Some of you may have heard of Dave Roever. Nancy and I listened to his story decades ago when our pastor invited him to speak at our church in Springfield, Missouri.
His features startled us. I suspect his appearance startled everyone in the congregation. I’ll tell you why.
Roever served on a gun boat during the Viet Nam war. On one patrol he was about to throw a phosphorous grenade onto the shore to burn the foliage, set off any land mines, and create a smoke screen for him and his battle buddies in the boat.
He didn’t know it until it was too late, but a sniper had zeroed in on him. The bullet missed Dave’s head, but hit the grenade in his hand, exploding it just inches from his ear. The burning phosphorous consumed his flesh in excruciating flames. He was burning to death as he stood there in the gunboat, watching the skin of his face dripping onto his boots. He fell into the water – but his skin remained on fire because phosphorous can burn even in water.
When he arrived at a hospital in Japan on his way ultimately to Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, he asked for a mirror. I imagine to that point he’d been more concerned about the unbearable pain than he was concerned about his looks.
When he held the mirror up to his face, he wished he had died. He couldn’t recognize the monstrous image that was now his face, neck, and arm. If HE couldn’t bear the sight – how could others? And ESPECIALLY, how could his beloved 18-year-old wife who had promised to wait for him to come home.
It wasn’t long after Dave’s arrival in San Antonio that Brenda flew out to be with him. As she walked onto the burn unit, Dave spiraled into utter despair. He’d already watched the wives of the other burn patients on his ward walk out of their lives. And now, the love of his life was walking toward the monster.
Brenda wept as she stood at the foot of his bed. After she composes herself, she took her wedding ring off her finger, held it up and said to him, “This ring means forever.” She placed the ring back onto her finger, walked around the foot of the bed toward him. “I want you to know I love you. Welcome home, Davie.”
She bent down and gently kissed what was left of his lips.
Why do I tell you the story of David and Brenda? Because in a very real sense it is a story of you and of me – and Jesus.
Whether or not we care to accept the awful truth, your sin, my sin – sin had horribly and monstrously disfigured us.
Listen to what the Holy Spirit tells us through St. Paul’s pen: “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins . . . and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . .” (Ephesians 2)
The Greek word Paul used for ‘dead’ is the same word from which we get “necrotic.” Have you ever smelled necrotic tissue? Over the course of my 30 years in nursing, I have smelled it. Once you smell it you never forget the odor.
Here’s the point: Sin not only monstrously disfigured us, but it produced in God’s nostrils a hideous and nauseating stench.
Ahhh, “But God, being rich in mercy because of His great love for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ . . . .” (Ephesians 2).
And so, sometimes in my imagination, I see God at the foot of my bed, weeping over my mutilation, over the nauseating stench of my sins. But He walks over to me, bends down, and tells me He, “Welcome home, Richard.” He tells me He loves me, and gently kisses my lips.
Christian, please listen. This is important. Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, however often you’ve done it – despite the ugliness and the stench of your sins – when you repented, He did the same thing to you: He bent down, welcomed you home, told you He loves you, and then kissed you gently on the lips.
Who could fathom such love, such wondrous love, that God should love a sinner such as I? Oh, how wonderful is love like this!
And oh, yes – you who are not yet following Christ – please listen. It is not too late to confess to Him your sins, ask His forgiveness, and start obeying Him. The stench of your sins is not any greater than anyone else’s stench. He stands at the foot of your bed and will welcome you home, embrace you – and kiss your lips as well.
Because He loves you.
(If you are curious what happened to David and Brenda Roever, they have two children and four grandchildren. Today David is an inspirational speaker, telling others the good news of God’s love).