Begging God to change the hearts of the criminals. Praying for healing, comfort and peace for the victims and their families. So many people need the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The criminals need to repent, turning to Christ for forgiveness. Those who have experienced loss due to the actions of these lawless individuals are left with questions – like, “Why did God allow this?” They too need to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ, repenting of their sins and receiving the free gift of forgiveness and mercy that He offers. Only then will they be truly comforted in the midst of pain and suffering in this world.
Whether criminals or those who have been hurt by them, the only way that they will be able to live according to the pattern that their Creator planned for them is by trusting and following Christ. Human beings made in the image of God were created to glorify their Creator. Apart from Christ we cannot truly glorify God because we are slaves to sin and living in rebellion to God. Thankfully, God has offered complete reconciliation and forgiveness in the Good News!
God tells us in His Word that the heart of man is corrupt. We are all sinners and deserving of punishment. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” The Apostle Paul goes more into detail quoting from the Old Testament:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18)
This is the bad news. We are all sinners, sin and evil plague our world, and we face judgement. But the Good News is glorious: that Jesus came to save us from slavery to sin, to give us eternal life, and to eventually grant full and complete justice at His Second Coming when He will judge the world in righteousness. That all those who trust in Jesus and repent of their sins can be saved by grace through faith in Christ. Jesus died on the cross and received the wrath that his people deserved, taking the penalty of their sins upon Himself. Furthermore, He was raised from the dead, thus conquering death and showing that the Father accepted His sacrifice. All those that are united to Him in faith will also experience the resurrection someday and will live forever in a world without sin and suffering. Doesn’t that sound like Good News?
Paul describes this Good News in Romans 3 just following the passage about how all have sinned: “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25a).
The Good News consists in the Person and work of Jesus Christ – who He is and what He did to save condemned sinners. This Good News shows us that while we live in a world where things are stolen, armed guards are shot, and young mothers are killed, there is a better world coming. And God is offering a place in that world to all who trust in Jesus.
All have sinned sufficiently to merit the wrath of God. The criminals mentioned above certainly deserve it. But you and I do as well. We may not have done such ugly things outwardly, but God knows every thought and intention of the heart. He knows our ugly motives, secret desires and all the wicked things that we have ever said or done. He knows what we have left undone, which we ought to have done. And when we come before the judgement seat, our only hope will be whether we have a worthy substitute: Jesus – the One who took the place of sinners on the cross. So we must pray that God changes the hearts of the criminals, but we also must examine our own hearts and ask ourselves whether we have placed our faith in Jesus. Has God changed our hearts? Have we put our faith in Jesus? Are we reconciled to God? Only then will we know the true peace that Jesus gives and have the hope of eternal life in a world without sin!