Grace is the subject of one of our most popular songs, and is surely one of God’s most appreciated attributes. It makes forgiveness possible for the vilest of sinners as it reaches across the chasm that spans from here to eternity. The Son of God embodied it to bring salvation to every person. It saves, educates and commissions. It casts a much wider shadow than most of us understand.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…(Ephesians 2:8).” It is one of the most reassuring verses in the word of God. When we consider the horror of our pre-Christian condition, it becomes even more impressive. Sinners are dead, and that is a totally hopeless state. A corpse is powerless until faith embraces the hand of the omnipotent God. He raises us, gives us life and seats us with Christ. It is complete transformation which also brings responsibilities.
“…we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain…(2 Corinthians 6:1)” There is the dangerous potential. Initially, it means everything to us as we recognize the extraordinary gift of salvation, but does it begin to dull in significance as time goes by? Have we really allowed the grace of God to change our hearts? Sin is repulsive. Do we see it that way? Forgiveness is costly. Will we extend it to others through our own experience of grace, or does the grace of God stop with us?
The young man was demanding. He wanted his stuff right then and there. He did not want to wait. He had done nothing to deserve it except be born into the right family and even then, he should have waited in line for his part but he wouldn’t. His dad gave in to his wishes. He took his undeserved riches, left home and wasted it all on rowdy parties. Home and dad looked pretty good from his mess, so he headed back to take his medicine. He was greeted with a celebration by the same father who gave him things he didn’t deserve. It is a celebratory picture of grace (Luke 15:11-32), joyful for everyone except…
God’s grace is a challenge for those who have been wronged. The prodigal’s big brother did not appreciate his father’s gracious reception one bit. He wanted discipline and punishment of some sort. After all, his kid brother had taken something he had not earned and wasted it. It should have been his. Anger boiled over. He wanted humiliation, not music and a buffet. So, he pouted. Jesus brought grace to an ungrateful nation. He lived among them and died His sacrificial death at their hands. Pentecost came and those same bloodthirsty instigators were met with grace. Repentance and baptism in the name of the crucified one will clean the slate. Even them? Yes, even them. Hard to take? Perhaps, but the grace of God truly is amazing.
It is the single question that will change our lives. It was a punch to Peter’s raw emotions. He stood before the Lord having denied Him in triplicate. The life of Jesus hung in the balance. Every conceivable force had joined together in opposition to the Son of God. Hope for the little band of disciples was on the brink of apparent extinction when the self-confidence of the fisherman faltered. Now, he had a face-to-face confrontation with the One whom he had denied.
“Do you love Me (John 21:15-17)?” Step into Peter’s skin for a minute. Jesus had warned him that his failure was imminent (John 13:38). He was certain that it wasn’t. No amount of pressure could win out against him. Then it did, and not just once but three times. Evil won that round, and a once-cocky apostle had a head-on collision with his own frailty. He stood at a distance as the Son of Man took that and all the failures of humanity to the old rugged cross. Now, he looked the risen One in the eye. Or did he look away, too humiliated to meet His gaze? “Do you love Me?”
Peter was one of the first to hear the “follow Me” invitation and accept it. He was among a dozen disciples that Jesus chose to be apostles. Judas was, too. A fast start does not assure a victorious finish. They all received the same instructions from the Lord before they ventured out into a hostile world (Matthew 10). It would be tough sledding. Included was a somber cautioning about denying Him (Verse 33). All twelve heard it and had wilted in the heat of persecution. “Do you love Me?”
That would probably provide the perfect definition of discomfort. Jesus asked the question three times, matching the number of denials. Yes. Yes. Yes. The repeated response from Peter led the Lord to give him a task: Watch out for the welfare of my people. The Lord did not reject him. He did not chastise him. But He did quiz him. One concern and one job. Relationships, both vertical and horizontal, are the focus. “Do you love Me?”
Peter went on to preach one of the most famous sermons ever on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). We still read those words and derive much of our understanding of the church from them. Jesus had promised that he would receive the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16:19), and the kingdom was opened to all. The Lord communicated two inspired letters through him to Christians, and he served as an elder (1 Peter 5:1). Not a bad resume for a “failure.”
Failure did not define Peter, nor does it define us. It refines us. We realize our weakness, and in that we find strength as we recognize our deep need for Him. “Do you love Me?” Our answer changes everything.
