The Forgiveness Tree

First published in March 2009

"I will strengthen the house of Judah and save the house of Joseph. I will restore them because I have compassion on them. They will be as though I had not rejected them, for I am the LORD their God and I will answer them."  Zechariah 10:6 (New International Version)

I once heard a story about a young man who had to stand trial for a crime he was accused of committing. His father, a wealthy and well-known rancher, was present for the proceedings. After cross examination and a jury's deliberation, the young man was found guilty as charged. His punishment was a prison sentence which would take years to complete. As he was handcuffed to be led away to his prison cell, his father looked at his son one last time and said, "I will never forgive you. You have brought disgrace on this family. When you have done your time, you are not welcome home again."

The young man hung his head in shame and walked away.

Years past and the man, no longer young, had paid for his crime. With shaking hands and a heart full of dread over the response he might receive, he wrote to his dad begging his forgiveness in the months before his release. In the letter, he wrote:

"Daddy, I am almost ready to be released from prison. I will be on the train that will go right past the ranch. If you have forgiven me, please tie a white ribbon to the tree by the fence. If the white ribbon is not there, I won't get off the train, but will keep on going and will never bother you again."

The days past and the newly released prisoner boarded the train. As the train neared his father's ranch, he couldn't bear to look out the window to see his father's response to his letter. So he asked the man sitting across the aisle if he would look for him.

"Tell me if there is a white ribbon in the tree by the fence."

The other passenger stared out the window as the train passed by the ranch. The man held his breath waiting to hear whether he had been accepted or rejected. He dared to ask,

"Do you see a white ribbon in the tree?"

"No," came the reply. The man's heart fell into his shoes. He had so hoped that time would have softened his father's heart toward him.

"No," the other passenger repeated. "There isn't one white ribbon, but hundreds of white ribbons hanging from all the trees, and all along the fence. What does it mean?"

The forgiven rancher's son jumped to his feet to collect his things.

"What does it mean?" he repeated. "It means that my daddy has forgiven me and I am going home!" he shouted.

My beloved sisters, there are times when we quench the Holy Spirit and God has to discipline us. We cannot find His presence because we have strayed from obedience to Him. We are incredibly vulnerable to the lies of the enemy when we find ourselves in that situation. Our pride can keep us from recognizing the truth of what we have done. We can run for a while. But eventually, we start missing Him. Unlike an earthly father who might say something to us in a rash moment of anger, our heavenly Father will never reject us forever.

Job 5:17-18 (New International Version)

17 "Blessed is the man whom God corrects;
so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.

18 For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.

We don't have to hope that there is forgiveness. There is a tree to look to--the cross of Calvary--where we will find God's forgiveness in the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. How do we get the forgiveness we so desperately need in order to restore the joy of our salvation? On our knees in front of the cross.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For sinners such as I?

At the cross, at the cross where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day!

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt my eyes to tears.

But drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.

--Isaac Watts

Jesus - my hope, my joy, and my restoration will only be found when I bow before the only tree that offers me forgiveness--Your cross.