June 23, 2002
I. Introduction: Got Grace?
In 1993, milk consumption in California had declined steadily for 20 years, so milk processors from all over the state banded together to do something about it.
The research that followed revealed some very interesting insights. First, people know just about all they need to know about milk. Its white, comes in gallons and is good for you. Second you can’t substitute any other beverage for milk when you’ve got a mouth full of Oreo cookies or a bowl of your favorite cereal.
Finally, and most importantly, people notice milk most when they suddenly run out of it.
Thus was born, the “Got milk?” advertising campaign. The “Got Milk?” television ads show poor souls lacking milk at the most painful and inconvenient times.
As ungrammatical as it might be, the question before us tonight is “Got Grace?”
There are millions of souls craving grace and finding a lack of it at the most painful and inconvenient times of their lives. Today, our culture is asking this question. Got grace? Does God have enough grace for me? Do YOU have enough grace for me? We’ve had enough of judgment. We’ve seen enough of your legalism… do you have enough grace for me?
Of course, grace is a much larger topic than we could cover adequately cover tonight, so we’ll only be drawing from the surface of what is a very deep well.
In order to talk about grace, we need to do two things. First we need to know what it is, (define our terms). And secondly, we need to go to the source of grace in order to be filled with it.
First, lets define our terms.
According to the dictionary, the theological definition of grace is this: “The divine favor toward man; the mercy of God, as distinguished from His justice; also, any benefits His mercy imparts; divine love or pardon; a state of acceptance with God; enjoyment of the divine favor.”
Remember, it is the nature of God to be the perfect balance of justice and mercy. We humans tend to err on one side or the other… either we embrace justice to the point of a life-draining legalism, or we become so liberal that we blur the lines of where sin begins and ends.
This is a common mistake many parents make in their parenting. They either become so rigid and dogmatic that their children rebel against the legalism or they become so lax as to have no fences around their children at all.
Grace as defined by Jesus’ example is neither legalism nor liberalism. It is justice and mercy in perfect balance.
II. Examples of Grace from the life of Jesus
I began my research for this message asking myself an impossible question: “What are the three best examples of grace in the life of Jesus?” Following are my best guesses… you may have other thoughts-- and I’d be glad to debate the merits of each at a later time. For now, we’re going to look at the these following events in Jesus’ life: the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well and the thief on the cross.
§ Woman caught in adultery
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
§ Woman at the well
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
§ Thief on the cross
Luke 23:32, 33; 39-43
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left…
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
III. Common threads in these stories
§ Grace is unconditional
John 8:10: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Notice that Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.” Now. In this moment, I do not condemn you. Grace was freely offered without condition. I know what some of you are thinking. Some might argue that Jesus was putting a condition on grace by saying, ”Go and leave your life of sin.” But look closely… He said Neither do I condemn you first.
It will help, maybe to look at it the way most of us would have done it: “There now. You’ve really messed up your life haven’t you? You’re living with a man, and you’ve left a string of relationships behind you. What a mess. Now, go move out of the situation you’re in, and then there’ll be no condemnation for you.”
Remember that God is the perfect balance of grace and justice. Jesus offers grace first and then offers her a brand new future. His next declaration is “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” In effect he is saying, “You’re forgiven—and you have a beautiful future. Don’t abuse my grace by going back to your old ways. Leave your life of sin, and take my present grace and my future grace and make something beautiful of your life.
Notice that the grace Jesus gave is not a license to sin; but a release from past sin, freedom from guilt, and a gift of a brand-new future.
§ Grace is immediate
To the thief on the cross, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Today. Now. Immediately. I don’t see anywhere where Jesus required the thief to attend a 12-step program, or asked where his church membership was or enrolled him in a series of doctrine classes. I don’t even see Jesus turning to the thief and saying, “I see that hand. Now, bow your head and repeat after me…”
Not that 12-step programs, church membership, doctrine classes and saying prayers are bad. Far from it. They each have their place and serve very worthwhile purposes. It’s just that none of them are a requirement for the giving or receiving of grace.
What you do hear is Jesus promising the thief eternal life. In fact in just a few short minutes, both Jesus and the thief will be breathing their last breath… and both will be in eternity.
How is it that a life-time criminal, convicted to be executed on a cross can make a last minute death-bed confession and end up in the presence of God? I’ll tell you: he got grace, pure and simple.
§ Grace is convicting
True grace, as practiced by Jesus, brought conviction. Witness again the teachers who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus. Jesus asked a few simple questions, and everyone present was convicted of their sin. They had brought the woman to stone her according to the law of Moses-- to which they had every right according to the law.
John 1:17 says, For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
So, when Jesus was through with them, they were dropping their stones and walking away, painfully aware of the truth, and convicted of their own sin.
How is it possible to give grace while holding a higher standard? I think the answer is that while we give grace, we also allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting.
One example of that here at Valley Assembly is the Quitting for Christ stop-smoking class. While we hold to a higher standard (that is, being tobacco-free), we still allow folks yet addicted to nicotine to come and explore their faith with us as fellow pilgrims. We then allow the Holy Spirit to do the convicting on His own terms. We got grace.
