Change for a Twenty Dollar Gold Piece?

 •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
The black workhorse of an engine, dusty and snorting out bursts of steam, rolled to a gradual stop in front of a small farming community on the sun baked plains of South Dakota. A long line of yellow and orange box cars lumbered behind the locomotive. From out of a doorway in the side of one of these freight cars two men jumped to the ground. After bags of mail were exchanged between the train and the town, the shrill steam whistle sounded and black smoke came belching out of the smokestack as the wheels once again began to turn.
As the train was rolling away the two men stood by the tracks brushing off the layers of dust which had accumulated on them during their ride.
Besides the clothes they wore, each of them carried a coat, his sole visible possession, under his arm. They walked to the edge of the small town and into the combined restaurant and boarding house. The woman polishing glasses behind the counter saw them and took them for tramps immediately. She had seen plenty of hoboes wander in off the trains before; most were harmless, some were mean. She didn't like any of them.
"What can I do for you fellows?" she asked with a hint of contempt.
"Please, my friend and I would like some milk and donuts," the larger of the two said in a thick, foreign accent.
The woman took a few steps toward the kitchen and called out to her husband in a subdued tone, "Honey, there are a couple of tramps out here who want some donuts. What do I do?"
The husband poked his head out of the kitchen to glance at the men. "Ah, give them the donuts we have left over from yesterday; then we'll tell them to leave and not come back."
She gave the men what they asked for.
When they were done the one who had spoken before reached into a tightly sewn pocket in his pants and produced a twenty dollar gold piece.
"Lady," he said, holding the coin up so she could see it, "do you have change for this twenty dollar gold piece?"
"No, we never keep that much money here," she replied, surprised that the men had any money.
"I didn't think you did," the man said as he dropped a few nickels on the counter, "but I heard you talking to your husband and you called us hoboes and I want you to know that my friend and I are not hoboes. Next time find out what kind of men you are talking about before you call them hoboes." To his friend he added, "Let's go!"
Although this occurred shortly before World War I, the man who told it to me, the same person who was mistaken for a hobo and held up the gold piece, is still alive in 1989. Steam locomotives and hoboes may be only relics of the past. The desire to appear approved in the sight of others, however, is as strong today as it ever was.
In our present day it is unpopular to point out the Biblical truth of the ruin of mankind. People try to brush off God's warning about sin and the judgment to come. When they hear the declaration, "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," they hold up something — a philosophy, or a list of good works, or some personal qualities—which they use to prove they are not ruined sinners. Like the man holding up the gold coin, they want to prove to themselves and to those around them that they are not what God says they are.
Let's examine some of the "gold coins" that people hold up today.
Philosophy. You don't have to be a philosopher who can articulate profound statements about your beliefs to find security in a false philosophy. On the contrary, you can be an everyday type of person. In our western world the belief that man is basically good unless corrupted by society has such a hold on the minds of people that when you tell them that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, it sounds ridiculous to them. Why should anyone come to save sinners, when man is basically good and through education and social reforms he is getting better?
Is this how you feel? Is this the train of thought that gives you comfort and hope? If it is, I ask you to examine it realistically. Does education make man more moral? Is decency on the increase in the world? Are men becoming less covetous? Better parents? More trustworthy? The answer is a resounding NO! Man can fly to the moon and back again but his heart is not a bit better than it was thousands of years ago. If you are holding up the coin of man's innate goodness to prove that you are not a sinner, I beg you to consider how worthless it is.
Good works. When a person is first stirred up to think seriously of how he is seen by God, he almost invariably weighs his chances of acceptance before God according to the good works he has done or perhaps intends to do. "Granted I have done several wrong things in my past which you call sins," such a one may say, "but don't the good things I intend to do in the future make up for the wrongs in the past?"
This sounds reasonable and intelligent on the surface, but God, who knows the hearts of men, says it is impossible. "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one!" This statement from Scripture should dispel any hope of being saved through good works. If that is the coin you are holding up before men and God, throw it away. It is counterfeit!
Personal qualities. Intelligence, good looks, amiability, business acumen, creativity: these and many more like them are all personal qualities which are valued by men. Have you something which makes you "special" in the eyes of others — and yourself? Think again. Your intelligence may set you apart from your peers and entitle you to a good education and an important job, but it will never entitle you to escape judgment before the God who is no respecter of persons. Your good looks may win you instant friends and make your future seem bright, but it will not make the least bit of difference on that day when God shall judge the secrets of men's hearts according to the gospel. If this is all you can hold up to find acceptance before God, you must get rid of the notion before it is forever too late.
How can anyone find acceptance before God? Only by repentance and faith in Christ Jesus. Repentance means a change of mind. In order to be saved, you need to change your mind about sin and yourself. You need to see how loathsome sin is to God. In order to make the way of salvation open to all, God's Son died a horrible death on the cross. It is only at the cross where the Lord Jesus suffered such untold agony that we can begin to understand God's hatred for sin. When a person repents he sees sin in the same light that God does, and knows himself to be a guilty sinner.
How can anyone get free from the guilt of sin? Only by faith in Christ. The moment anyone believes in Him as the Son of God, the One who died for sin and has been raised again from the dead by the power of God, the blood He shed on Calvary washes that person clean — so very clean that the infinite eye of God can look at him and find no trace of sins on him. This is the only way of salvation, and the only means of acceptance before God.