May 25, 2008
Part 7: Discovering the unsearchable riches of His grace
ILL: In July of 2000, a limo driver in Anaheim, California picked up an unusual fare: his passenger wanted a ride to Portland, Oregon. The driver obliged; the fare was $2216. But that was nothing compared to the tip. His passenger gave him a $20,000 tip. The driver objected, saying that it was too much, but his passenger insisted!
A $20,000 tip…that’s crazy! Or it’s grace. If grace is giving more than what is deserved, that’s grace…a rich grace!
Today we finish this series on the unsearchable riches of Christ with the riches of His grace. He gives us what we don’t deserve.
Today we are talking about the unsearchable riches of God’s grace. What is grace? Grace combines two ideas: it is first an attitude or disposition of goodwill and favor, and second, this goodwill is given freely and unconditionally. Therefore, grace is usually defined as “unmerited favor.” Someone said that mercy is not getting what we deserve, and grace is getting what we don’t deserve.
ILL: If I’m speeding and I get a ticket, I deserved it. If the cop lets me off with a warning, that’s mercy. He didn’t give me what I deserved. If he gives me free tickets to a Mariners’ game and shares his coffee with me, that’s grace. He gave me what I didn’t deserve.
The Bible says that we are saved by grace, that is, it is a free gift that we didn’t earn or deserve. It’s only by grace, not by our merit or works that any of us go to
heaven. Mark Twain once said, “Heaven goes by grace. If it went by merit, you would stay out, and your dog would go in.”
Today, we’re going to take a few moments to discover the riches of God’s grace.
Ephesians 1:7 In him (Jesus) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace
Ephesians 2:7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
Notice that this grace was expressed to us in Jesus. John described it this way.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Who is the Word? Jesus.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:16-17 From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…and the Word became flesh. God became a man. We call it the Incarnation: “in” means “in”, and “carnation” comes from the Latin word carn for “flesh”. A carnivore eats meat-flesh. Chili con carne is chili with meat-flesh. Incarnation means “in flesh”. God in the flesh. Jesus is God in the flesh-God in a bod. The Word became flesh and lived among us where we could see Him and touch Him. And what did we see? Grace! Let’s look more closely at these verses.
1. Jesus is full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus is “full of grace and truth.” What do we mean when we say a person is “full of” something? We mean that particular quality is characteristic of that person. If I said, “Bill is full of mischief,” it means that you couldn’t hang around Bill very long before mischief would happen! If I said, “Laina is full of joy,” it means that she is characteristically joyful-and she is. If I said, “Bob is full of baloney,” it means that you wouldn’t want to believe everything he says.
Jesus is full of grace and truth. Hang around Jesus and you’ll see lots of grace and hear lots of truth. Story after story in the New Testament illustrates the riches of the grace of Jesus.
Turn the page to John 2. The first miracle that Jesus did was a party miracle. He had been invited to a wedding party and the wine ran out. Today, that would be no big deal! We’d jump in the car, run down to the local grocery, and pick up more wine. Or if you’re like me, and don’t drink any alcohol, you’d run to 7-11 and stock up on Slurpees. Either way-no big deal now. But it was a big deal in Jesus’ day. There was no quick and easy way to replenish the wine supply, or the Slurpees, and because hospitality was a sacred duty, to run out of wine at a wedding party was a major faux pas, a failure serious enough to ruin the whole party.
ILL: Let’s imagine it is your wedding. You’ve sent out invitations to hundreds of people, and told them, “Reception following, with a sit-down dinner. Bring your appetite!” After the wedding, everyone retires to the reception hall, and nothing is there: no food, no drink, nothing! Your mother calls the caterer-he forgot! And there is no way he can put together a sit-down dinner in time. The party is over, everyone goes home grumbling, you are humiliated, your wedding is ruined. That’s how this felt to this first-century bride and groom.
So when Mary, Jesus’ mother, asked him to help, He did! He instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water; these jars were used for Jewish ritual washings. The servants filled the jars as instructed; then Jesus told them to draw some out and take it to the head caterer. When he tasted the water that had turned into wine, he went straight to the bridegroom, and said, “You sly dog! You’ve been holding out on us! Most people put out the good wine first, and save the cheap wine for the end of the party, when people have already had too much to drink. But you!-you saved the best for last! This is fabulous wine!”
