Summary: To be transformed we must forgive.
Series: Resolutions Worth Making
Text: Matthew 18:21-35
Truth: To be transformed we must forgive.
Aim: To encourage forgiveness.
Louie Zamperini is the subject of the current hit movie Unbroken. He was born in 1917 in New York, then, shortly afterward, his family moved to the west coast to live in Torrance, California. In Kindergarten he did not speak English. This, and his Italian heritage, made him the focus of bullying. He learned to fight and get even with his tormentors. At ten he was smoking and stealing liquor; he was a juvenile delinquent. The school principle, his older brother, and a police officer came together to decide how they were going to change this wild child. They decided to put his running abilities to work by getting him involved in track. His first race was the 660. Louie came in dead last. But he set a national high school track record for the mile, which stood for two decades. It earned him the opportunity to be on the 1936 Olympic team that went to Berlin, Germany. He finished eighth in the 5,000 meters, but his finishing lap of 56 seconds was a record that stood for several years. It earned him the opportunity to meet Adolph Hitler.
The movie is mainly about his time as a POW of the Japanese. The brutality and cruelty is shocking. I do not think I could have survived what Zamperini endured. But, typical of Hollywood, they chose to downplay his Christian faith which is truly the exemplary part of his life. The movie exalts his unbroken spirit despite great hardship, but the truth is Louie Zamperini was a broken man after the war. Every night he had nightmares about the cruel POW camp commandant, “the Bird.” One night he woke up and was strangling his wife, but in his dream he was strangling “the Bird.” He became an alcoholic, because, he reasoned, if he got drunk every night he could sleep without these horrible nightmares. Obviously, it did not work, and his wife said she was going to divorce him.
In 1949 an exciting new evangelist held a huge tent revival in the area. Louie’s wife attended and was saved. She told him that because of her decision to accept Christ she had decided not to divorce him. He was very happy about that, and eventually, and reluctantly, he went to hear the young evangelist, Billy Graham. Louie said for 30 minutes he talked about one man, Jesus Christ, and Louie received Christ.
When he got up off his knees he knew he had forgiven every Japanese prison guard, including “the Bird”, who tortured him. That night, and every night for the rest of his life, he never had another nightmare about the torture he had endured and the anger to kill those who hurt him. He called it a miracle. Later he went back to Japan and met with every guard to tell them he forgave them. Some even accepted Christ, but the man known as “the Bird” refused to meet with him. The message of forgiveness is more needed than the message of a man who refused to be broken.