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My turn

The man under the bridge

By Michael Jackson

It was a cold Wisconsin day. Even words seemed to freeze and hang in the air. My wife noticed him first — a man tucked up under a bridge in a sleeping bag. I am a pastor. I try to help people in such circumstances. So I made my way back to the homeless fellow’s haven. The police were already there. While it is not a crime to sleep under a bridge in Wisconsin, it is a great way to freeze to death.

I introduced myself to one of the two officers and told him that I would be happy to put the man up in a motel for the night. The officers roused him and extended my offer: one free night’s lodging — no strings attached.

 The man spoke nary a word. He simply loaded all his worldly possessions upon his bicycle and started to pedal away. I tried to get him to stop. I told him that I was a minister and wanted to give him a free room and a hot meal. He kept on riding.

I drove across the street and tried to intercept him again. As he hurried past me I again tried to explain that I wanted to help him. I again offered a free room and a Big Mac. I was hopeful that my persistence would prove helpful. It didn’t.

I really carried a burden for that young man. Over the next few days I prayed for him several times. Nonetheless, I knew that I had done everything that I could do.

I had offered the man a gift. All he had to do was receive it. He didn’t deserve it, he hadn’t earned it, nor had he even asked for it. All he needed to do in order to keep himself warm for the night was to have the grace to say yes.

One night as I was home lying in my own warm bed, I was reminded of someone else who had come to offer aid. John 1:14 reads, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (NIV). God became man. He offered full salvation and free healing. He offered His love and eternal life in heaven. He offered peace of mind and everlasting joy. He offered it all — freely. He did everything that was within the orbit of His awesome power to get humankind to stop, listen and accept His grace. He offered so much and asked for so little. Nonetheless, the Bible says in John 1:11, “He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him” (The Message). Like the homeless man, they simply got on their bikes and pedaled away their chance at grace.

Occasionally I am asked how a loving God could be so cruel as to send someone to everlasting hell. Listen: God doesn’t send people to hell any more than I sent that homeless man out into the cold. I did everything that I could to help him. He just did not want my help. In like fashion, God has done everything including sending His only begotten Son to earth to live and die for us. If anyone dies and goes into a Christless eternity, it is not God’s doing. It simply reflects humanity’s freedom to choose Christ or to reject Christ.

It is God who is offering the greatest gift of all. Hint: It sure beats a night at Motel 6 and a meal at McDonald’s. The gift is offered to any and all, even if you are living somewhere up under a bridge.

Michael Jackson is pastor of New Life Assembly of God in Janesville, Wis.

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