Wouldn’t it have been fun to see the groom’s face? You know where he had just been? Comforting his mortified wife, who between sobs had been saying, “Moshe, how could you have been so stupid! No wine at our wedding. My life is over. I can never show my face in the village again. All because I married a schlep like you!” With his wife’s tears still damp on his cummerbund, this young groom must have wondered where this wonderful wine had come from!
It came from Jesus, full of grace. His first miracle was an act of grace, to save a young couple’s wedding party. Oh, scholars see all kinds of deeper significance. For example, the stone pots that were usually used for ritual washings proscribed by Moses now held the new wine of God’s Son-a wonderful picture of the change that Jesus was bringing, replacing the old way of rules with the new way of joyful relationship. But the most obvious purpose of Jesus’ first miracle was simply to spare a young couple terrible disappointment and shame by saving their wedding reception. It was a miracle of pure grace.
That’s Jesus-full of grace! He does things like that, you know. Not because we deserve them, but just because He loves us! It seems to me that almost every story in the gospels reveals the incomparable riches of the grace of Jesus, story after story.
- When He miraculously fed a crowd of thousands with a small boy’s sack lunch, it was because they were all hungry and tired, and the nearest food was far away. It wasn’t because they had been working hard all day! They had been listening to Him while He taught; He’d done all the work, and now He threw in dinner for free! He was full of grace.
- When the Pharisees attacked him for eating with sinners, He told wonderful stories about how much lost people matter to God: a shepherd who left 99 sheep safe in the fold to go and search for one lost sheep; a woman who deep-cleaned her whole house to find one lost coin; a father who welcomed home a long-lost son after he had squandered half the family estate. “Why do you hang with low-life?” they asked Him. “Because they matter to God so much that He sent Me to find them!” Jesus loved people on the margins, outcasts, rejects. He was full of grace!
- A woman is caught in the act of adultery, an offence punishable by stoning. When her accusers asked Jesus what they should do with her, Jesus said, “Whoever is without sin may throw the first stone.” That eliminated almost everybody! The angry mob slowly dispersed, and Jesus asked, “Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” Can you hear the wonder in her voice as she says, “No one, sir,”? “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” This woman had every reason to expect to be punished; instead she was pardoned. She had every reason to expect to be condemned; instead she was forgiven. She had been dragged in thinking it was the end; she walked out knowing it was a new beginning. She had come face to face with pure grace. He was full of grace!
- When he hung on the cross dying, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” He was full of grace, to His dying breath.
That’s Jesus! Full of grace and truth. Then John says that fullness has spilled over onto all of us.
2. We have received grace upon grace.
John 1:16 “From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another.”
Literally, it says, “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” From His fullness, grace upon grace, one blessing after another, overflowing to us.
ILL: Have you been downtown to see the falls? It’s a late spring run-off and the river is spectacular right now.
Imagine a river with a dam, and behind the dam, a reservoir, long and deep and full. Water from the reservoir pours over the spillways, and brings one benefit after another to those downstream.
- Electricity to light and heat their homes, and power their appliances.
- Water to drink, and to irrigate their fields, producing crops for food.
- Recreation: a park with a beach for swimming on hot summer days, fishing in the river and water skiing and sailing on the reservoir.
As long as the reservoir is full, the blessings pour over the spillways, one after another.
That is a picture of Jesus, full of grace and truth. From His fullness, we have all received one blessing after another, grace upon grace.
What are some of those graces, those blessings that have spilled out of His fullness to you? I have suggested before that you take some time to list all God’s blessings, His goodness to you, and then thank Him for them. To help you get started, think of these four areas.
- Spiritual blessings. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” What are some spiritual blessings? Salvation, forgiveness, faith, answered prayer, purpose and meaning, hope, heaven, healing, relationship with God, privilege of partnership, spiritual gifts.
- Physical blessings. What are some physical blessings? Health, food and water and housing.
- Relational blessings. What are some relational blessings? Family, friends, marriage, kids, neighbors.
- Other blessings. These are blessings that don’t fit neatly in the other 3 categories. What are some other blessings? Job, talents and abilities, freedom, peace, joy.
All because of God’s grace! John tells us not only that Jesus is full of grace, but that His fullness has spilled over to us, resulting in one blessing after another. Jesus let loose a flood of grace that has touched us all. Have you counted your blessings, blessings that come from the fullness of His grace?
