By Vince Antonucci
Billy Moore, a 22-year-old Army Private, returned from deployment, only to learn his wife had a drug dealer boyfriend and had become addicted to heroin. Billy took their 3-year-old son and moved into a trailer. Unfortunately, Billy’s paychecks from the Army were being sent to his wife. He was told it would be 90 days before it could be changed. Billy didn’t have 90 days. He and his son had an empty trailer with no furniture and no food.
A friend told Billy about a man who had about $30,000 cash in his house. Billy had no criminal history, but he was desperate. He broke into the man’s house. After entering Billy felt something against his leg. It was a rifle, held by Mr. Stapleton, the owner of the house. The rifle went off and Billy, startled, turned around and fired his pistol. Mr. Stapleton missed Billy, but Billy’s blind shot in the dark didn’t miss. Mr. Stapleton was dead.
Billy was arrested and pleaded guilty, taking full responsibility. He was given the death sentence.
Good and Bad News
We’ve been thinking about who God is and we’ve learned some good news: God is holy. That’s good news because it means God is without sin, He is morally pure, so we can count on Him. If God weren’t holy He wouldn’t be a God worthy of our worship.
It’s also bad news. It’s bad news because we are not holy. We are sinful. God is separate from sin, and so we have to be separated from God. God is the source of life and love. He’s what we’re searching for and what we need. His holiness is what makes Him special, and what keeps us separated from Him.
The Bible says, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3-4). Who has clean hands and a pure heart? Not me, and not you. That’s bad news. It means we can’t stand in God’s holy place.
I think of how the temple was set-up in the Old Testament. Inside the temple was a room called the “Most Holy Place.” It was supposed to be the place where God’s presence dwelt. People could not go in the Most Holy Place. Only one person could go in, the High Priest, and only once a year. The High Priest did not go in to develop a relationship with God or have an intimate conversation. He went in to sprinkle blood on the altar. He sprinkled blood because sin deserves and leads to death. He sprinkled blood because God had always said a perfect substitute could sacrifice his life for imperfect sinners, making them clean through his blood.
The Perfect Substitute
In the New Testament Jesus comes on the scene. He came to die. Jesus was perfect (see Hebrews 4:12, 1 Peter 2:22, 1 John 3:5) and he came to be the perfect substitute for us imperfect sinners. Through His blood we are made clean, and being clean means we can move into God’s presence and have a relationship with Him.
God is holy. Because He is holy, He hates sin and cannot let it go unpunished. We’ve sinned. We must be punished.
God is also love. In love, God allowed the death of His perfect Son to be the substitute for the punishment we deserve. All of God’s love for sinners led to all of His wrath being poured out on Jesus on the cross.
All we have to do is put our faith in and commit our lives to Jesus as our Savior and God takes all the sins we’ve committed and all the punishment we deserve and transfers it to Jesus on the cross. Once He does, He looks at us as holy, as having clean hands and a pure heart.
That means we may ascend into the hill of the Lord. We may stand in His holy place. We have access to God. We can have relationship with God. We have the promise of eternity in Heaven with God.
Billy Moore was found guilty and given the death sentence.
Billy’s aunt, a Christian, asked her pastor to go visit Billy. He did, and explained the gospel to Billy. Billy says, “I could feel the Holy Spirit. I didn’t know what it was, but I could feel that peace as they were telling me that God loved me. He knew what I did and He still loved me and He died for me. That just blew me away.” He said yes to God’s offer of salvation and was baptized the same day. Billy was forgiven by God.
Billy’s execution was postponed due to the appeals process. He used the extra time to write a letter to the Stapleton family. He apologized and asked them to forgive him, saying he would understand if they couldn’t. The Stapletons wrote back, explaining that they were Christians and so they did forgive him. They began writing letters back and forth. Billy was forgiven by those he had hurt.
Finally the day came for Billy’s execution. The guards were about to shave his head in preparation when they were stopped. They were stopped because a stay of execution had been ordered by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. What Billy didn’t know is that the Stapleton family, his victim’s family, had been petitioning the court to set Billy free.
Child Of God
Billy was not executed. He spent six more years in jail as his case was reviewed in the court system. Finally, on November 8th, 1991, Billy was released. He was free. Billy is now married and is an ordained pastor who speaks around the globe on the power of forgiveness.
Billy’s story sounds amazing, even hard to believe, except … his story is so similar to my story, and your story. We have a God who is holy. We are unholy. Because we sinned against a holy God we deserved to die, but because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross we have been declared forgiven and free. We now get to live in and minister out of the power of our holy God’s gracious forgiveness.