Sensational Grace

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Then Abraham approached him [the LORD] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).

Then he [Abraham] said, “May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?” He [the LORD} answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”  (Ge 18:32, NIV 1984).

The two men [angels] said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it.”  (Genesis 19:12–13, NIV 1984).

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.  (Genesis 19:15–16, NIV 1984).

“Look, here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me [Lot] flee to it—it is very small, isn’t it? Then my life will be spared.” He said to him, “Very well, I [the angel] will grant this request too; I will not overthrow the town you speak of. But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it.”  (Genesis 19:19–22, NIV 1984).

My Musings – The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is mostly remembered for the fierce judgment of God because “their sin [was] so grievous.”  I don’t intend to debate the nature of their wickedness, but rather the underlying message of God’s mercy and grace that is often overlooked.  Perhaps because that message is not quite as “sensational” and makes for a less interesting tale.  In reality, it is both quite sensational (causing great public excitement) and interesting (arousing curiosity or catching the attention).

It starts with Abraham “negotiating” with the LORD.  “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”  (Genesis 18:23, NIV 1984).  Beginning with “fifty righteous,” Abraham “wears” the LORD down to agree not to destroy the cities “for the sake of ten.”  The story is not about Abraham’s astute bargaining skills, but rather lavishness of God’s grace and mercy.  God always has His remnant, and the lengths He will go “for the sake of the [elect]” is staggering.

In the end, there were only four.  God did destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, a righteous judgment. Yet He did not “sweep away the [four] righteous with the wicked.”  An undeserving expression of His abundant grace.  For did they really measure up to His standard of righteousness?

His grace did not end there. When they hesitated, in the face of imminent destruction no less, “the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them.” Even sparing another city (Zoar) marked for destruction (“I will not overthrow the town you speak of“).

God’s grace and mercy was extended despite the captivation of Lot to the wickedness that surrounded him.  For example:

• He got close to the wickedness (“pitched his tents near Sodom” — Genesis 13:12).

• He moved into the midst of wickedness (“Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city” — Genesis 19:1).

• He hesitated leaving the circle of wickedness (“When [Lot] hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city” — Genesis 19:16).

• He desired to stay near the wickedness (“here is a town [Zoar] near enough to run to, and it is small. Let me flee to it” — Genesis 19:19).

My Advice – Let’s not cheapen God’s grace and mercy by getting close to, moving in to, hanging on to or staying near to worldliness.  God is long-suffering, but His “Spirit will not contend with man forever.” (Genesis 6:3, NIV 1984).

 

If Only There Were Someone

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“He [God] is not a man like me that I might answer him, that we might confront each other in court.  If only there were someone to arbitrate between us, to lay his hand upon us both, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more. Then I would speak up without fear of him, but as it now stands with me, I cannot.”  (Job 9:32–35, NIV 1984).

My Musings – These words of Job’s could not have been more prophetic.

  • If only there were someone to arbitrate between us – Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding [arbitrating] for us.” (Romans 8:33–34, NIV 1984).
  • Someone to remove God’s rod from meThen the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff [rod] and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. (Matthew 27:27–31, NIV 1984).
  • Then I would speak up without fear of Him – “For we do not have a high priest [arbitrator] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15–16, NIV 1984).

An arbitrator is someone to stands in between (intercedes) two parties to settle a dispute.  Who better to do so than Jesus, who knows the mind of the Father, while also being able to sympathize with us? “To lay his hand upon us both“?  In the end, the only way to settle the dispute was to take the penalty upon Himself, allowing us to receive mercy and find grace.

My Advice – Jesus is the only legitimate arbitrator between sinful man and a righteous God.  Accept the settlement.

 

Sent Into The World

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I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.  My prayer is not for them alone.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.”  (John 17:9, 15–18, 20, NIV 1984).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33, NIV 1984).

My Musings – It is a human trait that we often say things with equal passion and deep conviction that are contradictory.  A first impression of the two passages above, quotes from the lips and heart of Jesus, that they are also contradictory.  We might dismiss this as merely a manifestation of His fully human nature but not a reflection of His fully divine nature (perhaps we’ll discuss this apparent contradiction in a future musing).  But we would be missing the point altogether.