Jesus is full of grace and truth. From the fullness of His grace, we have all received one blessing after another, grace upon grace. One more:
3. Come to Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
John 1:17 “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
John was drawing a contrast between:
- Moses and Jesus.
- Law and grace.
- Religion and relationship.
- Trying harder and trusting Him!
We often say that religion is spelled “D-O”. Do. Religion is all about what you must do to please God. Christianity is spelled “D-O-N-E”. Done. Christianity is all about what God has done for you.
Religion is the stairway to heaven. You climb the stairs to God; your effort and hard work take you closer. Hopefully you make it to the top of the stairs before you die. Jesus is the elevator to heaven. You get in and let the elevator take you to the top. You know you can’t climb all those stairs, so you trust the elevator to do the work for you.
Stairs vs. elevator. Do vs. done. The law vs. grace. That’s the contrast that John is drawing in this verse. Let me illustrate it with two stories.
ILL: On April 26, 2008, the Western Oregon women’s softball team played against Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. In the second inning, 5’2″ Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky hit the first homerun of her college career-a 3 run dinger! She dropped her bat and started to make her way around the bases. In the midst of all the excitement, she forgot to tag first base. When the first base coach brought the mistake to her attention, she quickly turned around. To everyone’s horror, her right knee buckled. Crying, she tried her best to crawl back to the base-she had blown out her ACL. Tucholsky’s teammates were warned that if they touched her, she would be called out. The umpires also noted that if her coaches opted to call in a pinch runner, the homerun would only count as a single, robbing Western Oregon of a run in a tight game.
You can probably imagine the shock everyone felt, then, when Mallory Holtman, the opposing team’s first baseman and career homerun leader for Central Washington, turned to the umpire and said, “Would it be okay if we carried her around the bases, and she touched each bag?” When the umpires gave their approval, Holtman and teammate Liz Wallace picked up Tucholsky, crossed their hands beneath her, and carried her to second base. Once there, they lowered the injured player and gently touched her foot to the bag. They did the same for third base and home plate. The crowd erupted into a standing ovation. Western Oregon went on to win the game, 4-2, eliminating Central Washington from the playoffs.
When later asked about the good deed, Mallory Holtman said the decision to help out her opponent was simple. She felt Tucholsky deserved the homerun, because the ball cleared the fence. In her own interview, Sara Tucholsky said, “It’s amazing, what they did…I hope I would do the same for her in the same situation.” George Vecsey, a writer who was there covering the game, said what happened can only be described as a moment of grace.
Grace-the Central Washington players gave Sara a gift. What Sara couldn’t do for herself-touch all the bases-they did for her. They didn’t have to do it; in fact, most players wouldn’t have done it. It was a gift of grace. It was done for her-do vs. done.
Jesus has done for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. He has touched all the bases. He has obeyed every command, He has fulfilled all righteousness…and credited it to us. This is grace. Contrast that story of grace with this story of law.
ILL: Alexandra Flynn of Fremont, Nebraska, was looking forward to the 2002 homecoming dance. She left home in high spirits, but she did not have her high school ID with her. When the man at the door refused her admission without her ID, she went home to get it.
Unable to find it, her mother went with her back to the dance to identify her and to explain. Again, the daughter was refused admission without the ID. Alex had the tickets in her hand but still was not admitted. Even though Alexandra Flynn of Fremont High is Student Body President, plays cello in the Allstate orchestra, is on the Honor Roll, is the school’s number one cheerleader, and she spent hours decorating the gym for the Homecoming Dance, she was still not admitted.
Did I mention she was homecoming queen?
But, she never did get in.
Does anybody beside me think this is stupid? Let the poor girl in!
This is the law: you keep it or you don’t. She didn’t and they wouldn’t let her in. No grace.
The truth about us is that we haven’t kept God’s law either. We’ve all broken it at different points. And God has sufficient reason not to let us into the dance-we broke the rules, we don’t get in.
But here’s the good news: God is more like the Central Washington softball players than the man at the door of the homecoming dance! God is full of grace. God lets us in based on His grace, not our merit.
Here is an important truth: Grace is opposed to merit, but not effort. To say we are under grace, not law, doesn’t mean we don’t try. In fact, grace is better reason to try than law ever was. Now I try to obey God not to earn His favor, but because He’s already given it. Now I try to obey God not to win His love, but because He loves me so much.