“Our God is Good”
The assessment was grim. God was angry (Romans 1:18-32). The signs flooded the culture that people had gone terribly off course. They had done so before, and the Lord had dealt with them with a flood of His own. The expressions of His wrath are devastating. In the case of the Romans, it had been to take a hands-off approach. They had made their choice, and it did not include Him. So, He let them go in their own direction. That never works out well. Ask the prodigal son.
Evidence surrounded them. As far as the eye could see, there was proof that an invisible one existed but they chose to ignore it. They began to disregard the God that they knew. Such an attitude will soon seep into a lifestyle whose roots run deeper than the actions that it prompts. It is a relational problem with the almighty Lord Who created us. Dismissing Him as irrelevant brings with it a high cost. Is our land listening?
Among the early symptoms is a lack of gratitude (Romans 1:21). Human speculation carries more weight than divine revelation and thinking gets distorted. Instead of beginning the thought process with the eternal God, people start with themselves. The creation is honored above the Creator. Values get turned upside down. The giving of thanks goes out the window. Hearts are infected with irresistible wickedness. Lies replace truth, and everyone suffers.
In the last letter that Paul wrote, he warned Timothy of the days to come (2 Timothy 3:1-5). It is not a pleasant description and, unfortunately, sounds a great deal like 2019 America. The character of the culture is one of self-absorption. They love and serve themselves. Relationships are wrecked. They pay lip service to religion, but it is meaningless. In the midst of the long list of ugly traits is “ungrateful.” It is certain that something has gone very wrong when we fail to recognize all that God does for us every day.
We live in an age of overcrowded schedules when it is easy to take the daily provisions of the Lord for granted. We cram eight days of living into a week and wonder why we’re so stressed and exhausted. Even Thanksgiving plans fill our hours with so much to do that we have very little time left for giving thanks. We cook, eat, clean and crash as thoughts of gratitude fade. Busy, busy, busy. Surely, it is one of Satan’s greatest ploys. One day has been set aside to pause and say thank you to our great Provider. It is a single 24-hour period in which our nation is encouraged to recognize all that God does for us. It is a practice that Christians should exercise every day of the year. He not only takes care of our daily bread but also our eternal souls, and for that we always give Him thanks.
“Peace in the Storms”
The word was made flesh (John 1:14). It is one of the most remarkable realities in a history that is filled with amazing facts. Humans crossed the Atlantic in rickety boats thinking the world was flat only to bump into new lands. Men walked on the moon. Scientists discovered tiny particles and enormous galaxies. It all pales in comparison to the one who actually made the seas, planets and molecules becoming a baby in His mother’s womb. The word was made flesh. Incredible.
It was a central component in an eternal plan. Our benevolent Creator knew before it ever began that the world would go astray. Sin would rear its ugly head and distort all that was good. All of mankind would suffer the effects, and it would take one of their own to resolve the issue. So, He became a man. It started in the simplest of circumstances among the animals and ended at the hands of ungodly men in a hostile act of brutality. In between, He lived a remarkable and very human life.
His youth was spent in relative obscurity. There is very little information that can be gathered. His earthly “father” toiled in carpentry. He took raw materials and made things, no doubt an interesting laboratory for one who watched and learned what it was to build. He would someday teach people how to construct a life. He would share profound lessons in simple terms like building houses. He communicated at human levels.
He knew what it was to be hungry and tired. He felt tugging temptations of this world just as we do. He was not exempt from any of the struggles that come with being flesh and blood. He experienced loneliness in the worst way on the cross. He took our sins on His shoulders and endured the horrible trauma in isolation. Forsaken by everyone closest to Him, including His Father, He died all alone. Being our Savior is tough business.
The Son of God stepped into human skin and accomplished what no one else could (Hebrews 2:14-18). He took the devil’s most powerful blow, victoriously emerged from the tomb and liberated those held captive by the death threat. He has taken up His role as our High priest who is both merciful and faithful. He understands, and He paid the debt that we owed. It was a costly transaction without which we would be hopelessly alienated from God.
It is hard to imagine the creator with a hangnail. Deity with heartburn or a headache. Did He grow discouraged? Did He ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Did Mary give Him household chores. Did Joseph ever fuss at Him? Some things we will never know this side of eternity, but we can know this: The Lord loves us so much that He became one of us to save us, and that is pretty amazing.