§ Grace is life-giving
The story of the woman at the well is the story of what happens when a thirsty soul meets Living Water. The grace Jesus gave that day brought new life to a soul ravaged by a series of bad choices. How many times I have sat in my office and heard story after sad story of messed-up lives, convoluted relationships, and confusion—all due to poor choices. Jesus knew how to pour healing water on this kind of parched soul and bring about new life.
Wherever it goes, grace gives life.
There are two stories with similar circumstances, but very different endings.
Each week Kevin Tunell was required to mail a dollar to a family he’d rather forget. How’s that? They sued him for $1.5 million dollars but settled for $936 to be paid a dollar at a time. The family expected the payment each Friday so Tunell wouldn’t forget what happened on the first Friday of 1982.
That’s the day their daughter was killed. Tunell was convicted of manslaughter and drunken driving. He was 17 years-old at that time. She was 18. Tunell served a court sentence. He also spent seven years campaigning against drunk driving, 6 years more than his sentence required. BUT HE KEPT FORGETTING TO SEND THE DOLLAR.
The weekly restitution was to last until the year 2000. In other words, 18 years. Tunell was to make the check out to the victim, mail it to her family and it was to be deposited in a scholarship fund.
The girl’s family took Tunell to court four times for failure to comply. After one court appearance, Tunell spent 30 days in jail. He insisted that he wasn’t defying the order, but was haunted by the girl’s death and tormented by the reminders.
He offered the family two boxes of checks covering the payments until the year 2001, one year more than required. BUT THEY REFUSED THE CHECKS. It’s not the money they were after, but penance, they said.
The mother said, “We want to receive the check every week on time. He must understand we are going to pursue this until August of the year 2000. We’ll go back to court every month if we have to.”
Contrast that story with this one:
Al Masters lives in the eastern part of Pennsylvania. He is married and he had a little boy and a small business. He considered himself very blessed. And then, just before Christmas, quite some years ago, his little boy was killed by a 15 year old driving without a license. Al Masters was filled with a deep desire for revenge. Even though that youngster could not be brought before the full power of the law because he was a juvenile, Al wanted the book thrown at him.
Then, on Christmas Eve, his wife got him to
go to church. He listened to the story of the word
that came to the shepherds. He learned about the Savior. He recognized that he was a sinner who needed God’s grace. He needed forgiveness; he needed a Savior.
He began to weep.
When he left church he set out to find out more about the boy who killed his son. He discovered that he came from a broken home. His mother was a hopeless alcoholic. Al Masters went and met the boy. Then an incredible and unbelievable thing occurred. Al gave the boy a job in his own shop. Later he took him into his own home to live! He gave the boy what he didn’t deserve. He got grace.
The first story reflects what happens in the absence of grace. It chokes and suffocates life. It binds and constrains… It’s like Oreos without milk! Whereas, the second story is an example of life-giving grace.
I have a friend in Olympia who would often remind me of the meaning of grace. When something great would happen to her, I would say… “You deserve it, Pat!”
She would reply, “I deserve hell. This is all grace.”
What does this mean for us? How do we demonstrate grace in this era of tattoos and body piercing? I’m reminded that about 30 years ago, it was the churches who demonstrated grace and welcomed hippies into their folds that grew the most. The hippies grew up, matured, got haircuts and put on suits. And now, we are them and they are us.
However, there is a new challenge before us. How are we going to respond to blue hair on a 15 year old? How open are we going to be to those with tattoos and holes and metal in places where we didn’t even know they had places? What will happen when they grow up and mature like the hippies did, but the tattoos and body piercings don’t go away?
In order to be a church where wounded, hurting, searching people become healthy followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be grace receivers and grace givers. And it’s not a matter of being one or the other…but learning to receive God’s grace as well as being agents of grace.
We need to go to the source of grace… and ask for an abundant supply.
Imagine you are standing in the outer courts of eternity, at the very threshold of the gates of Heaven. As you stand there, there begins a grand procession, a crowd marching up to and through the gates to enter into the presence of God. “Who are these people?” you ask.
The answer comes, “They are the prophets, who are going to see God.”
Sadly, you are not one of them.
Soon another group of great personalities comes up the road robed in white. They too, pass through the gates of Heaven and shouts of welcome are heard from within.
“And who are these?” you ask.
They are the apostles.
Sadly, you are not an apostle.
Then another group comes up the road, this time the singing is louder than before and you see the members of this group waving palm branches.
Upon inquiry, you find that these are the martyrs who died for their faith.
You begin wondering if you will find a group to join so that you too can enter Heaven’s gates.
Finally, another group comes up the road. The heavenly hosts begin greeting this group with shouts of welcome. All Heaven seems to rock with the excitement of this group about to enter the Heavenly gates.
You look closely, and begin to recognize some in this group. First there is the woman accused of adultery. Then comes the woman at the well, followed by a host of others… you see Zachacus, you spot the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil, there’s Barabas and Simon, …the blind man… and the thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus. Common folk—everyday sinners—who like millions of others, have been saved by amazing grace.
You are jubilant. Finally, you have found a group you can join. You take your place beside them and enter into the presence of God—not because you deserve it, but because…
…you got grace!