When my daughters were young, we always read stories at bedtime. Sometimes, we’d put the books aside and make up original stories to tell to each other. Often, they were fantastical stories that usually involved princesses and distant lands made entirely of candy, of course. As they got older, at about the age when they could understand the concept of money and debt, I would tell them this story. It is a story with many layers of life lessons, and I thought you might enjoy telling it to your children.
Not long ago, there lived a man named Mr. Cash. Mr. Cash loved money. He loved everything about money. He loved the smell, the color, and the feel of money. He started out his life with very little money, and his family often went to bed hungry without any food in their bellies. Mr. Cash vowed to earn as much money as he could as soon as he was old enough. He vowed that he would live a lavish lifestyle someday, happily flaunting his expensive cars and his fine mansions.
And that’s just what he did. Mr. Cash worked long, endless hours around the clock, for many, many years. He was so busy making money that he didn’t even come home most of the time. In fact, his wife, Mrs. Cash, got so used to never seeing her husband that, after awhile, she stopped missing him so much and searched for new friends to help her with her loneliness. Mr. Cash’s two children never saw their father, and soon enough, they got used to his absence, too. They found other things to fill their time with, but it wasn’t always good things. Sadly, his children had holes in their hearts, even though they didn’t understand why, and they were so desperate to fill up those empty holes, that they searched high and low for anything that they could to pour into it.
After years of endless work, Mr. Cash finally had everything he thought he wanted. Oh, you should have seen his golden mansion, his black limousine, his white pet tiger and his silver private jet! But Mr. Cash was not an honest man. Not in the least. He loved money so much that he lied, stole, and cheated his way to riches. No one knew that he lied and stole money from his company, his government, his employees and even his family members. No one knew that he owed millions to some very dangerous people, and that he had never paid taxes in his life. He was too greedy and refused to pay back any debts that he owed.
He got away with all that lying and cheating for many years. But as all black hearts tend to do, it ate away at him slowly, and little by little, his empire began to crumble. Even though she still loved him, his wife left him and took the children, too. His kids didn’t want to have anything to do with him. They didn’t even know him.
Debt collectors began calling day and night. His fancy cars and jets were taken away from him because he couldn’t pay what he owed. Pretty soon, the bank foreclosed on his majestic mansion and he was forced to find a tiny shack in the woods to live in. He asked friends and family if he could live with them, but by now, he had cheated and lied to everyone he knew, so no one dared to help him. The really dangerous people came around soon enough and began threatening his life. Mr. Cash tried to hide, afraid that he would be killed by the people who were demanding that he pay his debts.
But Mr. Cash couldn’t pay. He was completely and utterly broke. He lost his job when his company found out that he was stealing from them. He received a notice that he was going to be thrown in jail for the rest of his life. All of his remaining possessions were being given away, and suddenly, Mr. Cash had absolutely nothing left. No family, no home, no job, no money, no food. Nothing.
On his last day, Mr. Cash waited for the police to show up at his door. He tied a heavy rope to the ceiling, climbed on a chair, and prepared to end his life. Just as he was about to do so, a soft but persistent knocking started at his door. The person on the other side was patient, but did not give up. Finally, Mr. Cash wearily opened the door, fully expecting the police to haul him away.
It was the kindest, most humble face Mr. Cash had ever seen. The face was vaguely familiar, even though he knew he had never met him before. Wait. Was that a small tear in the corner of the stranger’s left eye? He could not imagine who this person could possibly be. In a soft voice, the stranger said…
“Mr. Cash, I know you don’t know me, but I know you very well. I have a gift for you.” The stranger handed him an enormous, colorfully wrapped box.
Mr. Cash took a step back, highly suspicious, and refused to take the box. He said, “Look, mister, I don’t deserve a gift of any kind. I’ve never been given a free gift in my entire life. Truthfully, my life is a horrible mess. You can’t even imagine the awful things that I have done. I deserve every bad thing that’s coming to me.”
With deep compassion in his eyes, the stranger said, “Mr. Cash, you are now free. I have paid back all of your debt, every last dime. You don’t have to worry ever again. You don’t have to earn this gift, or ever pay me back. It’s a free gift. All you have to do is accept this box.”
The stranger gently hugged Mr. Cash, set the box down on the front step, and simply walked away. Mr. Cash was left wondering who the man was, and why he would give HIM, of all people… the worst liar and cheater to ever live, any kind of gift.
He decided to accept the box. He had nothing left to lose. And when he opened it, sure enough, inside the box was thousands and thousands of receipts stamped “PAID IN FULL”. Every last dime, and every last debt, had been paid. The cancellation of his jail sentence was in there, too. And there was a letter from his wife saying that she still loved him, and was coming back to stay. He was so thankful and humbled by what he found in that box that he fell to his knees and wailed and cried and cried.
Someone that he didn’t even know loved him so much, and had so much compassion for him, that he paid all of his debts for him. He had a dirty black heart, with a giant hole inside of it, and even though he deserved the worst kind of punishment, he received the greatest gift of all instead. Love. Forgiveness. Redemption. And a second chance to make it right.
Suddenly, the hole in Mr. Cash’s heart was filled to the brim. All because of a mysterious gift called Grace.
This is the story of Jesus Christ. It is an illustration of the grace he gave each and every one of us when he died on that old cross 2,000 years ago, this Easter. All of us have sin in our lives, and some of us spend a lifetime trying to fill up that black hole in our hearts. But we fill it with so many wrong things. We all owe a debt we cannot possibly pay. We deserve the worst kind of eternal punishment. But Jesus came and took our place instead. He was our substitute, so that we don’t have to pay our debt. He offers each of us a box full of grace and mercy. We don’t even have to earn it. All we have to do is open the box, accept it, believe, and try to live a thankful life. Happy, happy Easter, everyone!
All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but all are treated as righteous freely by his grace because of a ransom that was paid by Christ Jesus. Through his faithfulness, God displayed Jesus as the place of sacrifice where mercy is found by means of his blood.
The gift isn’t like the consequences of one person’s sin. The judgment that came from one person’s sin led to punishment, but the free gift that came out of many failures led to the verdict of acquittal.