In the first instance, Jesus speaks about protecting us from (insulated in) the evil one, while not praying that we be taken from (isolated from) the world.  He is, in fact, intentionally sending us out into (included within) the world while not being part of (integrated into) the world.  In sending us out as “aliens” into the world, He us sending out into hostile territory.  There we will encounter natural dangers (curses of a fallen world) and be confronted by supernatural dangers (curses from a fallen angel).

Jesus does not pray that we be protected from natural dangers.  Some He will prevent and some He will permit, according to His divine will. But not without eternal purposes.  But He does pray for protection from supernatural dangers though a new divine nature (“if anyone is in Christ He is a new creation” – 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV 1984) and indwelling by the Holy Spirit (“I will not leave you orphans” – John 14:18).  This does not mean we will never give in or bow down to supernatural confrontations (temptation, persecution), but it does mean that we do not have to give in (“for the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and Godly lives in this present age” – Titus 2:12, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Just say no (by the grace of God).

Be Strong In Your Weakness

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When the apostles returned…Jesus…took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed healing.  Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.” He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there).  (Luke 9:10–14, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “You give them something to eat.”  If there were about five thousand men there, the total crowd may have exceeded ten thousand, when you include women and children.  Jesus was giving the disciples a task that they had inadequate provisions (five loaves and two fish) to complete and no apparent solutions for (insufficient funds to buy the food).  But He took what they did have, blessed it, multiplied it, and made it work.

My Advice – Whenever you are facing a seemingly insurmountable task that God has placed on your heart, do not be discouraged.  Do not focus on the problem, focus on the One who gave you the “problem.”  Is He faithful?  Is He Able?  Is His grace sufficient?  God will not call you to it, if He will not see you through it.  You may feel inadequate to the task, but maybe that is the point.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  (1 Corinthians 1:26–29, NIV 1984).

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:7–10, NIV 1984).

Can Such Faith Save?

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What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.  (James 2:14–18, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “Can such faith [with no deeds] save him?”  On the surface, this sounds like an outright contradiction of yesterday’s musing – by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone.  Is James (the half-brother of Jesus), promoting “a different gospel [faith plus works] — which is really no gospel at all,” that Paul condemns?  Many, through the years, have seen such a contradiction.  This included Martin Luther who said, “James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.”  Or as Paul said, “no gospel at all.

But there is no contradiction.  Paul’s epistle of grace and James’ epistle of “straw” are in fact complementary.

Salvation result of grace – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, NIV 1984).

Salvation results in works – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV 1984).

In essence, a faith that does not result in works (not a result of works) was very likely not a saving faith (“can such faith save him?“).  Such a person may claim to have faith, but if that faith does not produce works, it is dead (really never was alive). These works are “produced by faith” in Jesus. These labors are not born out of obligation, but are “prompted by love” that we have for our Master, our fellow heirs and the lost. Finally, all of this is inspired by our “hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”  (1 Thessalonians 1:3, NIV 1984).

My Advice – Do not think that your salvation is works based.  Rather think that your works are based on salvation.  Show your faith by what you do.

 

From the Top

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And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.  At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  (Matthew 27:50–51, NIV 1984).

My Musings – “He gave up His Spirit.”  A willing sacrifice.  His Spirit was not taken from Him, He released it.  “At that moment.”  The very moment that the ultimate sacrifice was made (“it is finished“).  “The curtain of the temple was torn in two.”  Access to God was made available through Christ’s death on the cross.  “From top to bottom.”  This is not an insignificant detail.  It was rent from the top, by the “hand” of God.

My Advice – We have access.  It was given to us as a free gift from God.  Why wouldn’t we enter in?  If we were waiting for God to make the first move to end the separation (even though we caused the separation), He already made it.  Big time.  The time is now. Huge cost.  The price is right – it’s free.

Everything You Could Not Be

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Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”  (Acts 13:38–39, NIV 1984).

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.”  (Galatians 3:24, NIV 1984).

My Musings – I think we can all relate to the above comic.  Thinking (insisting) that we can do it ourselves only to find our efforts are not up to the task. In the sake of salvation, we never will be able to do it for ourselves.  We will never be up to the task.  The ultimate purpose of the law is to show us that we cannot do it for ourselves.  That we never will be able to do it for ourselves.  But it also has the purpose of leading us to the one that can provide it for us.

My Advice – Salvation is free but it was not cheap.  Salvation is free, but we could never earn enough “points” through the law to buy it for ourselves.  Let the law lead you to grace.