We are motivated by grace, not law; by love, not legalism. The Christian life isn’t a “work harder to earn it.” That’s the stairs, and many churches and individual Christians are still using the stairs, not the elevator. Many are still trying to do it themselves, rather than receiving what God has done. Jesus didn’t come to bring religion; He came to bring relief! He came to bring grace! He came to bring you into a relationship of love with God. Listen to this:
Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus didn’t come to load you down with a heavy burden; He came to give you rest. Stop climbing the stairs to heaven by your own effort, and let Jesus take you there. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of this passage in The Message.
Matthew 11:28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Come to Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace. God is not an angry taskmaster who is beating a relentless drum: “faster, faster; more, more!” You could never do enough to earn your way to heaven. But it’s all been done for you, and Jesus invites you to get off the stairs and on the escalator. Jesus invites you to rest. If your burden is heavy, it’s not from Jesus. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Come to Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
ILL: We’re trying a little experiment at our office. Over the centuries, many Christians have used “the divine office” to help them pray and experience God’s presence all day. The divine office is a schedule of regular times for prayer and worship, all during the day. So each day at our office, at 9 AM, noon, and 3 PM, our receptionist issues an “all-call” over the intercom, calling us to prayer. We stop what we’re doing, and we pray for a few minutes. Or we worship. Or we meditate on Scripture. Or we’re silent and we listen for His voice. The big idea is that we try to connect with God. For just a few minutes, we turn off our technology and stop our busyness, and we focus on God…for just a few minutes. Like I said, we’re experimenting; this is new for us. It’s not legalism-“pray or else”. We don’t have a man at door of dance checking on us. We’re all banged up and carrying each other around the bases! We’re trying to learn “the unforced rhythms of grace” together. Work, then rest. It will be fun to see what we learn.
Come to Jesus and learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I’m going to invite our worship team to come back, and the ushers to bring the communion elements. Here’s another rhythm of grace-communion. Jesus gave us the bread and wine as symbols of His body and blood, and whenever we eat them together, we are to stop and remember Him. Remember what He has done for us-it’s all about what He’s done for us, not what we do for Him. It’s grace. We celebrate His death that forgave our sins and brought us to God. We celebrate His resurrection that gives us a new life-a new life in the unforced rhythms of grace rather than the fearful and uncertain life of trying to earn our way by good works.
Worship while elements are distributed.
Cami’s song: I’ll invite people to rest, be quiet, listen, and soak in the grace.
4. What do we do with all these riches? Share it!
ILL: Joe Bayly, a Christian author and pastor, had a son named Tim who was not following the Lord. Tim moved out and rented a house with a group of friends. Late one night, Joe got a phone call. “This is the police,” the voice said. “Your son has been arrested on drug charges, and we have him here in jail.” Joe got out of bed and drove a half hour to the jail where the man on the phone had told him his son was being held. But no one there had ever heard of his son. Joe thought he had driven to the wrong jail, so he drove to several other jails trying to find Tim. Nothing.
Finally, around 2:00 a.m., Joe decided to go to Tim’s house and see if he was there. The front door wasn’t locked, so Joe went in and began to go from bedroom to bedroom looking for his son. He found Tim upstairs, fast asleep. Joe walked over and knelt by Tim’s bed. Shaking him awake, Joe asked, “Tim, are you all right?”
Tim awoke and, seeing his Dad frantic with concern, answered, “Yes Dad-I’m all right. Why? What’s wrong?”
Joe told Tim that someone had called in the middle of the night saying he was in jail. Tim assured him he wasn’t, and then Joe told him he loved him and kissed Tim goodnight, and drove home.
Years later, Tim had returned to Jesus, and in a conversation with his Dad, Tim explained how God had used that night as a key part of bringing him back to faith. “Remember that night when you got a call that I was in jail?” he told his father. “Dad, I’ll never forget you kneeling next to my bed, kissing me, and telling me you loved me.”
God used Joe’s unconditional love-grace-to show Tim the love of His Heavenly Father. Joe showed Tim grace, and that’s what won him. Today, Tim is a pastor in Indiana.
We live in a grace-less world. Share the riches of God’s grace with others. Show others the same grace God has shown you.